Pennsylvania CISO explains state security testing

Penetration testing is an invaluable tool

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Fortify Co-Founder and Chief Scientist Brian Chess made a stir last year when he predicted - incorrectly, so far - that penetration testing would be a dead art in 2009. Among those who shrugged off the suggestion was Robert Maley, CISO for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In this Q&A, Maley, a customer of Core Security Technologies, explains how pen testing become an essential piece of his strategy to keep citizens' personal data out of enemy hands.

Describe the environment you are responsible for.

Maley: My environment includes roughly 47 state agencies, boards and commissions, which comprises about 77,000 employees, 80,000 endpoints and 5,000 servers that my office is ultimately responsible for. We have agencies with remote offices all across the state, at least 1,000 locations.

Then there are citizens who don't work for the state but regularly access your applications to pay bills and such?

Maley: You can pay taxes, get fishing and hunting licenses, renew driver's licenses, register to vote, basically get every service the government has to offer. There has been a long-standing drive for e-government services.

Given that you're processing cardholder data online, what have you had to do to meet the demands of PCI security compliance?

Maley: We don't store cardholder data here, but we do handle the transactions that are then passed on to the bank. This is where penetration testing is important. We use internal vulnerability scanning to find and mitigate vulnerabilities before bringing in an outside vendor for additional scanning. We've had a lot of success with this approach so far.

Describe how pen testing has been woven into your core security procedures.

Maley: We have what's called CA2, Commonwealth Application Certification and Accreditation, patterned after the Department of Defense's accreditation process for systems. We focus ours on Web-based applications. One of our challenges is that, like a lot of organizations, we have to be mindful that a lot of Web-based apps are the target of cross-site scripting and SQL injection attacks. Here in the Commonwealth we've had applications developed for years and years with no real underlying security process. So we have to constantly search for things that can be exploited and mitigate the problems before something happens. The bad guys are escalating their SQL injection attacks. We see these attacks constantly, in the thousands. Why are they doing that? Because there are so many vulnerabilities out there and they know they can eventually hit something.

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