Access Control

Access control is an essential feature of any application. Depending on the infrastructure standards, it is valuable to insist on an external authentication mechanism. Roles and access rights likely will have to be defined in the VM system but external authentication should be possible.

Active Directory

Active Directory® is one of the most commonly used authentication mechanisms for Windows systems. Later versions support lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) and LDAP over SSL for directory loading. Kerberos and NTLM are common options for authentication. Since Active Directory capabilities are so common in the corporate environment and standards are available to interface with other systems, this is a good choice. However, any LDAP directory service should work. There are two common approaches to Active Directory integration.
One method synchronizes directory information periodically, looking for additions and deletions. A copy of the directory entries is stored in the VM database for quick reference to access privileges. This is the most common and compatible approach that will use LDAP. Usually, special credentials have to be created to log into the directory system and retrieve the basic information about the users. Using LDAP also affords the system the option of portability to other directory services platforms.
Later, when a user attempts to log into the VM system, the credentials supplied by the user are sent to the authentication system using NTLM or Kerberos. Once the credentials are accepted, the VM system will apply the privileges stored in the VM database for that user.
A second approach is to natively integrate with Active Directory using the Active Directory in Application Mode (AD/AM) capability that comes with Windows .Net erver 2003. This enables the VM application to have its own instance of a directory service with schema extensions and built-in attributes but still participate in the security structure of the Active Directory domain. Naturally, the services that support this capability must run on a Microsoft-technology-based server. This provides a tightly integrated directory product for Microsoft-directory-committed organizations. A significant advantage of this approach is that Active Directory groups can be used to grant privileges in the VM system rather than creating an internal set of roles or user groups. The disadvantage is that you may be committed to the Active Directory platform.


In a more network-centric environment, RADIUS is a very common protocol option. It is an old method typically used for dial-in systems. However, the protocol is no less useful for network equipment. With RADIUS and TACACS+ , however, the user ID must be entered into the VM system since no directory service is provided. This user ID must exactly match that which is expected by the authentication server. The most significant difference between RADIUS and TACACS+ is the use of UDP versus TCP, respectively. TCP has the security advantage of being able to communicate with an authenticating source without spoofing since there is a handshake process in the protocol.
Some vendors of network authentication products go so far as to support RADIUS, LDAP, Kerberos, TACACS+, and other methods. These authentication products are able to effectively “glue” together various authorities and protocols, allowing a variety of methods to be employed.
Changing from one authentication method to another can be difficult, depending on the implementation. To avoid complications in the future, select a method from the beginning and stay with it.


Authorization capabilities should be able to meet the various roles you have planned for operations. This is one key reason that requirements must be defined prior to beginning the RFP process. One of those requirements is a definition of who will perform what functions and what capabilities are needed. Role-based access control is the mechanism that will have to be vetted during the selection process. You should consider some of the following capabilities:
  • Separation by network: Some users will be permitted only to take actions against certain networks. Local IT personnel in Mumbai should not be able to examine any vulnerability reports for Chicago, for example. Scan parameters should not be modifiable by anyone except the VM administrator.
  • Actions: Closer to the definition of a role, there are the specific activities to be performed, such as defining a network or administering IP ranges.
  • Running reports: Many people are likely to be able to perform this function. Being able to generate a report is fundamental.
  • Conducting a scan: Few people should be able to conduct a scan. Active scanning capabilities are potentially disrupting to operations, and therefore should remain in the custody of those who are qualified to assess the impact on the network and the need for current audit results.
  • Maintaining the health of the overall system and available audit parameters: The parameters of audits should rarely be tampered with unless extensive testing has been done. Adding TCP ports or additional checks can impact the entire scanning schedule. Only a few people should be able to make changes to this. These people likely have a combination of security and compliance roles.
A good way to document authorization requirements is with a permissions grid. This grid should indicate the capabilities across the top and the roles down the side. See Table 1 for an example. Where a particular function can be performed, a “Y” or “N” is indicated. If access type is specified, then an “R” and/or a “W” are specified for “Read” and “Write,” respectively.
Table 1: Permissions Grid Example 
System administrator
Local IT
Regional security manager
Global security
Global compliance

Scoring Method | Vulnerability Management

A close examination of the scoring method employed on the VM system is essential. Following is a list of basic requirements of a scoring system as it relates to security operations:
  • Take asset value into consideration. More valuable assets in your organization should definitely receive higher priority handling than those with little value. Somewhere in either the scoring method or alerting capabilities should be a consideration of an asset value in either numeric or category terms. The process of valuing assets may be time-consuming if it cannot be obtained from an existing asset management system.
  • Severity can be logically or intuitively determined from the score. If the number seems arbitrary or relative to zero, then it is difficult to determine if a score of 300 is severe, moderate, or informational. At some point, either from experience with the system or from knowledge of the method by which the score is derived, you should be allowed to determine the category of severity.
  • Current knowledge of available exploits should be included in adjusting the severity. Vendors would have to revise their scoring method if a new, easily scriptable exploit is released to the general public. The score should be dynamic to keep pace with a dynamic threat environment.
  • A standards-based primary or secondary score such as CVSS should be included for comparison to public databases. This will prevent any confusion about the meaning of a score that may be derived from a proprietary scheme.
  • Optionally, a score should have a cardinality component. This means that the score will vary, depending on the source of the assessment. If a vulnerability can be detected over the network from the public Internet, then it should have a higher score than a vulnerability detected from the local segment.
Determining the appropriate score for a vulnerability is partly mathematical and partly a matter of requirements. It is not unlike the computation of risk:
where p(x) is the probability of occurrence, ε is the loss expectancy from a single event, and ρ is the rate of occurrence per year. An example of a vulnerability score computation might be based on the following variables:
Severity of compromise (α)
Remote control of system = 100
Remote access to system = 75
Remote reconnaissance = 50
Local control of system = 50
Local access = 40
Local reconnaissance = 30
Ease of attack (β)
Easy (scripted) = 1
Medium = .75
Difficult = .5
Existence of exploit code in the wild (χ)
Exists = 1
Proof-of-concept only = .5
None = .25
So, the computation is a simple multiplication formula:

This simple approach to creating a score confines the score to a value between 3.75 and 100. That is, if “local reconnaissance” (30) is the severity, “difficult” (.5) is the ease of attack, and “none” (.25) is the state of exploit code availability, then:
Should the severity of compromise become “remote control of system,” which is very bad, and all other factors remain the same, then the score rises to 12.5. By extension of this simple approach, the worst possible score is 100, with the β and χ factors equal to 1 and “remote control of the system” being the outcome.
Many scoring methods are more sophisticated than this and consider additional factors such as the length of time the vulnerability has been in existence. Furthermore, other scoring methods do not confine themselves to a simple scale of 0 to 100, but rather have no upper limit. This will naturally occur when unbound numbers such as age of vulnerability are considered. Also, the example given here has very limited bounds because it uses simple multiplication; but other methods prefer to make a clear distinction between that which is really bad and that which is of low risk by comparison. Operators such as squares and factorials can drive the score very high for greater risk distinction. But such scores may be more difficult to interpret. Whatever method is preferred, be sure that it can be transformed into a form suitable for input into any risk assessment methodology in use.

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