Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shameless plug for my session at SemTech 2011

I will be speaking in a few weeks at SemTech 2011 (actually on Tuesday afternoon, June 7th, from 1:40 to 2:30pm). The meeting is in San Francisco, and you can register at the SemTech website. I can even provide a 15% discount code (SPK15).

So, what am I talking about (actually, demoing!)? My passions for processing of natural language text to extract business vocabulary and rules, and semantic technologies (of course).

Here are a couple of high points from the presentation (I won't repost the abstract, since you can read that online):I really encourage attendance at this conference, as I strongly believe that semantic technologies offer great insights and capabilities for business.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Finishing Off the NIST Access Control Survey

I am finally getting a chance to finish the analysis of the NIST survey on access control methods. My apologies ... Somehow, the month of April got away from me ...

The last control model is Risk Adaptive Access Control or RAdAC. It is a combination of attribute and policy-based control (on steroids) with heuristics and machine learning. That last part is what makes it unique, challenging and very exciting.

Saying that attributes include environmental conditions does not seem like rocket-science, but just common sense. It is like saying that no one has permission to enter a building unless they are already identified to the security system. That works great until you need to override the policy because the building is on fire (and the firemen are definitely not already identified). So, including data on the environment (in the set of attributes to be assessed) is prudent.

Next, saying that policy can modify existing rules (making them more lax or strict, or modifying them to co-exist - i.e., de-conflicting them) is "meta-policy" (policy about policy). To me, this is just policy based management - but the targets of the policy are rules themselves.

However, the fascinating bit comes into play when the NIST authors discuss taking "a probabilistic, heuristic approach to determine whether the access should be granted ... The heuristics include a historical record of access control decisions and machine learning. This means that a RAdAC system will use previous decisions as one input when determining whether access will be granted to a resource in the future." I would actually expand that last sentence a bit to say "use previous decisions with insider/outsider threat analysis".

Do IT systems have the necessary data to capture and analyze this information today? I believe that we do. We have cheap storage that can hold extensive log data, sophisticated sensor/management hardware and software, and advanced pattern recognition and analysis software. What we need is more experience and research into the heuristics and strategies to effectively utilize this information, hardware and software.

The NIST paper goes on to highlight the obstacles to overcome to achieve RAdAC. I want to just briefly note and comment on them here:
  • Integration of a wide variety of systems and data - Which is an area where semantics technologies would be very useful (something that I might have said before)
  • Unambiguous definition of digital policies - I would again encourage investigating and building on semantic technologies, such as the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition's KAoS ontology and framework
  • Trustworthy sources of user and environment information
  • Research into machine learning, genetic algorithms and heuristics - Which is discussed above, and ...
  • A broad swath of non-technical challenges - such as the liabilities associated with a security breach made by an automated entity
Although I have worked on policy-based management for many years, I still worry that automated policy will just allow us to make errors more quickly. So, to NIST's list of obstacles I want to add the need to improve testing, test beds and simulation.