Sunday, March 30, 2008

Taking a toll: Separation of duties...or not.

Security analysts often find themselves turning a blind eye to another organization's security issues in order to have their own needs met. At other times, we just appreciate the irony when we're told about the security process, and how the organization's representative just violated it to get their job done. Here's a recent example:

A co-worker recently signed up for the local toll road's quick pass through system. This is more arduous than it needs to be, and after a number of rounds with them due to process issues such as missing activation IDs, incorrect instructions, documentation that didn't match the process documentation, and missing emails, he found that he needed an activation PIN that should have been sent via email, but wasn't, and called for a third time.

The organization in question is carefully set up so that individuals don't see both your account number and your PIN at the same time. If a support team member prints your PIN and address to be mailed, another department will mail it without knowing your account number.

This sounds pretty reasonable, and should be workable. It even ensures a reasonable amount of safety to the customer - or should. Unless, of course, the PIN is sent by email, and the provider has DNS issues and can't resolve your well known TLD. That makes CSRs get creative.

The service representative did the right customer service thing, and the wrong separation of duty thing: he walked to the other department, got the paper from the printer, and read the PIN over the phone. No controls prevented it, making the separation only meaningful to those who wish to follow the rules.

Not exactly effective compartmentalization - but it worked in the customer's favor this time.

This is a useful case to remind us that our carefully built process requires checks and monitoring. Simply relying on processes without validating them and verifying that they aren't being violated can be worse than knowing that no process exists - you're left with a false sense of security.

The co-worker? He found out that the pass system charges a maintenance fee every month in addition to the tolls and the money kept by the toll system to "charge" his account, and is considering switching to the alternate system available in the area.

Creative Commons image credit billjacobus1

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