CISOs on Identity Security Maturity in the Enterprise
Security maturity refers to an organization’s ability to mitigate threats before they happen. It’s typically measured through various frameworks, guidelines, and tools (e.g., NIST’s Cybersecurity Framework), but how does this specifically relate to identity security, and what does maturity actually mean for CISOs?
To answer these questions, we sat down with Chris Castaldo (CISO, Crossbeam) and Tanner Randolph (CISO, Applied Systems) to ask them about security maturity and identity (in tandem with our new diagnostic quiz: “How mature is your security org?”).
Identity Security Maturity
In terms of what sets identity security maturity apart from the rest of infosec, “it’s unique because it’s directly impacting the users,” Chris Castaldo comments, “your identity is really your first experience at a company.” He continues on this thread of user experience, “if you've worked pretty much anywhere, you’ve probably seen that cybersecurity does not put user experience first all the time. And I think that's a really critical thing to get really, really right from the start. That way, once you've got a really good experience, it's a little easier to secure that experience.”
In terms of actually breaking identity maturity down, “it’s an ongoing struggle for probably every CISO,” Tanner Randolph remarks. “I think at a high level: does everybody have a consistent identity? Do you know who that identity belongs to? Can you track it? What's the life cycle of that identity from end to end? How is that being used? And then, if you can understand how it's being used, can you intervene when it's being abused / can you act against those things? I think if you're going to break identity maturity down, that's how I would do it.”
Measuring Security Maturity
Frameworks are tools that offer a structured foundation for evaluating an org's security posture for the end goal of improving the maturity of your security program. However, like any tool, they’re not a panacea. In order to figure out the best ways to use frameworks/what they actually are, it’s helpful to look at what they shouldn’t be.
One concern is that without context, frameworks just become a way to compare different enterprises. “I've always gotten the request of ‘how do we compare to other companies?’; I think that is the wrong mindset,” Castaldo says. “You can't just say, ‘oh, here's another tech company that’s about the same number of people, similar product, let’s do what they’re doing.’ Security really needs to be situated in the context of the business and asking questions like ‘What are we securing at the end of the day? What are our responsibilities to our employees, to our customers?’”
Frameworks or check-ins like Crosswire’s quiz on "How mature is your security org?" “give people a starting point,” says Castaldo. “‘What’s measured is managed,’ but you also should focus on which measurements help your business make a risk-based decision.”
So, where do you go from this starting point to avoid pitfalls? For Randolph, it’s technologies. “Technology is really about getting fundamentals right,” he says. “So, I think frameworks can represent different levels, but they're more or less different levels horizontally instead of vertically; we're always working on that base-level identity. [Frameworks] are usually designed in a circular fashion, and the idea there is that there needs to be continuous improvement. I think sometimes that idea gets lost and people lose focus; ‘we're going to connect this thing, get it to business as usual, and then we're going to move on to the next thing and never come back to this ever again,’ is not the point of frameworks.”
How do you effectively bolster your identity security maturity?
To answer this question, Castaldo advises, “focus on the absolutely bare minimum critical things first. There’s the old adage of ‘companies have a crunchy outside and soft inside,’ like your exterior is really bolstered, but once you're inside, there're no security controls. Start with the things that matter most.”
In terms of what matters most, “‘Crown Jewels’ is the terminology we use, and that could be data, access to a system… the recipe for Coke,” Castaldo laughs. “You start with where those things live, controlling that, and then asking: ‘What does it live on (database, server, cloud environment)?’ and ‘Who has access to it (the identities and access to those systems)?’ If you break it up that way, you can start with putting the most controls (more protections, more defenses, more checks) on a fraction of your identities rather than trying to apply everything across the entire business from the start.”
For Randolph, his advice on how to improve security maturity is also his favorite part about being a CISO. “I put a lot of focus and pressure on myself and my teams to be really good at operations,” Randolph says. “Part of it is the belief that logistics really make the difference from end to end. So, even though I'm in security, I love really really well-run logistics operations. I love trying to figure out what the most efficient way for us to get from A to B is and make sure we're getting everything done that we need to.”
When asked what kinds of technologies are best to complement these frameworks for identity, Randolph replies, “I think there's a lot of good technology out there (like underlying identity providers), but you need the logs to understand where all these things can be used, right? So that's either your old-fashioned SIEM or it's in one of the newer ITDR platforms. I think if you have those basics, you can get a lot done and know a lot about how your identities are being used.”
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