Attackers always seek the easiest path to get into our systems and compromise data. System misconfigurations and insecure default settings are often the criminals' favorite vectors since these errors allow them easy access to critical systems and data. The rise of misconfiguration errors was primarily driven by cloud data storage implementations deployed without appropriate access controls. Despite the efforts of the major cloud providers to make the default configurations more secure, these errors persist.
Organizations have many good reasons to locate and remediate insecure configurations. For one, data breaches due to misconfigurations cost an average of $4.14 million. And the time to discover and mitigate these mistakes is essential as well. A shorter data breach lifecycle is associated with lower data breach costs. IBM indicates that a data breach lifecycle of fewer than 200 days was associated with an average cost of $3.74 million in 2022, compared to $4.86 million for breaches with a lifecycle of greater than 200 days.
Security configuration management gains traction by allowing organizations to identify misconfigurations of a system's default settings. According to NIST, "The goal of Security Configuration Management activities is to manage and monitor the configurations of information systems to achieve adequate security and minimize organizational risk while supporting the desired business functionality and services."
How does SCM work?
The SANS Institute and the Center for Internet Security recommend that secure configurations will be the most crucial security control once you inventory your hardware and software. Critical Security Control 4 says, "Establish and maintain the secure configuration of enterprise assets (end-user devices, including portable and mobile; network devices; non-computing/IoT devices; and servers) and software (operating systems and applications)."
SCM is a foundational control that blends several security best practices, such as:
- Mitigating known security weaknesses using vulnerability assessments.
- Evaluating authorized hardware and software configurations.
- Using security processes and controls to automate remediation.
Organizations can leverage a software-based SCM solution to reduce their attack surfaces by proactively and continuously monitoring and hardening the security configurations of their ecosystem. To do so, SCM consists of four distinct steps:
- Discover all assets. Leverage active and passive discovery processes to find all connected hardware, software, and assets that might be hidden from the IT department, such as shadow IT.
- Define acceptable secure configurations as baselines for each managed device type. Businesses can do so by either referring to security policies or considering guidance published by the Center for Internet Security (CIS) or NIST.
- Assess the managed devices according to a predefined frequency specified in the security policy and alert for any deviations from the baseline.
- Remediate any configuration deviation to mitigate or remove the vulnerability.
Security Configuration Management and Compliance
Security configuration management doesn't just serve organizations' digital security requirements. Compliance auditors can also use security configuration management to monitor an organization's compliance with mandated policies. These standards range from international standards such as the ISO 27000 series to industry-specific requirements like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and NERC or government regulations like the United States Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) or the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
Strategic Considerations for Effective SCM
The security configuration management market is rapidly growing. The market size was valued at $1.72 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $5.81 Billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 16.26% from 2021 to 2028. With so many solutions available in the market, here are a few factors enterprises should consider before selecting an SCM solution.
- OS and Application Support: Businesses must ensure their solution supports every operating system and application they use in their environment to get the most out of the SCM platform. SCM incompatibility with their technology stack can create blind spots that undermine network visibility, impeding their ability to prevent attackers from exploiting a misconfiguration.
- Policy Flexibility: The best SCM solutions offer numerous policies and configurations. Such options allow organizations to adjust the tool to their evolving compliance requirements as they continue their digital transformation journey. Companies should also have the option of customizing preset policies, defining new policies, and adding new baseline configurations and benchmarks as their needs change.
- Scalability: Organizations should ensure they can customize the SCM scanning protocols' frequency, impact, and scope. That flexibility should include strategically distributing scanners around the network, not needlessly taxing their endpoints, and prioritizing their security efforts. It should also come with the ability to manage remote devices, such as by issuing alerts when one product requires assessment but has not connected to the network in some time.
- Closure of the Operational Loop: Companies can choose to manually act on their SCM's solutions by reporting configuration issues to the help desk. Even so, it's advantageous for a company to invest in a solution that automatically reports those issues and seamlessly integrates with business workflows to close the operational loop. Otherwise, organizations could neglect to report a problem and leave themselves open to attackers exploiting a misconfiguration. Organizations should also look for functionality that reduces false positives, such as when someone has granted an authorized exception. The last thing organizations want to do is waste time investigating an issue that doesn't constitute a digital threat and neglect committing time and resources to actual security problems.
SCM from Tripwire
To help companies with security configuration management, Fortra's Tripwire has created Tripwire Enterprise. This security configuration management solution helps identify misconfigurations before a breach occurs while also providing reporting capabilities to meet regulatory compliance needs.
To learn more about Tripwire Enterprise, click here.
Additional information on SCM can be found here. You can also learn about some of the other foundational network security controls you should look for when purchasing a new solution by downloading this whitepaper.