Sunday, January 20, 2013

Unauthorized Access to China? Value of IT Audits and Control Frameworks

Various media sites and blogs, including the BBC, picked up on the story reported by this blog about one enterprising individual who decided to apply what all the major manufacturing companies and service companies are doing: outsource work to cheap labour pools in China (and also India). According to the Verizon post, the individual would basically show his face to work and surf the Internet, while the developers in China were doing all the hard work. Although many have attacked him as being lazy and "scamming" the system, the reality is that many enterprises, such as Appledepend on such strategies for their profitability. Regardless of this debate, it ultimately the individual violated his agreement with the company. (I am assuming that he had a standard terms of employment that required him to do the work assigned to him and not to provide his credentials to unauthorized users).

From Information Security Risk and Control perspective, this story is a good one for IT Audit and Security practitioners to highlight the importance of IT control framework, risk analysis and audits. The company that discovered the issue was reviewing the security logs. As Andrew Valentine notes in the original Verizon security blog post that noted the incident: "In early May 2012, after reading the 2012 DBIR, their IT security department decided that they should start actively monitoring logs being generated at the VPN concentrator. (As illustrated within our DBIR statistics, continual and pro-active log review happens basically never – only about 8% of breaches in 2011 were discovered by internal log review)." Effectively, the DBIR acted a control framework. It illustrated the importance of best practices to those that read it. And this is ultimately the role of IT Control Frameworks. COBIT, Trust Services and ISO 27001/2, all identify the need to log access and review such access.  COBIT 4.1, published by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), identifies the following control in their framework:

DS5.5 Security Testing, Surveillance and Monitoring
"Test and monitor the IT security implementation in a proactive way. IT security should be reaccredited in a timely manner to ensure that the approved enterprise’s information security baseline is maintained. A logging and monitoring function will enable the early prevention and/or detection and subsequent timely reporting of unusual and/or abnormal activities that may need to be addressed."

Trust Services, jointly published by AICPA and the CICA, requires the following (See the Security Principle, 3.2(g) on page 10):
 "The information security team, under the direction of the CIO, maintains access to firewall and other logs, as well as access to any storage media. Any access is logged and reviewed in accordance with the company’s IT policies."

ISO 27001/2 requires "Audit logging" under 10.10.1 See page 5 of this sales document from Splunk, a big data company that analyzes logs. ISO keeps this document confidential and so no direct link to the control could be provided.

The other important aspect of this story is that the individuals who read Verizon's DBIR understood how the control related to a specific risk (if you read the report the information security controls identified are linked to the risks they manage). Consequently, to get buy in, IS assurance professionals need to link the IT controls or  frameworks. Presenting controls in isolation fails to illustrate the importance of such controls. It would be interesting if ISACA could either team with Verizon to publish the next report or actually map the report to its framework.

Finally, Verizon's work illustrates the importance of IT audit. Organizations that want to keep on top of security threats and risks need to have competent security and risk professionals that can investigate and analyze risks when the are identified.

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