Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Information Supply Chain Security

Abraham Maslow once wrote “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” But what if your toolbox has everything except a hammer? At the very least, it limits what you can build.

Last week at the University of Maryland I had the opportunity to be a part of a workshop to develop a Cyber-Supply Chain Assurance Reference Model, sponsored by the RH Smith School of Business and SAIC. Looking at the security challenges that organizations are now facing, the old toolbox seems about half empty.

Prior to the workshop I was very comfortable with confidentiality, integrity, availability, authenticity, and non-repudiation along with risk management definitions of loss expectancy as the basic language of information assurance. But after a few hours of looking at information technology in the context of a cyber-supply chain, it became apparent that we need better tools to characterize and manage emerging risks. There were a number of different perspectives represented at the meeting, but here’s my take:

Traditionally, assets are assessed individually and independently as part of the information assurance process. For internally facing systems with limited or explicit interdependencies, this isn’t a bad representation. But for organizations where boundaries with suppliers and customers are blurring, the interdependencies among these systems eclipse the value of the data they hold. From a risk perspective, Verizon’s 2008 Data Breach survey shows how attacks against vendors and suppliers become the entry point into “secure” organizations because of trust relationships. And from a financial perspective, high confidentiality requirements can make it difficult to ensure high availability in a cost-effective way.

Existing risk frameworks such as COBIT and ISO 27001 can describe these issues, but are not designed to model the trade offs in a way that helps security leaders optimize.

This is the point where the information security toolbox needs to draw on research capabilities from other disciplines. The Supply-Chain Operations Reference Model (SCOR) provides a proven framework for analysis that captures these dependencies.

The information supply chain analyst asks: where is information captured (created) and processed? What are the storage and delivery requirements? Risk, cost and the traditional “CIA” triad are variables in a business decision, rather than optimization goals on their own.

In contrast, infrastructure protection often takes an asset-centric view that attempts to identify the intrinsic value of an application or environment, separate from its role within an extended system. This makes the connection to business value more difficult to express, and to optimize.

The reference model will be published in April. In the meantime, there are still a few details that are being … hammered out …

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