Thursday, September 28, 2023

How dashboard analytics bolster security and risk management insights across IT supply chains

The next  BriefingsDirect security enhancement discussion examines how innovative managers are increasingly benefiting from interactive dashboard analytics. The resulting actionable knowledge elevates security situation awareness to the higher order value of overall business risk assessment and mitigation.

Learn how Bruce Auto Group has gained such deep insights -- not only into how its distributed apps, systems, and data are secured, but also into the hidden risks that can develop across entire IT and data services supply chains.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or Download a copy. 


Here to share his story on how to elevate IT security to a mission-critical value of comprehensive risk mitigation and overall business resiliency is Paul Jobson, Director of Marketing and IT Strategy at Bruce Auto Group in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Jobson: Like many auto dealerships, Bruce Auto Group started off as a family-owned business. I bring that up because when it’s a dealership of one store, IT security tends to be an afterthought. But if we roll back the tapes to 15 years ago, we were lucky to have had someone related to the family who took an interest in the IT and secured us before it was in vogue. It was probably overkill at that time.


Like most automotive retailers, everyone has been going through consolidation. We began from humble roots in 1927. Until the last decade or so, we were one or two stores. Now, we’ve expanded to 10 dealerships, spread across close to 200 miles, with head office consolidation, and, of course, a lot of remote workers. So, the IT security part has really gained prominence in the past couple of years.


Gardner: Like most expanding organizations, it’s not only what goes on inside your business, you need to also keep track of the many tendrils that extend out to your service providers. That includes online interactions, as well as emails and communications. We’re all now part of a complex, rich ecosystem, and risks sometimes pop up between the cracks among these organizations.


Security as diverse as each buyer


Jobson: Yes, and car dealerships are unique in the sense that although our businesses may appear similar, each of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) – such as HyundaiFordGM -- they all have their own niches. They all have their own way of doing business. Of course, our integrations with them are critical to the way we do business.


As a result, we don’t get to scale as easily as some other businesses do. It’s as if with each IT solution, we start with customization and then find a way to make it more standardized across  the group.


Gardner: And, of course, the car business is really the transportation services business. So, the way you communicate and gather financial data from your customers, not just your suppliers, is essential. Therefore, you need to be especially secure and resilient. No one in the ecosystem wants to think that communicating with their automotive transportation provider is a risk.


Jobson: That’s right. What we’ve learned is that security is synonymous with privacy. When people apply for a car loan, they’re providing us critical information. There’s an ongoing relationship because we continue to service these people. We want to do everything we can to protect their information.

There's a lot of hard work to do in the IT world, but by focusing on making us secure, we actually help to make the client secure as well.

There’s a lot of hard work to do in the IT world, but one of the nice synergies is that by focusing on making us secure, we actually help to make the client secure as well. So, we really appreciate the importance of that part.


Gardner: You are the digital man in the middle, right? You’re in between all of those suppliers for parts, for OEM cars, and for financial services. You have a panoply of financial organizations – from credit to insurance to government agencies -- and that all leads back to the customer and their data.


By being in the digital middle, you’ve had to move beyond mere IT security and into risk management.


Jobson: Well, that’s right. Keep in mind, too, that a lot of times your biggest risk is people. You have a new employee, and it takes time to onboard and orient them. You must build systems that consider where people are, and not put them at risk. We’re the first line of defense to make sure we’re protecting both our security and the private information of our customers.


Gardner: That requires both education and awareness, which brings us back to the need for visibility -- not just inside your own systems, but as far and wide as possible. How have you developed such extended enterprise risk management (ERM)?


Risk management at root of protection


Jobson: That’s a great question, and it’s been really interesting. My background is in digital marketing and enterprise software. Security has always been an aspect of that, so I’m comfortable working with cloud applications and setting up service integrations. It’s second nature. So, it became logical as we expanded that this would fall under my domain.


The challenge was, coming from a marketing background, we have a lot of people to help us with security, but it’s more about putting together an operational plan. How do you put the day-to-day activities all together? That was a challenge. We needed a way to communicate that to the executive team.


To adopt such a risk management strategy, we worked with Bitdefender because we really liked their people. On a quarterly basis, we’d get together, and they’d give us a rundown of what they had been seeing in the field and across our businesses.


That’s how we came across their dashboard with the executive summary. The second I saw that, I knew I had my tool to manage our day-to-day progress on securing the enterprise.


It’s funny, when you come from the outside, your first perception is it’s the people and the passwords that are going to be the highest risks. And when you know your risks, you can manage them. For us, the first ground zero for IT security was making sure we understood these risks.


So, we put in endpoint security across the organization. We run about 300 desktops. Installing that on every single one of them was a logistical feat. But everyone understood why, and we did it. Once we did, we started to get all these signals back to our Bitdefender GravityZone executive summary dashboard.


For the very first time we got a score. I wish I could say differently, but when we first got our score, the risk was high. It indicated a high level of risk, and that made all of us very uncomfortable. We immediately began to determine what our risks were. We found some real surprises.


Our top category was misconfigurations, and those misconfigurations could be anything from a printer that has not been updated to a traditional user of computer services. The first reflex is to think about your laptops and desktops. You don’t always think about the printers, but it’s a computer in the same sense as your desktop endpoint is.


Once we began to understand the true risks, we looked at security very differently. We realized that every connected device was potentially a risk that we needed to pay attention to. We liked the Bitdefender dashboard because it told us where we were on a score of 100, and it broke that down into three categories: misconfigurations, app vulnerabilities, and human risk.


We were quickly able to target the high-risk areas in each one of those categories. We put weekly plans into place for the IT team to say, “Okay, this week we need to address this.” And it was much more fun and so there was more engagement from the IT team because we were proactively setting the agenda.

Once we began to understand the true risks, we looked at security very differently. We  realized that every connected device was potentially a risk that we needed to pay attention to.

It wasn’t just the typical, general red flag alert: There’s something wrong with a computer. It moved us from firefighting to fire prevention. And I have to tell you, we got hooked. That’s the way my team wants to work. They can collaborate together. They’re excited to come back and say, “We worked on 40 endpoints and got the risk from high to medium.” That’s instant reward and you get gratitude for protecting the whole organization.


There wasn’t a measurable way to go back to the team and say, “You did well,” until we had this dashboard. We all saw the risk score coming down in real-time, in front of our eyes, and it just transformed the way that we work as a team.


Gardner: It gives you a whole new sense of knowledge about your situation, and to what degree you can be in control over your destiny. But also having those scores gives you some ammunition you can take to other people in terms of, “Here’s what we’re accomplishing. Here’s why we can get cyber insurance if we want to. Here’s how we can increase the knowledge across our workforce about how to be better prepared or to modify behaviors.”


It certainly sounds like you’ve crossed the Rubicon, if you will, of not being a deer the headlights, unaware of what’s coming next, and instead being in charge of your destiny and having the tools to further reduce risk.


Deal with risk consciously, confidently


Jobson: That’s right. There’s a matrix where you’re unconsciously unaware, and then you get conscious on risks. I’d say we’re now consciously competent. Although some days we roll back, we’re more and more in the consciously competent part. The IT team is more comfortable approaching big tasks because, again, we can be proactive. We’re ahead of the curve. We’re not waiting until there is a situation. We’re dealing with it before it’s a problem.


For example, in just six months we have effectively accomplished an agenda that had hovered around for three to four years. I attribute that to having a score. Anyone out there who’s wondering what the first step is: First, I would say, is read the Cybersecurity Framework by NIST. It’s an overwhelming document at first, but it’s an unbelievable document because it gives you context. Once you’ve read through it, and then you match it up with a scorecard – such as we’re getting right now with the Bitdfender executive summary -- you’re able to put a game plan in place for everything you need to do.


Gardner: Let’s drill into the executive dashboard. While you’re getting a top-level view, because  there are agents and technologies to bring you all the information you need, you are able to drill in and find out more information. But it doesn’t flood you like a fire hose with too much information.


How confident are you that you’re attaining a comprehensive view when you drill into the level of detail that’s possible?


Jobson: The dashboard and the sensors -- you could think of your whole network as sensors – are giving us information much faster than we could realize from our own logs and audits. For example, we have a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system that a threat recently emerged in rather quickly. It was developing literally by the hour, and the dashboard was the first one to bring it to our attention.


Incidentally, twice a day, I look at the IT news and it was only in the second half of the day that this threat started to emerge in the news. But our GravityZone program served that up to us first thing in the morning. We were already ahead of the threat. That allowed me to reach out to the suppliers earlier. I wasn’t waiting in line saying, “Okay, what’s the best way?” We still needed to function as a business. Right away we were able to mitigate the situation quickly. And to our knowledge, we mitigated a rather large risk with very little disruption to our staff -- and more importantly, no privacy breaches.


Gardner: With that sense of accomplishment, you’re able to reduce the overall stress on your IT and security staff. That’s important these days because it’s hard to find and hold onto qualified people. If you can give them an environment where they feel like they’re making a difference, they have the tools to attack these problems early -- and do it so they’re not in a fire drill -- that must make for a good labor environment.


Move beyond reacting to assessing


Jobson: Yes, that’s a really good way to say it, Dana. When you’re reacting, you’re just reacting. You haven’t had time to read through the different mitigations, the plans A and B. Now, most of the time, we don’t have to react with intensity. We still need to act, but we have different mitigations in place. The team can talk about what’s the best approach. We can do a store by store and kind of learn from each store as we apply the process. We can do a quick follow-up with the team and say, “Okay, great. What problems did you encounter? Were there any dependencies that were affected?” So, it’s the way to go if you want to come out of this and be able to go home and sleep well at night.


Gardner: Right. And it’s interesting, too, Paul, because you are not trained as an IT person, but you’ve been able to get into this at a higher risk assessment and mitigation level. By having the right technology, you have crossed a barrier from when only a techie could do this to now, when somebody who can use the tools well is managing rather than struggling.


Jobson: One of the interesting side-effects of having a dashboard like this is you can focus on the people element. At the end of the day, for me, I wish IT stood for innovation and team, because we’re using the tools to help people be more productive. We’re assisting the team with solutions that work for them and allow them to function better and better.

The second we see the dashboard alert and look at the affected devices ... we tighten our policies. People are more understanding because we share the insights that we get from the security system.

What’s nice about having a tool like this is that you’re actually able to share the information with the users. Sometimes we’ve had to reach out to users and say, “You know what? Sorry to interrupt you, but our system has flagged you. You have an app or configuration that’s been flagged as high-risk. We need to deal with it immediately.”


By just seeing the words “high-risk,” our users deescalate. They do not wonder, “Okay, do you need me to do this? Do you really need to touch my computer right now while I’m at work?”


They may be with a customer, but the second we see the dashboard alert and look at the affected devices, we say, “Hey, sorry, but you’re one of them.” As we tighten our policies, people are more understanding because we share the insights that we get from the security system.


We can say, “Listen, it’s not that we want to block you on this photo app, or it’s not that we don’t want you to be able to put your favorite picture on the desktop background. But there is a greater agenda that we have, and these are some of the ways we’ve been told to mitigate it,” whether it’s from signals from our security system or from looking to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.


Gardner: We would be remiss in talking about your security posture if we didn’t bring up email. It is still one of the leading threat vectors -- after all these years. Tell us how you deal with email security. I’m sure you have it coming in all different directions. Is there a way in which you’re managing your email issues and leveraging this dashboard at the same time?


Successful email security systems


Jobson: Yes, email security is the single most important vector of any security program because it’s where the rubber meets the road for most users. That’s where we get the most outside influences.


We have a three-tiered approach to how we do things. First, we make sure to protect all the endpoints. Second, we secure the network using an XDR solution. But last, and we did it last because it’s the most involved, we have an email security process in place. And when I say it’s the most involved, it’s because if you are truly trying to achieve email security, you are going to put in rules and guidelines that are going to be restrictive.


So, on a typical day, we probably quarantine about 800 emails that get reviewed quickly by the IT team. They are assessed for their risk and then forwarded on. But what’s nice is we’re able to quickly see patterns. We’re also able to call people and say, “What are you sending? You’re sending an encrypted, password-protected thing. We have no idea what’s in there. Is there a way we can make a change, or is there another way we can get the information, like can we get it off a web link?”


We find a way to reduce the risk. And when we’re sharing with our suppliers, some are rigid. They can’t make the changes, but we have had some that said there is another way to deliver the service.


Combined, that all reduces the risk from email. But something else amazed us initially. When I said we were quarantining about 800 a day, we get about 2,000 that are genuine spam. They’re not all evil, if you will. Some of them are just people promoting themselves. But when you have 300 users a day using their computers, there will be risks in the spam. By putting in this frontline of defense, we have not had any significant scares, and I attribute it to our processes.


The email security feature I like the most: Every single link in an email, when it is clicked, goes through a secure scanner first. So, we don’t have to count on a person who’s a day or two in who doesn’t know if they’re receiving a legitimate link from one of the manufacturers or not. The system has their back on that. We’ll scan it for them.


And we do get some angry calls every now and then from someone saying, “I was trying to do this. I’m blocked.” But it changes very quickly when we go back to them and say, “Hey, you know what? Are you aware that was a malicious site? Did you know that site was trying to take your credentials and our system blocked you and protected you?”


The business team is just so much more supportive of additional initiatives once they’ve gone through that process. You don’t know what you need until the need comes up. So, once they’ve gone through that process, we just find they’re so much more willing to help secure the business.


Gardner: And again, with email -- like some of your other services you mentioned earlier -- it’s the knowledge about what’s going on that brings you to that higher-order discussion about how to be risk-averse rather than how to be unproductive. And so, that’s the key, I think, is you’re able to get people’s buy-in rather than have it just seem like they’re being naughty.


Jobson: That’s right. But I will say to anybody implementing it, there is a transition period. The first day you turn it on, be prepared. One of the things we’re learning is communication is critical. We do a style of management that’s all about cascading messages to employees and we found that, you know what? I think the perception of the IT team sometimes is, “Oh, does anybody notice what we do?” The answer is yes. On a grand scale, they notice what we do.

Communication is critical. We do a style of management that's all about cascading messages to employees. They notice what we do.

When we make small changes, users are affected, and they communicate back to us. So, good messaging helped us get through it. We had a tuning process that we did and we were grateful to our user’s patience while we did it. But today, everybody’s confident that we’re much more secure because of these measures that we put in place and it’s worth the inconvenience or sometimes having to wait an extra hour for a flagged email to pass through the gates.


Gardner: The alternative might be that your business is down for three or four days -- and talk about aggravation.


Jobson: That’s right, and the reality is we just can’t monitor the volume. You need to leverage a system to monitor that for you.


Gardner: IT and security people are dealing with so many different tools. There’s a new tool coming out every week for some other new aspect of security issues. What’s your philosophy about how to handle that sprawl, to get the most out of the tools but without being overwhelmed by them? Is the dashboard part of that ability to get the right balance?


Plan ahead to prevent tool sprawl


Jobson: That’s a great question. You need a plan on how you’re going to implement these things. For us, in looking at the dashboard, we love the information that we get back. It scans a lot of the network, but there were some limitations on endpoint security.


That led us to the next path, which the NIST Cybersecurity Framework also hinted at, and that’s the internet of things (IoT). And for us that meant raising our awareness about how much priority and privilege each device should get. We started to think about segmented network security, which is what you can do with XDR. So, we’d have networks for IoT, networks for our guests, networks for our main enterprise business, network for staff devices, and we’re able to reduce the risk by going into these specific lanes for each category.


When you get a signal back from the dashboard, the solution isn’t always an IT thing. Sometimes the solution could be sending a memo saying, “Please don’t install any unapproved apps unless you reach out to the IT department first.” Or it might be going further, as we’ve done, and put some clamps down on what can or cannot be installed on people’s PCs.


So, we have used education, restructuring the network, calling the manufacturers, and further isolating some devices. We have some suppliers that have devices that they never update. It’s not our property. No problem, we’ll put that on a network outside of our regular network to keep us safe. So, each one is a problem to solve. How you solve it is really up to you.


Gardner: Right. But the key is that you have that knowledge and insight that the risk is there.


Jobson: Absolutely.


Gardner: Before we close out, Paul, let’s look to the future. How do you expect to leverage automation more? You said you can’t do this all manually, and even using intelligence to gain a larger view of risk. Do you look to the dashboard to help you attain more automation and intelligence?


Embrace expertise to manage threats


Jobson: The dashboard is one of the tools we’re using, along with Bitdefender GravityZone. There is a series of tools we use to manage things. One thing we really like is like the Bitdefender Threats Xplorer. A lot of people’s notion of security is just an antivirus scanner on the PCs. Scarily, for a lot of businesses, that is their level of understanding. But the threats are becoming more sophisticated. You can either ignore that or you can work with partners that have more experience.


As we look to the future, XDR has been an area where we’re paying more attention. It gives us greater insights on the devices that aren’t PCs and it watches our whole network. But it’s also giving us in real time a description of the threats as they’re happening.


For example, we recently had an incident. It was from a remote software that we use to support people. The supplier made a change in their software, and the change had a piece of software that was associated with malignant code. That malicious software was attacking businesses, and we were in a meeting at the time, the whole IT team, and our system started to shut down users.


By the fourth or fifth person being shut down, someone knocked on the glass and pulled us out of the meeting, and said, “You know, there’s four or five PCs shut down.” We were nervous that this was a virus. In fact, what it was our system operating in real time. When it saw a threat, it turned that PC off and isolated it. When it did that, the software, the remote software would go to the next node and try to scan the network. And, so, it would be shut off, too.


In a very short amount of time, it shut off the five offending PCs. If that had been a real risk … What’s so great is my team cannot be on alert all of the time. We are relying on the automation and technology to take care of things and let us to do the analysis after-the-fact. If you’re not leveraging these tools that can do that for you, you might be creating a lot of risk for yourself.


Gardner: Any recommendations to those listening?


Jobson: In IT, you have so many choices. I mean, you just have to run any popular program, PC optimization program, and it’ll tell you 1,700 fixes you can do to fix your PC. You scale that over a large organization, and you can literally have hundreds of thousands of choices.


For us here at Bruce, the tech team, it was critical that we had something that prioritized it from a risk point of view -- from mildly inconvenient to threatening your business. Once we had that prioritization, and the whole team understood what it meant, that’s when we started to gain enormous traction on long-standing issues with how we were managing our PCs.


In order to have a game plan, you need to know what the objectives are. Our Bitdefender scorecard helps us identify the highest priority objectives.


Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or Download a copy. Sponsor: Bitdefender.


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