7 must-have technical security controls for any budget

Prioritizing items on a security budget can be difficult. Here’s seven key technical controls every IT shop should include in a security budget.

1. Perimeters defenses
Perimeter defenses remain a cornerstone of most organization’s technical security controls. Perimeter defense protect against both directed and opportunistic attacks by controlling access to corporate assets and services and access to external resources (by internal users). Even if an organization intends to move significant portions of their published services to the cloud, perimeter defenses are necessary for controlling interactions between assets that remain under the control of the organization.

Consider the advances offered by most modern firewalls (unified threat management, next generation firewalls, and integrated threat monitoring). Significant advances have also been made in firewall maintenance, management and migration tools, making it easier than ever to build new, or replace aging solutions. Logging, alerting and reporting features are more advanced and make it easier for technology personnel to report meaningful information to senior management. Several products are now available that make it possible for even small-to-medium business to consider implementation of firewalls for internal networks as well.

2. Secure build
Published technical and security standards underscore why secure builds are required and why end-users or admins should not modify required security settings. This is a critical consideration for those moving to cloud solutions, especially IaaS (Infrastructure) or PaaS (Platform) cloud offerings. Beyond a standard image, a secure build focuses on security configurations specific to the type of host (server or workstation) and the services or function necessary for its use.

Dedicated use hosts should have specific secure build requirements. These should be documented and maintained as part of a standard change management and change control process. Maintenance of a secure build must be supported by the build process. It is best practice to integrate as much centralized control as possible into the secure build process. This includes patch management, inventory management, and log monitoring and centralization. Again, if an organization is moving to cloud-based solutions, there should be a plan in place for dealing with the secure build and build maintenance process.

3. Spam and email content control
Phishing and spear-phishing attacks are one of the quickest and easiest ways to compromise an otherwise secure environment. SPAM still accounts for around 70% of most company’s email traffic. Even with perimeter defenses, patch management and build processes, end-user interaction with messaging systems and links to external resources can still expose well maintained systems. Use of cloud-based solutions may provide some protection (as many have integrated anti-spam solutions), but any user interaction with messaging system-based malware may expose whatever assets that specific user (and their current workstation) has access to.

4. Network segmentation and isolation of critical assets
Many environments still allow interaction with critical systems from virtually anywhere within the organization; this has become a business imperative. Network segmentation helps to control access to critical internal systems from users and applications that have no need to interact with them. Separating critical assets and ensuring that only authorized personnel, systems, or applications can interact with them, significantly reduces exposure and chance of opportunistic attack from insiders.

Network segmentation can also reduce the scope of audit activities (if you can demonstrate effective segmentation controls), which saves time and money.

5. Patch management
Patch management provides direct reduction of risk associated with newly discovered vulnerabilities. These core security processes are well known as foundational to any security program, yet lack of effective patch management is still one of the most common issues with environments reviewed by security consultants. While patch management is a required control for many standards and regulations, many organizations are still missing significant elements of an effective patch management program.

Many solutions do not adequately address third-party applications or COTS solutions. Many organizations are not being aggressive enough with patch management. It is common to see global organizations with only quarterly or semi-annual patch schedules, and product vendors with patch cycles that exceed a year. Any gap in system or application patching exposes those systems to directed and opportunistic attacks.

6. Anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware
Users remain a significant target within most organizations. Anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware solutions provide some defense against user interaction with Internet sites, malicious files, and email content. Just having the control is not enough, it requires management, review and integration with the overall vulnerability management program. Further, integration with edge-controls, such as IDS/IPS, threat-monitoring and even Internet Access Controls can help with detection of virus/malware events and the efforts necessary for remediation or clean-up activities.

7. Data leakage protection and Internet access control
Data leakage protection (DLP) should be implemented for any site that is concerned with regulatory compliance, protection of corporate confidential information or personally identifiable information. These tools can be used to detect ingress or egress of protected information from an environment. While there are still a number of methods to extract data from environments that cannot be controlled through such means, it significantly raises the bar and prevents many common methods of extracting data from an environment. These systems are also useful in detecting misconfiguration of systems that intentionally move data between environments through common messaging tools.

Internet access control systems provide enforcement of Internet usage. This is valuable even when used only to prevent access to malicious sites. Internet access control systems can be used to identify systems that have been subverted, including botnets, and viruses that communicate over various command and control connections. While there are other ways to control access to Internet sites (or prevent access to specific sites), dedicated systems are easier to manage and support production of consumable management reports.