Friday, December 10, 2010

WikiLeaks–How to Fix a Leak with Better Plumbing

The 9/11 Commission Report cited "pervasive problems of managing and sharing information across a large and unwieldy government that had been built in a different era to confront different dangers". Since 9/11 governments around the world have considerably adjusted their stance on information-sharing to allow more adequate and timely sharing of information. Unfortunately, the need to share information quickly in many situations had priority over the need to protect it and this left security policies, certification and accreditation practices, and existing security controls behind.

WikiLeaks may jeopardize all we've worked towards to enhance information sharing, and impede pursuits to make information-sharing more effective. Or it may serve as a wakeup call that our current policies, processes and solutions are not adequate in today's world where information must be collected, fused, discovered, shared and protected at network speed.

Here at Layer 7, we've been working with government agencies worldwide to support their needs for sharing information more quickly, while introducing a more robust set of access and security controls to allow only those with need-to-know clearance access to privileged information. In the following paragraphs, I'm going to discuss how Layer 7 Technologies aids in breaking down information-sharing silos while maintaining a high degree of information protection, control and tracking.

There are multiple efforts underway across government agencies to use digital policy to control who gets access to what information when, as opposed to relying on a written policy. Layer 7's policy-oriented controls allow for digital policy to be defined and enforced across distributed information silos. Either inside an enterprise or in the cloud, using Layer 7,government agencies and commercial entities can define and enforce rules for information discovery, retrieval and dissemination across a variety of security realms and boundaries. With the right kind of policy controls, companies can avoid a WikiLeak of their own.

Layer 7 provides information plumbing for the new IT reality. Using Layer 7 products organizations can ensure:

Data Exfiltration –The WikiLeaks scandal broke because of a single user’s ability to discover, collect and exfiltrate massive quantities of information, much of which was not needed for the day-to-day activities of the user. With Layer 7, digital policies can be defined and enforced which put limits on the number of times a single user can retrieve a single type of data or multiple types of data that, when aggregated together, could be interpreted as having malicious intent. If the user goes beyond his administratively imposed limit, Layer 7 can either allow the operation while notifying administrative or security personnel of the potential issue, or can disallow access altogether while awaiting remediation.

Access Control -The heart of any information system is its ability to grant access to people who meet the "need to know" requirement for accessing the information contained within. The reality with government organizations is that many information systems rely on the user’s level of clearance, the network he is using, or course-grained information likethe branch of service he belongs to, in order to grant or deny access to an information-sharing system in its entirety. For those going beyond the norm with usage of Role Based Access Control (RBAC), the burden of administrating hundreds or thousands users, based on groups, is formidable and limits the effectiveness of the system; it increases the likelihood that the system has authorized users whom no longer have “need to know” of the information.

Layer 7 policy enforcement and decision allows for user authorization through either Attribute Based Access Control (ABAC) or Policy Based Access Control (PBAC). These types of authorizations correlate through policy, attributes about the user, resource and environment in order to allow/deny access. Attributes can be collected from local identity repositories or from enterprise attribute services.

In addition, enterprise attribute services can be federated to allow for attributes to be shared across organizations, thereby minimizing the requirement of having to manage attributes about users from other organizations. An often-overlooked factor of authorization is the need to tie typical authorization policy languages like XACML (is user X allowed to access resource Y) to policies around data exfiltration, data sanitization and transformation, and audit. This is the area where Layer 7 stands out: not only do we have the ability to authorize the user, but we can also enforce a wide variety of policy controls that are integrated with access control.

The following blog posts by Anil John, a colleague whom has specialization in the identity space, provides good information about the benefits and needs of the community in moving from roles to policy and attributes. Policy Based Access Control (PBAC) and Federated Attribute Services


Monitoring, Visibility & Tracking - Even when controls are in place that help mitigate the issue of “need to know,” there will always be a risk of authorized users collecting information within the norms of their current job and role. In support of this, visibility of usage by the individual IT system owner and across enterprise systems is key to limiting this type of event in the future. Layer 7 allows for federation of monitoring data so information about data accesses can be shared with those organizations monitoring the network or enterprise. This allows authentication attempts and valid authorizations to be tracked, and distributed data retrieval trends analyzed on a per user basis across the extended enterprise.

Leakage of privileged information to unauthorized users can never be 100% guaranteed. However, with the simple implementation of a policy-based information control like Layer 7, access to confidential information can be restrictedand tracked.


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