Security Controls Implementation Methods
Another method of classifying security controls is based on how they are implemented. The three common implementation classifications are technical, management, and operational.
- Technical controls use technology
- Management controls use administrative or management methods
- Operational controls are implemented by people in day-to-day operations
Security controls are classified as technical (implemented with technology), management (using administrative methods), and operational (for day-to-day operations).
Technical Security Controls
A technical control is one that uses technology to reduce vulnerabilities. An administrator installs and configures a technical control, and the technical control then provides the protection automatically. Throughout this book, you’ll come across several examples of technical controls. The following list provides a few examples.
- Encryption. Encryption is a strong technical control used to protect the confidentiality of data. This includes data transferred over a network, and data stored on devices such as servers, desktop computers, and mobile devices.
- Antivirus software. Once installed, the antivirus software provides protection against malware infection.
- Intrusion detection systems (IDSs). An IDS can monitor a network or host for intrusions and provide ongoing protection against various threats.
- Firewalls. Network firewalls restrict network traffic going in and out of a network.
- Least Privilege. The principle of least privilege specifies that individuals or processes are granted only the privileges they need to perform their assigned tasks or functions, but no more. Privileges are a combination of rights and permissions.
The CompTIA Security+ exam focuses on many physical security and environmental controls. However, it’s important to realize that many of these are also technical controls. For example, a security system that can detect motion and raise an alarm without user intervention is a technical control designed to increase physical security. Similarly, fire suppression systems use technologies to detect fires, raise alarms, and take various other actions to contain or extinguish the fires, all without user intervention. Fire suppression systems are environmental technical controls.
Management Security Controls
Management controls use planning and assessment methods to reduce and manage risk. Many provide an ongoing review of an organization’s risk management capabilities. Some documents refer to management controls as administrative controls. Some common management controls are:
- Risk assessments. These help quantify and qualify risks within an organization so that the organization can focus on the serious risks. For example, a quantitative risk assessment uses cost and asset values to quantify risks based on monetary values. A qualitative risk assessment uses judgments to categorize risks based on probability and impact.
- Vulnerability assessments. A vulnerability assessment attempts to discover current vulnerabilities or weaknesses. When necessary, an organization implements additional controls to reduce the risk from these vulnerabilities.
- Penetration tests. These go a step further than a vulnerability assessment by attempting to exploit vulnerabilities. For example, a vulnerability assessment might discover a server isn’t kept up-to-date with current patches making it vulnerable to some attacks. A penetration test would attempt to compromise the server by exploiting one or more of the unpatched vulnerabilities.
Some management controls focus on physical security and the environment. For example, an access list identifies individuals allowed into a secured area. Guards verify individuals are on the access list before allowing them in.
Operational Security Controls
Operational controls help ensure that day-to-day operations of an organization comply with their overall security plan. People (not technology) implement these controls. Operational controls include the following families:
- Awareness and training. The importance of training to reduce risks cannot be overstated. Training helps users maintain password security, follow a clean desk policy, understand threats such as phishing and malware, and much more.
- Configuration and change management. Configuration management often uses baselines to ensure that systems start in a secure, hardened state. Change management helps ensure that changes don’t result in unintended configuration errors.
- Contingency planning. Business continuity includes several different methods that help an organization plan and prepare for potential system outages. The goal is to reduce the overall impact on the organization if an outage occurs.
- Media protection. Media includes physical media such as USB flash drives, external and internal drives, and backup tapes.
- Physical and environmental protection. This includes physical controls such as cameras, door locks, and environmental controls such as heating and ventilation systems.
Combining Security Control Types and Goals
It’s important to realize that the control types (technical, management, and operational) and control goals (preventive, detective, corrective, deterrent, and compensating) are not mutually exclusive. In other words, you can describe most controls with both terms.
As an example, encryption is a preventive technical control. It prevents the loss of data confidentiality so it is a preventive control and you implement it with technology so it is a technical control. However, if you understand each of the types and each of the goals, you shouldn’t have any problems picking out the correct answers on the exam, even if CompTIA combines them, such as a preventive technical control.
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