Cyber Canon Book Review: “Defensive Security Handbook – Best Practices for Securing Infrastructure” (2017), by Lee Brotherston and Amanda Berlin
Book Reviewed by: Helen Patton, The Ohio State University CISO
Bottom Line: I recommend this book for the Cybersecurity Canon Hall of Fame.
Lee Brotherston and Amanda Berlin wrote the “Defensive Security Handbook: Best Practices for Securing Infrastructure” to help newly appointed security practitioners and those in management roles. Their goal is to provide a common standard of terms and practices, which can be pragmatically and effectively applied to most organizations. This is not a book for long-time practitioners; it is designed to be a reference for those comparatively new to managing a security program. It is also not a deep engineering book; rather, it is a set of high-level standards and best practices across a wide variety of defensive security activities.
This book provides a broad overview of a number of defensive topics, without focusing too much on any one industry. The authors intentionally made this book for “as many environments as possible” (p. xiv), and as such, they do not give many industry-specific examples (with the exception of the section on industry-specific regulations). Their examples focus on the security professional and that person’s tools and processes, without discussing the nuances of different industries. This makes the book appealing to a broad range of practitioners, from companies of different sizes and influence levels.
I appreciate that the authors take a top-down approach – describing creating a security program and getting executive buy-in. They discuss the creation of policies, standards and procedures, with user education thrown in for good measure. Brotherston and Berlin recognize that creating a security program is, first of all, about aligning the program to business priorities, and they ensure readers are made aware of the benefits of getting financial and human resource support for the security program as a first step.
In each chapter, the authors include basic information on the topic, and also tips and suggestions, notes and words of caution. For example, in the physical security section, they note that “badges are fairly simple to spoof with time and effort. Recon can be completed by someone malicious to attempt to re-create a legitimate badge” (p. 77). Additional resources are referenced appropriately, which makes the reading interactive and thought-provoking. Because this is an overview of many topics, there is not a lot of depth to each discussion – there is just enough to cover the basic concepts, identify common approaches and challenges, and reference additional resources for readers who want to go further. The layout is clean and the information easy to read and absorb.
It is not until later that the authors dive into technical topics such as operating systems, networking, endpoints, software development, logging and monitoring, and password management. They provide a lot of follow-on resources and an appropriate overview of the topics.
This book is a terrific resource for anyone tasked with starting a security program at his or her company. The authors acknowledge that many security professionals find themselves in a security role after being “voluntold” to do security, and that making the transition from purely IT operations to security leaves a person bewildered and overwhelmed. The authors also recognize that the first tendency of IT people is to find a tool or “pretty blinky LEDs” as a panacea for all security problems. The authors address this by stressing that many effective security strategies do not require a large tool investment, but instead a professional can leverage their organization’s existing capabilities to quickly improve the company’s risk profile.
They complete the “Defensive Security Handbook” with some “last mile” tips about email, DNS and security through obscurity, as well as a list of resources and links for further information. One drawback of this book is the lack of discussion about dealing with cloud security and hybrid infrastructure environments. Written in 2017, it may be a matter of timing that this vital topic is not addressed. I would look to future editions to correct this oversight.
Because this book targets new security practitioners, it’s a solid resource for the target audience. Despite the accelerating changes in security philosophies and technologies, this book will be a mainstay for security defenders for years to come. As a desk reference and a sense check, this book should be in all security managers’ libraries. For this reason, I nominate this book for the Cyber Canon.
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