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Chapter 106: 'Creating a Secure Architecture'

This book covers questions important to those tasked with securing information assets including the appropriate deployment of valuable resources as well as dealing with legal compliance, investigations and ethics. The book also explores topics such as risk assessments; metrics; security governance, architecture and design; emerging threats; standards; and business continuity and disaster recovery.


Download chapter 106: 'Creating a Secure Architecture'


This chapter is excerpted from the book titled, 'Information Security Management Handbook, Sixth Edition', edited by Harold F. Tipton; Micki Krause, published by Auerbach Publications in May, 2007, ISBN 0849374952. Copyright 2007 Taylor & Francis Group LLC. For more information, please visit: www.auerbach-publications.com






Chapter Excerpt:



As discussed in the chapter entitled "Network Security Overview," network security may be thought of as the mechanism for providing consistent, appropriate access to confidential information across an organization and ensuring that information's integrity.


An organization cannot leave itself open to any attack on any front; exposures, left unattended, may prove fatal to business continuance. In many cases, the government requires appropriate security controls. In the cases where there is no government mandate, business partners, vendors, and other entities may preclude conducting business with the organization unless it employs appropriate security mechanisms. This also extends to the creation and maintenance of a secure architecture.


Many organizations view security as a technology. This can be seen by the number of organizations that expect all security initiatives, as well as their planning, design, execution, and maintenance, to be carried out solely by technical departments, such as Information Systems, Application Development, or others. This is an incorrect perception. Technology most certainly plays a part in protecting an organization against attack or loss; however, the diligent provision of a secure architecture involves all aspects of the organization. People must be educated regarding their responsibilities for security and then enabled by the organization to properly carry out these responsibilities. Processes must be reviewed across the entire organization, to determine where assets reside, how they interact, the results produced from interactions, threats that may be present in the environment, and the mechanisms that protect organizational assets. Facilities must be evaluated to ensure that they are constructed and maintained appropriate to function. Security considerations must also be taken into account when evaluating a facility.

As if the resources necessary to properly address all the aspects listed above were not enough, all of these aspects must be evaluated periodically, over time. Why? Let us say an organization mustered a team to address all of these aspects, with the requirement that it detail any discovered exposures and fix them, as appropriate. Once completed, the organization is confident that it has done its work for the long term. Six months down the road, the government enacts legislation that requires executives to sign off on a document indicating that the organization has done its job and provided a secure environment in which to do business. The government gives all organizations six months to comply prior to audit. Any organizations failing to meet regulatory requirements will be fined, at minimum; at maximum, litigation and possible jail terms for personnel will also ensue.

Sound familiar? Organizations that will be bound by Sarbanes–Oxley legislation in July 2005 face this very scenario. Healthcare and financial organizations are enmeshed in meeting security and privacy regulations at this writing, through the enactment of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLBA).

Now go back to the scenario described above. Would it be prudent, as a senior executive, to sign an affidavit asserting that the organization is rock-solid from a security perspective with the information available from an assessment conducted six months ago? Perhaps the executive is not aware that the Information Technology department has performed a major network redesign over the past six months. Perhaps she has just been informed that Applications Development has completed and integrated a world-class data warehouse, developed entirely in-house. Human Resources has also informed her that the updates to employee job descriptions, as well as the personnel policy additions that commenced a year ago, are now complete and awaiting her signature. Would it be prudent, as a senior executive, to attest to the organization's security state using information that appears to be outdated?

This scenario, although it may seem unlikely at first inspection, happens daily in the business world. A static organization is one that has ceased to function. Because the natures of business and technology are dynamic, security must be periodically evaluated, as well as diligently documented and reported. A discussion of the security cycle follows.

106.3.1 Assess

As stated in the chapter entitled "Network Security Overview," an assessment is a snapshot, or a pointin- time view of the current state of security within an organization. While it is never possible to identify and neutralize all risks and threats to an organization and its function, the assessment process goes a long way toward identifying exposures that could impact the organization.

Some organizations argue that the moment an assessment is completed, it is out-of-date. While this argument may seem sound on its merits, and while the authors would concur that periodic assessment plays an important role in obtaining current information about an organization's state of security, organizations typically do not experience major changes on a daily basis, every day, for an extended period of time. Organizations that find themselves in a chaotic state of change, on a major scale and on a daily basis, may indeed require assessment on a more frequent basis, in order to accurately depict the changing environment.

106.3.2 Nonintrusive Assessment Methods

Nonintrusive security assessments provide a "snapshot" of the organization's current state. The final analysis relies on accurate and truthful representation by the organization and its interviewees. No assessment can discover 100 percent of the exposures within an environment and, as such, it is highly recommended that organizations review their current states of security periodically and diligently to minimize risk and threat.

It is important to note that nonintrusive assessments are very important to the health of the network. Based on the fact that network security is driven, as discussed, by people, processes, technology, and facilities, all these aspects must be appropriately assessed in order to provide a holistic view of network security.

106.3.2.1 Document Review

Documentation present within the organization is obtained and reviewed to provide background information for the security assessment. Documents evaluated vary, and typically include information security documentation, such as results from previous assessments and audits; security policies and procedures, disaster and incident response plans; service level, nondisclosure vendor and business partner agreements; insurance carried by the organization that relates to the network environment; network architecture designs and drawings; configurations of network devices, servers, and workstations; facilities blueprints; human resources policies; job descriptions; etc.

106.3.2.2 Interviews

Interviews are conducted with representation from each role in the organization as they fulfill the scope of the assessment. Roles typically interviewed include senior management, line or technical management, departmental management, full-time technical and business resources, and casual employees, such as part-time employees, temporaries, and interns. Sample size can be kept low, such as one to two appropriate interviewees per role, if the information obtained from the interviews can be generalized across the role for the organization.

106.3.2.3 System Demonstrations

System demonstrations are conducted with selected interviewees. This is done to verify information obtained during the interview, but also to gain insight into the technical operations of the organization, without intrusion, so that a determination can be made whether it is possible for users to bypass existing security controls. The assessor makes no attempt to access the organization's network; the interviewee is the "driver" and the assessor merely an interested observer.

Chapter 106: 'Creating a Secure Architecture'

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This was last published in June 2007

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