This final article in the series of 3 focuses on one of the key security best practices that are usually the hardest to implement, one requiring wholesale organizational and cultural change within the IT Team: Change Management.
FIM for Change Control and Change Management
The forensic nature of file integrity management makes it the perfect technology to underpin a change management process. Change Management processes are notoriously difficult to implement and operate. Too thorough, and the bureaucracy required is too much of a turn off for the IT team, leaving them to work around the process as often as they use it. But make it too superficial and the benefits to be gained become marginal.
However, even for the most rigorously operated change management process, there is always a glaring flaw, in that there is an assumption that changes are always implemented exactly as decreed by the approved request for change, or RFC.
Using enterprise-class file integrity monitoring ensures that all changes made will be reported. This provides a number of advantages over traditional ‘trust-based’ change management processes, not only in terms of simplifying the process but also strengthening the value delivered.
Since all changes will be reported, it means that there is no longer the blindness to changes that a change management process seeks to address. Sure, the changes are reported only once they have been implemented but at least you have visibility of ALL changes now, not just those documented in an RFC.
This means that even if the process is bypassed, the changes are still visible. Better still, if the wrong change is made, or the change is inaccurately implemented, these are now immediately revealed. In this way, the flaw in the ‘trust-based’ change management process – trust that says, because we have diligently documented, reviewed and approved this request for change, it cannot and will not be incorrectly implemented (we hope!) – is resolved. Anything up to 70% of unplanned downtime is due to people and process issues, in other words, computers don’t tend to go wrong if they are left alone but give people access to them, and problems won’t be too far behind.
The Change Management Process Flipped - Manage by FIM?
Where file integrity monitoring is used, this presents an interesting alternative perspective on change management processes.
If all changes are being recorded and presented clearly, detailing what was changed and who made the change, the change management process can be made more streamlined. Most IT professionals are savvy when it comes to planning changes and would naturally plan to make the change at a time to least inconvenience the business, pre-planning contingency measures if things go wrong.
In fact, it is the associated bureaucracy with a change management process that often kills it. Changes may get delayed, with the IT team wasting time documenting and reviewing RFCs that don’t warrant the examination, and this can lead to the benefits of the process being outweighed.
FIM allows for more changes to be approved ‘after the event’, making the change management process more of a ‘checks and balances’ operation. Assuming that the overwhelming majority of changes are correctly implemented and necessary, this alternative process may be welcomed by IT teams with time and resource pressures. It won’t be for every organization but could play a valuable staging option to be used while a more rigorous change management process is introduced to the business.
Taken as a whole, the argument for File Integrity Monitoring as an essential security defense is compelling. As a check and balance for the change management process, FIM provides the visibility of changes typically missing. FIM also provides more flexibility to a change management process, enabling some shortcuts and options to make the process an ‘after-the-event’, ‘review-changes-and-sign-off’ which may be a more palatable and readily operable procedure for some IT Teams.