Six infosec tips I learned from Game of Thrones
by Corey Nachreiner - Director of Security Strategy and Research, WatchGuard Technologies - Monday, 28 April 2014.
In Westeros—the land of dark knights, backstabbing royals, dragons, wildings, wargs, red witches, and White Walkers—even the youngest ones have to learn basic self-defense if they’re to have any hope of surviving the cruel fictional world imagined by A Game of Thrones (GOT) author, George R. R. Martin. And so too, must every CISO and security pro learn the latest information security best practices if they’re to survive today’s Internet threat landscape.

If you’re a GOT fan, you’re probably excited about the recent launch of season four. Accordingly, the second article of my pop-culture/cyber-security series explores the information security tips you might extract from the morbidly dark, yet inescapably intriguing fantasy series. Here are six security tips I learned from Game of Thrones:

1. The sturdiest wall may conceal a hidden passage. In Game of Thrones, The Wall is a colossal fortification that protects the Seven Kingdoms from the mysterious and malignant beings (the Others), who live in the far north. Made entirely of ice, it runs more than 300 miles in length and stands 700 feet tall. Even from the defender’s side, riding the rickety lift to the top seems like a petrifying proposition, let alone trying to breach it from the outside. On the surface, The Wall offers an impressive, seemingly impenetrable defense.

So how does this relate to information security (infosec)? I could go the obvious route and talk about how your network needs a “wall” to defend its perimeter, or maybe mention the importance of manning your network wall the way the Night’s Watch guards the gates of the North. However, though those tips ring true, I’m going a more unconventional direction by reminding you there are cracks or holes hiding in every wall.

As impassable as The Wall seems, many groups were able to breach it throughout Martin’s narrative. For instance, a group of wildlings and Jon Snow simply climb over it at one point. Even Bran and his ragtag group of kids, with help from Samwell, find a secret passage called The Black Gate.

The point here is no defense is perfect. Every defense can fail under the right pressure, or miss certain types of attacks. This is why infosec experts have long relied on the basic concept of defense in depth.

Here’s a concrete example. If you manage a network, you need a firewall. However, firewalls—especially traditional ones—will miss many types of attacks. Today, most network attacks originate from the inside (your users clicking a link), and occur over ports you must allow through your firewall (80, 443). Most legacy firewalls miss these. In fact, no technical security control, no matter how advanced, can prevent every type of attack. This is why you need to layer multiple defenses together, so others can catch what the first layers miss.

While the final battle between the White Walkers and The Wall has yet to begin, I feel safe in predicting that if Westeros relies on The Wall alone for defense, they have a lot to fear!

2. Heed the warnings of ravens. In the Game of Thrones universe, maesters (and by extension the kings they serve) send important messages to one another through ravens; in the same way we used carrier pigeons in the past. However, over time these raven messengers developed an unfavorable reputation, likely since they often delivered bad news. “Dark wings, dark words,” as the in-world saying goes. Nonetheless, bad or not, these messages usually contain important news, and ignoring the news carries consequences.

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