Friday 1 October 2010

Taxonomy #2

Building on from the last taxonomy post and from what Pieter Danhieux had to say, we thought we would add some further commentary around this and at the end of the blog add two more definitions. One for Security Audit and one for Security Review.

One of the key points that Pieter made was that,

"(IT) Security Assessment is in my opinion a holistic name for different types".

This is in fact the main crux of the issue and why we wanted to put a taxonomy together.

As security professionals we all interchange the use of words such as penetration test and security assessment, to fit the current situation that we find ourselves in and in some cases we will even use the same term differently within the same conversation!

While this approach can work within a skilled population of practitioners, it can lead to confusion for consumers of the service or those on the outside looking at their security team for advice and guidance. At worst it could be used to misguide a consumer into believing that they have received an adequate security test, while delivering nothing further than a discovery exercise.

The aim of the taxonomy is to have a publicly available resource that can be referenced.

When looking to establish the scope of a security test it is key to understand what has been requested by the consumer, and for the consumer it is key that they understand what it is that they have asked for and what will be delivered as part of the security test.

If both parties are aware of this then the relationship will be strong. This will enable open and constructive engagement, it will also lead to a better understanding around the different levels of risk that testing can bring and empower the consumer. For example, to ask for suitably skilled individuals if they in fact wish to conduct real 'penetration testing' on live environments or given the understanding of what this would attempt to do, decide that a 'security assessment' would be a more suitable solution.

What the taxonomy is not trying to do is confine the approach that individuals want to take. Many security professionals will take a blended approach to deliver against the consumers requirements or have their own approach that adds further value. The taxonomy should be used as a base point, where the security team can then show how they differ from this, but leaving the consumer clear as to the minimum level of activity that would be completed.

The previous post around the taxonomy focused on actual testing of security, whereas Pieter's comment,

"Information Security Assessment also exists … but then it is usually - benchmarking against a standard- assessing policies and standards".

Shows that there is more than just the actual testing angle, so in this blog we would like to share with you two more definitions;

Security Audit

Driven by an Audit / Risk function to look at a specific control or compliance issue. Characterised by a narrow scope, this type of engagement could make use of any of the earlier approaches discussed (vulnerability assessment, security assessment, penetration test).

Security Review

Verification that industry or internal security standards have been applied to system components or product. This is typically completed through gap analysis and utilises build / code reviews or by reviewing design documents and architecture diagrams. This activity does not utilise any of the earlier approaches (Vulnerability Assessment, Security Assessment, Penetration Test, Security Audit)

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