How online assessments (quizzes, tests and exams) can help information security awareness and compliance

Posted by John Kleeman

With the rise of data security leakages, most professional organizations are seeking to significantly upscale their cybersecurity to better protect their organization from information security risks. I see an increasing use of online assessments helping information security and thought I’d provide some pointers about this.

There are three main ways in which online quizzes, tests, exams and surveys can aid information security:

  • Testing personnel to check understanding of security awareness and security policies
  • Ensuring and documenting that personnel in security roles are competent
  • Helping measure success against security objectivesNIST logo

Testing on security awareness and knowledge of policies

A cornerstone of good practice in security is training in security awareness. For example, the widely respected NIST 800-53 publication recommends that organizations provide general-purpose and role-based training to personnel as part of initial training and periodically thereafter. If you follow NIST standards, NIST control AT-4 also requires that all security training be documented and records retained.

There is widespread evidence that delivering an assessment is the best way of documenting that training took place, because it doesn’t just document attendance but also understanding of the training. For more explanation, see the Questionmark blog post Proving compliance – not just attendance. The only point of security awareness training is to have the training be understood, so testing to confirm understanding is widespread and sensible.

At Questionmark, we practice what we preach! All our employees have to take a test on data security when they join to check they understand our policies; all employees must also take and pass an updated test each year to ensure they continue to understand.

Ensure that people in security roles are competent

iso 27001The international security standard ISO 27001:2013 requires that an organization determine the necessary competence of personnel affecting information security performance. The organization must also ensures that personnel have such competence and retain evidence of this.

In a large organization with many different security roles, developing and using competence tests for each information security-related role is a good way of measuring and showing competence.  Knowing who is competent in which aspect of security and data protection matters: it ensures that  you are covering appropriate risks with appropriate people. Online testing is an effective way of measuring competence and makes it easy to update competence records by giving periodic tests every six months or annually.

Helping measure information security objectives

PCI logoISO 27001 also requires setting up metrics to measure information security objectives. Results from assessments can be a good metric to use.  Other standards say similar things. For example, the PCI standard widely used for credit card security says in its best practice guide:

“Metrics can be an effective tool to measure the success of a security awareness program, and can also provide valuable information to keep the security awareness program up-to-date and effective”

The PCI guide recognizes that good metrics include “feedback from personnel; quizzes and training assessments”. In my experience, as well as using quizzes and tests to measure knowledge, it also makes sense to use online surveys to assess actual practice by employees and to allow reporting of security concerns.

Testing on information security and data protection is an increasing use case for Questionmark’s trustable SaaS assessment management system, Questionmark OnDemand.  Whichever security standard you are following (ISO 27001, NIST, PCI or one of several others), creating online assessments tailored to measure knowledge of your organization’s policies and procedures using an assessment management system like Questionmark’s can make a useful difference.

FBI and Homeland Security advice on trumping cybersecurity attacks

Posted by John Kleeman

There’s a lot in the news recently about possible cybersecurity attacks on the political process. Here are some thoughts on how we can learn from this and apply it to assessment security.

One of the most interesting documents I’ve read on this subject is the Department of Homeland Security and FBI’s joint analysis report  JAR-16-20296 titled GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity.  This presents evidence on how a cybersecurity attack was made on a US political party in 2016 and gives some practical advice on how others can set up their systems to avoid such attacks.

Whoever the attack was performed by (and there has been some debate about this), the practical advice is useful to anyone who wants to improve their security. I was particularly struck by a section in the report which offered questions to ask your organization to see if they have good cybersecurity practices. I’ve taken the liberty of including the questions in the graphic below:

See Grizzly Steppe report for text here

I’ve shared various sets of security questions in this blog, including Eight ways to check if security is more than skin deep and 24 midsummer questions to ask your assessment software provider, but here are some questions from a very credible source!

I’d encourage you to pose these questions within your organization and with your suppliers to check that you are well protected in case of a cyberattack. Questionmark, like all sensible organizations, believes in continuous improvement in our security, and listening to sources like this analysis informs our improvement.

I hope highlighting the report and these questions helps strengthen your defenses against cybersecurity and acts as a guide in choosing your vendors.

2016 Recap: 12 million+ assessments; 99.98% uptime

Posted by Julie Delazyn

Every day Questionmark customers around the world are deploying high stakes assessments – in 2016 alone, more than 12 million assessments were delivered through Questionmark OnDemand’s platform. 12 million + assessments is HUGE—that’s like saying every 2.5 seconds for 365 days someone is finishing an assessment. But when the stakes are high and the demand is even higher, the number one priority is making sure that your system is up and running.

Keeping up with demand has been Questionmark’s #1 priority, and we set high standards for ourselves. That’s why we’re excited to announce that in 2016, we exceeded our 99.9% uptime target on both our European-based and US-based services – averaging over 99.98% uptime for our assessment delivery service throughout the year.

And we believe in transparency— You can check out the current performance and availability status of Questionmark OnDemand at any time here: http://status.questionmark.com/

We know that obtaining optimal availability at all times is peace of mind for our customers and their test takers, and we look forward to protecting that uptime in 2017.

Seven New Year’s Resolutions to Keep Your Assessments Safe

Paper with "Resolutions" written on it implying one is about to write some resolutions downJohn Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

Many blogs at this time of year seek to predict the year ahead, and many of them foresee more data breaches and security incidents in 2017.  But I’m a great believer that the best way to predict the future is to create or change it yourself. So if you want to reduce the chances of your assessment data security being breached in 2017, make some of the things you’ve talked about happen.

Here are some possible New Year’s resolutions that could help keep your assessments safe and secure.

1. Audit your user accounts. Go through each of your systems that hold or give access to assessment data, and check there are no accounts for ex-employees or ex-contractors. Make sure there are no generic or test accounts that do not belong to a current individual. Dormant accounts like this are a common route to a breach. Also check that no one who has changed role has the privileges of their old role.

2. Run an incident response table-top practice exercise. This is a session where you gather together those responsible for security, pretend there is a breach or other incident and work through verbally how you’d deal with it as a team. You can do this in a couple of hours with good preparation, and it allows you to check your procedures and ensure people know what to do. It will often give useful insight into improving your preparedness.  As Benjamin Franklin once said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

3. Start testing your personnel on security procedures. One of the biggest security risks for any organization is staff mistakes and accidents that compromise credentials or data. Security awareness training makes an important difference. And if you test your personnel on security after the training, you verify that people understand the training and you identify areas of weakness. This makes it more likely that your personnel become more aware and follow better security practices. If you have access to an online assessment tool like Questionmark, it’s very, very easy to do.

Photo of doctor stethoscope on computer keyboard4. Review some of your key vendors. A risk for most organizations is weaknesses in suppliers or subcontractors that have access to your data. Ask suppliers to share information on their technical and organizational measures for security and what they are doing to ensure that your data is not breached. Any reputable organization will be willing and able to provide this under NDA. See 24 midsummer questions to ask your assessment software provider on this blog for some of the questions you can ask.

 

5. Conduct a restore test from backups. How do you know your backups work? Over the years, I’ve come across a few organizations and teams who’ve lost their data because their backups didn’t work. The only way to be sure is to test restoring it from backup and check data is there. If you don’t already run restore tests, organize a restore test in 2017 (ideally once a quarter, but once is better than not at all). You shouldn’t need to do this if you use a cloud service like Questionmark OnDemand as the vendor should do it for you.

6. Run a pilot for online proctoring. Microsoft do it. SAP do it. Why shouldn’t you do it? If you run a certification program that uses physical test centers, consider whether online proctoring might work for you. Not only will it reduce the risk of collusion with proctors helping candidates cheat, but it will also be a huge boon to your candidates who will no longer need to travel to test centers.

TheCadetHonorCodeMonument7. Put in place a code of conduct for your participants. This is a simple thing to do and can make a big difference in reducing cheating by encouraging test-takers to stay honest.  See Candidate Agreements: Establishing honor codes for test takers and What is the best way to reduce cheating? on this blog for tips on how and why to do this. If you are looking for inspiration, at famous code of conduct is that of the U.S. Army West Point Military Academy which simply says: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Of course you need to communicate and get buy-in for your code of conduct, but if you do, it can be very effective.

Many of you will already be doing all of these things, but if you’re not, I hope one or more of these resolutions help you improve your assessment security in 2017.

And here’s a bonus New Year’s resolution to consider. Questionmark Information Security Officer David Hunt and I are giving a session on Staying Ahead of Evolving Security Threats at the Questionmark conference in March in Santa Fe. Make a New Year’s resolution to come to the conference, and learn about security and assessment!

Don’t Let Compliance Blind you to Security

profile-picturePosted by David Hunt

The field of security is constantly growing, shifting and adapting to meet an ever changing threat landscape. To provide a degree of order in this chaotic landscape, we look to compliance standards such as NIST 800-53, PCI, HIPPA, ISO’s …. These standards provide frameworks which allow us to measure or determine the maturity of an organization’s security program. However, these frameworks need to be tempered by the current security environment or we risk sacrificing our security for compliance.

This idea was illustrated nicely at this year’s BSides Las Vegas security conference. Lorrie Cranor the Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission provided the keynote speech about why we need to start training our clients and end users to reevaluate their thinking on mandatory password changes. In brief, Lorrie questioned the practice of frequent mandatory password changes, meant to prevent brute forcing (trying all possible combinations) or to lock out those who may have a shared or stolen password.

Here is what she found: Frequent password change requirements can actually make us less secure based on two separate studies. Lorrie’s message was to empower users to create good passwords and agree on what good is, while addressing common misconceptions. Questionmark OnDemand’s new portal, empowers customers to determine what good passwords are and to create customized roles based on their requirements. When configuring passwords requirements for your OnDemand users, consider Lorries advice for passwords.lorrie-cranor-image

  • Avoid common words, names
  • Avoid patterns
  • Digits and symbols add strength
  • Understand different types of attacks
  • Make them Better (Not Perfect)
  • Change them only when Required
  • Start with your Core accounts
  • Use Tools where appropriate

In this case, Lorrie did not blindly follow the path of compliance, leading to ever shorter password refresh limits. She got it right by looking at the issue from a security perspective. What are the threats to the use of passwords and are our mitigations of these threats reducing our risk? The answer, when it comes to mandatory password changes, is NO! We are actually increasing our risk in some cases. So when setting password policies in Questionmark OnDemand, it is always a good practice to regularly review your settings to ensure you are getting it right.

As with any good keynote speech, this one was a catalyst for many subsequent conversations both at and after the conference.

The dangers of security programs that blindly check compliance requirements off a list, news-driven security programs, and the proverbial not being able to see the security forest for the trees. The takeaway from these conversations was that we have an obligation to “disobey.” Not that we should break the rules but rather question them — lest we face a fate such as that which befell those in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” a poem describing the tragedy resulting from the miscommunication of orders at the Battle of Balaclava.  in our case, we may not face a physical death by blindly following orders, but a virtual death is plausible.

Just as Lorrie asked “Why?” we should be asking it as well. As anyone who has spent time with a 3-year-old child knows, this one simple question is the key to building knowledge. We all should ask “Why?” and grow our technical and security knowledge to ensure we are not just compliant, but secure!

 

mk-cybersecurity

7 ways assessments can save you money and protect your reputation [Compliance webinar]

Julie ProfilePosted by Julie Delazyn

Last week, illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo, one of America’s largest banks, $185 million in fines. Regulators have called the scandal “outrageous” and stated that the widespread nature of the illegal behavior shows the bank lacked the necessary controls and oversight of its employees.

Educating and monitoring employee understanding of proper practices is vital for regulatory compliance.  How do you ensure your workers are compliant with the rules and regulations in your industry? How do you prove that employee training is understood?

Register today for the FREE webinar: 7 Ways Assessments Fortify Compliance

The webinar will examine real-world examples of how assessments are used to strengthen compliance programs. It will also provide tips for developing valid, reliable assessments.

« Previous PageNext Page »