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BerryDunn’s Cybersecurity Playbook for Management: Discovery

A professional sports team is an ever-changing entity. To have a general perspective on the team’s fluctuating strengths and weaknesses, a good coach needs to trust and empower their staff to discover the details. Chapter 5 in BerryDunn’s Cybersecurity Playbook for Management looks at how discovery can help managers understand their organization’s ever-changing IT environment. 

What is discovery, and how does it connect to capacity?

RG: Discovery is the process of mapping your organization’s capacity—people, processes, and tools—so you understand what your organization’s IT environment has. In other words, it’s the auditing of your IT environment.

Of course, the most valuable thing within your IT environment, other than the people who access it, is the “thing” that drives your business. Often this thing is data, but it could be proprietary processes or machinery. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on data. Discovery naturally answer questions such as:

• What in our IT environment is important to our business?
• How is it being used?
• Who has access to it, and how can we better protect it? 

How can managers tackle discovery?

RG: First, you need to understand discovery requires accepting the fact that the environment is always evolving. Discovery is not a one-and-done process—it, never ends. People introduce new things, like updated software, into IT environments all the time. Your IT environment is an always-shifting playing field. Think of Amazon’s Alexa devices. When someone plugs one into your internal wireless network, they’ve just expanded your attack surface for a hacker by introducing a new device with its own set of vulnerabilities.

Second, you have to define the “auditable universe” by establishing manageable boundaries in direct proportion to your discovery team’s capabilities. I often see solicitations for proposals that ask for discovery of all assets in an IT environment. That could include a headquarters building, 20 satellite offices, and remote workers, and is going to take a long time to assess. I recently heard of a hospital discovering 41,000 internet-connected devices on their network—mostly Internet of Things (IoT) resources, such as heart monitors. Originally, the hospital had only been aware of about one-third of these devices. Keeping your boundaries realistic and manageable can prevent your team from being overwhelmed.

Third, your managers should refrain from getting directly involved with discovery because it’s a pretty technical and time-consuming process. You should task a team to conduct discovery, and provide the discovery team with adequate tools. There are a lot of good tools that can help map networks and manage assets; we’ll talk about them later in this blog. Managers should mainly concern themselves with the results of discovery and trust in the team’s ability to competently map out the IT environment. Remember, the IT environment is always evolving, so even as the results roll in, things are changing.

Who should managers select for the discovery team?

RG: Ideally, various groups of people. For instance, it makes sense for HR staff to conduct the people part of discovery. Likewise, it makes sense for data owners—staff responsible for certain data—to conduct the process part of discovery, and for IT staff to conduct the tool part.

However, I should point out that if you have limited internal resources, then the IT staff can conduct all three parts of discovery, working closely with all stakeholders. IT staff will have a pretty good sense of where data is held within the organization’s IT environment, and they will develop an understanding of what is important to the organization.

Could an organization’s security staff conduct discovery?

RG: Interestingly enough, security staff don’t always have day-to-day interactions with data. They are more focused on overall data protection strategies and tactics. Therefore, it makes more sense to leverage other staff, but the results of discovery (e.g., knowing where data resides, understanding the sensitivity of data) need to be shared with security staff. Ultimately, this knowledge will help security staff better protect your data.

What about hiring external resources to conduct discovery?

RG: It depends on what you’re trying to do. If the goal of discovery is to comply with some sort of regulatory standard or framework, then yes, hiring external resources makes sense. These resources could come in and, using the discovery process, conduct a formal assessment. It may also make sense to hire external resources if you’re short-staffed, or if you have a complex environment with undocumented data repositories, processes, and tools. Yet in each of these scenarios, the external resources will only be able to provide a point-in-time baseline. 

Otherwise, I recommend leveraging your internal staff. An internal discovery team should be able to handle the task if adequately staffed and resourced, and team members will learn a lot in the process. And as discovery never really ends, do you want to have to perpetually hire external resources?

People make up a big part of capacity. Should the discovery team focus on people and their roles in this process?

RG: Yes! It sounds odd that people and their roles are included in discovery, but it is important to know who is using and touching your data. At a minimum, the discovery team needs to conduct background checks. (This is one example of where HR staff need to be part of the discovery process.)

How can the discovery team best map processes?

RG: The discovery team has to review each process with the respective data owner. Now, if you are asking the data owners themselves to conduct discovery, then you should have them illustrate their own workflows. There are various process mapping tools, such as Microsoft Visio, that data owners can use for this.

The discovery team needs to acknowledge that data owners often perform their processes correctly through repetition—the problems or potential vulnerabilities stem from an inherently flawed or insecure process, or having one person in charge of too many processes. Managers should watch out for this. I’ll give you a perfect example of the latter sort of situation. I once helped a client walk through the process of system recovery.

During the process we discovered that the individual responsible for system recovery also had the ability to manipulate database records and to print checks. In theory, that person could have been able to cut themselves a check and then erase its history from the system. That’s a big problem!

Other times, data owners perform their processes correctly, but inadvertently use compromised or corrupted tools, such as free software downloaded from the internet. The discovery team has to identify needed policy and procedure changes to prevent these situations from happening.

Your mention of vulnerable software segues nicely to the topic of tools. How can the discovery team best map the technologies the organization uses?

RG: Technology is inherently flawed. You can’t go a week without hearing about a new vulnerability in a widely used system or application. I suggest researching network scanning tools for identifying hosts within your network; vulnerability testing tools for identifying technological weaknesses or gaps; and penetration testing tools for simulating cyber-attacks to assess cybersecurity defenses.

Let’s assume a manager has tasked a team to conduct discovery. What’s the next step?

RG: If you recall, in the previous blog I discussed the value of adopting a cybersecurity risk register, which is a document used to list the organization’s cybersecurity risks, record required risk mitigation actions, and identify who “owns” the risk. The next step is for your discovery team to start completing the risk register. The manager uses this risk register, and subsequent discussions with the team, to make corresponding business decisions to improve cybersecurity, such as purchasing new tools—and to measure the progress of mitigating any vulnerabilities identified in the discovery process. A risk register can become an invaluable resource planning tool for managers.

For discovery purposes, what’s the best format for a cybersecurity risk register?

RG: There are very expensive programs an organization can use to create a risk register. Some extremely large banking companies use the RSA Archer GRC platform. However, you can build a very simple risk register in Excel. An Excel spreadsheet would work well for small and some mid-sized organizations, but there are other relatively inexpensive solutions available. I say this because managers should aim for simplicity. You don’t want the discovery team getting bogged down by a complex risk register.

Finally, what are some discovery resources and reference guides that managers should become familiar with and utilize?

RG: I recommend the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication series. They outline very specific and detailed discovery methodologies you can use to improve your discovery process.

So what’s next?

RG: Chapter 6 will focus on synthesizing maturity, capacity, and discovery to create a resilient organization from a cybersecurity point of view.

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