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May 24 2016

Law 2: Know the Assets to Protect

This is the second post of a series of ten posts. The first one analyzed Law 1: attackers will always find their way.

The primary goal of security is to protect. However, to protect what? “What are the assets to protect?” is the first question that every security analyst should answer before starting any design. Without a proper response, the resulting security mechanism may be inefficient. Unfortunately, answering it is tough.

The identification of the valuable assets will enable defining the ideal and most efficient security systems. The identification should specify the attributes of the asset that needs protection (confidentiality, integrity, anti-theft, availability, and so on). Assets are coming in many forms: human, physical goods, information goods, resources and intangible goods. The four first categories are often well treated. Unfortunately, it is not the case for the last one. Intangible goods are the intangible concepts that define the value of a company. They encompass notions such as brand, reputation, trust, fame, reliability, intellectual property and knowledge. For instance, a tarnished reputation may have serious business impacts.

Once the assets identified, the second step is to valuate them. All assets should not have the same value. For instance, all documents of your company are not to be classified as confidential. If you classify too many documents as confidential, users will become lax, and the mere notion of confidential will become diluted.

Once all the assets identified, it is time to make a threat analysis for the most valuable assets. It is not sufficient to know what to protect to design proper defense. For that purpose, it is key to identify the potential attackers. According to general Sun Tzu in his “Art of War”, it is paramount to know your opponents.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The knowledge of the enemies and their abilities is paramount to any successful security system. This knowledge can be collected by surveying the Darknet continuously, hacking forums and attending security conferences (Black Hat, Defcon, CCC, …). There are many available classifications for attackers. For instance,

  • IBM proposed three categories: clever outsiders who are often brilliant people, knowledgeable insiders who have specialized education and Funded organizations that can recruit teams of complementary world-class experts.
  • The Merdan Group defines an interesting five-scale classification: Simple manipulation, Casual hacking, Sophisticated hacking, University challenge and Criminal enterprise.
  • At CloudSec 2015, the FBI disclosed a motivation driven gradation: Hacktivism, Insider, Espionage, Terrorism and Warfare

The practitioner selects the classification that fits best the problem to analyze.

Once the threat analysis is completed, then starts the design of the countermeasures. An important heuristic to keep in mind: “in most cases, the cost of protection should not exceed the potential loss.” Usually, defense is sufficient if the cost of a successful attack is equivalent to or higher than the potential gain for the attacker. Similarly, defense is adequate if its expense is equal to or greater than the possible loss in the case of a successful attack.

Remember: know what you must ultimately protect and against who.

1 ping

  1. Law 3 – No Security Through Obscurity » The blog of content protection

    […] This is the third post in a series of ten posts. The previous post analyzed Law 2: Know the Assets to Protect. […]

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