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Chapter: Security in Computing : Administering Security

Contents of a Security Plan

A security plan identifies and organizes the security activities for a computing system. The plan is both a description of the current situation and a plan for improvement. Every security plan must address seven issues.

Contents of a Security Plan


A security plan identifies and organizes the security activities for a computing system. The plan is both a description of the current situation and a plan for improvement. Every security plan must address seven issues.


   policy, indicating the goals of a computer security effort and the willingness of the people involved to work to achieve those goals


   current state, describing the status of security at the time of the plan


   requirements, recommending ways to meet the security goals


   recommended controls, mapping controls to the vulnerabilities identified in the policy and requirements


   accountability, describing who is responsible for each security activity


   timetable, identifying when different security functions are to be done


   continuing attention, specifying a structure for periodically updating the security plan


There are many approaches to creating and updating a security plan. Some organizations have a formal, defined security planning process, much as they might have a defined and accepted development or maintenance process. Others look to security professionals for guidance on how to perform security planning. For example, Sidebar 8 -1 describes a security planning methodology suggested by the U.S. Software Engineering Institute and made available on its web site. But every security plan contains the same basic material, no matter the format. The following sections expand on the seven parts of a security plan.


1. Policy


A security plan must state the organization's policy on security. A security policy is a high-level statement of purpose and intent. Initially, you might think that all policies would be the same: to prevent security breaches. But in fact the policy is one of the most difficult sections to write well. As we discuss later in this chapter, there are tradeoffs among the strength of the security, the cost, the inconvenience to users, and more.


Sidebar 8-1: The OCTAVESM Methodology

The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has created a framework for building a security plan. (See [ALB99, ALB01].) The framework, called OCTAVE, includes eight steps:


·   Identify enterprise knowledge.


·   Identify operational area knowledge.


·   Identify staff knowledge.


·   Establish security requirements.


·   Map high-priority information assets to information infrastructure.


·   Perform an infrastructure vulnerability evaluation.


·   Conduct a multidimensional risk analysis.


·   Develop a protection strategy.



These steps lead a project manager or security analyst in determining the security risks and finding controls to address them. The OCTAVE web site (www.cert.org/octave) contains detailed information and checklists to guide the planning process.

For example, we must decide whether to implement very stringentand possibly unpopularcontrols that prevent all security problems or simply mitigate the effects of security breaches once they happen. For this reason, the policy statement must answer three essential questions:


oWho should be allowed access?


oTo what system and organizational resources should access be allowed?


oWhat types of access should each user be allowed for each resource?



The policy statement should specify the following:


  The organization's goals on security. For example, should the system protect data from leakage to outsiders, protect against loss of data due to physical disaster, protect the data's integrity, or protect against loss of business when computing resources fail? What is the higher priority: serving customers or securing data?


  Where the responsibility for security lies. For example, should the responsibility rest with a small computer security group, with each employee, or with relevant managers?


  The organization's commitment to security. For example, who provides security support for staff, and where does security fit into the organization's structure?


      Current Security Status


To be able to plan for security, an organization must understand the vulnerabilities to which it may be exposed. The organization can determine the vulnerabilities by performing a risk analysis: a careful investigation of the system, its environment, and the things that might go wrong. The risk analysis forms the basis for describing the current status of security. The status can be expressed as a listing of organizational assets, the security threats to the assets, and the controls in place to protect the assets. We look at risk analysis in more detail later in this chapter.

The status portion of the plan also defines the limits of responsibility for security. It describes not only which assets are to be protected but also who is responsible for protecting them. The plan may note that some groups may be excluded from responsibility; for example, joint ventures with other organizations may designate one organization to provide security for all member organizations. The plan also defines the boundaries of responsibility, especially when networks are involved. For instance, the plan should clarify who provides the security for a network router or for a leased line to a remote site.


Even though the security plan should be thorough, there will necessarily be vulnerabilities that are not considered. These vulnerabilities are not always the result of ignorance or naïveté; rather, they can arise from the addition of new equipment or data as the system evolves. They can also result from new situations, such as when a system is used in ways not anticipated by its designers. The security plan should detail the process to be followed when someone identifies a new vulnerability. In particular, instructions should explain how to integrate controls for that vulnerability into the existing security procedures.


3. Requirements


The heart of the security plan is its set of security requirements: functional or performance demands placed on a system to ensure a desired level of security. The requirements are usually derived from organizational needs. Sometimes these needs include the need to conform to specific security requirements imposed from outside, such as by a government agency or a commercial standard.


Pfleeger [PFL91] points out that we must distinguish the requirements from constraints and controls. A constraint is an aspect of the security policy that constrains, circumscribes, or directs the implementation of the requirements. As we learned in Chapter 1, a control is an action, device, procedure, or technique that removes or reduces a vulnerability. To see the difference between requirements, constraints, and controls, consider the six "requirements" of the U.S. Department of Defense's TCSEC, introduced in Chapter 5. These six items are listed in Table 8-1.

Given our definitions of requirement, constraint, and control, it is easy to see that the first "requirement" of the TCSEC is really a constraint: the security policy. The second and third "requirements" describe mechanisms for enforcing security, not descriptions of required behaviors. That is, the second and third "requirements" describe explicit implementations, not a general characteristic or property that the system must have. However, the fourth, fifth, and sixth TCSEC "requirements" are indeed true requirements. They state that the system must have certain characteristics, but they do not enforce a particular implementation.


These distinctions are important because the requirements explain what should be accomplished, not how. That is, the requirements should always leave the implementation details to the designers, whenever possible. For example, rather than writing a requirement that certain data records should require passwords for access (an implementation decision), a security planner should state only that access to the data records should be restricted (and note to whom the access should be restricted). This more flexible requirement allows the designers to decide among several other access controls (such as access control lists) and to balance the security requirements with other system requirements, such as performance and reliability. Figure 8-1 illustrates how the different aspects of system analysis support the security planning process.

As with the general software development process, the security planning process must allow customers or users to specify desired functions, independent of the implementation. The requirements should address all aspects of security: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. They should also be reviewed to make sure that they are of appropriate quality. In particular, we should make sure that the requirements have these characteristics:


Correctness: Are the requirements understandable? Are they stated without error?


Consistency: Are there any conflicting or ambiguous requirements?


Completeness: Are all possible situations addressed by the requirements?


Realism: Is it possible to implement what the requirements mandate?


Need: Are the requirements unnecessarily restrictive?


Verifiability: Can tests be written to demonstrate conclusively and objectively that the requirements have been met? Can the system or its functionality be measured in some way that will assess the degree to which the requirements are met?


Traceability: Can each requirement be traced to the functions and data related to it so that changes in a requirement can lead to easy reevaluation?


The requirements may then be constrained by budget, schedule, performance, policies, governmental regulations, and more. Given the requirements and constraints, the developers then choose appropriate controls.


4. Recommended Controls


The security requirements lay out the system's needs in terms of what should be protected. The security plan must also recommend what controls should be incorporated into the system to meet those requirements. Throughout this book you have seen many examples of controls, so we need not review them here. As we see later in this chapter, we can use risk analysis to create a map from vulnerabilities to controls. The mapping tells us how the system will meet the security requirements. That is, the recommended controls address implementation issues: how the system will be designed and developed to meet stated security requirements.


5. Responsibility for Implementation


A section of the security plan should identify which people are responsible for implementing the security requirements. This documentation assists those who must coordinate their individual responsibilities with those of other developers. At the same time, the plan makes explicit who is accountable should some requirement not be met or some vulnerability not be addressed. That is, the plan notes who is responsible for implementing controls when a new vulnerability is discovered or a new kind of asset is introduced. (But see Sidebar 8-2 on who is responsible.)


People building, using, and maintaining the system play many roles. Each role can take some responsibility for one or more aspects of security. Consider, for example, the groups listed here.


Personal computer users may be responsible for the security of their own machines. Alternatively, the security plan may designate one person or group to be coordinator of personal computer security.


Project leaders may be responsible for the security of data and computations.


Sidebar 8-2: Who Is Responsible for Using Security?


We put a lot of responsibility on the user: Apply these patches, don't download unknown code, keep sensitive material private, change your password frequently, don't forget your umbrella. We are all fairly technology-savvy, so we take in stride messages like "fatal error." (A neighbor once called in a panic that her entire machine and all its software data were about to go up in a puff of electronic smoke because she had received a "fatal error" message; I explained calmly that the message was perhaps a bit melodramatic.)


But that neighbor raises an important point: how can we expect users to use their computers securely when that is so hard to do? Take, for example, the various steps necessary in securing a wireless access point (see Chapter 7): Use WPA or WPA2, not WEP; set the access point into nonbroadcast mode, not open; choose a random 128-bit number for an initial value. Whitten and Tygar [WHI99] list four points critical to users' security: users must be


  aware of the security of tasks they need to perform


  able to figure out how to perform those tasks successfully


  prevented from making dangerous errors


  sufficiently comfortable with the technology to continue using it


Whitten and Tygar conclude that the popular PGP product, which has a fairly good user interface, is not usable enough to provide effective security for most computer users. Furnell [FUR05] reached a similar conclusion about the security features in Microsoft Word.


The field of humancomputer interaction (HCI) is mature, guidance materials are available, and numerous good examples exist. Why, then, are security settings hidden on a sub-sub-tab and written in highly technical jargon? We cannot expect users to participate in security enforcement unless they can understand what they should do.


A leader in the HCI field, Ben Shneiderman counsels that the humancomputer interface should be, in his word, fun. Citing work others have done on computer game interfaces, Shneiderman notes that such interfaces satisfy needs for challenge, curiosity, and fantasy. He then argues that computer use must "(1) provide the right functions so that users can accomplish their goals, (2) offer usability plus reliability to prevent frustration from undermining the fun, and (3) engage users with fun-features." [SHN04]


One can counter that security functionality is serious, unlike computer games or web browsers. Still, this does not relieve us from the need to make the interface consistent, informative, empowering, and errorpreventing.


  Managers may be responsible for seeing that the people they supervise implement security measures.


  Database administrators may be responsible for the access to and integrity of data in their databases.


  Information officers may be responsible for overseeing the creation and use of data; these officers may also be responsible for retention and proper disposal of data.


  Personnel staff members may be responsible for security involving employees, for example, screening potential employees for trustworthiness and arranging security training programs.



A comprehensive security plan cannot be executed instantly. The security plan includes a timetable that shows how and when the elements of the plan will be performed. These dates also give milestones so that management can track the progress of implementation.

If the implementation is to be a phased development (that is, the system will be implemented partially at first, and then changed functionality or performance will be added in later releases), the plan should also describe how the security requirements will be implemented over time. Even when overall development is not phased, it may be desirable to implement the security aspects of the system over time. For example, if the controls are expensive or complicated, they may be acquired and implemented gradually. Similarly, procedural controls may require staff training to ensure that everyone understands and accepts the reason for the control.


The plan should specify the order in which the controls are to be implemented so that the most serious exposures are covered as soon as possible. A timetable also gives milestones by which to judge the progress of the security program.


Furthermore, the plan must be extensible. Conditions will change: New equipment will be acquired, new degrees and modes of connectivity will be requested, and new threats will be identified. The plan must include a procedure for change and growth, so that the security aspects of changes are considered as a part of preparing for the change, not for adding security after the change has been made. The plan should also contain a schedule for periodic review. Even though there may have been no obvious, major growth, most organizations experience modest change every day. At some point the cumulative impact of the change is enough to require the plan to be modified.


7. Continuing Attention


Good intentions are not enough when it comes to security. We must not only take care in defining requirements and controls, but we must also find ways for evaluating a system's security to be sure that the system is as secure as we intend it to be. Thus, the security plan must call for reviewing the security situation periodically. As users, data, and equipment change, new exposures may develop. In addition, the current means of control may become obsolete or ineffective (such as when faster processor times enable attackers to break an encryption algorithm). The inventory of objects and the list of controls should periodically be scrutinized and updated, and risk analysis performed anew. The security plan should set times for these periodic reviews, based either on calendar time (such as, review the plan every nine months) or on the nature of system changes (such as, review the plan after every major system release).

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