Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts on IR

Those of us in the security community like to share ideas through analogy; I'm sure that's to convey technical issues in an understandable (to others) manner.  As a former military member, there are a number models that I use and refer to in analogies, particularly when communicating to other former military members.

Along those lines, something struck me the other day...the Internet is very much like the ocean, and organizations connected to the Internet are like ships on the ocean.  For the most part, ships (and submarines) are designed to do well on the ocean, within their limitations.  However, like the Internet, there are risks involved and potentially negative events (attacks, etc.) can originate from anywhere (above, or on or below the surface of the ocean, and from any direction) at any time.  There are a lot of events that occur on the Internet all the time, and many have no effect at all on organizations, both large and small.  Some only affect smaller organizations, while larger organizations are not affected at all by these events.

However, the Internet is not the only origination point for negative events.  Devastating events can also originate internally within a ship, just as they can with an organization or company.  As such, internal and external threats are well understood by the captain, and that understanding is subsequently conveyed to the crew.  So, not only do ships have things like radar, sonar and manned watches to protect them from external threats, but there are internal monitors, as well...gauges to monitor pressure and flow rates in pipes, etc.  There are also crew members who monitor these gauges, and keep track of the state of various functions aboard the ship at all times.  Minor events can be detected and addressed early, before they become major incidents, and more significant events are detected and the appropriate individuals warned 

Another thing to consider is this...the risks of operating on the ocean are well understood, and that understanding has guided the construction of the ships themselves.  US Navy ships have, among other things, watertight compartments that can be sealed, preventing fire or flooding (the two primary threats to most ships at sea) from expanding.  For an example of this, consider the sinking of the RMS Titanic (read the first paragraph of the Collision section) versus the bombing of the USS Cole - even with a hole in the hull at the waterline, the Cole did not sink.

Even though all of these risks are understood and planned for, Navy ships still have damage control (DC) teams.  These a members of the crew with regular jobs on the ship, but they are also trained to respond effectively when an incident occurs.  That's right...most naval personnel get some training or familiarity with damage control and what it takes, but there are individuals specifically designated with DC duties.  The leaders and members of the DC teams are identified by name, and they all have specific responsibilities, and they also understand each other's responsibilities...not to critique what the other team members do, but to understand where each team member fits in the response process, and to be able to take over their role, if necessary (due to injury, etc.).  These teams have designated, pre-staged equipment and conduct regular training drills, with the idea being that a missile or torpedo strike against a ship, or even a fire breaking out in the galley, doesn't necessarily wait for the most opportune moment for the such, the DC team must be able to respond under the worst of conditions.

The purpose of the DC team is to control the situation and minimize the effect of the incident on the health and operation of the ship and its crew.  The Executive Officer (second-in-command) of the ship is usually the person responsible to the captain for the training of the DC team, while the Engineering Officer is usually designated as the damage control officer (ref).

So, where does this model fit in with today's organizations?  Do the risks of operating interconnected IT equipment appear to be understood?  Who within the organization is the DC team leader?  Who are the members of the DC team and how often do they drill?  Perhaps more importantly, what type of monitoring is in place?  Where are the gauges and who monitors them? Sure, these may be questions asked by some guy with a blog, but they're also asked by those responsible for assessing regulatory compliance, be it the PCI DSS (para. 12.9 specifies the requirement for an IR team), HIPAA, FISMA, NCUA, etc.  Further, state notification laws (what are we up to...46 states with notification laws at this point?) such as California's SB-1386 have an implication of a response capability; after all, how would questions be answered without someone getting answers?

Thoughts?  Does the DC team model fit?


Michael said...

I don't know why you would not want to follow this model. Who best to respond than those who use the resources the most/know them best? Does "extra duty" tend to get short shrift? Sure, but that's addressable with strong mgt.

Keydet89 said...


I fully agree with you, but the issue is that many of the organizations to which I've responded don't have a model at all, per se...

Rob said...

Great analogy..