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A Few Good Metrics

A Few Good Metrics

Mention metrics to a CIO or infosecurity executive and immediately their thoughts may well turn to sigmas, standard deviations and, probably, probability. To many, metrics equals statistics.

METRIC 3 Password Strength

This metric offers simple risk reduction by sifting out bad passwords and making them harder to break, and finding potential weak spots where key systems use default passwords. Password cracking can also be a powerful demonstration tool with executives who themselves have weak passwords. By demonstrating to them in person how quickly you can break their password, you will improve your lines of communication with them and their understanding of your role.

How to get it: Using commonly available password cracking programs, attempt to break into systems with weak passwords. Go about this methodically, first attacking desktops, then servers or admin systems. Or go by business unit. You should classify your devices and spend more time attempting to break the passwords to the more important systems. "If it's a game of capture the flag," Jaquith says, "the flag is with the domain controller, so you want stronger access control there, obviously."

Expressed as: Length of time or average length of time required to break passwords. (For example, admin systems averaged 12 hours to crack.) Can be combined with a percentage for a workgroup view (for example, 20 percent of accounts in business unit cracked in less than 10 minutes). Is your password subject to a lunchtime attack? That is, can it be cracked in the 45 minutes you are away from your desk to nosh?

Not good for: User admonishment, judgement. The point of this exercise is not to punish offending users, but to improve your security. Skip the public floggings and just quietly make sure employees stop using their mother's maiden name for access.

Try this: Use password cracking as an awareness-program audit tool. Set up two groups (maybe business units). Give one group password training. The other group is a control; it doesn't get training. After several months and password resets, try to crack the passwords in both groups to see if the training led to better passwords.

One possible visualization: Both YAH and small multiples graphics could work with this metric. (See the graphics for Metric 1 and Metric 2.)

METRIC 4 Platform Compliance Scores

Widely available tools, such as the Centre for Internet Security (CIS) scoring toolset, can run tests against systems to find out if your hardware meets best-practice standards such as those set by CIS. The software tools take minutes to run, and test such things as whether ports are left unnecessarily open, machines are indiscriminately shared, default permissions are left on, and other basic but often overlooked security lapses. The scoring system is usually simple, and given how quickly the assessments run, CIOs can in short order get a good picture of how "hardened" their hardware is by business unit, by location or by any other variable they please.

Expressed as: Usually a score from zero to 10, with 10 being the best. Best-in-class, hardened workstations score a nine or a 10, according to Jaquith. He says this metric is far more rigorous than standard questionnaires that ask if you're using antivirus software or not. "I ran the benchmark against the default build of a machine with Windows XP Service Pack 2, a personal firewall and antivirus protection, and it scored a zero!" Jaquith notes.

Not good for: Auditing, comprehensive risk assessment or penetration testing. While a benchmark like this may be used to support those advanced security functions, it shouldn't replace them. But if you conduct a penetration test after you've benchmarked yourself, chances are the pen test will go more smoothly.

Try this: Use benchmarking in hardware procurement or integration services negotiations, demanding configurations that meet some minimum score. Also demand baseline scores from partners or others who connect to your network.

One possible visualization: An overall score here is simple to do: It's a number between one and 10. To supplement that, consider a tree map. Tree maps use colour and space in a field to show "hot spots" and "cool spots" in your data. They are not meant for precision; rather they're a streamlined way to present complex data. They're "moody". They give you a feel for where your problems are most intense. In the case of platform-compliance scores, for instance, you could map the different elements of your benchmark test and assign each element a colour based on how risky it is and a size based on how often it was left exposed. Be warned, tree maps are not easy to do. But when done right, they can have instant visual impact.

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