I hear variations on this question constantly: “I’d really like to use a service like Honeycomb for my observability, but I’m told I can’t ship any data off site. Do you have any advice on how to convince my security team to let me?”
I’ve given lots of answers, most of them unsatisfactory. “Strip the PII/PHI from your operational data.” “Validate server side.” “Use our secure tenancy proxy.” (I’m not bad at security from a technical perspective, but I am not fluent with the local lingo, and I’ve never actually worked with an in-house security team — i’ve always *been* the security team, de facto as it may be.)
So I’ve invited three experts to share their wisdom in a three-part series of guest posts:
- How To Be A Champion, on how to choose a third-party vendor and champion them successfully to your security team. (George Chamales)
- Get Aligned With Security, how to work with your security team to find the best possible outcome for all sides (Lilly Ryan)
- Now Roll It Out And Keep Them Happy, on how to operationalize your service by rolling out the integration and maintaining it — and the relationship with your security team — over the long run (Andy Isaacson)
My ✨first-ever guest posts✨! Yippee. I hope these are useful to you, wherever you are in the process of outsourcing your tools. You are on the right path: outsourcing your observability to a vendor for whom it’s their One Job is almost always the right call, in terms of money and time and focus — and yes, even security.
All this pain will someday be worth it. 🙏❤️ charity + friends
“How to be a Champion”
by George Chamales
You’ve found a third party service you want to bring into your company, hooray!
To you, it’s an opportunity to deploy new features in a flash, juice your team’s productivity, and save boatloads of money.
To your security and compliance teams, it’s a chance to lose your customers’ data, cause your applications to fall over, and do inordinate damage to your company’s reputation and bottom line.
The good news is, you’re absolutely right. The bad news is, so are they.
Successfully championing a new service inside your organization will require you to convince people that the rewards of the new service are greater than the risks it will introduce (there’s a guide below to help you).
You’re convinced the rewards are real. Let’s talk about the risks.
The past year has seen cases of hackers using third party services to target everything from government agencies, to activists, to Target…again. Not to be outdone, attention-seeking security companies have been actively hunting for companies exposing customer data then issuing splashy press releases as a means to flog their products and services.
A key feature of these name-and-shame campaigns is to make sure that the headlines are rounded up to the most popular customer – the clickbait lead “MBM Inc. Loses Customer Data” is nowhere near as catchy as “Walmart Jewelry Partner Exposes Personal Data Of 1.3M Customers.”
While there are scary stories out there, in many, many cases the risks will be outweighed by the rewards. Telling the difference between those innumerable good calls and the one career-limiting move requires thoughtful consideration and some up-front risk mitigation.
When choosing a third party service, keep the following in mind:
- The security risks of a service are highly dependent on how you use it.
You can adjust your usage to decrease your risk. There’s a big difference between sending a third party your server metrics vs. your customer’s personal information. Operational metrics are categorically less sensitive than, say, PII or PHI (if you have scrubbed them properly).
- There’s no way to know how good a service’s security really is.
History is full of compromised companies who had very pretty security pages and certifications (here’s Equifax circa September 2017). Security features are a stronger indicator, but there are a lot more moving parts that go into maintaining a service’s security.
- Always weigh the risks vs. the rewards.
- The security risks of a service are highly dependent on how you use it.
There’s risk no matter what you do – bringing in the service is risky, doing nothing is risky. You can only mitigate risks up to a point. Beyond that point, it’s the rewards that make risks worthwhile.
Context is critical in understanding the risks and rewards of a new service.
You can use the following guide to put things in context as you champion a new service through the gauntlet of management, security, and compliance teams. That context becomes even more powerful when you can think about the approval process from the perspective of the folks you’ll need to win over to get the okay to move forward.
In the next part of this series Lilly Ryan shares a variety of techniques to take on the perspective of your management, security and compliance teams, enabling you to constructively work through responses that can include everything from “We have concerns…” to “No” to “Oh Helllllllll No.”
Championing a new service is hard – it can be equally worthwhile. Good luck!
“A Security Guide for Third Party Services” Worksheet
Note to thoughtful service providers: You may want to fill parts of this out ahead of time and give it to your prospective customers. It will provide your champion with good fortune in the compliance wars to come. (Also available as a nicely formatted spreadsheet.)
|Why this service?||This is the justification for the service – the compelling rewards that will outweigh the inevitable risks.
What will be true once the service is online?
Good reasons are ones that a fifth grader would understand.
|Data it will / won’t collect?||Describe the classes or types of data the service will access / store and why that’s necessary for the service to operate.
If there are specific types of sensitive data the service won’t collect (e.g. passwords, Personally Identifiable Information, Patient Health Information) explicitly call them out.
|How is data be accessed?||Describe the process for getting data to the service.
Do you have to run their code on your servers, on your customer’s computers?
|Costs of NOT doing it?||This are the financial risks / liabilities of not going with this service. What’s the worst and average cost?
Have you had costly problems in the past that could have been avoided if you were using this service?
|Costs of doing it?||Include the cost for the service and, if possible, the amount of person-time it’s going to take to operate the service.
Ideally less than the cost of not doing it.
|Our Risk – how mad will important people be…|
|If it’s compromised.||What would happen if hackers or attention-seeking security companies publicly released the data you sent the service? Is it catastrophic or an annoyance?|
|When it goes down?||When this service goes down (and it will go down), will it be a minor inconvenience or will it take out your primary application and infuriate your most valuable customers?|
|Their Security – in order of importance|
|SSO & 2FA Support?||This is a security smoke test: If a service doesn’t support SSO or 2FA, it’s safe to assume that they don’t prioritize security.
Also a good idea to investigate SSO support up front since some vendors charge extra for it (which is a shame).
|Fine-grained permissions?||This is another key indicator of the service’s maturity level since it takes time and effort to build in. It’s also something else they might make you pay extra for.|
|Security certifications?||These aren’t guarantees of quality, but it does indicate that the company’s put in some effort and money into their processes.
Check their website for general security compliance merit badges such as SOC2, ISO27001 or industry-specific things like PCI or HIPAA.
|Security & privacy pages?||If there is, it means that they’re willing to publicly state that they do something about security. The more specific and detailed, the better.|
|Vendor’s security history?||Have there been any spectacular breaches that demonstrated a callous disregard for security, gross incompetence, or both?|
|BONUS Questions||Want to really poke and prod the internal security of your vendor? Ask if they can answer the following questions:
|Is it worth it?||Look back through the previous sections and ask whether it makes sense to:
* Use the 3rd party service
* Build it yourself
* Not do it at all