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Compliance: The False Sense of Security

I know many will read this title and think that I am crazy. If I am compliant with NIST, HIPAA, ISO, PCI, etc., then I am running a secure network.

And to a point that is true.

But let’s look at it this way. If you are driving down the interstate at the posted speed limit and are keeping three car lengths between the driver in front of you, are you truly safe and secure on the interstate?

Not at all. While we have been conditioned to be aware of our surroundings, here in Tennessee and I would guess other states and nations, there are always circumstances that take place. Sometimes a tractor trailer will run the lane until it ends and then merge without a care if someone is in the neighboring lane. So, we train ourselves to continually check our surroundings looking for the potential hazard to come our way and to be able to quickly move to avoid an incident. 

Security must be the same way. Just as we use our mirrors to look for potential hazards, we need look around for potential vulnerabilities. If we train ourselves and our employees to continually look around for potential vulnerabilities, then we create for ourselves a security mindset.

Let’s continue with the driving analogy. A driver obeying the traffic laws by doing the speed limit, or close to it, signaling before turning and watching out for pedestrians is safer than someone who blindly goes down the road hoping everything, and everyone gets out of the way. This is similar to being HIPPA, PCI and GDPR compliant, safe but things could be tightened down further.

When we go to the mall, we park near the lights in a populated area of the parking lot, and we lock our doors to protect the contents of our car. We also don’t park too close to the lines so that we don’t get any door dings. In order to protect our prized data, we need to make sure that our systems are protected with the latest virus definitions, are updated with the latest security patches, and are behind a firewall. Implementing an Intrusion Detection System on your firewall will alert you when the threat actors are trying to put dings in your firewall to find your weaknesses. 

We rotate our tires, perform oil changes, and replace our brakes, all so that we have reliable transportation when we need it. Likewise, we need to implement redundancy in our applications, keep our systems updated with the latest updates, and enforce least privileged access, so that we have reliable systems.

What must be remembered is even when all precautions are taken and the driver/employee is well trained and knowledgeable accidents can still happen.

Even to me.

One Saturday morning, I was running late for our robotics season kickoff meeting. I hurriedly got my laptop connected to the TV and brought up the website where our Kickoff video was going to start in 15 minutes. The webpage said I needed a Java update to continue, and I clicked OK since I did not have the time to spend on this. Then it all of a sudden hit me. That Java update window had a blue logo and not the normal red java logo. I looked at the URL, and I misspelled it. Oops, in my rushed state, I did not fall back to my security mindset. Now I had a laptop to rebuild.

If we base our security program around the regulatory compliance that we need to meet. We will still have weaknesses in our program.

The security chain is only as strong as its weakest link. However, if we train ourselves to have a security mindset, it will be like muscle memory when we need it. We will be operating daily in a more secure fashion and constantly aware of our surroundings. Once we as an organization are operating this way, the regulatory compliance will just fall into place.