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Protecting Our Networks: It’s a Team Game Now!

I have been coaching youth sports for the past seven plus years now and one of my common mantras when speaking to the girls and boys each season is that “we will win as a team and lose as a team.”  In other words, I will never tolerate one player acting selfishly enough to think he or she is above everyone else on the team.  I strive to instill the objective that we will collectively pool our talents for the betterment of the team.  We use this approach because each boy and girl, believe it or not, brings with himself or herself a unique set of abilities and strengths with which the entire team will benefit.

So why should you care about my coaching philosophies?  :-)  Read More »

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Security Assessments: More Than Meets the Eye

Is the product safe to use? I have been asked this question on occasion in a non-technical sense and maybe you have too. In a technical context, I could frame the question as “Are the online services and underlying technologies supporting my services safe?”  A continuous effort must go into substantiating the preferable answer (“Yes”) that we are looking for, both prior to and after releasing a product or service into the wild. Security Intelligence Operations (SIO) includes a team of network security experts that form the Security Technology Assessment Team (STAT). They provide security assessment expertise across Cisco’s product and services organizations. In this article, I elaborate on their role and how they complement product and services organizations at Cisco in helping to protect you, our customer.

In the not-so-distant past it used to be that the majority of notoriety around product security was focused more around physical aspects. For example, a manufacturer announces a product recall about a defect (i.e. vulnerability) that could cause potential physical harm or worse. Fast-forward to today where computing devices and associated Internet plumbing comprise an entirely distinct category of product security needed.  Within that category, I would also suggest that services and the underlying supporting infrastructure would also fall into this category in the ongoing quest for achieving network security.  I think that this quote from a U.S. government hearing underscores the value of that quest as well.

When we bring in new technologies, we bring in new exposures and new vulnerabilities, things we really haven’t thought about. It takes a little while before we understand it, and after a while we begin to secure it. But our mindset needs to change. This is not the same as industrial technologies or new ways of doing aircraft or cars. These technologies are global and they expose us globally, literally within milliseconds.

House of Representatives Hearing on Cybersecurity: Emerging Threats, vulnerabilities, and challenges in securing federal information systems

Business units and quality assurance groups at Cisco apply multi-level security processes throughout the development of products and services to ensure that security is embedded into everything that is ultimately delivered to customers. For example, Cisco’s secure development life cycle (SDL) provides a highly effective process in detecting and preventing security vulnerabilities and improving overall system quality.  Cisco SDL has several elements that include, but not limited to, source code analysis and white box testing that feed into the security posture of a product or service.  Cisco has a security advocates program, a virtual community of people who understand network security and secure product development (and testing) and who can share and evangelize that knowledge with their peers, their colleagues, and their management.

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Commitment and Community: Cisco’s Security DNA

Create community. Drive cross company collaboration. Raise the corporate security consciousness. Educate! These were the major themes present at the synergistic 5th annual Cisco SecCon held December 5-6, 2012, at Cisco’s corporate headquarters in San Jose, CA. The senior leadership team in the Security and Government Group had a clear and present message for the Cisco Engineering community: Security is the differentiator for Cisco! Building and developing our corporate security awareness and driving it into our DNA is part of what makes Cisco—a company dedicated to continuous improvement—unique as a top industry leader.

The message is clear: security must be pervasive in every aspect of every product we design, develop, and deploy. It’s what our customers expect, and SecCon is one of the major delivery vehicles for creating a unified front within the engineering community as part of Cisco’s evolution towards the Internet of Everything. The more the world becomes interconnected, the more important it is that product designers, developers, testers, and implementers are aware and educated about the importance of the security mindset. How we think about security dictates how we act. This is something the Cisco leadership team is keenly aware of, and their intent to mature security capabilities and features into our entire product line is evident as they work to bring together industry security advocates to drive change and continuous improvement at the annual SecCon conference. Read More »

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Security Features vs. Securing Features

Secure software is a hot topic these days and many people have ideas about what should be done to achieve it. For years, the focus of many software vendors was on security features. Add a firewall. Add SSL to secure data flows. Positive security features are great, but they don’t do much to address every potential security issue that result from insecure code.

At this year’s Cisco SecCon conference, Bryan Sullivan, Microsoft’s Security Program Manager, addressed the issue of writing secure code with a diagram like the following:

Security Features vs Securing Features

His point is that there is much more work to do in securing all the features of a product than simply writing the security features. Writing security features, although important, is only 10% of the workload of creating secure code. The other 90% of the coding work is meant to ensure that all non-security codebase is secure. This includes input validation, output encoding, and overflow defense.

These practices are part of software quality, and they don’t usually appear on a feature list and often fail to appear on customer requirements lists. Customers don’t often ask for things such as:

  • This product should be free of cross-site scripting vulnerabilities
  • This product shouldn’t have client-side security validation that can be bypassed by a determined attacker
  • This product shouldn’t store my passwords or key data in plain text files might be leaked

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Securing Linux Based Products With CSDL

The theme for this year’s SecCon was “Building on a Foundation of Security.” The breadth of topics discussed that are relevant to being a trusted vendor and producing trustworthy products is quite significant. Naturally many of the discussions revolved around the Cisco Secure Development Lifecycle (CSDL), Cisco’s approach to building secure products and solutions. As Graham Holmes mentioned in a recent blog post, CSDL takes a layered approach, with one of the key components being the security of the underlying operating system. As a standard part of the development process, Cisco’s product teams implement a comprehensive set of CSDL requirements to harden the base OS. These requirements were created not only by leveraging Cisco’s significant in-house security expertise, but also drawing from best practices available in the industry.

In keeping with the theme of SecCon 2012, we have decided to publish these foundational OS security requirements to enhance the knowledge of our partner ecosystem, and advance the industry as a whole. As of today, Cisco is releasing two documents that have been an integral part of CSDL: “Linux Hardening Recommendations For Cisco Products” and “Product Security Baseline Linux Distribution Requirements.” Read More »

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