Putting a Dollar Sign on Network Security

ORLANDO -- Management World Americas -- Wouldn't you think network service contracts would include security requirements?

It may seem like a no-brainer, but most contracts are built around availability and performance, not security. One of the more intriguing TM Forum Catalyst Projects on display here this week is aimed at helping enterprises and governments create contract terms that build in security requirements.

The idea is to create financial incentives to improve security. As network threats become more sophisticated -– most are currently the work of organized crime –- enterprises and governments want more assurance that network operators are working on the problem. The move to cloud services can make it even harder for enterprises and governments to easily track where their applications and data are, and if they are secure, according to Martin Huddleston of the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Lab, which is a participant in the Catalyst.

The key, being pursued in the Catalyst, is to find metrics and targets for the level of security. According to the other participants in the project, including CA Technologies (Nasdaq: CA), McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE) and Sooth Technology , the early metrics will be based on well-defined mitigations already established by the computer emergency response teams (CERTs) that operate in most countries. (Common CERTs include the Defence Signals Directorate of the Australian government, the National Institute of Science and Technology and the SANS Institute Top 20 in the United States. Verizon Enterprise Solutions 's annual Security Breach Report is another source of key mitigation data.)

Just implementing CERTs's basic advice could prevent 85 percent of security breaches, says Christy Coffey, the Government/Defense Market Support Center Head for TMForum. These "low-hanging fruit" include implementing patches for operating systems and applications; practicing mobile device management; improving training to reduce human errors; implementing defenses against denial of service attacks; and hardening servers to prevent data leakage.

Take patch management as an example. Contracts could require the network operator to document the time of exposure; the percentage of devices patched and the degree to which they have been patched; the criticality of patch exposure; the audited degree of systems that are susceptible to attack; the percentage of patches resulting in further problems; and the number of patches.

To date, the Catalyst has shown it is possible to monitor almost all of those things; the one that's been elusive to measure is the audited degree of systems that are susceptible to attack. That's basically an identification of those systems which aren't vulnerable and therefore don't require the same vigilance about patching.

All that detail would give enterprises or governments more confidence in the networks they are using. In the future, the data could be collected and benchmarked to establish industry standards, says Coffey.

If the telecom industry doesn't create ways of quantifying network security and building it into contracts, there is the possibility governments will choose to impose some tighter restrictions, to prevent the negative economic impact of continued security breaches, say the Catalyst participants.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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