Good Practice Guide 13 or GPG 13 is a list of measures that outline how UK government data must be protected. Under GPG 13, UK government organizations have a responsibility to use monitoring, logging, and other security measures to protect sensitive data.

What is GPG 13?

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GPG 13 is a protection monitoring framework that dictates Protective Monitoring Controls that Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) departments and agencies must follow to manage risks to their systems. The guide is part of the UK Cabinet Office’s Security Policy Framework to govern the management systems with access to UK government data.

Protective monitoring controls include practical measures such as event log management to intrusion detection systems and network monitoring. Essentially, these controls tell agencies how to monitor internal systems to manage risk factors.

For example, using infrastructure monitoring or traffic analysis to detect if a cyber attacker is attempting to join the network. The 12 protective monitoring controls provide government agencies with practical guidance on how to maintain the integrity of their internal systems.

Transparency is a fundamental principle of GPG 13. HMG agencies are expected to have the necessary tools to maintain IT systems and have the means to detect when a device has been compromised. GPG 13 outlines that it is the responsibility of agencies and departments to make sure that they have the necessary protection in place that matches their risk profile.

Who Needs to Follow GPG 13?

While the regulatory guidelines of GPG 13 were mainly designed for Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) departments and agencies, service providers can also find themselves needing to comply. Service providers with access to government data should also comply with the requirements.

What are the Penalties for Non-Compliance?

GPG 13 is a guide rather than a policy. As a consequence, there aren’t any penalties or fines for non-compliance beyond the potential risk and loss of sensitive data. Being compliant with GPG 13 is a matter of ethics and best practice rather than legal necessity.

From an ethical standpoint, agencies should take all necessary measures to protect the data they hold from being compromised in case there is a knock-on effect on citizens or other organizations.

The Four Recording Profiles

GPG 13 has four recording profiles, with different variations in the amount of protection you should have against cyber threats. The recording profiles are identical to the HMG Information Assurance Standard Segmentation Model, and are broken down into four categories (from low to high segmentation):

  • Aware – An obligation to be aware of public domain threats, common attack vendors, and known vulnerabilities.
  • Deter – An obligation to deter attacks from a skilled hacker (must implement controls to deter an attack!).
  • Detect/Resist – An obligation to detect and resist an attack from a sophisticated attacker.
  • Defend – An obligation to defend against an attack from a sophisticated attacker.

Agencies must choose which level of organization to apply to what data. To decide the level of segmentation to use agencies should examine the potential consequences of the loss of the data in question, and the effect on the UK or EU government, UK citizens, or businesses.

GPG 13 Compliance Checklist: Protective Monitoring Controls

There are 12 PMCs outlined in GPG 13. These controls boil down to using network monitoring tools to identify threats to the network and connected devices. The network monitoring solution used should also offer features like alerts, notifications, and automated reports so that the user can respond to critical events promptly.

Here is the list of controls:

  1. Ensure logs have accurate and consistent time stamps.
  2. Record cross-boundary traffic and confirm its validity.
  3. Analyze boundary traffic and identify suspicious activity.
  4. Identify status changes to devices, servers, and work stations with alerts and automated reports.
  5. Record suspicious activity in your network with notifications.
  6. Track, record and analyze network connections.
  7. Establish alerts to recognize and analyze suspicious user and workstation activity.
  8. Create a backup and business continuity plan that protects data integrity and availability.
  9. Define factors that classify as critical events and deliver real-time alerts and reports.
  10. Confirm the validity and integrity of auditing processes.
  11. Develop a procedure for producing accurate reports for accessing the performance of your PMC compliance.
  12. Provide proof that security measures, including monitoring data collection, are lawful and secure.

1. Ensure Logs Have Accurate Time Stamps

The first requirement is that you have the ability to view timestamps from log data. Timestamps are used to tell you when a security event has happened. From a regulatory perspective having accurate timestamps provides you with a record of network events that you can use to see what’s happening. To meet this requirement you will need to use a log management tool or a log analyzer (such as ManageEngine EventLog Analyzer or LogRhythm).

2. Record Cross-Boundary Traffic

The second requirement states that agencies must record business traffic crossing a boundary. More specifically you must record, analyze, and report business traffic to make sure that all traffic is authorized. Any malicious traffic should be stopped, prevented, or alerted.

3. Recording Relating to Suspicious Activity at a Boundary

Recording relating to suspicious activity refers specifically to monitoring network traffic crossing a boundary to detect suspicious behavior. You should have the means to detect if an attacker is attempting to access a device or there is a deviation from normal network usage.

4. Recording of workstation, server or device status

You must also be able to monitor changes to the status or configuration of devices. Workstation, server or device recording should allow you to identify whether changes on a device have occurred due to malware or through a genuine user mistake. The monitoring should also be able to identify indications of an attack such as repeated system restarts or through the use of unusual processes.

5. Recording relating to suspicious internal network activity

Monitoring internal boundaries is just as important as monitoring cross-boundary traffic. Agencies must detect suspicious activity that signifies that an attacker has breached the internal network. Tools like intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems are examples of tools that could help to identify this.

6. Recording relating to network connections

It is also necessary for agencies to monitor temporary connections to the network made by remote access, VPN, wireless, or other types of transient connection. Monitoring temporary connections is important in case an attacker is trying to gain access to your network through alternative means.

7. Recording of session activity by user and workstation

To make sure that user behavior is legitimate agencies must monitor user or session activity and access to verify a system hasn’t been breached. The monitoring solution should be able to detect unauthorized or suspicious activity to make sure that no malicious entities have access to confidential data.

8. Recording of data backup status

In the event that a cyber attacker does breach the network and cause damage, organizations should be able to identify and recover information assets that were damaged. This means being able to recover lost files and revert to the status of the asset before the attack.

9. Alerting critical events

To ensure you respond to security events quickly you must have a monitoring solution with near real-time notifications. Notifications should be as close to real-time as possible but you don’t necessarily need a solution with instantaneous alerts (though this would be advantageous from a security standpoint).

10. Reporting on the status of the audit system

This requirement states that you must be able to confirm the validity and integrity of auditing processes. In other words, you should be able to verify the integrity of the data that you collect.

11. Production of statistical management reports

You must be able to produce reports to provide feedback on the performance of the Protective Monitoring system. Reports provide an additional investigation into security events and provide more of an audit trail. It is necessary to obtain a network monitoring solution that allows you to generate reports (a solution that allows you to schedule reports that can help to make sure you don’t forget).

12. Providing a legal framework for Protective Monitoring activities

Finally, you must make sure that all monitoring of systems and communications is conducted in accordance with the law. This means that you mustn’t violate the law or the rights of individuals when collecting data. In addition, you must make sure that any accounting data collected is treated as sensitive information and protected.

Network Monitoring

The best way to ensure you comply with these requirements is to deploy a network monitoring solution that can give you the combination of visibility, alerts, and reports. Picking the right network monitoring solution(s) will go a long way towards defending against threats and prevent you from falling victim to an attacker. For the purposes of GPG compliance, we’re going to look at the log management requirements and LogRhythm.

Log Management Requirements

Log management is a topic that comes up consistently in the GPG 13. To satisfy all of the requirements, there are a number of components you need to address. The specific guidelines on log management depend on the level of segmentation or risk level that the system faces:

Level of Segmentation
Log Retention Time
Log Checks
Compliance Review
Aware Up to 3 months Once a month (Minimum)Annual (Minimum)
Deter 3-6 months Once a week (Minimum) Annual (Minimum)
Detect / Resist 6-12 months Once a day
(Minimum)
Every 6 months (Minimum)
Defend Over 12 months Once an hour (Minimum) Every quarter (Minimum)

More broadly you must also be able to record user access (specifically unauthorized users), file access attempts, view successful or unsuccessful logins and logouts, configuration changes, and policy changes. To help meet the requirements above, it is highly recommended to use a log analysis tool. We’ve included LogRhythm below as an example.

LogRhythm (Log Management Software)

LogRhythm Enteprise

LogRhythm is a log monitoring solution that matches the control requirements outlined in GPG 13. The software offers automated log management and event messages from a centralized perspective. The log management capabilities of the software meet the first challenge of detecting threats.

The software has three modules designed specifically for GPG 13 for the purpose of Protective Monitoring Controls: GPG 13 (standard, GPG 13 Compliance Automation Suite, and GPG 13 Advanced Compliance Suite.) Each is designed to help users apply the level of scrutiny that matches their needs.

For greater scrutiny, LogRhythm has a real-time alert system that notifies the user when problematic behavior is recognized. Alerts lower the time to respond and make your remediation strategy much more effective. A fast response will help to fight off more sophisticated attacks. You can view more about LogRhythm here.

GPG 13 Compliance: Monitoring

To comply with GPG 13 regulations you need to use monitoring tools, event log management, event logging, real-time alerts, and reports to improve your visibility.

While you can scrape by and recognize attacks on low priority systems, on high priority systems you will be expected to actively detect and defeat sophisticated attackers. Protecting yourself against the next generation of threats comes down to a combination of vigilance and using the right monitoring tools for the job.

On the higher priority systems be proactive and look for ways to increase your security. For example, if you’re using an intrusion detection system consider switching to an intrusion prevention system that can enact an automated response to an attacker.

There are many solutions on the market that are being designed specifically for regulatory compliance and GPG 13. We recommend that you obtain a monitoring software that complies with existing regulations.