DevOps and Operational Technology: a security perspective

I have worked in the Operational Technology (OT) environment for years, predominantly in major Oil and Gas companies. And yes, we all know that this space can move quite slowly! Companies traditionally employ a waterfall model while managing projects with rigid stage gates, extensive planning and design phases followed by lengthy implementation or development.

It’s historically been difficult to adopt more agile approaches in such an environment for various reasons. For example, I’ve developed architecture blueprints with a view to refresh industrial control assets for a gas and electricity distribution network provider in the UK on a timeline of 7 years. It felt very much like a construction project to me.  Which is quite different from the software development culture that typically is all about experimenting and failing fast. I’m not sure about you, but I would not like our power grid to fail fast in the name of agility. The difference in culture is justified: we need to prioritise safety and rigour when it comes to industrial control systems, as the impact of a potential mistake can cost more than a few days’ worth of development effort – it can be human life.

The stakes are not as high when we talk about software development.  I’ve spent the past several months in one of the biggest dot-coms in Europe and it was interesting to compare and contrast their agile approach to the more traditional OT space I’ve spent most of my career in. These two worlds can’t be more different.

I arrived to a surprising conclusion though: they are both slow when it comes to security. But  for different reasons.

Agile, and Scrum in particular, is great on paper but it’s quite challenging when it comes to security.

Agile works well when small teams are focused on developing products but I found it quite hard to introduce security culture in such an environment. Security often is just not a priority for them.

Teams mostly focus on what they perceive as a business priority. It is a standard practice there to define OKRs – Objectives and Key Results. The teams are then measured on how well they achieved those. So say if they’ve met 70% of their OKRs, they had a good quarter. Guess what – security always ends up in the other bottom 30% and security-related backlog items get de-prioritised.

DevOps works well for product improvement, but it can be quite bad for security. For instance, when a new API or a new security process is introduced, it has to touch a lot of teams which can be a stakeholder management nightmare in such an environment. A security product has to be shoe horned across multiple DevOps teams, where every team has its own set of OKRs, resulting in natural resistance to collaborate.

In a way, both OT and DevOps move slowly when it comes to security. But what do you do about it?

The answer might lie in setting the tone from the top and making sure that everyone is responsible for security, which I’ve discussed in a series of articles on security culture on this blog and in my book The Psychology of Information Security.

How about running your security team like a DevOps team? When it comes to Agile, minimising the friction for developers is the name of the game: incorporate your security checks in the deployment process, do some automated vulnerability scans, implement continuous control monitoring, describe your security controls in the way developers understand (e.g. user stories) and so on.

Most importantly, gather and analyse data to improve. Where is security failing? Where is it clashing with the business process? What does the business actually need here? Is security helping or impeding? Answering these questions is the first step to understanding where security can add value to the business regardless of the environment: Agile or OT.


Sharing views on security culture

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I’ve been invited to talk about human aspects of security at the CyberSecurity Talks & Networking event.  The venue and the format allowed the audience to participate and ask questions and we had insightful discussions at the end of my talk. It’s always interesting to hear what challenges people face in various organisations and how a few simple improvements can change the security culture for the better.


Cybersecurity Canon: The Psychology of Information Security

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My book has been nominated for the Cybersecurity Cannon, a list of must-read books for all cybersecurity practitioners.

Review by Guest Contributor Nicola Burr, Cybersecurity Consultant

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Presenting at SANS European Security Awareness Summit

It’s been a pleasure delivering a talk on the psychology of information security culture at the SANS European Security Awareness Summit 2016. It was the first time for me to attend and present at this event, I certainly hope it’s not going to be the last.

The summit has a great community feel to it and Lance Spitzner did a great job organising and bringing people together. It was an opportunity for me not only to share my knowledge, but also to learn from others during a number of interactive sessions and workshops. The participants were keen to share tips and tricks to improve security awareness in their companies, as well as sharing war stories of what worked and what didn’t.

It was humbling to find out that my book was quite popular in this community and I even managed to sign a couple of copies.

All speakers’ presentation slides (including from past and future events) can be accessed here.


The Psychology of Information Security – Get 10% Off

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IT Governance Publishing kindly provided a 10% discount on my book. Simply use voucher code SPY10 on my publisher’s website.

Offer ends 30 November 2016.


How to Create a Security Culture at the Workplace

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month(NCSAM) which is designed to engage and educate public and private sector partners through events and initiatives to raise awareness about cybersecurity,

I’ve been asked to share my views on creating a security culture at the workplace with The State of Security.

I believe the goal is not to teach tricks, but to create a new culture which is accepted and understood by everyone. In order to effectively do so, messages need to be designed and delivered according to each type of employee: there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all security campaign. Questions that must always be answered include: What are the benefits? What does it matter or why should I care? What impact do my actions have?

Security campaigns must discard scare tactics such as threatening employees with sanctions for breaches. Campaigns should be oriented towards the users’ goals and values, as well as the values of the organisation, such as professionalism and delivery.

A security campaign should emphasise that employees can cause serious damage to an organisation when they engage in non-compliant behaviour, even if it appears to be in an insignificant way. They should understand that they are bearing some responsibility for the security of the organisation and its exposure to risk.

Furthermore, the entire organisation needs to perceive security as bringing value to the company, as opposed to being an obstacle preventing employees from doing their job. It is important for employees to understand that they contribute to the smooth and efficient operation of business processes when they follow recommended security practices, just as security enables the availability of resources that support these processes.


The Psychology of Information Security Culture

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In order to reduce security risks within an enterprise, security professionals have traditionally attempted to guide employees towards compliance through security training. However, recurring problems and employee behaviour in this arena indicate that these measures are insufficient and rather ineffective.

Security training tends to focus on specific working practices and defined threat scenarios, leaving the understanding of security culture and its specific principles of behaviour untouched. A security culture should be regarded as a fundamental matter to address. If neglected, employees will not develop habitually secure behaviour or take the initiative to make better decisions when problems arise.

In my talk I will focus on how you can improve security culture in your organisation. I’ll discuss how you can:

  • Understand the root causes of a poor security culture within the workplace
  • Aligning a security programme with wider organisational objectives
  • Manage and communicate these changes within an organisation

The goal is not to teach tricks, but to create a new culture which is accepted and understood by everyone. Come join us at the Security Awareness Summit on 11 Nov for an amazing opportunity to learn from and share with each other. Activities include show-n-tell, 306 Lightening Talks, video wars, group case studies and numerous networking activities. Learn more and register now for the Summit.

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