Securing Born in the Cloud Businesses

Everyone’s had this recently. Organisations they partner with are becoming (justifiably) more stringent about their security. It creates some thorny problems though:

  • How do we get the security without bludgeoning our business to death?
  • How do you improve data protection without making your staff rage quit?
  • How do we align initiatives I make with broader security standards.

Born in the Cloud

When we’re talking about a Born in the Cloud Business (BITC) we’re talking about this sort of company:

  • Not much in the way of legacy systems.
  • Mostly SaaS based tools.
  • A boat load of BYOD.
  • Loosey Goosey office security 🙂

Larger organisations like working with businesses like these. They’re small, agile and generally full of rock-star grade experts in their field. But large organisations are also terrified of working with these sorts of companies. The locked-down SOE based work day they’re used to which provide them with a measure of confidence isn’t present in these BITC businesses. The large org wants all the warm fuzzy security but wants to keep the innovation and glint in their partner’s eye.

Security Standards

In Europe this is lot more mature than it is in Australia. There are two different standards that get bandied about:

Essential 8

Here, there are a set of guidelines that the Australian Signals Directorate have adopted and provide as advice. This is called the Essential 8 Maturity Model. It covers several areas and each one has four levels of maturity and organisation can reach (0-3). It was originally envisaged as a straightforward, practical approach to data security but has been “beefed up” to be a lot more complex over time.

ISO:27001

Another standard is ISO 27001. This is a heavyweight standard to attain and can take 6-18 months depending on your complexity, maturity and size.

It covers a range of different technology and policy “controls” that should be applied. You an self-assert your compliance then have that audited externally.

Essential 8 Level 3 (the highest) is a sort of subset of the work you’d need to complete to get to ISO 27001. Essential 8 is used in Australian Federal and State Governments and ISO:27001 is a global standard.

What do I need to do?

We at jtwo have been on the journey of achieving both and we have some general advice on how to get going.

We aren’t security consultants and our professional indemnity doesn’t allow us to be so take this advice with a grain of salt. That should keep our insurers happy 🙂

So with that out of the way Its a big beast but here are some pointers on how to get started. We use Office365 with the E5 licensing so a lot of the tools we need to build this stuff out are there and we already pay for them.

Take it Seriously

You can’t fake this stuff. You have to embrace the idea of security in your bones or you won’t get anywhere. You have to think about the tools, processes and behaviours you use and think about them through a security lens. Once you’ve embraced the idea of security it all starts to look a bit more achievable.

Build Registers

In each of these security standards there are set of lists and registers you need to keep. They involve asset registers (physical and information based) and there’s lots of them. This is particularly the case with ISO27k1.

We use Office365 so we built each of these registers as SharePoint Lists. They are easy to use and they can be used in reporting too.

Embrace a SOE

Everyone hates them, they suck. They make it hard for you to be flexible and innovative. Developers hate them especially. But you should consider them part of your new world order. We use E5 licensing for Microsoft 365 and as part of this we get InTune and Defender. Rolling these out together can help you tick lots of boxes and actually be secure to boot.

MFA Everywhere, All at Once

You probably already do this, in fact if you don’t then do it as soon as you’ve read this. We use O365 and all the identities are in Azure AD. We’ve turned on MFA using Microsoft Authenticator and it does a lot of the heavy lifting.

Policies, Policies, Policies

You’ll need to write and maintain lots of policies. These are generally short (thankfully) but they need to be reviewed periodically and you need to record attestations that people have read, understood and agreed to the policies.

We build our policies as Word Documents and we built a PowerApp that lets people read and agree to the policies. The records for this go in our SharePoint lists for record keeping.

Enforcement

You need to enforce the use of policies, practices and tools. Consider making security compliance part of your staff meetings. Reward people for good behaviour and following policies. Gently (at first) nudge people towards good behaviour if they’re lagging behind.

Office365 and Purview are your friend

While many of the compliance activities you’ll need to do are policy and people based there’s a lot of technology stuff too. As a BITC business you have a lot of this at your fingertips. We use Microsoft 365 and Purview is part of the E5 licensing we have. Its got a bunch of great technology you can use to improve your security. It arranges it as a set of scores so you get the dopamine rush when you move the score up too. If you use M365 and have E5 you should definitely explore this. It will help greatly.

Data Classification

This is a big one and can be hard. Data classification is generally difficult but the Purview classification tools are able to use ML to do the classification work for you. Here’s what our Teams, email and other communication profile looks like…

We should probably tone down on the fruity language.

This is also what our data looks like from the perspective of sensitive information.

You can see that we use what might be considered sensitive information in the content of our comms. This will vary from org to org but you don’t have to do anything to get this, it works out of the box.

Standards Mapping

Another interesting capability is the standards mapping. You can choose a standard like E8L3 or ISO:27001 and apply that template to the controls you have in O365. This will give you a (probably massive) checklist of changes you need to make to meet those standarsd.

Microsoft also have their own standards for security which are applied to your controls. Here’s an example of how it provides a gauge on your security compliance:

Moving this score up will move you along with various standards at the same time.

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