• Requirement

    Create diversity in [Assignment: organization-defined system components] to reduce the extent of malicious code propagation.

  • Discussion

    Organizations often use homogenous information technology environments to reduce costs and to simplify administration and use. However, a homogenous environment can also facilitate the work of the APT, as it allows for common mode failures and the propagation of malicious code across identical system components (i.e., hardware, software, and firmware). In these environments, adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that work on one instantiation of a system component will work equally well on other identical instantiations of the component regardless of how many times such components are replicated or how far away they may be placed in the architecture. Increasing diversity within organizational systems reduces the impact of potential exploitations or compromises of specific technologies. Such diversity protects against common mode failures, including those failures induced by supply chain attacks. Diversity also reduces the likelihood that the TTP adversaries use to compromise one system component will be effective against other system components, thus increasing the adversary’s work factor to successfully complete the planned attacks. A heterogeneous or diverse information technology environment makes the task of propagating malicious code more difficult, as the adversary needs to develop and deploy different TTP for the diverse components. Satisfying this requirement does not mean that organizations need to acquire and manage multiple versions of operating systems, applications, tools, and communication protocols. However, the use of diversity in certain critical, organizationally determined system components can be an effective countermeasure against the APT. In addition, organizations may already be practicing diversity, although not to counter the APT. For example, it is common for organizations to employ diverse anti-virus products at different parts of their infrastructure simply because each vendor may issue updates to new malicious code patterns at different times and frequencies. Similarly, some organizations employ products from one vendor at the server level and products from another vendor at the end-user level. Another example of diversity occurs in products that provide address space layout randomization (ASLR). Such products introduce a form of synthetic diversity by transforming the implementations of common software to produce a variety of instances. Finally, organizations may choose to use multiple virtual private network (VPN) vendors, tunneling one vendor’s VPN within another vendor’s VPN. Smaller organizations may find that achieving diversity in system components is challenging and perhaps not practical. Organizations also consider the vulnerabilities that may be introduced into the system by the employment of diverse system components. [SP 800-160-1] provides guidance on security engineering practices and security design concepts. [SP 800-160-2] provides guidance on developing cyber resilient systems and system components. [SP 800-161] provides guidance on supply chain risk management.

More Info

  • Family

    System and Communications Protection
  • Protection Strategy

    • Designing for Cyber Resiliency and Survivability

NIST 800-172A Assessment Guidance

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