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Australia’s cybersecurity chief Alastair MacGibbon resigns

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Alastair MacGibbon, the head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), has tendered his resignation and will return to the private sector.

MacGibbon led the ACSC since January 2018, when it first became part of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

He also held the title of National Cyber Security Adviser at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), where he was charged with the implementation of government’s Cyber Security Strategy.

ASD director-general Mike Burgess said in a statement on Saturday that he regretted the announcement of MacGibbon’s resignation, saying that MacGibbon “leaves a considerable legacy”.

“Alastair has been a fierce advocate for the importance of cyber security for the community, businesses and governments. He is indeed the face of cyber security in Australia and, through his leadership, helped raise the nation’s cyber security standards,” Burgess said.

During his time at the ACSC, MacGibbon oversaw the transition of other parts of government into the newly-independent ASD as it became a statutory authority.

He also oversaw the completion of the network of Joint Cyber Security Centres (JCSC) for coordination with the private sector, a reshaping of the government’s Information Security Manual (ISM), and a tightening of access controls for government systems as part of a new Essential Eight Maturity Model.

Prior to his ACSC role, MacGibbon was then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Special Adviser on Cyber Security, during which he led an investigation into the debacle that was the the 2016 Census.

And prior to that, from April 2015, MacGibbon was Australia’s first eSafety Commission. In that role, his office achieved a remarkable amount of work in its first 12 months.

The perfect time to leave

“Alastair believes the end of the electoral cycle is an appropriate time for renewal,” Burgess said of MacGibbon’s departure from the ACSC.

The timing makes sense, and not just because MacGibbon’s work at the agency had reached a natural inflection point.

It’s also just days until Australia’s federal election on May 18, an election that the Labor opposition is widely expected to win. At least at this stage.

For at least a year now, the consensus of the Canberra rumour mill has been that a Labor government would dismantle DHA. Word is that some public servants who were transferred into the new mega-department hadn’t bothered printing new business cards because they expected their previous places in the bureaucracy would soon return.

The expectation is not unreasonable. The creation of DHA was as much a political act as it was organisational development.

It was driven in part by power struggles within the Coalition government — particularly the need for then-Prime Minister Turnbull to slap down Australia’s then-favourite attorney-general, Senator George Brandis QC, in order to placate then-Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton.

Your writer also understands that DHA isn’t a happy ship at the moment.

There’s dissatisfaction with the apparent lack of efficiency in certain areas, including the cybers. MacGibbon’s twin hat roles, reporting to both DHA for policy matters and ASD for operational concerns, could not have been easy.

MacGibbon has spent the past 17 months getting that curious structure to work. I can’t imagine he would have been thrilled about the prospect of having to take it apart again.

He was also a Coalition choice, having originally been chosen for the special adviser role personally by Turnbull. That presumably put some noses out of joint at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), where some senior staff might have been eyeing the job for themselves.

The partisan politicisation of the public service is a disappointing reality. Axing the department or axing the person might well appeal to a new government wanting to make its mark.

Should the Coalition manage to win the election and remain in power, however, it’s likely there would be a new minister for Home Affairs. Peter Dutton holds his seat by a narrow margin, and is likely to exit Parliament even if his side wins.

Ministerial attention to cybersecurity has already gone missing under Prime Minister Scott Morrison. What would the future hold?

All this is speculation, however.

MacGibbon’s final day with ASD will be May 28. Until the role is permanently filled, the ACSC will be led by Lieutenant General John Frewen, the ASD’s Principal Deputy Director-General.

Alastair MacGibbon has been contacted for comment.

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Cloud Data Security

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Data security has become an immutable part of the technology stack for modern applications. Protecting application assets and data against cybercriminal activities, insider threats, and basic human negligence is no longer an afterthought. It must be addressed early and often, both in the application development cycle and the data analytics stack.

The requirements have grown well beyond the simplistic features provided by data platforms, and as a result a competitive industry has emerged to address the security layer. The capabilities of this layer must be more than thorough, they must also be usable and streamlined, adding a minimum of overhead to existing processes.

To measure the policy management burden, we designed a reproducible test that included a standardized, publicly available dataset and a number of access control policy management scenarios based on real world use cases we have observed for cloud data workloads. We tested two options: Apache Ranger with Apache Atlas and Immuta. This study contrasts the differences between a largely role-based access control model with object tagging (OT-RBAC) to a pure attribute-based access control (ABAC) model using these respective technologies.

This study captures the time and effort involved in managing the ever-evolving access control policies at a modern data-driven enterprise. With this study, we show the impacts of data access control policy management in terms of:

  • Dynamic versus static
  • Scalability
  • Evolvability

In our scenarios, Ranger alone took 76x more policy changes than Immuta to accomplish the same data security objectives, while Ranger with Apache Atlas took 63x more policy changes. For our advanced use cases, Immuta only required one policy change each, while Ranger was not able to fulfill the data security requirement at all.

This study exposed the limitations of extending legacy Hadoop security components into cloud use cases. Apache Ranger uses static policies in an OT-RBAC model for the Hadoop ecosystem with very limited support for attributes. The difference between it and Immuta’s attribute-based access control model (ABAC) became clear. By leveraging dynamic variables, nested attributes, and global row-level policies and row-level security, Immuta can be quickly implemented and updated in comparison with Ranger.

Using Ranger as a data security mechanism creates a high policy-management burden compared to Immuta, as organizations migrate and expand cloud data use—which is shown here to provide scalability, clarity, and evolvability in a complex enterprise’s data security and governance needs.

The chart in Figure 1 reveals the difference in cumulative policy changes required for each platform configuration.

Figure 1. Difference in Cumulative Policy Changes

The assessment and scoring rubric and methodology is detailed in the report. We leave the issue of fairness for the reader to determine. We strongly encourage you, as the reader, to discern for yourself what is of value. We hope this report is informative and helpful in uncovering some of the challenges and nuances of data governance platform selection. You are encouraged to compile your own representative use cases and workflows and review these platforms in a way that is applicable to your requirements.

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GigaOm Radar for Data Loss Prevention

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Data is at the core of modern business: It is our intellectual property, the lifeblood of our interactions with our employees, partners, and customers, and a true business asset. But in a world of increasingly distributed workforces, a growing threat from cybercriminals and bad actors, and ever more stringent regulation, our data is at risk and the impact of losing it, or losing access to it, can be catastrophic.

With this in mind, ensuring a strong data management and security strategy must be high on the agenda of any modern enterprise. Security of our data has to be a primary concern. Ensuring we know how, why, and where our data is used is crucial, as is the need to be sure that data does not leave the organization without appropriate checks and balances.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. People and processes are key, as, of course, is technology in any data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

This has led to a reevaluation of both technology and approach to DLP; a recognition that we must evolve an approach that is holistic, intelligent, and able to apply context to our data usage. DLP must form part of a broader risk management strategy.

Within this report, we evaluate the leading vendors who are offering solutions that can form part of your DLP strategy—tools that understand data as well as evaluate insider risk to help mitigate the threat of data loss. This report aims to give enterprise decision-makers an overview of how these offerings can be a part of a wider data security approach.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Data Loss Prevention Platforms

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Data is a crucial asset for modern businesses and has to be protected in the same way as any other corporate asset, with diligence and care. Loss of data can have catastrophic effects, from reputational damage to significant fines for breaking increasingly stringent regulations.

While the risk of data loss is not new, the landscape we operate in is evolving rapidly. Data can leave data centers in many ways, whether accidental or malicious. The routes for exfiltration also continue to grow, ranging from email, USB sticks, and laptops to ever-more-widely-adopted cloud applications, collaboration tools, and mobile devices. This is driving a resurgence in the enterprise’s need to ensure that no data leaves the organization without appropriate checks and balances in place.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. Policy, people, and technology are critical components in a data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

As with any information security strategy, technology plays a significant role. DLP technology has traditionally played a part in helping organizations to mitigate some of the risks of uncontrolled data exfiltration. However, both the technology and threat landscape have shifted significantly, which has led to a reevaluation of DLP tools and strategy.

The modern approach to the challenge needs to be holistic and intelligent, capable of applying context to data usage by building a broader understanding of what the data is, who is using it, and why. Systems in place must also be able to learn when user activity should be classified as unusual so they can better interpret signs of a potential breach.

This advanced approach is also driving new ways of defining the discipline of data loss prevention. Dealing with these risks cannot be viewed in isolation; rather, it must be part of a wider insider risk-management strategy.

Stopping the loss of data, accidental or otherwise, is no small task. This GigaOM Key Criteria Report details DLP solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products in this sector that excel. Together, these reports will give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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