2. Establishing Official Site Policy on Computer Security

2. Establishing Official Site Policy on Computer Security

Copyright(c) Management Analytics, 1995 - All Rights Reserved

2.1 Brief Overview

2.1.1 Organization Issues

The goal in developing an official site policy on computer security is to define the organization's expectations of proper computer and network use and to define procedures to prevent and respond to security incidents. In order to do this, aspects of the particular organization must be considered.

First, the goals and direction of the organization should be considered. For example, a military base may have very different security concerns from a those of a university.

Second, the site security policy developed must conform to existing policies, rules, regulations and laws that the organization is subject to. Therefore it will be necessary to identify these and take them into consideration while developing the policy.

Third, unless the local network is completely isolated and standalone, it is necessary to consider security implications in a more global context. The policy should address the issues when local security problems develop as a result of a remote site as well as when problems occur on remote systems as a result of a local host or user.

2.1.2 Who Makes the Policy?

Policy creation must be a joint effort by technical personnel, who understand the full ramifications of the proposed policy and the implementation of the policy, and by decision makers who have the power to enforce the policy. A policy which is neither implementable nor enforceable is useless.

Since a computer security policy can affect everyone in an organization, it is worth taking some care to make sure you have the right level of authority in on the policy decisions. Though a particular group (such as a campus information services group) may have responsibility for enforcing a policy, an even higher group may have to support and approve the policy.

2.1.3 Who is Involved?

Establishing a site policy has the potential for involving every computer user at the site in a variety of ways. Computer users may be responsible for personal password administration. Systems managers are obligated to fix security holes and to oversee the system.

It is critical to get the right set of people involved at the start of the process. There may already be groups concerned with security who would consider a computer security policy to be their area. Some of the types of groups that might be involved include auditing/control, organizations that deal with physical security, campus information systems groups, and so forth. Asking these types of groups to "buy in" from the start can help facilitate the acceptance of the policy.

2.1.4 Responsibilities

A key element of a computer security policy is making sure everyone knows their own responsibility for maintaining security. A computer security policy cannot anticipate all possibilities; however, it can ensure that each kind of problem does have someone assigned to deal with it.

There may be levels of responsibility associated with a policy on computer security. At one level, each user of a computing resource may have a responsibility to protect his account. A user who allows his account to be compromised increases the chances of compromising other accounts or resources.

System managers may form another responsibility level: they must help to ensure the security of the computer system. Network managers may reside at yet another level.

2.2 Risk Assessment

2.2.1 General Discussion

One of the most important reasons for creating a computer security policy is to ensure that efforts spent on security yield cost effective benefits. Although this may seem obvious, it is possible to be mislead about where the effort is needed. As an example, there is a great deal of publicity about intruders on computers systems; yet most surveys of computer security show that for most organizations, the actual loss from "insiders" is much greater.

Risk analysis involves determining what you need to protect, what you need to protect it from, and how to protect it. Is is the process of examining all of your risks, and ranking those risks by level of severity. This process involves making cost-effective

says that you should not spend more to protect something than it is actually worth.

A full treatment of risk analysis is outside the scope of this document. [3, FITES] and [16, PFLEEGER] provide introductions to this topic. However, there are two elements of a risk analysis that will be briefly covered in the next two sections:

For each asset, the basic goals of security are availability, confidentiality, and integrity. Each threat should be examined with an eye to how the threat could affect these areas.

2.2.2 Identifying the Assets

One step in a risk analysis is to identify all the things that need to be protected. Some things are obvious, like all the various pieces of hardware, but some are overlooked, such as the people who actually use the systems. The essential point is to list all things that could be affected by a security problem.

One list of categories is suggested by Pfleeger [16, PFLEEGER, page 459]; this list is adapted from that source:

2.2.3 Identifying the Threats

Once the assets requiring protection are identified, it is necessary to identify threats to those assests. The threats can then be examined to determine what potential for loss exists. It helps to consider from what threats you are trying to protect your assets.

The following sections describe a few of the possible threats. Unauthorized Access

A common threat that concerns many sites is unauthorized access to computing facilities. Unauthorized access takes many forms. One means of unauthorized access is the use of another user's account to gain access to a system. The use of any computer resource without prior permission may be considered unauthorized access to computing facilities.

The seriousness of an unauthorized access will vary from site to site. For some sites, the mere act of granting access to an unauthorized user may cause irreparable harm by negative media coverage. For other sites, an unauthorized access opens the door to other security threats. In addition, some sites may be more frequent targets than others; hence the risk from unauthorized access will vary from site to site. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT - see section has observed that well-known universities, government sites, and military sites seem to attract more intruders. Disclosure of Information

Another common threat is disclosure of information. Determine the value or sensitivity of the information stored on your computers. Disclosure of a password file might allow for future unauthorized accesses. A glimpse of a proposal may give a competitor an unfair advantage. A technical paper may contain years of valuable research. Denial of Service

Computers and networks provide valuable services to their users. Many people rely on these services in order to perform their jobs efficiently. When these services are not available when called upon, a loss in productivity results.

Denial of service comes in many forms and might affect users in a number of ways. A network may be rendered unusable by a rogue packet, jamming, or by a disabled network component. A virus might slow down or cripple a computer system. Each site should determine which services are essential, and for each of these services determine the affect to the site if that service were to become disabled.

2.3 Policy Issues

There are a number of issues that must be addressed when developing a security policy. These are:

1.  Who is allowed to use the resources?
2.  What is the proper use of the resources?
3.  Who is authorized to grant access and approve usage?
4.  Who may have system administration privileges?
5.  What are the user's rights and responsibilities?
6.  What are the rights and responsibilities of the
      system administrator vs. those of the user?
7.  What do you do with sensitive information?

These issues will be discussed below. In addition you may wish to include a section in your policy concerning ethical use of computing resources. Parker, Swope and Baker [17, PARKER90] and Forester and Morrison [18, FORESTER] are two useful references that address ethical issues.

2.3.1 Who is Allowed to use the Resources?

One step you must take in developing your security policy is defining who is allowed to use your system and services. The policy should explicitly state who is authorized to use what resources.

2.3.2 What is the Proper Use of the Resources?

After determining who is allowed access to system resources it is necessary to provide guidelines for the acceptable use of the resources. You may have different guidelines for different types of users (i.e., students, faculty, external users). The policy should state what is acceptable use as well as unacceptable use. It should also include types of use that may be restricted.

Define limits to access and authority. You will need to consider the level of access various users will have and what resources will be available or restricted to various groups of people.

Your acceptable use policy should clearly state that individual users are responsible for their actions. Their responsibility exists regardless of the security mechanisms that are in place. It should be clearly stated that breaking into accounts or bypassing security is not permitted.

The following points should be covered when developing an acceptable use policy:

o Is breaking into accounts permitted?
o Is cracking passwords permitted?
o Is disrupting service permitted?
o Should users assume that a file being world-readable
   grants them the authorization to read it?
o Should users be permitted to modify files that are
   not their own even if they happen to have write
o Should users share accounts?

The answer to most of these questions will be "no".

You may wish to incorporate a statement in your policies concerning copyrighted and licensed software. Licensing agreements with vendors may require some sort of effort on your part to ensure that the license is not violated. In addition, you may wish to inform users that the copying of copyrighted software may be a violation of the copyright laws, and is not permitted.

Specifically concerning copyrighted and/or licensed software, you may wish to include the following information:

o Copyrighted and licensed software may not be duplicated
   unless it is explicitly stated that you may do so.
o Methods of conveying information on the
   copyright/licensed status of software.
o When in doubt, DON'T COPY.

Your acceptable use policy is very important. A policy which does not clearly state what is not permitted may leave you unable to prove that a user violated policy.

There are exception cases like tiger teams and users or administrators wishing for "licenses to hack" -- you may face the situation where users will want to "hack" on your services for security research purposes. You should develop a policy that will determine whether you will permit this type of research on your services and if so, what your guidelines for such research will be.

Points you may wish to cover in this area:

o Whether it is permitted at all.
o What type of activity is permitted: breaking in, releasing
   worms, releasing viruses, etc..
o What type of controls must be in place to ensure that it
   does not get out of control (e.g., separate a segment of
   your network for these tests).
o How you will protect other users from being victims of
   these activities, including external users and networks.
o The process for obtaining permission to conduct these

In cases where you do permit these activities, you should isolate the portions of the network that are being tested from your main network. Worms and viruses should never be released on a live network.

You may also wish to employ, contract, or otherwise solicit one or more people or organizations to evaluate the security of your services, of which may include "hacking". You may wish to provide for this in your policy.

2.3.3 Who Is Authorized to Grant Access and Approve Usage?

Your policy should state who is authorized to grant access to your services. Further, it must be determined what type of access they are permitted to give. If you do not have control over who is granted access to your system, you will not have control over who is using your system. Controlling who has the authorization to grant access will also enable you to know who was or was not granting access if problems develop later.

There are many schemes that can be developed to control the distribution of access to your services. The following are the factors that you must consider when determining who will distribute access to your services: Will you be distributing access from a centralized point or at various points?

You can have a centralized distribution point to a distributed system where various sites or departments independently authorize access. The trade off is between security and convenience. The more centralized, the easier to secure. What methods will you use for creating accounts and terminating access?

From a security standpoint, you need to examine the mechanism that you will be using to create accounts. In the least restrictive case, the people who are authorized to grant access would be able to go into the system directly and create an account by hand or through vendor supplied mechanisms. Generally, these mechanisms place a great deal of trust in the person running them, and the person running them usually has a large amount of privileges. If this is the choice you make, you need to select someone who is trustworthy to perform this task. The opposite solution is to have an integrated system that the people authorized to create accounts run, or the users themselves may actually run. Be aware that even in the restrictive case of having a mechanized facility to create accounts does not remove the potential for abuse.

You should have specific procedures developed for the creation of accounts. These procedures should be well documented to prevent confusion and reduce mistakes. A security vulnerability in the account authorization process is not only possible through abuse, but is also possible if a mistake is made. Having clear and well documented procedure will help ensure that these mistakes won't happen. You should also be sure that the people who will be following these procedures understand them.

The granting of access to users is one of the most vulnerable of times. You should ensure that the selection of an initial password cannot be easily guessed. You should avoid using an initial password that is a function of the username, is part of the user's name, or some algorithmically generated password that can easily be guessed. In addition, you should not permit users to continue to use the initial password indefinitely. If possible, you should force users to change the initial password the first time they login. Consider that some users may never even login, leaving their password vulnerable indefinitely. Some sites choose to disable accounts that have never been accessed, and force the owner to reauthorize opening the account.

2.3.4 Who May Have System Administration Privileges?

One security decision that needs to be made very carefully is who will have access to system administrator privileges and passwords for your services. Obviously, the system administrators will need access, but inevitably other users will request special privileges. The policy should address this issue. Restricting privileges is one way to deal with threats from local users. The challenge is to balance restricting access to these to protect security with giving people who need these privileges access so that they can perform their tasks. One approach that can be taken is to grant only enough privilege to accomplish the necessary tasks.

Additionally, people holding special privileges should be accountable to some authority and this should also be identified within the site's security policy. If the people you grant privileges to are not accountable, you run the risk of losing control of your system and will have difficulty managing a compromise in security.

2.3.5 What Are The Users' Rights and Responsibilities?

The policy should incorporate a statement on the users' rights and responsibilities concerning the use of the site's computer systems and services. It should be clearly stated that users are responsible for understanding and respecting the security rules of the systems they are using. The following is a list of topics that you may wish to cover in this area of the policy:

The Electronic Mail Association sponsored a white paper on the privacy of electronic mail in companies [4]. Their basic recommendation is that every site should have a policy on the protection of employee privacy. They also recommend that organizations establish privacy policies that deal with all media, rather than singling out electronic mail.

They suggest five criteria for evaluating any policy:

2.3.6 What Are The Rights and Responsibilities of System Administrators Versus Rights of Users

There is a tradeoff between a user's right to absolute privacy and the need of system administrators to gather sufficient information to diagnose problems. There is also a distinction between a system administrator's need to gather information to diagnose problems and investigating security violations. The policy should specify to what degree system administrators can examine user files to diagnose problems or for other purposes, and what rights you grant to the users. You may also wish to make a statement concerning system administrators' obligation to maintaining the privacy of information viewed under these circumstances. A few questions that should be answered are:

Can an administrator monitor or read a user's files for any reason? What are the liabilities? Do network administrators have the right to examine network or host traffic?

2.3.7 What To Do With Sensitive Information

Before granting users access to your services, you need to determine at what level you will provide for the security of data on your systems. By determining this, you are determining the level of sensitivity of data that users should store on your systems. You do not want users to store very sensitive information on a system that you are not going to secure very well. You need to tell users who might store sensitive information what services, if any, are appropriate for the storage of sensitive information. This part should include storing of data in different ways (disk, magnetic tape, file servers, etc.). Your policy in this area needs to be coordinated with the policy concerning the rights of system administrators versus users (see section 2.3.6).

2.4 What Happens When the Policy is Violated

It is obvious that when any type of official policy is defined, be it related to computer security or not, it will eventually be broken. The violation may occur due to an individual's negligence, accidental mistake, having not been properly informed of the current policy, or not understanding the current policy. It is equally possible that an individual (or group of individuals) may knowingly perform an act that is in direct violation of the defined policy.

When a policy violation has been detected, the immediate course of action should be pre-defined to ensure prompt and proper enforcement. An investigation should be performed to determine how and why the violation occurred. Then the appropriate corrective action should be executed. The type and severity of action taken varies depending on the type of violation that occurred.

2.4.1 Determining the Response to Policy Violations

Violations to policy may be committed by a wide variety of users. Some may be local users and others may be from outside the local environment. Sites may find it helpful to define what it considers "insiders" and "outsiders" based upon administrative, legal or political boundaries. These boundaries imply what type of action must be taken to correct the offending party; from a written reprimand to pressing legal charges. So, not only do you need to define actions based on the type of violation, you also need to have a clearly defined series of actions based on the kind of user violating your computer security policy. This all seems rather complicated, but should be addressed long before it becomes necessary as the result of a violation.

One point to remember about your policy is that proper education is your best defense. For the outsiders who are using your computer legally, it is your responsibility to verify that these individuals are aware of the policies that you have set forth. Having this proof may assist you in the future if legal action becomes necessary.

As for users who are using your computer illegally, the problem is basically the same. What type of user violated the policy and how and why did they do it? Depending on the results of your investigation, you may just prefer to "plug" the hole in your computer security and chalk it up to experience. Or if a significant amount of loss was incurred, you may wish to take more drastic action.

2.4.2 What to do When Local Users Violate the Policy of a Remote Site

In the event that a local user violates the security policy of a remote site, the local site should have a clearly defined set of administrative actions to take concerning that local user. The site should also be prepared to protect itself against possible actions by the remote site. These situations involve legal issues which should be addressed when forming the security policy.

2.4.3 Defining Contacts and Responsibilities to Outside Organizations

The local security policy should include procedures for interaction with outside organizations. These include law enforcement agencies, other sites, external response team organizations (e.g., the CERT, CIAC) and various press agencies. The procedure should state who is authorized to make such contact and how it should be handled. Some questions to be answered include:

o Who may talk to the press?
o When do you contact law enforcement and investigative agencies?
o If a connection is made from a remote site, is the
   system manager authorized to contact that site?
o Can data be released?  What kind?

Detailed contact information should be readily available along with clearly defined procedures to follow.

2.4.4 What are the Responsibilities to our Neighbors and Other Internet Sites?

The Security Policy Working Group within the IETF is working on a document entitled, "Policy Guidelines for the Secure Operation of the Internet" [23]. It addresses the issue that the Internet is a cooperative venture and that sites are expected to provide mutual security assistance. This should be addressed when developing a site's policy. The major issue to be determined is how much information should be released. This will vary from site to site according to the type of site (e.g., military, education, commercial) as well as the type of security violation that occurred.

2.4.5 Issues for Incident Handling Procedures

Along with statements of policy, the document being prepared should include procedures for incident handling. This is covered in detail in the next chapter. There should be procedures available that cover all facets of policy violation.

2.5 Locking In or Out

Whenever a site suffers an incident which may compromise computer security, the strategies for reacting may be influenced by two opposing pressures.

If management fears that the site is sufficiently vulnerable, it may choose a "Protect and Proceed" strategy. This approach will have as its primary goal the protection and preservation of the site facilities and to provide for normalcy for its users as quickly as possible. Attempts will be made to actively interfere with the intruder's processes, prevent further access and begin immediate damage assessment and recovery. This process may involve shutting down the facilities, closing off access to the network, or other drastic measures. The drawback is that unless the intruder is identified directly, they may come back into the site via a different path, or may attack another site.

The alternate approach, "Pursue and Prosecute", adopts the opposite philosophy and goals. The primary goal is to allow intruders to continue their activities at the site until the site can identify the responsible persons. This approach is endorsed by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. The drawback is that the agencies cannot exempt a site from possible user lawsuits if damage is done to their systems and data.

Prosecution is not the only outcome possible if the intruder is identified. If the culprit is an employee or a student, the organization may choose to take disciplinary actions. The computer security policy needs to spell out the choices and how they will be selected if an intruder is caught.

Careful consideration must be made by site management regarding their approach to this issue before the problem occurs. The strategy adopted might depend upon each circumstance. Or there may be a global policy which mandates one approach in all circumstances. The pros and cons must be examined thoroughly and the users of the facilities must be made aware of the policy so that they understand their vulnerabilities no matter which approach is taken.

The following are checklists to help a site determine which strategy to adopt: "Protect and Proceed" or "Pursue and Prosecute".

Protect and Proceed

Pursue and Prosecute

2.6 Interpreting the Policy

It is important to define who will interpret the policy. This could be an individual or a committee. No matter how well written, the policy will require interpretation from time to time and this body would serve to review, interpret, and revise the policy as needed.

2.7 Publicizing the Policy

Once the site security policy has been written and established, a vigorous process should be engaged to ensure that the policy statement is widely and thoroughly disseminated and discussed. A mailing of the policy should not be considered sufficient. A period for comments should be allowed before the policy becomes effective to ensure that all affected users have a chance to state their reactions and discuss any unforeseen ramifications. Ideally, the policy should strike a balance between protection and productivity.

Meetings should be held to elicit these comments, and also to ensure that the policy is correctly understood. (Policy promulgators are not necessarily noted for their skill with the language.) These meetings should involve higher management as well as line employees. Security is a collective effort.

In addition to the initial efforts to publicize the policy, it is essential for the site to maintain a continual awareness of its computer security policy. Current users may need periodic reminders New users should have the policy included as part of their site introduction packet. As a condition for using the site facilities, it may be advisable to have them sign a statement that they have read and understood the policy. Should any of these users require legal action for serious policy violations, this signed statement might prove to be a valuable aid.