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Fri, 15 Jul 2011

Security Policies - Go Away

Security policies are necessary, but their focus is to the detriment of more important security tasks. If auditors had looked for trivial SQL injection on a companies front-page as hard as they have checked for security polices, then maybe our industry would be in a better place. I want to make this go away, I want to help you tick the box so you can focus on the real work. If you just want the "tool" skip to the end.

A year and a half ago, SensePost started offering "build it" rather than "break it" consulting services, we wanted to focus on technical, high-quality advisory work. However, by far the most frequently "consulting" request we've seen has been asking for security policies. Either a company approaches us looking for them explicitly or they want them bolted on to other work. The gut feel I've picked up over the years is that if someone is asking you to develop security policies for them, then either they're starting on security at the behest of some external or compliance requirement or they're hoping that this is the first step in an information security program. (Obviously, I can't put everything into the same bucket, but I'm talking generally) Both are rational reasons to want to get your information security policies sorted, but getting outside consultants to spend even a week's worth of time developing them for you, is time that could be better spent in my opinion. My reasons for this are two-fold:

  • If you're starting a security program, then you have a lot to learn and possibly a lot of convincing of senior management to do. Something like an internal penetration test (not that I'm advocating this specifically instead of policy) will give you far more insight into the security of your environment and a lot more "red ink" that can be used to highlight the risk to the "higher ups".
  • Security policies don't "do" anything. They are a representation of management's intention and agreements around security controls, which in the best case, provide a "cover my ass" defense if an employee takes you to task for intercepting their e-mails or something similar. The policies need to be used to derive actual controls, and are not controls in themselves.
Instead, we too often end up in a world where security policies, rather than good security, is the end goal while new technologies keep us amused developing new ones (mobile policies, social media policies, data leakage policies etc.)

Saying all of this is fine, but it doesn't make the auditors stop asking, and it doesn't put a green box or tick in the ISO/PCI/CoBIT/HIPAA/SOX policies checkbox. Previously, I've pointed people at existing policy repositories, where sample policies can be downloaded and modified to suit their need. Sites such as CSOOnline or PacketSource have links to some policies, but by far the most comprehensive source of free security policy templates is SANS. The problem is people seem to look at these, think it looks like work, and move on to a consultancy that's happy to charge for a month's worth of time. Even when you don't, the policies are buried in sub-pages that don't always make sense (for example, why is the Acceptable Use Policy put under "computer security"), even then several of them are only available in PDF form (hence not editable), even though they are explicitly written as modifiable templates. What I did was to go through all of these pages, download the documents, convert them into relevant formats and categorise them into a single view in a spreadsheet with hyperlinks to the documents. I've also included their guidance documents on how to write good sec policies, and ISO 27001-linked policy roadmaps. I haven't modified any of the actual content of the documents, and those retain their original copyright. I'm not trying to claim any credit for others' hard work, merely make the stuff a little more accessible.

You can download the index and documents HERE.

In future, I hope to add more "good" policies (a few of the SANS policies aren't wonderful), and also look into expanding into security standards (ala CIS Security) in the future. If necessary, take this to a consultancy, and ask them to spend some time making these specific to your organisation and way of doing things, but please, if you aren't getting the basics right, don't focus on these. In the meantime, if you're looking for information security policies to go away, so you can get on with the bigger problems organisations, and our industry in general are facing, then this should be a useful tool.