I just came across a WSJ Pro article titled “Inside the NSA: Companies Need to Follow the Basics,” and figured I could offer an “amen.” The NSA gets points for seeing things clearly – but then, I suppose that is their job, whether we like it or not! The area they discuss isn’t easy to write about; in fact, it’s similar to the challenge that investment magazines face. Every month, they have to write about what’s new and interesting as if it will help readers make money, when the best advice is rather boring — buy and hold. What are these magazines supposed to do? Make another cover article out of “Indexing – Still the Great Deal It’s Always Been?”
The same thing happens in network defense. Props to Rob Sloan, the author (and WSJ Pro) for making news out of the point that what we need to do is go back to the basics, and do them well … and then do them well again. The biggest challenge we face in defending our networks is just getting around to doing all the things we already know how to do. Our enemies don’t need to be James Bond villains in super-secret lairs with super-weapons – we leave out many “Welcome to Our Network” mats in the form of unpatched systems and easily evaded perimeters.
The article clearly lays out what we need to do to up our defensive game: first, we have to pay attention to the basics. Second, we have to pay attention to the basics. And yes, third, we have to pay attention to the basics (just like “location, location, location” for real estate). We’re all overwhelmed, but as the article points out, 98% coverage for any given issue isn’t good enough. We need to prioritize and find the 2% we missed, by gathering all our inventory, not just most of it, and testing every asset.
And then, after all that preventative work, we still need to plan for digital resilience. Resilience starts from all that inventory, and mapping of how your business functions and what is critical in your infrastructure. After that, it’s about hardening. And after that, it’s about testing your readiness so you can bounce back from the inevitable assaults. This is exactly what the RedSeal Digital Resilience score measures. We directly quantify the quality of your inventory, then look at hardening, and then at attack readiness.
So, I value the NSA’s perspectives, as reported in the article. The folks at NSA are among the government’s thought leaders for digital resilience. While government execution of cyber ideas isn’t above criticism, their networks are some of the very biggest, and their adversaries are some of the most motivated. For folks in the intelligence community, it’s not paranoia – people really are out to get them, and they plan accordingly. We should listen to their advice.