Security Awareness and Security Context – Aitel and Krypt3ia are both wrong?

It was pretty obvious that after an Information Security persona such as Dave Aitel has posted his “Why you shouldn’t train employees for security awareness” article, there would be a lot of flak from the industry. A lot has been said about training employees to be somewhat more savvy users when dealing with corporate equipment and data (i.e. “stop clicking shit”). And even one of my favorite and outspoken Information Security personal had a great rebuttal on the matter – Krypt3ia’s “Throwing out the baby with the bathwater: Dave Aitel’s approach to INFOSEC“.

While I really appreciate both opinions, and while Dave’s might have been a little self-serving (aren’t all of our statements online?), I find myself in a very “Zen” place – saying, yes – you are both right, and wrong at the same time.

Krypt3ia points out that dismissing the human factor is going to lead to failures beyond what we can imagine as an industry. The reason here lies back in the fact that when we approach “Information Security” we focus too much on the “Information” part, and less on the more holistic meaning of the “Security” part. Trying to solve infosec issues through technological means is a guaranteed recipe for failure. No one, no technology, or software can account for every threat scenario possible, and this is exactly why we layer our defenses. And layering shouldn’t just be done from a network or software perspective – security layers also include access control, monitoring, tracking, analysis, and yes – human awareness. Without the human factor you are doomed. And that’s a personal promise from someone who’s been abusing the lack of layering and dismissal of such human factor for quite some time now running red-team engagements with high-profile, high-security clients (see – I can be self-serving too!).

On the other hand, Dave is also right – you can’t just throw everything on the employee and expect them to magically turn into “APT detectors” just because they clicked through some CBT program for a few minutes (or hours for that matter). You have to get the basics first, and Dave’s list is just as good as anyone else’s:

  • Audit periphery
  • Perimeter defense and monitoring
  • Isolate & protect critical data
  • Network segmentation
  • Access creep
  • Incident response
  • Strong security leadership

In no particular order, one should establish a consistent and solid implementation of all of these aspects for their organization.

Having said that, saying that employee awareness should be out of this list is where Dave went a little too far. Strong security leadership, access creep, and data protection are not technical feats by themselves. These are exactly the areas where employee awareness turns what could be useless (but very expensive) pieces of software or appliances to something that would actually work under an attack on your information assets. The point is not to _divert_ the spending on awareness, but to _combine_ them into your security strategy.

Which brings me back to my first (and only) point – stop thinking of information security as an industry of blinkenlights and snazzy software solutions. It’s about hacking, and hacking as we all know never stops at gadgets and code. Think of information security like an ATTACKER. Think about _their_ scope, and realize how your organization looks from that perspective. Now, take your budget and spend it on the areas where attackers could have compromised your informational integrity (HEY! Don’t touch that Nessus scan result! I told you to THINK goddamnit!).

And with that, I’ll leave you to your wonderful weekend before Vegas (one last self-serving statement – go check out “Sexy Defense” if you are really interested in an effective defensive strategy that goes beyond blogging and writing articles đŸ™‚ ).

Happy hacking!