Is Your Data Really Secure?


By Zack Sanders

Most businesses, if asked, would tell you they do care about the security of their customers. The controversial part of security comes to a head when you ask the question in a different way. Does your business care enough about security to make an investment in protecting customer data? There are a few companies that proactively invest in security for security’s sake, but they are largely in the minority.

The two key driving factors that determine a business’s commitment to security investment are:

1) Government or Industry Standard Compliance – This is what drives businesses like your credit card company, your local bank, and your healthcare provider to care about security. In order to operate, they are forced to care. Standards like HIPAA and PCI require them to go through security audits and checkups. Note: And just because they invest in meeting a compliance standard,  it may not translate to secure data, as we will point out below.

2) A Breach Occurs – Nothing will change an organization’s attitude toward security like a massive, embarrassing security breach. Sadly, it usually takes something like this happening to drive home the point that security is important for everyone.

The fact is, most businesses are running on very thin margins and other operating operating costs come before security spending. Human nature is such that we prioritize by what is in front of us now. What we don’t know can’t hurt us. It is easy for a business to assume that their minimum firewall configuration is good enough for now. Unfortunately they cannot easily see the holes in their firewall. Most firewall security can easily be breached through advertised public interfaces.

How do we know? Because we often do complimentary spot checks on company web servers. It is a rare case when we  have not been able to break in, attaining access to all customer records. Even though our sample set is small, our breach rate is so high, we can reliably extrapolate that most companies can easily be broken into.

As we eluded to above, even some of the companies that follow a standard are still vulnerable. Many large corporations  just go through the motions to comply with a standard, so they might typically seek out “trusted,” large professional services firms to do their audits. Often, these companies will conduct boiler plate assessments where auditors run down a checklist with the sole goal of certifying the application or organization as compliant.

Hiring a huge firm to do an audit makes it much easier to deflect blame in the case of an incident. The employee responsible for hiring the audit firm can say, “Well, I hired XXX – what more could I have done?” If they had hired a small firm to do the audit, and a breach occurred, their judgement and job might come into question – however unfair that might be.

As a professional web application security analyst that has personally handled the aftermath of many serious security breaches, I would advocate that if you take your security seriously, start with an assessment challenge using a firm that will work to expose your real world vulnerabilities.

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