Plan to fail for better security
by Tom Davison - Technical Director at Check Point - Thursday, 17 October 2013.
We’ve all heard the old saying: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” Of course, it’s true: and from a security viewpoint, it’s also interesting to turn the cliché on its head. Shouldn’t a major part of any robust IT security strategy be about planning to fail? About preparing for the ‘what if’ scenarios that can disrupt normal business operations, and attempting to mitigate the potential impact of those disruptions?

A majority of businesses already do this to some extent, by performing regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests on their networks. But all too often these tests will look only at issues such as vulnerabilities on Internet gateways, systems with out-of-date patches or the presence of malware. They don’t include other security problems that are just as capable of causing outages, failures and damage – such as DDoS attacks, phishing attempts and more – which almost always strike at random and unexpectedly.

So how do you widen the scope of your security planning to ensure you’ve covered all the outage and security scenarios that could have a catastrophic effect on your business?

Monkey business

A few years ago, streaming media company Netflix addressed this specific issue by creating a software tool called Chaos Monkey. Its purpose was simply to randomly target and kill software and server processes, to try to disrupt and cause failure in the company’s overall services. If Chaos Monkey couldn’t interrupt service to users, then the company had truly built a resilient network.

While letting rogue software loose in your main business systems may seem counterintuitive, from a security standpoint it makes sense. After all, wouldn’t you want your systems to remain secure when it matters the most: during an actual attack or unexpected outage? It’s the random element that provides the toughest test.

Now, you may think that there are more than enough security events taking place both inside and outside your network already, which are already fulfilling the Chaos Monkey’s role admirably. Why not use the example of some of these frequent, randomly occurring events to reduce your organisation’s exposure to risk? Here’s a look at how to mitigate the impact of some very common, but unpredictable, security problems.

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