[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[ISN] Book Review: Security Metrics: Replacing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt
Security Metrics: Replacing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt
Author: Andrew Jaquith
Reviewer: Ben Rothke
Summary: Authoritative text on information security metrics
One could write a book on how FUD sells security products. One of the
most memorable incidents was in 1992 when John McAfee created widespread
panic about the impending Michelangelo virus. The media was all over him
as he was selling solutions for the five million PCs worldwide he said
would be affected. The end result is that the Michelangelo virus was a
non-event. Nonetheless, it was far from the last time that FUD was used
to sell security.
The allure of FUD is that companies can spend huge amounts of money
fighting nebulous digital adversaries and feel good about it. They can
then put all of that fancy hardware in dedicated racks in their data
center, impressing the auditors with the flashing lights giving off an
aroma of security and compliance.
And that is the chaos that security metrics comes to solve. Security
metrics, if done right, can help transform a company from a nebulous
perspective on security to an effective one based on formal security
Security Metrics is a fabulous book that should be in the hands of every
security professional. The book demonstrates that companies must
establish metrics based on their unique requirements, as opposed to
simply basing their requirements on imprecise industry polls,
best-practices and other ill-defined methods.
So why don't companies do that in the first place? If security metrics
can provide even a quarter of the benefits that Jaquith states,
companies should run to implement them. Real security metrics require an
organization to open up their security hood and dig deep into the engine
that runs their security infrastructure. It necessitates understanding
the internal requirements, unique organizational risks, myriad strengths
and weaknesses, and much more. Very few companies are willing to
dedicate the time and resources for that, and would rather build their
security infrastructure on thick layers of FUD. History has shown that
the security appliance of the month almost always beats a formal risk
and needs assessment.
Chapter 1 lays out the problem with approaches that most companies take
to risk management. The main problem is that traditional risk management
is far too dependant on identification and fixing, as opposed to
quantification and triage based on value. Quantifying and valuing risk
is much more difficult than simply identifying, since the software tools
used do not have an organization context or knowledge of the specific
Chapter 2 sets out the foundation of security metrics. The goal of these
metrics are to provide a framework in which organizations can quantify
the likelihood of danger, estimate the extent of possible damage,
understand the performance of their security organizations and weigh the
costs of security safeguards against their expected effectiveness.
The time has come for security metrics since information security is one
of the few management disciplines that have yet to submit itself to
serious analytical scrutiny. The various chapters provide many different
metrics that can be immediately used in most organizations to address
The author defines various criteria for what makes a good metric. One of
his pet peeves is the use of the traffic light as a metaphor for
compliance. Jaquith feels that traffic lights are not metrics at all,
since they don't contain a unit of measure or are a numerical scale. He
suggests using traffic lights colors sparingly, and only to supplement
numerical data or draw attention to outliers. He astutely notes that if
your data contains more precision than three simple gradations, why
dilute their value by obscuring them with a traffic light.
The chapter concludes on what makes a bad metric, defined as any metric
that relies too much on the judgment of a person. These metrics can't be
relied on since the results can't be guaranteed to be the same from
person to person. Also, security frameworks such as ISO-17799 should not
be used for metrics. The book also tackles the sacred cow of risk
management, namely ALE (annualized loss expectancy), and how it is
significantly misused and misunderstood in the industry.
The book states that in developing metrics, there must be formal
collaboration between the business units and the security staff. This
collaboration serves to increase awareness and acceptance of security.
In addition, it ensures that security requirements are incorporated into
the lifecycle early on. This is needed as business units generally have
no clue as to what the needed security requirements are.
Chapter 5 is a short course on analysis techniques and statistics. The
author quotes George Colony who stated that "any idiot can tell you what
something is. It is much harder to say what that thing means". With
that, the book details a number of techniques for analyzing security
data (average, median, time series, etc.) and how each one should be
Chapter 6 is about visualization and notes that most information
security professionals have no real idea how to show security, both
literally and figuratively. Part of the problem is that security is
proliferated with esoteric terminology and concepts, and the lack of
understanding risk management amongst the masses. Part of the reason for
this difficulty in sharing the security message with management is that
many security practitioners lack simple metaphors for communicating
priorities. This is compounded by the fact that the message is often
focused exclusively on technical security issues, as opposed to the
underlying business issues, which is was management is concerned with.
The chapter is invaluable as it weans one off the malevolent pie chart
and traffic light PowerPoint presentation.
Marcus Ranum notes that people seem to want to treat computer security
like its rocket science or black magic. In fact, computer security is
nothing but attention to detail and good design. FUD is all about
emphasizing the black magic aspect of hackers and other rogue threats.
Metrics are all about the attention to detail that FUD lives to
Security Metrics: Replacing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt is one of the
more important security books of the last few years. Jaquith turns much
of the common security wisdom on its head, and the world will be a
better place for it. Security metrics are a necessity whose time has
come and this invaluable book shows how it can be done.
Ben Rothke, CISSP is a security consultant with BT INS and the author of
Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.
Attend Black Hat USA, July 28-August 2 in Las Vegas,
the world's premier technical event for ICT security
experts. Featuring 30 hands-on training courses and
90 Briefings presentations with lots of new content
and new tools. Network with 4,000 delegates from
70 nations. Visit product displays by 30 top
sponsors in a relaxed setting. Rates increase on
June 1 so register today. http://www.blackhat.com