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News

IT Security Best Practice Guidelines

Venafi : 04 August, 2011  (Technical Article)
High failure rates for observing best practices in secure computing discovered in cloud data encryption study performed by Venafi
IT Security Best Practice Guidelines
In conjunction with Echelon One, an IT security researcher specialising in security programs and guidance, Venafi has released the 2011 IT Security Best Practices Assessment. Echelon One led the effort to establish a set of 12 best practices and worked closely with Venafi to evaluate how well 420 enterprises and government agencies implemented them. The assessment reveals an epidemic of security worst practices, where a majority of organisations fail to adhere to simple data protection standards and, in many cases, are fully unaware of what security practices are currently in place.

“The assessment findings were startling. We suspected we would find that many organisations were challenged, but we had no idea that failure rates would run this high,” said Bob West, founder and CEO of Echelon One. “The good news is that with this information and self assessment, organisations can see where they rank in comparison to peers, determine where weaknesses exist and identify steps they can take to significantly reduce security and compliance risks by leveraging automated processes and multi-layered data security strategies, including managed encryption.”

Top 5 Best Practices and Failure Rates

The assessment evaluated where organisations rank in the implementation of 12 IT security and compliance best practices, ranging from how organisations leverage and manage encryption to how often they conduct security awareness and training programs. The top five best practices, their high failure rates, and recommendations for mitigation include:

* Best Practice 1:  Perform quarterly security and compliance training. Failure rate — 77%

Recommendation: Deploy technologies that compensate for the lack of training resources by removing opportunities for human error through automation.

* Best Practice 2: Encrypt all cloud data and transaction. Failure rate — 64%

Recommendation: Salesforce.com, Google Apps and other cloud applications do not encrypt by default. Deploy third-party technologies that encrypt cloud data—in motion and at rest—to enhance security and privacy.

* Best Practice 3: Use encryption throughout the organisation. Failure rate — 10%

Recommendation: Although the low failure rate seems encouraging, failure to implement management technologies can turn encryption into a liability by exposing keys that provide unrestricted access to seemingly secure data. Deploy technologies that can manage encryption assets across the enterprise.

* Best Practice 4: Have management processes in place to ensure business continuity in the event of a Certificate Authority (CA) compromise. Failure rate — 55%

Recommendation: Digital certificates rank among the most ubiquitous security technologies. However, as recent CA breaches demonstrate, certificate authorities have been, and will continue to be compromised. Using a CA is half the battle — to further reduce risk, have a plan for immediately replacing all certificates and encryption keys signed by a compromised CA.

* Best Practice 5: Rotate SSH keys every 12 months to mitigate risk incurred by the average employee life cycle of 2 years of service. Failure rate — 82%

Recommendation: SSH keys provide servers and their administrators with root-level access to critical systems and data. A key rotation period that far exceeds the average employee’s lifecycle significantly increases the risk that a former employee or malicious admin can gain inappropriate access. Some enterprises that do not rotate keys might fail to understand their significance. Deploy technologies that simplify and automate key rotation.

The assessment further revealed that almost 100 percent of evaluated organizations had some degree of unquantified or unmanaged risk.

* When asked if their organisations encrypted data stored in leading public clouds such as Google Apps, Salesforce.com and Dropbox, 40 percent said they did not know.

* When asked how often critical encryption assets such as SSH keys were rotated, 41 percent responded that they did not know.

* When asked if their organisations were using encryption keys and certificates for data security and system authentication, 10 percent said they were not.

“The biggest security struggle organisations face today is managing the unknown — aka the unquantified and unmanaged risks. Your best security assets can easily turn into liabilities if not managed properly,” said Jeff Hudson, CEO of Venafi. “If this assessment demonstrates anything, it’s that IT and security departments have got to gain greater visibility over all of their security and compliance activities, and take steps to better understand and manage them.”

The Venafi 2011 IT Security Best Practices Assessment evaluated 420 participant organisations through an independent online survey conducted in July. Sixty percent of the evaluated organisations employed 5,000 or more. Respondent organisations came from multiple industries, including banking and financial services (27 percent), high tech (14 percent), government (11 percent), and manufacturing (8 percent).

Questions and best practices baselines were established in conjunction with IT security research firm Echelon One, under the leadership of founder and CEO Bob West. To develop the evaluation and baselines, West drew on his constant interactions with his Fortune 500 customers and his 20-plus years of IT security experience in former positions such as CISO of Fifth Third Bank.
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