Organizations struggle to identify and contain a breach. According to Security Intelligence, the average dwell time or “lifecycle” of an organization’s breach detection efforts was 280 days in 2020. This period played into the $3.86 million that organizations spent on average in their data breach recovery efforts for that year.

Several factors can affect the time that it takes for organizations to detect an intrusion. As noted by Security Intelligence, it could take longer for organizations to identify attack attempts from state-sponsored actors and other sophisticated threat groups, as opposed to individuals with lower levels of sophistication. The same effect could apply to remote work. Some organizations’ network devices are more dispersed now than they were before 2020, which could make it more difficult for them to investigate and identify the full scope of an intrusion.

Resisting the Urge to Jump Ahead

Organizations stand to save a lot of money if they can shorten the lifecycle of a data breach. As such, they might be inclined to jump right in and start tweaking the detection rules they have in place—but they’d be skipping a few steps in the process. Detecting an attack isn’t where security begins, after all. Before determining the detection rules that they have in place, they need to know what assets, software, and tools are currently in their environments.

That’s where the Center for Internet Security’s Critical Security Controls, collectively known as the CIS Controls, come in. As we discussed in our post on CIS Controls v8, two Controls can help security teams figure out what’s in their employers’ environments. Those are CIS Controls 1 and 2.

CIS Control 1: Inventory and Control of Enterprise Assets

The purpose of CIS Control 1 is for security teams to create an accurate inventory of all their organizations’ hardware assets. It doesn’t matter if that asset is a server, a smartphone owned by an employee, or an Internet of Things (IoT) product. If it’s connecting to the corporate network, then security personnel need to inventory it regardless of whether that connection is happening physically, virtually, remotely, or within cloud environments. Why is this important? Because they need to know what they have to be able to defend it. Detection rules can’t help security teams if they don’t have a complete picture of which assets might be susceptible to a specific threat or breach attempt.

In the absence of such visibility, security professionals also can’t know which of their organization’s assets contain business-critical or sensitive information. As such, they can’t use that information to protect those assets using additional safeguards as part of a layered defense strategy. Infosec teams need to inventory, control, and manage their enterprise hardware assets because they can bet that digital attackers will.

Indeed, a common approach for external attackers is to scan the web address space for an enterprise to identify unprotected assets. In the event they find such an asset, they can try to exploit a misconfiguration or a vulnerability to establish a foothold into their target’s network. They can then move laterally from that compromised asset to other resources containing important data. This attack scenario is especially pertinent given the growing complexity of enterprise networks. According to IT Pro Portal, a 2021 study found that 46% of enterprises now deploy a minimum of 500 applications. Simultaneously, Gartner predicted that worldwide spending on public cloud services will grow 18.4% to $304.9 billion by the end of 2021. The modern network is large and distributed in nature, and it’s increasingly becoming this way. Hence the need for security teams to know what’s connecting to them.

CIS Control 2: Inventory and Control of Software Assets

The second CIS Control isn’t too far off from the first. It also emphasizes the importance of organizations identifying, tracing, and correcting their assets. What’s different here is that this Control focuses on software, including operating systems and applications. Why? Attackers are just as keen to scan for vulnerable versions of software as they are for exposed hardware assets when targeting an enterprise.

It doesn’t even have to get that complicated. Take a phishing attack, for example: A malicious actor sends out a suspicious email message that prompts a recipient to click on a link. When clicked, that link redirects the recipient to a website hosting an exploit kit. That threat evaluates the connection to determine which browser the visitor is using and which version they’re running. With that information, the exploit kit can exploit a supported vulnerability affecting the visitor’s browser version to download additional malware onto their machine.

Security professionals can defend against the attack scenario discussed above by using a vulnerability management program to regularly scan for vulnerabilities, but they first need to know what software they have. They can use this knowledge to implement temporary mitigation techniques if they learn of a zero-day attack targeting some of the software they’re running, for instance. They can also use it to identify security risks in the form of duplicate or unnecessary software that at one point connects to the corporate network. Using their software inventory, security teams can stay on top of their software to keep their attack surface as small as possible

More CIS Controls Content to Come!

This blog post marks the beginning of a series that examines the security benefits of each of the CIS Controls. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for my next blog post.