Gather round folks, it's time to talk Security Integrity
Gather round folks, it's time to talk Security Integrity

Discussing “integrity” in the workplace can either raise the bar for employee conduct or reveal behaviour that deviates from the organisation's established standards. Either way, it's a good discussion to have, and one that can greatly benefit both the employee and employer. The same is true when using a more narrow application of the term “integrity,” specifically in the context of an enterprise's computing environment. Given the threats facing those responsible for securing such environments, there is no better time for security executives to have the ‘integrity talk.' 

The concept of integrity isn't new to information security by any means. In fact, it's been an established part of the CIA (Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability) triad since its inception, which is, frankly, hard to pin down. If we want to understand a current definition for the Integrity portion of the CIA triad, we can turn to the SANS Institute. It defines ‘Integrity' as protecting data from modification or deletion by external sources with the ability to make necessary changes if damage was sustained. Of course, the CIA Triad is also composed of Confidentiality (protecting data from external forces by initiating access levels) and Availability (allowing access to data and applications when needed). 

That understanding of integrity's role in information security has driven particular applications of the concept. Most organisations invest heavily in confidentiality and availability. If you take a cursory look at information security budgets, you'll find they lean towards controls that protect the ‘C' and ‘A.' Integrity is mostly treated as a proxy term for encryption, and is exclusively focused on data. This approach stays true to the definition of CIA as stated, but it leaves a lot of space for uncontrolled risk. 

A change is needed, quickly

It's time to look at integrity as the core concept for a more holistic approach to information security. At its heart, integrity is about maintaining a desired state. While that might be applied to data, it can also be applied more broadly to systems. In this sense, the whole of information security can be viewed through a lens of Integrity. That shift in thinking drives activities like defining desired states, measuring systems against those desired states, and monitoring for changes that cause deviation from the desired state. Those changes, importantly, aren't limited to intentional, internal changes. A broad definition of change encompasses external changes in the threat environment as well. For example, the discovery of a new vulnerability is a change that affects Integrity. Changes in exploit activity would be included as well. All of these changes should be evaluated for how they might cause deviation from your desired state. If remediation is necessary, it's focused on returning to that desired state. 

In 2017, there were some clear examples of how a broader approach to integrity management could have averted a number of high profile breaches in one form or another. For example, WannaCry, arguably one of the most devastating ransomware attacks to hit last year, happened because there were known, unpatched vulnerabilities on the systems. The changes that led up to this incident included the discovery of those vulnerabilities, a deviation from a desired ‘vulnerability' state for those assets. During the incident there were numerous changes on systems caused by the ransomware itself, but these were all dependent on the initial change that made organisations vulnerable. There are also multiple examples of misconfigured Amazon S3 storage buckets exposing sensitive data. Here, there are a few possibilities. Either the desired state wasn't defined, or it was defined, but not measured. Or, it was defined, measured, but no change detection was in place to identify deviation after initial deployment. The lens of Integrity drives a structured root cause analysis, and change detection drives early identification and remediation.

There's a clear sense in the industry that the stakes are being pushed even higher, and security professionals must assume that the attackers are already within the vicinity. The portrayal of growing threat re-enforces the need for a broad, inclusive framework to address security. A focus on Integrity management delivers just that. Not only will flaws be detected more effectively, but also fixed quickly before anything becomes exposed or compromised. Integrity management drives greater visibility and control. After all, if you know what you have and you know what's changed, you significantly improve your ability to recognise and react to security threats. 

So let's give CISOs a fighting chance.
Much like how the world of cyber-security has evolved, so too should the definition of integrity which can now be regarded as the maintenance and assurance of the accuracy and consistency of the entire system – including data over its entire life cycle. By approaching cyber-security from the perspective of ensuring system integrity, security professionals can employ well-known, established best practices more effectively, and evaluate new technologies more accurately. 

Integrity management gives CISOs the clarity and ammunition they need to make the switch from a limited approach to a security strategy layered by foundational controls which, according the IT Process Institute, has proven to prevent and detect 90 percent of all breaches. It will require a shift in the way many approach security management, but represents one of the most promising approaches to effective enterprise security, both now and in the future.

Contributed by Tim Erlin, vice president of product management and strategy at Tripwire.

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.

By: Tim Erlin, vice president of product management and strategy at Tripwire