Bruce Green of Death

Lost in Translation

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Opinion We spend money, increase administration, and take away functionality. Is it any wonder that security people are so misunderstood, asks SecurityFocus columnist Tim Mullen.

A friend of mine from Japan has been in the States about ten years now. Though her English vocabulary is better than many native speakers I know, she still has a pretty thick accent; sometimes it is hard to understand her cadence and structure-- particularly over the phone.

A while back I gave her a call, and our chit-chat led into a discussion of the Japanese version of Windows 2000, which allows her to switch back and forth between languages-- in addition to lots of other cool stuff. We were talking about how her Thinkpad had dual character sets on the keyboard when the conversation shifted into problems she was having with some dude named Bruce Green.

I had never heard of him before, but let her continue... Apparently, this guy would show up uninvited, and start messing with her. When she told me that Bruce Green appeared late one night in the middle of her preparation of a deliverable and caused her to actually lose something she had been working on by his interruptions, my male instincts kicked in and I said "Okay-- I don't know who this Bruce Green is, but you tell him that if he keeps on messing with you, he'll have to deal with me!"

"What?" she said in a surprised tone.

"Bruce Green..." I said; "Who is he?"

I had to pull the phone away from my ear because of the laughter. The entire time, she had been saying "Blue Screen."

I still laugh when I recall the conversation. I'm not making fun of the way any person or group speaks. In fact, looking back, my misunderstanding was analogous to the way clients, management, and even our own IT counterparts deal with us as security people.
We are successful when our bosses wonder what it is we do all day.
Many times, when we go to management and present the need for firewalls, gateway products, and patch management resources, they just hear, "I need more money and budget allocation." We go to IT Administration and present processes, topologies, and security configurations, and they hear, "We're giving you more work to do and no accompanying pay increase for the trouble." And we go to our clients and users with policies, best practices and guidelines, and they hear, "Doing it this way is going to make it harder to do your everyday job, and you won't really understand why."

We spend money, increase administration, and take away functionality. Sometimes, we are even perceived as the bad guys within our own organizations. We are Bruce Green.

To make matters worse, when it comes down to it, our success metric is inactivity. If we really do our jobs, no one notices. There are no hacks, no breeches, no worm infestations, no e-mail-borne viruses, nothing.

We are successful when our bosses wonder what it is we do all day.

Bad Thursdays

The recent slue of worms and viruses should be your redemption whether you got hit or not. Blaster and its variants, SoBig, and even this lame Microsoft Advisory "Swen" virus that's going around should give you the ammo to ensure that Corporate gives you the tools you need to meet what I think is the biggest challenge we currently face for Microsoft deployments: Patch Management.

Over the past several weeks, we've seen many "Bad Thursdays."

For those of you who have not been paying attention, Microsoft has been releasing vulnerability announcements on Wednesdays. On Thursday morning we come in and see just how bad the day -- or the rest of the week in some cases -- is going to be. My shop is pretty small, but even so, the barrage of patches has been difficult to deal with: RPC/DCOM. Office/VBA. RPC Update.

Just when you get through patching everything, it's time to patch again. If you don't have an efficient method of analyzing released patches, determining overall risk, packaging and deploying updates, and auditing installation, then get one. The task of patch management is only going to get worse, and at some point, we're going to get hit.

Whether we choose to use Microsoft solutions like SUS or SMS, or turn to companies like Shavlik for help, it is time we make our management, our customers, or whatever group we report to understand that the investment in Internet technologies does not end at the initial purchase-- we must have a proactive management system in place to ensure that we can adequately address the continued maintenance our systems and software require, just as we do with other assets like copiers and vehicles.

We're security people-- not salesmen. But it is time we make management realize that we are not the Bruce Green they think we are, we are the ones who keep things running in the face of adversity; we keep the fleet on the road when everyone else is in a pile-up.

A final note to the CEO's out there-- if it isn't already, security will become the second most important thing to your company; right there behind the product that makes you your money. Remember always that Silence is Golden: if you want things to say quiet, then give us your gold.

SecurityFocus columnist Timothy M. Mullen is CIO and Chief Software Architect for AnchorIS.Com, a developer of secure, enterprise-based accounting software. AnchorIS.Com also provides security consulting services for a variety of companies, including Microsoft Corporation.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

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