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You say it's 'Security Best Practice' - prove it!

Over the last few weeks I have had many conversations and even attended presentations where people talk about 'Security Best Practices' and how we should all follow them. However, 'Best Practice' is just another way of saying 'What everyone else does!' OK, so if everyone else does it and it's the right thing to do, you should be able to prove it. The trouble is that nobody ever measures best practice - why would you? If everyone's doing it, it must be right.

Well, I don't agree with this sentiment. Don't get me wrong, many of the so-called best practices are good for most organisations, but blindly following them without thought for your specific business could cause as many problems as you solve. I see best practice like buying an off-the-peg suit - it will fit most people acceptably well if they are a fairly 'normal' size and shape. However, it will never fit as well as a tailored suit and isn't an option for those of us who are ou…
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Cyber Security Predictions for 2017

I was asked to sit on a panel of experts, gaze into the crystal ball and make my predictions for what 2017 holds in store for cyber security, which got me thinking. Let's start with more breaches, more ransomware, more cyber security jobs, wage increases for security professionals, more 'qualified' professionals who don't really know what they're doing but have a piece of paper and, of course, vendors making even more money out of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). However, none of those is terribly interesting or any different from 2016, or 2015 for that matter, or indeed anything other than trends in the industry.

So what does 2017 hold in store for us in the security industry and is there anything new to worry about? Well an obvious one to call out is the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). So what is GDPR? Well, GDPR replaces the previous data protection directive and aims to improve and harmonize data protections for EU citizens. This will im…

The one question to ask a security team that will tell you if their company is secure

Well, okay, it won't actually tell you whether they are secure or not and there are other questions you could ask, but the point is you can tell a lot about a company's security by how they answer security questions. I was recently at a security round table and the conversation turned to third parties and how you can assure yourself of their security. Some advocated scoring companies or certifications, while others advocated sending questionnaires. The argument against questionnaires is that they are a point in time view of the organisation. However, you can ask process and policy based questions and you can tell a lot from how they answer.

So, what is the question that will reveal all? Well, as I said it's not one question as such, more a type of question. It should be about something basic, some security control you're sure they have because everyone does. For example:

Why do you have a firewall?

Probable answers:
"because everyone has one"/"because the …

File Deletion versus Secure Wiping (and how do I wipe an SSD?)

When is a deleted file actually removed from your device, or at least when does it become unrecoverable? It turns out that this question isn't always easy to answer, nor is a secure file deletion easy to achieve in all circumstances.

To better understand this we have to start from the basic principle that when you delete a file on your computer you are only deleting the pointer to the file, not the actual data. The data on your hard disk drive (HDD) is stored magnetically in sectors on platters that spin round inside the HDD (we'll come onto SSDs in a bit). So, how does the computer know where to look for your file? It has a table of indexes such as the File Allocation Table (FAT) or Master File Table (MFT) in NTFS. When you delete a file in your OS, all you are actually doing is removing its entries from the table of indexes so your OS can't find it any more and doesn't know it's there. However, all the data is still stored on the disk and IS STILL RECOVERABLE! T…

Black Box versus White Box testing and when to use them

I have recently been speaking to many security professionals and asking them about black box and white box testing. I have used it as an interview question on many occasions as well. People's answers are varied and interesting, but I thought I would share my views briefly here.

Firstly, what are black box testing and white box testing, or grey box testing for that matter? Simply put, a black box test is one where the tester has no knowledge of the internal structure or workings of the system and will usually test with security protections in place. They may not even be given credentials to a system that requires authentication. This would be equivalent to what a hacker would have access to.

The opposite extreme is a white box test, where the tester has full knowledge of the system and access to the code, system settings and credentials for every role, including the administrator. The tester will likely be testing from inside the security perimeter. Grey box testing sits somewhere…

Improving Usability AND Security - it is possible?

I believe so, but only if security teams start to listen to what's important to the usability experts and adapt the security provision accordingly. As many have said before, there is no such thing as 100% security and we don't even necessarily want governmental levels of security for everything. Security provision should be appropriate to the systems and the information it protects.

I have worked on several projects with user experience designers and it has really changed my approach to securing systems. One particular project I was brought in to work on was having problems because the UX team were refusing to put in additional security measures and the security team were refusing to let them go live. To cut a long story short, it turns out that there are known drop-out rates for registrations or user journeys based on the number of fields people have to fill in and how many clicks they have to do. So, the requirements from the security team meant that the drop-out rates woul…