Dumb Security Questionnaires

- 4 minutes read - 767 words

It’s weird to say this but a significant part of the value we provide clients is filling out Dumb Security Questionnaires (hereafter DSQs, since the only thing more irritating than a questionnaire is spelling “questionnaire”).

Daniel Meiessler complains about DSQs, arguing that self-assessment is an intrinsically flawed concept.

Meh. I have bigger problems with them.

First, most DSQs are terrible. We get on calls with prospective clients, tell them “these DSQs were all first written in the early 1990s and lovingly handed down from generation to generation of midwestern IT secops staff. Oh, how clients laugh and laugh. But, not joking. That’s really how those DSQs got written.

You can tell, because they ask insane questions. “Document your intrusion detection deployment.” It’s 2018. Nobody is deploying RealSecure sensors anymore. I don’t need the most recent signatures for CVE-2017-8682. My threat actors aren’t exploiting Windows font library bugs on AWS VPCs.

This seems super obvious but: we meet companies all the time that got a DSQ and then went and deployed a bunch of IDS sensors, or set up automatic web security scanners, or, God help us, tried to get a WAF up and running.

So that is a reason DSQs are bad.

Another reason is that they’re mostly performative. Here’s a timeless DSQ question: “provide detailed network maps of all your environments”. Ok, network maps can be useful. But what is the DSQ owner doing with that information? You could draw pretty much anything. Connect your VPCs in ways that make them spell bad words. Nobody is carefully following sources and sinks and looking for vulnerabilities. The point of that question is: “are you sophisticated enough to draw a network map”.

The Vendor Security Alliance is an armada of high-status tech companies — Atlassian, Square, Dropbox, for some reason GoDaddy, a bunch of other companies, and Twitter. The purpose of the VSA was to build the ultimate DSQ. A lot of the VSA companies have excellent security teams. How I know that is, the VSA’s DSQ is full of performative questions I suspect were bikeshedded in by, for example, the one engineer at Docker who one time had to write a document called “Docker Encryption Standard” and now every vendor being hazed by the VSA has to provide their own Encryption Standard.

I do not believe the VSA is qualified to evaluate Encryption Standards! Well: Square, maybe. But I don’t think Square is the reason that question is there.

This brings me to my third and final problem with DSQs, which is that they’re based on a broken premise. That premise is: “most vendors have security teams that look something like the security team at Square”.

How I know that is, the VSA wants you to explain how you: segmented your network for least-privilege, enrolled all your application secrets in a secret-sharing scheme, run a bug bounty program, have data loss prevention running on all your endpoints, actively prevent OWASP-style web vulnerabilities, have a vulnerability management program tied into patch triage, run security awareness training, have a full complement of ISO-aspirational security policy documents, have a SAML SSO system, use 2FA, have complete classification of all the data you handle, an IR policy, and, of course, “threat modeling” as part of your SDLC.

Except for threat modeling, these are all good things. But come on.

I spent 10 years as an app pentester. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to tell you: most banks would have a hard time checking all the boxes in the VSA. And they spend 8-9 digits annually on infosec programs. (I’m just guessing about that).

Technology vendors — young SaaS companies — are not banks, nor are they Square. A lot of the VSA DSQ items would be silly for them to attempt to do seriously.

What are the 5 most likely ways a SaaS company is going to get owned up?

Someone — and I am not volunteering — should write the DSQ that just nails these basic things. 10 questions, no diagrams.