What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

“What you don’t know can't hurt you” is an old saying which does not really apply to infosec.

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

“What you don’t know can't hurt you” is an old saying that has always struck me as a strange thing to say. I find it strange because what you don't know about can hurt you, especially if you are an organization which doesn't have a handle on its asset inventory.

If you work in cybersecurity and subscribe to that saying it will get you into trouble at some point. Nobody expects you to know everything, but they do expect you to know what assets you have on your networks and plugged into your IT infrastructure.

Generally speaking, the more that an organization can tell you about their inventory of PC’s, tablets, smartphones, servers, wireless access points and wireless access points, the better they are at cybersecurity. It may surprise you to discover that most organizations do not have a firm handle on their asset inventory.

This is shocking because asset discovery is a foundational IT security measure and it's impossible to defend your IT infrastructure unless you have an up-to-date list of what you are defending. When you learn that most companies do not maintain an active list of their assets, it is not at all surprising that so many get breached.

When I talk to organizations about cybersecurity I ask them questions like “what internet facing assets do you have?”, or “do you know where your data is and who has access to it” and if they scratch their heads a little piece inside of me dies.

The single most effective cybersecurity action an organization can make is to assign a dedicated person to estate discovery and maintaining an ‘as close to real-time as possible’ list of the company assets connected to their IT infrastructure.

If your organization does not have a handle on the basics like asset inventory, whatever security tools you have in place are for show and a breach is just a matter of time,  if you do not have an asset inventory alarm bells should be ringing.

Organizations may find it tough to keep a handle on the number of PCs, BYOD hardware, servers, load balancers, firewalls and storage devices that connect to their networks, but when an unknown device is used to exfiltrate something valuable from your network, not knowing about that device will not fly as an excuse.

The Breach Is Going To Be Your Fault

If you are unlucky enough to get breached and have the investigators discover that you have no accurate asset inventory, then the breach was your fault, and that's a cybersecurity concept which even the board will be able to understand.

Now that we have established that estate discovery is a fundamental piece of your IT security and that without it you will almost certainly get the blame for breaches, let's look at what you can do right now to get yourself out of this mess.

Eliminate Your Blind Spots - Let’s be honest, while you might know which PC’s and employee mobile devices you have connected to your networks, but everything from random BYOD endpoints and IoT devices, to unauthorized SaaS applications, file sharing, and cloud storage is a potential blind spot. Your first step is to immediately eliminate all of those blind spots and you should view them as black holes full of security, legal and compliance risk that need to be plugged.

If You Do Not Have The Right Tools, Get Them - For sure your IT asset management tools let you detect things like servers, firewalls, load balancers and network storage, but what you really is an automated tool that will give you visibility over every part of your network and ideally conforms to estate discovery best practices. Your solution needs to be able to scan your network address ranges and analyze traffic in order to identify unknown assets.  It then needs to be able to drill down into those assets and pull out granular information about the assets network connections, permissions, usage and be able to tag the asset for future tracking.

Inventory & Control Your Hardware & Software Assets - You absolutely need to be actively managing (meaning tracking and keeping an inventory) of your hardware and software assets. Only authorized hardware can be given access to your networks and only authorized software can be installed onto your endpoints.  You need to know which employees can use your hardware or software and know which users should not be accessing it and estate discovery can help you accomplish this.

Hire Or Appoint A Dedicated Asset Controller - This should go without saying, but you absolutely need to appoint somebody to assume responsibility for maintaining an accurate inventory of your assets, if you are to ever hope to get a handle on them in any way.  This is the single most effective action that you can make in order to improve your overall cybersecurity posture, appointing a dedicated asset controller will yield a significant return on investment.

Consider Bringing In The Professionals - There is so much complexity to network topology, only so much time in your busy IT teams schedule and so many different tools on the market that it can be difficult for organizations to know which steps to take first and how to make them. If this is the case for your organizations, then your best bet is to bring in the professionals and let them set you straight.

Whichever route you take to discovering all of the assets connected to your networks, you absolutely need to start right now if you haven't already. Estate discovery is such a fundamental tenet of IT security, that it must be prioritized and actively managed if you ever hope to properly secure your networks against a rapidly rising tide of cyber threats inevitably heading towards your organization.

The awesome image used in this article us called "Mystery Project 68" and was created by DKNG.