als, bls, cissp

Those of you who have the misfortune to know me personally know that information security is but one piece of the pie that is Al Berg.  (mmmm…. pie…)  On Friday nights, I swap my desk for an ambulance of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad where I am an Emergency Medical Technician.  Most of the time, these two parts of my life don’t really intersect, but this week, I saw something that seems to bridge the gap.

So, there are two different kinds of ambulances here in the US.  BLS (Basic Life Support) rigs are staffed by EMTs who are trained in basic life support techniques focused on airway, breathing and circulation.  EMTs do not administer drugs – we cannot even give you a Tylenol for pain.  If you are unfortunate enough to be meeting us on a day when you are having a cardiac arrest, we will do CPR, give you oxygen and maybe zap you with a automated defibrillator.  We’ll also call for our ALS (Advanced Life Support) colleagues – the paramedics – to respond and give you the advanced monitoring and interventions (EKG, intubation, intravenous drugs, and the like) that we can’t.

As an EMT, I am always happy to have paramedics on any call, especially a cardiac arrest, so I was really surprised to read an article this week which described a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which found:

90 days after hospitalization, patients treated in BLS ambulances were 50 percent more likely to survive than their counterparts treated with ALS. The basic version was also “associated with better neurological functioning among hospitalized patients, with fewer incidents of coma, vegetative state or brain trauma.”

Now, to be clear, your chances of surviving an out of hospital cardiac arrest are pretty lousy… 9 out of 10 patients who ‘code’ in the field will not survive to hospital discharge.  CPR works way better on TV than it does in real life.

Anyway, while I am a bit skeptical of this study’s results, it does seem to me that there is a bit of an information security aspect to this.  Time and again we hear of companies who have spent big on flashy technology still getting owned by hackers.  For example, Target had purchased advanced anti malware defenses from FireEye as well as outsourced monitoring for those defenses.  According to reports, the people and tech detected the bad guys, but failing to do “information security BLS” by examining the systems which were showing signs of trouble sealed Target’s place on the front page.

There are a lot of “information security BLS” measures that don’t use flashy technology or wheelbarrows of money that we can take to protect our systems:

  • Documented policies and procedures
  • Least privilege for user accounts
  • Segmentation of internal networks
  • Applying security patches and updates in a timely fashion
  • Security awareness training
  • Sharing information with other organizations

These (and many other) “information security BLS” interventions go a long way towards keeping hackers away from corporate data.  They aren’t complicated, and you don’t need to buy all sorts of blinkie light boxes to implement them.  Yet, time and again, companies fail to pay enough attention to them.  Part of the problem is that infosec professionals want to get hands on with the latest technology and doing some of these low tech interventions requires serious time and planning to avoid negative impacts to the business.

So, my resolution for 2015 is to take another look at the Council on CyberSecurity’s Critical Security Controls list and make sure my organization is doing everything we can to implement them.   As an industry we need to make sure we are doing the BLS interventions right and apply the ALS level security-fu when it is needed.

als, bls, cissp

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