Stilgherrian is an Australian journalist covering internet policy, cybersecurity, digital surveillance, privacy.

Oct 25, 2012
Published on: CSO Online Australia
1 min read

Australia's Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) has joined the increasing number of organisations promoting application whitelisting as a key security strategy with an updated version of its award-winning "Top 35 Mitigation Strategies".

When first released last year, DSD's research showed that 85 per cent of the targeted intrusions and vulnerabilities it had investigated would have been defeated by just four simple strategies: application patching, operating system patching, minimising the number of users with administrative privileges, and using application whitelisting to prevent unapproved programs from running.

The research confirmed that security can be dramatically improved without spending vast amounts of money -- and it won DSD the US Cybersecurity Innovation Award.

An updated version of DSD's "Top 35 Mitigation Strategies" was launched today, along with a poster and an animated video -- featuring cool jazz and animated cockroaches, no less -- promoting their new three-word slogan that combines the top four strategies: Catch, Patch, Match.

1. Catch malware by application whitelisting;

2. Patch software and operating systems; and

3. Match administrator rights to the right people.

"DSD has adopted the 'Catch, Patch, Match' slogan to draw attention to the need to prevent cyber security intrusions," said Australia's defence minister Stephen Smith at the DSD Cyber Security Conference in Canberra.

"The evidence to date clearly indicates the 'Catch, Patch, Match' approach is the best way to mitigate against cyber intrusions, protect your most valuable information and enhance the resilience of your networks," he said.

DSD has now promoted application whitelisting to the number one spot based the agency's new analysis of the potential return on investment.

"Application whitelisting is designed to protect against unauthorised and malicious programs executing on a computer. It aims to ensure that only specifically selected programs and software libraries (DLLs) can be executed, while all others are prevented from executing," writes DSD in an explanatory note.

"While primarily implemented to prevent the execution and spread of malicious software (malware), it can also prevent the installation or use of unauthorised software.

"Implementing application whitelisting across an entire organisation can be a daunting undertaking, however deployment to high-value and often targeted employees such as executive officers and their assistants can be a valuable first step."

DSD's research confirms the findings of a report (PDF) by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and anti-virus company McAfee on securing industrial control systems released earlier this year, which concluded that whitelisting and related technologies are the best solution.

Rather than trying to identify and block bad code, which will always leave a window of opportunity for previously-unknown attacks to be effective, organisations should switch to only allowing known-good code to run.

DSD is responsible for the information security of Australian government military and civilian agencies.