Make Security Easy

This will be a short blog this week, but I want to talk again about an issue I have with a client of mine. They make security hard.

This is not to say they don’t take it seriously, or that they are lax. Far from it. They actually are fairly stringent on their security protocols and get after folks on ensuring boxes are consistently patched and that passwords are stringent and details like that. Overall I’d give them probably an B on security. But I can’t quite give them an A.

There’s really two reasons for that:

The first is inconsistency. Let me be clear, getting to their internal network is appropriately difficult. I have to use their secure VPN, with soft-tokens and similar measures. Technically before I can access a box, I have to jump through multiple hurdles. I’m ok with that. What’s a pain is on some boxes if I walk away for an extended period of time, the screen remains unlocked and nothing changes. Now, because of my OWN security model my computer will lock FAR sooner than that. And my default mode is to typically lock my own computer anytime I walk away from it (and that’s within my own house). But for some machines, if there’s no keyboard or mouse input, the screen will lock after 15 minutes, but my session won’t ever be logged out. For others, the screen will lock after 15 minutes and my session will be logged out after several hours. There appears to be no real rhyme no reason to this other than a slight correlation with when the box was configured.

Now, in general, I think locking unattended screens can be a good thing. The downside is, due to the nature of my job, I may start work on one machine, flip over to another to do something like update the schema and then flip back to the first, only to find my screen locked. In some cases, I won’t. It’s inconsistent. Ideally I think it should be consistent.

So, if you have a security protocol, decide on what it is, and make it consistent.

But the real complaint I have, and this has been true of multiple companies I’ve worked with: make security easy.

Again, with this particular client, on most, but not all boxes, I can easily download and install the required patches. (OS level patches are handled by their internal IT team which is a huge win). But some machines have firewall rules in place such that you can’t download the patch directly to the machine. You have to go to a jump box, download the patch there and copy it over. This is fairly inconvenient. Now, if this were consistent across all machines I’d develop procedures around that, but they’re not consistent. This is particularly a problem for software that often will actually only download a stub installer that will then try to download the actual patch. In this case, if you simply copy over the stub and try to run it to patch the machine, it too will fail. This means you need to find the often hard to find link to download the full patch to the jump box and then copy that over. In some cases, it’s even worse, you have to manually place files where you want them. I had this occur on an update I was doing to a module for PowerShell. I had to download the installer to a jump box, extract what I needed and manually copy the files to the right subdirectory. Now, granted, I get paid by the hour, but I’d like to think my clients pay me for things other than copying files.

I’ve seen another related issue at other clients when it came to patching. They’d patch users desktops during the day and default to “reboot in the next 10 minutes” with no option of delaying the patch or reboot. Now, there are possibly first day exploits where this might be warranted, but this was the default for ALL Windows patches. This was really discouraging to employees and multiple times caused them to lose work, especially it they were away from the desk during this time and didn’t have a chance to save their work. The sad part is that there are multiple ways this could have easily been handled that would have had far less impact on the employees.

In the end, security is critical, but we should be making it as easy to comply as possible and as consistent as possible. There’s an old adage that the security person doesn’t stop doing their job until they’ve stopped you from doing yours. Don’t make that a truism.

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