woensdag, 19 november 2014 00:00

The Walmart Journey: Pushing the envelope for Information Security with value proposition Featured

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This will be the first article in a series based on talks given at the Cloud Security Alliance Conference in Rome, 19th and 20th November. The first keynote presentation was given by Kevin Walker, Vice President and Assistent CISO at Walmart. 

His talk focuses on how Walmart changed their view on information security and how they improved their security frameworks and what efforts and resources were needed to achieve it. 

The talk started with a bit of history. Information security became a big issue when the bad guys around 1998 started to realize that a lot could be gained by compromising a system and stealing data. It called for some kind of information management and security. At this date, it is still very much, an ongoing battle where enterprises, cloud providers in particular, should always stay ahead of the attackers; preferably by a couple of steps. Something to think about: we use 60 years old technology to protect our most valuable assets, more specifically by the use of a username-password mechanism. It's unbelievable we couldn't do better than that in all these years (excluding multi-factor authentication which is still based on username-password).

In order to enable modern day information security we should change our state of mind: it's not a matter of "if a breach could occur" it's more a matter of "when a breach will occur". This should change modern day information security mechanisms to a more agile approach:

  • improve detection of breaches;
  • reduce response time;
  • improve containment of breaches;
  • reduce recovery time, preferably avoid the need for recovery.

In order to achieve this, Walmart has invested a huge amount of resources on implementing guidelines for their developers to write and deploy code. All the guidelines are based on the idea that you can't buy time; but what you can do, is save time and give it back. To determine which guidelines and tools Walmart  needs to provide for their developers, they used the history of individual developers. They went back, in some cases until two years ago, to check the code of these individual developers where they check which bugs or vulnerabilities were introduced in their code. As a result the developers could be grouped using as a criterium their "bad habits". For example, you have a group developers that write a lot of XSS vulnerabilities. These developers can follow special training, focused on eliminating these bad habits. It's good for the enterprise and good for the individual developer as he can take this with him if he chooses to work for another company. 

In addition to these specialized trainings they developed IDE plugins, they work like some kind of spellchecker, highlighting possible security vulnerabilities. All these efforts should improve the quality of the code. In order to assess these guidelines, they should have some kind of measurement system to measure the quality of the code. This is exactly what they did, they developed a system that scans code with a focus on several aspects (in total they leverage 12 different variables) and developers can track the progress of their code quality. This information can then be used as positive feedback for adjusting certain mechanisms or guidelines and in addition to stimulate individual developers to write more secure code of a higher quality.

In conclusion some numbers, using this approach Kevin Walker estimated that his team gave back 15000 developer hours back by using his team's guidelines. The reason is that a lot less time is spent on rewriting and fortifying code.

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