How to pass the Azure Fundamentals exam

Microsoft Certified Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) is an entry-level qualification focusing on core cloud concepts and Azure services. It doesn’t have any prerequisites so it’s a natural first step on your journey of mastering Azure cloud.

If you have experience with cloud technologies from other providers, you might be already familiar with the basics of cloud computing but that doesn’t mean you should skip this certification. GCP, AWS and Azure have their own peculiarities and despite having seemingly similar offerings, there are significant differences in how their services are provisioned and configured.

Studying for this exam will give you a good overview of Azure-specific terminology and services, and will be useful regardless of your previous skill level.

I recommend the following free resources to help with your preparation:

How to apply FBI’s behavioural change stairway to security

Unlike the FBI’s Hostage Negotiation Team, cyber security professionals are rarely involved in high-stakes negotiations involving human life. But that doesn’t mean they can’t use some of the techniques developed by them to apply it to improve security culture, overcome resistance and guide organisational change.

Behind the apparent simplicity, this model is a tried and tested way to influence human behaviour over time. The crux of it is that you can’t skip any steps as consecutive efforts build on the previous ones. The common mistake many cyber security professionals make is they jump straight to Influence or Behavioral change with phishing simulations or security awareness campaigns but this can be counterproductive. 

As explained in the original paper, it is recommended to invest time in active listening, empathy and establishing rapport first. In the security context, this might mean working with the business stakeholders to understand their objectives and concerns, rather than sowing fear of security breaches and regulatory fines.

All of this doesn’t mean you have to treat every interaction like a hostile negotiation or treat your business executives as violent felons. The aim is to build trust to be able to best support the business not manipulate your way into getting your increased budget signed off.I cover some techniques in The Psychology of Information Security – feel free to check it out if you would like to learn more.

Guest lecture at Hull University Business School

I had the pleasure to deliver a guest lecture to students of Hull University Business School. I spoke about current cybersecurity trends and what they meant to the businesses. I also used this opportunity to talk about various career paths one can explore while starting in or transitioning into security.

There is a misconception that you have to have a technical background to be successful in cybersecurity. In reality through, the field is so broad and roles can be so varied that the diversity of backgrounds, skills, experiences and perspectives is essential to help organisations across the world be more secure. Arguably, communication skills and understanding of the business can be more valuable in certain contexts than a proficiency in a narrow vendor-specific technology.

There are a lot of transferable skills one can bring to the profession regardless of their prior cybersecurity knowledge and I urge everyone who is considering a transition into this field to reflect on how they can contribute.

How to assess security risks using the bow tie method

Bow tie risk diagrams are used in safety critical environments, like aviation, chemicals and oil and gas. They visualise potential causes and consequences of hazardous events and allow for preventative and recovery controls to be highlighted.

You don’t have to be a gas engineer or work for a rail operator to benefit from this tool, however. Cyber security professionals can use simplified bow tie diagrams to communicate security risks to non-technical audiences as they succinctly capture business consequences and their precursors on a single slide.

If you work for one of the safety critical industries already, using this technique to represent cyber risks has an added benefit of aligning to the risk assessment patterns your engineers likely already use, increasing the adoption and harmonising the terminology.

There are templates available online and, depending on the purpose of the exercise, they can vary in complexity. However, if you are new to the technique and want to focus on improving your business communication when talking about cyber risk, I suggest starting with a simple PowerPoint slide

Feel free to refer to my example diagram above where I walk through a sensitive data exposure scenario. For example, it can occur through either a phishing attempt or a credential stuffing attack (supply chain and web application/infrastructure exposure being another vector) leading to a variety of business consequences ranging from a loss of funds to reputational damage. The figure also incorporates potential preventative barriers and recovery controls that are applicable before and after the incident respectively. 

Business alignment framework for security

In my previous blogs on the role of the CISO, CISO’s first 100 days and developing security strategy and architecture, I described some of the points a security leader should consider initially while formulating an approach to supporting an organisation. I wanted to build on this and summarise some of the business parameters in a high-level framework that can be used as a guide to learn about the company in order to tailor a security strategy accordingly.

This framework can also be used as a due diligence cheat sheet while deciding on or prioritising potential opportunities – feel free to adapt it to your needs.

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How to set up a bug bounty program

Bug bounty programmes are becoming the norm in larger software organisations but it doesn’t mean you have to be Google or Facebook to run one for continuous security testing and engaging with the security community..

Setting it up can be easier than you might think as there are multiple platforms like HackerOne, BugCrowd or similar out there that can help with centralised management. They also offer an option to introduce it gradually through private participation first before opening it to the whole world. 

At a minimum, you can have a dedicated email address (e.g. security@yourexamplecompanyname) that security researchers can use to report security issues. Having a page transparently explaining the participation terms, scope and payout rate also helps. Additionally, it’s good to have appropriate tooling to track issues and verify fixes.

Even if you don’t have any of the above, security researchers can still find vulnerabilities in your product and report them to you responsibly, so you effectively get free testing but can exercise limited control over it. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a process in place to keep them happy enough to avoid them disclosing issues publicly.

There is probably nothing more frustrating for a security researcher than receiving no response  (apart perhaps from being threatened legal action), so communication is key. At the very least, thank them and request more information to help verify their finding while you kick off the investigation internally. Bonus points for keeping them in the loop when it comes to plans for remediation, if appropriate. 

There are some prerequisites for setting up the bug bounty programme though. Beyond the obvious budget requirement for paying researchers for the vulnerabilities they discover, there is a broader need for engineering resources being available to analyse reported issues and work on improving the security of your products and services. What’s the point of setting up a bug bounty programme if no one is looking at the findings?

Many companies, therefore, might feel they are not ready for a bug bounty programme. They may have too many known issues already and fear they will be overwhelmed with duplicate submissions. These might indeed be problematic to manage, so such organisations are better off focusing their efforts on remediating known vulnerabilities and implementing measures to prevent them (e.g. setting up a Content Security Policy).

They could also consider introducing security tests in the pipeline as this will help catch potential vulnerabilities much earlier in the process, so the bug bounty programme can be used as a fall back mechanism, not the primary way for identifying security issues.

I’ve been named a CSO30 Awards 2020 winner

I am excited to be recognised as one of the top security executives who have demonstrated outstanding thought leadership and business value.

The winners of the CSO30 Award “demonstrated risk and security excellence in helping guide their organisations through the challenges of COVID19, worked to secure digital transformation initiatives, strengthen security awareness and education efforts, utilize new security technologies, engage with the wider security community to share learnings, and much more.”

It’s a team effort and I’m proud to be working with great professionals helping businesses innovate while managing risks.

The role of a CISO

I’m often asked what the responsibilities of a CISO or Head of Information Security are. Regardless of the title, the remit of a security leadership role varies from organisation to organisation. At its core, however, they have one thing in common – they enable the businesses to operate securely. Protecting the company brand, managing risk and building customer trust through safeguarding the data they entrusted you with are key.

There are various frameworks out there that can help structure a security programme but it is a job of a security leader to understand the business context and prioritise activities accordingly. I put the below diagram together (inspired by Rafeeq Rehman) to give an idea of some of the key initiatives and responsibilities you could consider. Feel free to adapt and tailor to the needs of your organisation.

You might also find my previous blogs on the first 100 days as a CISO and developing an information security strategy useful.

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How to select cyber insurance

I wrote previously about how cyber insurance can be a useful addition to your risk management program.

Unlike more established insurance products, cyber doesn’t have the same amount of historical data, so approaches to underwriting this risk can vary. Models to quantify it usually rely on a number of high-level factors (the industry your organisation is in, geography, applicable regulation, annual revenue, number of customers and employees, etc.) and questions aimed at evaluating your security capabilities.

You are usually asked to complete a self-assessment questionnaire to help the underwriter quantify the risk and come up with an appropriate policy. Make sure the responses you provide are accurate as discrepancies in the answers can invalidate the policy. It’s also a good idea to involve your Legal team to review the wording. 

While you can’t do much about the wider organisational factors, you could potentially reduce the premium, if you are able to demonstrate the level of security hygiene in your company that correlates with risk reduction.

To achieve this, consider implementing measures aimed at mitigating some of the more costly cyber risks. What can you do to prevent and recover from a ransomware attack, for example? Developing and testing business continuity and disaster recovery plans, enabling multi factor authentication, patching your systems and training your staff all make good sense from the security perspective. They can also save your business money when it comes to buying cyber insurance.

If possible, offer to take the underwriter through your security measures in more detail and play around with excess and deductibles. Additionally, higher cover limits will also mean higher premiums and these are not always necessary. Know what drives your business to get cyber cover in the first place. Perhaps, your organisation can’t afford to hire a full time incident response manager to coordinate the activities in the event of a breach or manage internal and external communication. These are often included in cyber insurance products, so taking advantage of them doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pay for a high limit. While it is tempting to seek insurance against theft of funds and compensation for business interruption, these can drive the premium up significantly. 

It’s worth balancing the cost of the insurance with the opportunity cost of investing this sum in improving cyber security posture. You might not be able to hire additional security staff but you may be able to formulate a crisis communication plan, including various notification templates and better prepare with an incident simulation exercise, if you haven’t already. These are not mutually exclusive, however, and best used in conjunction. 

Remember, risk ownership cannot be transferred: cyber insurance is not a substitute for security controls, so even the best cover should be treated as an emergency recovery measure.

CSO30 Conference – behavioural science in cyber security

I’ve been invited to speak at the CSO30 Conference today on applying behavioural science to cyber security.

I talked about the role behavioural science plays in improving cybersecurity in organisations, the challenges of applying academic theory in practice and how to overcome them.

I shared some tips on how to build the culture of security and measure the success of your security programme.

We also spoke about the differences in approaches and scalability of your security programme depending on the size and context you organisation, including staffing and resourcing constraints.

Overall, I think we covered a lot of ground in just 30 minutes and registration is still open if you’d like to watch a recording.