Security Checklists and the US National Checklist Program

The last article introduced the need to automate security.

If you are going to perform a security audit you need a checklist.

Let’s spend a minute on this. If you want a predictable outcome, you need a standard process – a standard set of steps to go through to reach that outcome. Basic stuff. But here is the tricky part: people are bad about remembering things and doing things the same way every time. If the results are important, you need a checklist.

Rather than spending a lot of time here, I’m going to hand out a reading assignment: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. This is one of the books I strongly recommend everyone should read. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you come back.

OK, welcome back.

Let’s take a look at applying checklists to security. The first suggestion I will make is don’t write checklists from scratch. Find one that is close to what you need and modify it. It takes several iterations and considerable experience to develop a solid process that works – the more you can build on other peoples experience, the less work you have to do. And the better your chances of getting it right!

A good resource for checklists on computer security is the US National Checklist Program. This is a repository of publicly available security checklists to provide detailed guidance on setting the security configuration of operating systems and applications.

Let’s start out with a written checklist – how about the HPLaserJet 4345 MFP Security Checklist. This is a 49 page document detailing how to secure a printer. Yes, a printer. Modern printers are actually servers with a print engine hanging off the side. They can be a major security risk. They have an internal disk drive that stores the documents being printed. Did you securely remove classified documents from the last printer you got rid of?

The document covers threat models, network security, printer settings, and ramifications of the various settings. It includes many screenshots of how to use the Web-based management interface to access and change the many settings.

The good news is that this security guide exists. The bad news is that it is a time consuming manual process to apply it. Speaking of which – who configured your printer when it was installed six years ago? Did they do it right? What has happened in the intervening time? Did someone disable security on the printer so that they could get their job done?

It looks like it is time to print out the security guide and start pointing your browser at all the printers in your organization!

There has got to be a better way to do this. And no, ignoring security until you show up on the front page of the newspaper or in front of a congressional committee isn’t a better way!…

Next: Security Audit Automation Made Easy with SCAP

About Russell Doty

A technology strategist and product manager at Red Hat, working on the next generation of open source systems.
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