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

Oct 27, 2012
Published on: CSO Online Australia
1 min read

The newly-updated Top 35 Mitigation Strategies from Australia's Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) has received high praise from Alan Paller, founder and director of research of the SANS Institute. It could even make Australia the world's infosec leader.

While other major national security agencies have produced prioritised lists of the tasks needed to secure information networks, DSD's genius was to focus on just the top four strategies and encourage organisations to fix those four problems before worrying about anything else.

"The US and the United Kingdom have agreed on the 20 Critical Controls. Australia and now Canada have sort of agreed on the 35 Mitigations," Paller told security professionals in Sydney this week.

"This is the first time any government I have ever seen put white space on a list... First do the top four. When you are done doing the top four, evaluate the others," Paller said.

Paller claims that it was that white space that earned DSD the US Cybersecurity Innovation Award late last year.

"It takes such guts to put white space in a list, to say 'This is enough. This matters. Do it first.' That's what Australia did, and no-one else had the guts to do that," he said.

"Every other government in the world, in fact Canada picked up the 35 and said 'We don't want the white space.'"

When first published a year ago, DSD's research showed that at least 85 per cent of targeted intrusions could be 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.

In this week's updated list, re-launched by Australia's defence minister with a promotional video and poster, application whitelisting has been moved to the number one spot.

Paller isn't surprised.

"It was always that one. They were just afraid to put it at the top of the list at first because it scared people a little bit. But it's so much more important than the other ones that it needed to be at the top."

Paller believes that the way information security is done is about to go through a "huge shift" that over the next few months will be "transformational".

"Stop paying people to tell you what to do. Pay people to do it," he said. We already know what to to: the DSD's top 4 strategies.

"There's more, but do that. Do it well. Be the people who make that happen. Fast. Because that's what sets you apart. That's what actually stops the targeted attacks. Those four."

Australia has a chance to be a world leader in information security here, says Paller.

"The guys in the States are still fighting about whether or not it's really the right thing to do," he said.