The Great Cybersecurity Bake Off: The Necessary Ingredients

Greg Touhill, former federal CISO

Greg Touhill, former federal CISO US Coast Guard

The former federal chief information security officer offers a recipe for a successful cybersecurity program.

Greg Touhill, CISSP, CISM, is the president of Cyxtera Federal Group, former federal chief information security officer, and guest author for the (ISC)² U.S. Government Advisory Council Executive Writers Bureau.

I enjoy watching a popular BBC show called “The Great British Bake Off.” The show’s contestants create fabulous baked goods over the course of several weeks, often with few instructions or advance knowledge of how the required product is supposed to look and taste. Every week, a contestant is eliminated when they fail to deliver an attractive and tasty creation. More often than not, those who don’t have a good recipe are the ones asked to leave. For those of us concerned about managing cyber risk, knowing the right cybersecurity recipe is the difference between those who deliver results that are effective, efficient and secure and those that fail to properly protect your information, brand and reputation.

Many people say that cybersecurity needs to be “baked in” to products. I agree. However, “baking” cybersecurity into a product doesn’t complete the recipe for managing your cyber risk. Cybersecurity is an enterprise risk management issue. To be successful, you have to address more than just the products you buy. Ensuring that cybersecurity is “baked in” to the people, processes and technology within an organization is the best recipe for a successful cybersecurity program.

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Using the cooking analogy, your technology represents the ingredients in your cybersecurity recipe. When considering how to “bake” cybersecurity into the technology used by your organization, I recommend you include these four areas in your calculation: hardware, software, services and cloud. Remember, better ingredients produce the best results. 

The security of your hardware and its embedded software is essential. Do your homework before making purchases. Include your cybersecurity needs into your requirements documents and requests for proposals. When evaluating products, ask yourself whether the product will meet your needs now and into the future. Determine whether the manufacturer has a reputation for delivering secure and effective products. Ask whether the product has been independently tested for weaknesses by a trusted source and study the findings. These are essential cybersecurity due care and due diligence actions before making any purchase.

With hardware items often being a mix of components manufactured around the world, supply chain integrity is increasingly important. A weakness in the supply chain could introduce a flawed or maliciously tampered-with component into your information environment. Continually assessing the supply chain and quality assurance processes of your suppliers and channel partners is increasingly becoming a best practice and, for many hardware vendors, produces a competitive advantage that can help better manage risk. Before you enter into a relationship with a partner, it is imperative you assess the integrity of their supply chain and its potential impact on your enterprise risk.

Similarly, to produce safer, more reliable and secure software, many vendors now are embracing secure software development practices such as the OWASP Secure Coding Practices, the CERT’s Top 10 Secure Coding Practices, etc. You should too. Make secure software development a requirement for your own organic coding organizations as well as for the mission critical products you buy. When software is secure by design, it better serves your needs and reduces your risk exposure.

Many people neglect to include cybersecurity provisions in their services contracts, often leading to mishandling and exposure of their sensitive information. Service contracts are value-added activities that usually provide additional labor that fills manpower gaps or lack of expertise to accomplish key tasks. Organizations seeking service contracts often identify their mission essential functions and tasks and perform a gap analysis to identify where they have labor needs. Most, however, neglect to incorporate an information security risk assessment or cybersecurity requirements into their service contract management process. With many system administrator functions being outsourced to third-party providers, handing the keys to your kingdom to someone you don’t know or haven’t vetted is a prescription for disaster. Make sure that your service contracts explicitly address your cybersecurity requirements. Ensure that those who have access to your treasured information have the appropriate vetting and level of trust. Certify that service contract partners have the required training and certifications (e.g. CISSP, CCSP, SSCP, CSSLP, etc.) equal to or better than your organic work force.

With more and more organizations recognizing the value of migrating to cloud-based computing, it is essential that you “bake in” your cybersecurity requirements to your agreements with your cloud partners. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because your data is maintained off-site, it is out-of-mind and someone else’s problem. Every CISSP knows that you can delegate tasks, but never responsibility. When contracting for cloud service, I recommend you include the following five elements into your cybersecurity requirements:

  1. You, the information owner, retain the right to your information’s audit logs (such as Netflow).
  2. You, the information owner, will be notified (within a time and format based on your risk appetite) of unauthorized attempts to access your information.
  3. Your information is yours alone and is portable, i.e. at the conclusion of your contract your information may be easily migrated to another environment of your choosing. If there is a migration cost, it should be agreed to up-front before signing your contract.
  4. You retain the right to perform penetration testing against the environment hosting your information.
  5. You retain the right to conduct independent third-party auditing to ensure that your requirements are being met in a satisfactory manner per the contract.

In part one of this series, I have addressed the four necessary ingredients of your cybersecurity recipe that together make up the technology component of effectively “baking in” cybersecurity. In part two of this series, I will address what to include in your cookbook and the importance of training your chefs.