.: August 2011 Archives
Reasons to not work in information security
? Oh yeah, we have those lists!
(Side note, the article drew my attention not because of this list, but because of the awful, awul title: "6 Reasons Why You Should NOT Work With Information Security." I read that as why business/people should not cooperate with infosec. Pesky prepositions!)
6 – Working long hours, forever.
Truth! Then again, this can be said of almost any professional-type of career. But, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy our jobs and unplug and balance life at the same time. It is also part of our duty to educate our own industry so that we're not guaranteeing prevention of security incidents. It really is unreasonable to think we must toil away until our network is impenetrable, just as much as making a developer work until a major application is written entirely and perfectly...
5 – People only remember of you when things go wrong.
Well, yes, this is unfortunately true. It's going to be a continued part of our job to stress that prevention is not a guarantee, but we can certainly help the odds. This is also a truism in many professions, though, especially in IT or any utility; you get praised when shit hits the fan and you fix it, not when you do good things when no one is crying. (/hyperbole) In the end, I think most infosec geeks I know understand this, and it doesn't really bother them.
4 – Study, study and more study.
Yes, true, and every infosec geek I know loves this! I'm not sure I've met any that have been forced to study up on something they hate...with the exception of having to study up on something they already know just because someone wants proof or metrics or won't just take your word for it (a whole other discussion there!).
3 – There is a limit for growth to your career.
I think a certain Lee and Mike
would disagree. Still, there is a bit of truth in the article's assertion that many CEO levels have had blessed roads, or those that flow through the sales silos. Then again, that C-level/executive/managerial is the goal of all people is a poor assumption to make... (about as bad as assuming the road of a C-level is...)
2 – No room for mistakes.
Refer back to #5: this is true, but is part of the education process to make sure people know that prevention is not a guarantee. I know, I know, so many people in business dislike even a single mistake, but try to bring this back around to accounting, finance, and strategic management: there is always a balance of risk, cost, and revenue; even if the rank and file think every mistake needs to result in an upheaval of processes and people (really, that's a result of too much middle management and unhealthy performance pressure...).
1 – People expect you to crack their exes Gmail passwords, wireless networks, and combination locks.
Again, true, and this is bad why? Also, again this is part of being in a professional career. Personally, I do enjoy the "mystique" that still hangs over technical mastery and hacking, and feel complimented when someone asks things like this of me; either I oblige when ethical, or educate when unreasonable.
by michael 08.14.11 at 2:59 PM in /general
Since I saw this site for the first time, I glanced at a few articles on the MyInfoSecJob.com site, particular the security challenges. Reading the comments (i.e. solutions) for the first challenge
, this pretty succinctly illustrates why infosec is so frustrating for business and IT persons! The range of answers is phenomenal, from simple to complex to flat-out suggesting complex setups with specific hardwired vendors and various other things.
I don't think the answer to any, "help me secure this," challenge should be to grab your favorite 600 page IT security book and thump it on the desk like you're some pimp on Exotic Liability flopping your meat on the table. Keep it simple, and keep it on task with the information presented. Nothing in a network/data diagram really begs for a sermon about file permissions, and OS patching, and extraneous complexity for what is obviously a small shop. If you want to get further down that road, you can't do so intelligently without more information. You're just going to lose your audience (or demonstrate your lack of experience when suggesting over-the-top recommendations or flatly inappropriate ones...).
Anyway, based on that security challenge, these would be my simple recommendations:
- Replace the hub with a managed switch, assuming that is the basis of the underlying network connecting the users, the servers, and the router together. That's the one real question the diagram makes me ask, "Is the hub separate, or is that what the blue ethernet network bar is supposed to be? You can pick up a soho one if you want for $100, or drop a grand or two for an enterprise level one.
- Drop in a firewall/VPN hardware device behind the router (i.e. between the internal network and the router). Configure this to position the web server into a one-armed DMZ, and set up necessary firewall rules to allow the access shown as needed on the diagram. Configure the VPN so external people can log into it and get to the fileserver as needed. Get a decent enough one that you can budget for; the features and support will be worth it. As a bonus, make sure VPN users are in their own subnet and even segment off the fileserver to its own, and configure firewall rules as necessary for everyone's access. In the absence of other technologies, at least losing one part to an incident won't caused the rest to be suspect; at least not by default. At worst, grab an old PC and figure out a tool like Untangle or IPCop...
This leaves open questions, but they're questions that require further dialogue with the client.
by michael 08.14.11 at 3:41 PM in /general
I read nCircle's Andrew Storms' blog post, "Rethinking Black Hat: Building, Rather Than Breaking, Security,"
and felt like joining the discussion. Essentially, Andrew is saying:
Think back to the [Black Hat] talks you attended and ask yourself how many of them promoted constructive ideas? I'm glad to know that just about every mobile device platform is broken at some level. It's no big surprise that there are problems with crypto, networking, every OS and even the smart grid...
But let's push ourselves to take that extra step forward and think about how we can also fix what's broke. Wouldn't it be interesting if future Black Hat briefings also had to include one or more ideas on how to fix the root of the problems being shown?
I'm not sure I agree with this, on a few levels.
First, the big one: Playing defense is draining.
Playing defense involves policies, processes, politicking, covering all angles, and essentially playing a much longer-term game than an attacker. This is draining and
soul-consuming. While I wouldn't say offense and defense should be divorced with a hard line in the middle, I totally understand when an attacker can point out a weakness but himself has a weakness in effectively describing how to do proper defense against same attack. I get it, totally.
Second, the media coverage of problems is a huge driver.
It's true, the regular ol' media picks up on the sensational moments where XYZ are broken, and that gets eyeballs. However, solution ABC gets next to nothing because, well, it's boring. Which one is going to have a chance to drive attention, budget, action, and awareness? Including outside the hardcore geek circles. I'd argue that if solutions were so interesting, they'd have been done in many of these products and technologies and developments from the start. Doing things securely is still (and I'd argue always will be) an afterthought, so poking out insecurity in a sensational way is a state of normalcy, to me.
Third, look out for post-con highs (or lows, in the case of security!).
It's great to come out of a con-type of gathering encensed with all sorts of great ideas. For hacking cons, it's easy to come out of them feeling like everything is fucked. I guess I look at that as a sort of healthy state of things. Insecurity isn't going away. Even the lockpick industry doesn't try to make unbreakable locks (ok, minus marketing spiels and executive dreams), but instead try to increase the time-to-pick metrics. Andrew certainly knows this, so isn't much of a point for me.
I really do get Andrew's point, and I would even agree for the most part that it would be nice if attackers also offered constructive information on how to do things better, but I don't think I'd ever actually call anything out for it and even voice that concern much at all, for fear of
upsetting the current equilibrium between offense and defense. Granted, there are counter-point to my points, certainly...I may be playing a bit of a devil's advocate here. :)
As a last point that I even hesitate to bring up, but really have to since it's like a little itch poking at the back of my brain on this topic, I would not want to stifle the exposure of problems under the heavy foot of, "be constructive."
There are 2 scenarios in mind for this:
Employee: "Hey boss, I see a problem with this application here where it doesn't validate people properly."
Boss: "That's nice. It's now your problem to fix, go to it!"
Employee: *sigh* "...next time I'll just shut up."
Employee: "Hey, your application doesn't validate people properly. I can break it by doing blah."
Developer: "It's fine. Prove to me you can do that and that that is bad."
Employee: *sigh* "...next time I'll just dump this to full-disclosure and let you handle your own research."
In either case, our approach to insecurity or issues can have a huge impact on how researchers (or those who point out problems) may become dis-incented to say anything at all. I agree when a boss wants optimism and solutions, but I disagree when said boss dismisses an issue when the messenger has no solution of his own.
(There's a sub-point in here somewhere about a non-expert consuming information about how technology X is broken, and then wanting the solutions handed out to them when maybe they're not the appropriate audience or consumer of such information. Sadly, I don't know how to articulate that on short notice without offending or being extremely confusing... For instance, I might hear that CDMA is broken, and I might decry that the presenter should give solutions, when I only want that because *I* don't have the solutions either...)
by michael 08.18.11 at 11:05 AM in /general
I can see why Twitter challenges and even betters blogs, as I see far more interesting and new stuff than I normally would with just an RSS reader as people I barely know retweet links from people I'd never know. This short article flew by this morning: "To write good code, you sometimes have to write bad code"
I don't even need to quote anything there, and if I had to make a change, I would remove, "sometimes." This applies not only to code, and performance, and security, but to life in general. Taking some risks and being wrong is one of those weaknesses I struggle with regularly. Just have to keep saying: doing and being wrong is better than not doing at all. And that's true pretty much every time I make a plunge. Sure I might get my hand slapped and I might even get egg on my face or skin a knee, but (and I have this up on my board at work): "A calm sea does not make a skilled sailor."
There are so many little idioms I've stuck to me like velcro balls in a Double Dare
physical challenge, like how we learn the most when shit hits the fan, growth through adversity, and so on.
For the article, I don't think you *can* write good (and secure) code without first writing and learning from bad code. The problem is so many people in [web/mobile] development jobs only have homegrown knowledge and end up learning on the fly with production-level apps. We're still in a relative infancy with computer programming (or higher level languages which change every 5-8 years like tech fads).
by michael 08.20.11 at 8:35 AM in /general
Also via Twitter last night, I saw the article, This is why we can't have nice things (in government)
. The article is short, and while targeting Canadian government, it mixes subjects by bouncing between "enterprise" and "government" technology, which I think are two different beasts.
But the point holds up either way: new consumerland happy creative tech is *not* necessarily easy to apply to enterprise needs.
This brings up the question: Which side should give ground here, the enterprise with its rigid needs and bureaucracy and efficiency/scale, or creative solutions by smaller creators (I'm hesitating finding an appropriate word there)?
My brain wants to side with enterprise, because the cost of supporting and cleaning up messes from self-imposed inefficient tech is grossly misunderstood outside IT (and accounting). But my gut really wants to side with the creative and (possibly) useful tech that abounds in the world today. You can probably do some really awesome things and get some excellent things done when embracing newest things.
From a security standpoint, it's not as clear either, once you dive in. If a company of a few hundred people embraced new tech and allows consumer devices and such, does that put them at more risk? Probably. But do they *realize* more security incidents? I'd *guess* not, but only largely because this new tech is new to attackers as well! Attackers don't have efficient attacks and may not understand it either. I'd say if anything increases, it would be accidental or opportunistic issues, or perhaps blended ones like when a SaaS provider on the
cloud gets their database popped and accounts divulged which are the same passwords your CEO uses on his Gmail account that also controls his Android device...
In the end, I consider this a good thought-scenario exercise. People who are bleeding edge on tech will learn things that tech teams in tech from 5 years ago never will learn, and vice versa, even.
For the record, this little internal warzone of enterprise vs consumer vs bleeding edge is, in my opinion, a healthy state to be in. Being in security isn't about being paranoid about authority, but rather being in a state where you question and challenge everything (which roughly aligns with traditional definitions of "hacker.")
The again, this article may just be a disgruntled developer whose "brilliant" ideas just aren't being realized by the "dumb" masses... (The author also makes quite a few assumptions here, so it really does read a bit disgruntled, but the points end up being poignant!)
by michael 08.20.11 at 8:49 AM in /general
I've been mentally writing and rewriting a post about SIEM and IPS and spending time on tuning alarms, but just don't really have a ton to say that's new. Then I posted (minutes ago) about how we can't have nice things...
. It got my wheels turning...
One point the author makes is, "[solutions] tend to require a bunch of integration work..." Well, that's sadly true; every enterprise vendor customer wants something different, some checkbox or some strange integration. The problem is how the vendors will often satisfy the need, but then insist on using that as an excuse to include the feature in the base product for everyone. This bloats products, making them difficult and confusing to use. The age old, "we'll get customer Y to fund this new idea which we'll then resell over and over after."
I also believe it leads to dumber products and large blindspots, especially in security products that lose sight of answering the core security questions, "What actually gives me security value?" "What value does X give me?" It's hard for a vendor to globally answer those, so it's nice to let customers actually put in their own work on the tool, rather than automate everything and make it ramen-noodle-bland. Instead, vendors seem to be answering, "What would you like in the tool," without referencing back to the core questions.
Getting back to SIEM and a concrete example, it's a frustrating time trying to tune alarms down to a level where I'm not inundated by thousands of "usually nothing" alarms and not cutting such large swaths of blindness that a truck can drive on into my network. All while working within the sometimes awful boundaries of the tools at hand. I'm often mentally lamenting not being able to parse the logs myself!
Spend enough time with a SIEM, and you start to realize it's not very good from a security perspective except in hindsight (investigation and forensics) and centralized log gathering. Kinda like DLP, it takes hands-on time to get past marketing positioning and actually figure out for yourself what the real value is going to be. There are better detection mechanisms than SIEM alone. (If your SIEM alerts on an event your better detection tools shovel to it, why aren't you alerting from the first tool? The tuning will be better.) [Assertions like these are why this is incomplete...]
I'm sure there's marketing in there, and maybe this is a long-term vs short-term marketing problem where you want a tool to sellsellsell rather than be a narrow-focus, useful, and long-term successful tool like an nmap or nessus or something; your tool just *is* useful rather than superficially forcing it.
This might be one of the underlying and subtle problems of a compliance-driven industry, unfortunately. Certainly not a nail in the coffin of compliance, but definitely a problem.
by michael 08.20.11 at 9:05 AM in /general
Coming soon are a series of blog posts from 2 sources that, at least to me, sound like they may answer similar high-level questions despite focusing on disparate technologies. Securosis will be posting about SIEM replacements
and Bejtlich will be posting about IDS/IPS
. I'm looking forward to views on both, and I think they may delve into similar sentiments.
Bejtlich basically framed his prologue around a tiny article about a cybersecurity pilot
: "During an address to the 2011 DISA Customer and Industry Forum in Baltimore, Md., [Deputy Defense Secretary William] Lynn said the sharing of malicious code signatures gathered through intelligence efforts to pilot participants has already stopped 'hundreds of intrusions.'"
First of all, duh. Second, this isn't about IPS technology or any technology at all, really. This gets back to what I feel are three *very* important resources in security: people, time, and information sharing.
I'd argue if *any* business had this sort of ability, they'd see value as well and we'd all issue a great big, "duh." Third, the world Lynn is talking about is definitely different from my day-to-day; the concept of security intelligence efforts in any but the biggest private enterprises is a foreign concept, but I can fantasize at least! :) [Aside: I'd include 'organizational buy-in to security' as another valuable resource that defense organizations have a big interest in; but that concept gets pretty abstract and overly broad. Essentially, if security sees a problem, they don't get trumped by the business...every single time.]
Bejtlich posed the underlying rhetorical question: "If you can detect it, why can't you prevent it?"
Sounds quaint, eh? And it's a valid question, though the problem is in my years of watching an IPS/IDS, they're far, far too chatty to feel good about outright blocking all but the absolutely most obvious stuff. But that gets better if you put the magic ingredients of people, time, and info sharing into it (as well as visibility and power over the damned signatures!). Out of the box, no IDS/IPS is going to be a fun experience from any perspective that includes operational availability.
At the end of the day, I still feel like so many discussions come back to whether someone is looking for absolute security or incremental while accepting that our equilibrium will be in a balance between security and insecurity.
I might even entertain the discussion that metrics are actually the *wrong* way to go, since I don't think there is an answer. And security can't be nicely modeled without peoplethought and qualitative statements....
by michael 08.22.11 at 1:48 PM in /general
In a new bit of detail that I hadn't read previously, Dave Lewis posted
about the recent IT admin "hacking" incident that occurred via free wifi at a McDonald's: "An information-technology administrator has pleaded guilty to crippling his former employer’s network after FBI agents traced the attack to the Wi-Fi network at a McDonald’s restaurant in Georgia. The administrator was caught after he used his credit card to make a $5 purchase at the restaurant about five minutes before the hacks occurred." Yeah, brilliant.
So, what should this guy have done? I have ideas, and I'll assume we'll stick to a McDonald's.
- don't go to any store you've been to before or will ever go to again.
- don't do this in your own city; go to some other large city; day trip!
- legally park blocks away from the McDonald's
- or park districts away and take public transporation (paid for in cash)
- do this at normal, busy hours and especially if you see other wifi users present
- en route, don't speed, don't do anything to get your location logged
- don't go through tollbooths (if possible) and try to avoid cameras
- if you can discreetly do it, maybe rent a car
- use completely generic laptop and gear; nothing you can't part with
- don't name your computer anything that reflects you
- change the mac address (just because you can)
- don't install customized stuff on the laptop; reduce the amount you may leak on the wire
- hopefully it is cool but sunny so you can go with a hat, sunglasses, popped collar...
- truly lose or "lose" your computer after (wipe it, sticker it up, etc)
- leave your cell phone at home (or turned off)
- don't draw any attention to yourself; be invisible
- don't wear your favorite clothes; be generic or even disposable
- buy a small meal or drink to go (no trays)
- for the love of god, pay in cash; pay for everything en route in cash (no ATM stops!)
- take your trash with you and dispose later
- don't hide in a corner, but don't let cameras or employees see your screen without you knowing it
- don't browse the internet or check your email; do your business and leave
- remove jewelry or cover any tattoos or recognizable marks/traits you have
I'm sure there are more ideas if I spent more time, and I normally don't think about how to stay off the grid like this, but this is a decent start for being mischievious at open wifi.
by michael 08.22.11 at 2:46 PM in /general
Two general lessons in infosecurity came past in articles via infosecnews
today. These will sound familiar, since I'm sure I mention them often, but I'm feeling particularly introspective this week (usually this happens in the autumn; I'm a little early this year) and getting back to simpler basics in life and thought for a bit.
Federal Air Marshall Service Blackberry enterprise servers are behind on patches.
First, welcome to the real world, and good job raising the issue of missing patches. Second, how big of a deal is this? For instance, are they BES patches or Windows patches on a system that can't be reached via vulnerable ports (or the monthly critical IE patches)? In one case I care, in the other, it's less a problem. This illustrates how contextual so much infosecurity is, and how easy non-technical (or technical yet misguided) people can warp efforts and perceptions. This is why checklists and scores can be a hindrance.
Hacked cybersecurity firm HBGary storms back after ridicule fades.
This is a neat story, and I'm not entirely surprised by the results, considering the drama occurred in a a separate sister company. But it does illustrate that we learn from mistakes, and our security will improve after insecurity incidents. At least, we hope so. I think this is still hard in an institutionalized large enterprise, though (i.e. how much will Sony truly improve versus an HBGary?). Of courses, there are many lessons here, like make sure if you sell security you practice what you preach, you know your threats even as they change, know what security incidents may impact your company and how they will be felt, and so on.
by michael 08.24.11 at 10:33 AM in /general
Visa has a slidedeck posted Identifying and Detecting Security Breaches.
Sounds fun! If you've been around security for a while, nothing will be new in this deck, but it's a nice and short to breeze through for ideas if something is missing in your enterprise security posture. Every bullet point also makes for a decent item to review or ask your team (if you have one) to describe how it is handled. (I do believe in role-playing!)
Of course, the danger in a slide deck like this is how deceptively easy it makes all of this sound! :)
by michael 08.25.11 at 8:25 AM in /general
Really excellent article on ThreatPost from Aaron Barr: "Five Questions About Aaron Barr's DEFCON (by Aaron Barr)."
I must say, it is very well-written and he's definitely got a brain in his head, but it's nice to see him in and amongst people of the sort that attend Defcon (not that we're that much different these days than any other group) and hear him talk to and learn more about the more greyish side of Anonymous and security and people in general, rather than just Washington boy clubs. His tentative behavior at Defcon is a bit amusing.
As many commentors pick up on, I don't necessarily agree with his views in question 4 about anonymity, but I think he does a great job in illustrating the two sides of the problem: freedom vs criminal intent. While I may disagree, that doesn't mean I have a better answer or argument to spit out. I think he and I would simply differ on our acceptable middle ground; where he'd prefer less anonymity, I'd prefer more, despite wide agreement on discussion points.
I like some points in #5 as well, as I really don't think it is possible to have a better Anonymous. Wouldn't that like asking for a better 4chan? The very concept steals away what they are, which is unfortunate. It is quite possible that Anonymous is a great idea, but is actually corrupted by that very anonymity and decentralized leadership. On the other hand, I do think we need the sort of greyish societal function that Anonymous fills. The function is important, even if the group itself fades into childishness. It's kind of like making a statement through graffiti, but eventually losing sight of the point and instead just throwing graffiti everywhere no matter how dangerous (Stop signs?) or silly, just because you can.
Then again, I wonder how many activist groups like this ever *don't* fall into that problem of slope-slipping? It's probably more pronounced when you talk about less personal accountability... Still, this does happen with protests where sheer numbers help promote anonymity, or masks/hoods, or something.
The one item I thought Barr would bring up in point 5, but doesn't, though, was how the efforts of Anonymous to poke at poor security may in fact give fuel to world/national leaders to reduce internet anonymity. Sort of like a child protesting his being grounded...ends up being grounded for longer with even worse punishments.
by michael 08.26.11 at 8:15 AM in /general
More information about the RSA hack
has been uncovered. In the article, I especially liked this:
The email attack is not particularly complex, F-Secure says. "In fact, it's very simple. However, the exploit inside Excel was a zero-day at the time, and RSA could not have protected against it by patching their systems."
This should be a classic scenario for role-playing in any security operation. The first question from any manager: "What do we do to prevent, detect, or mitigate this?"
by michael 08.29.11 at 11:27 AM in /general
In DR/BCP, we plan for natural events beyond our control all the time. But what about cyber events that are beyond our control? For instance, if a certificate authority makes a high-enough-profile mistake in issuing a fraudulent certificate
, which then causes browsers to automatically update their software (and your users) to no longer trust any certs issued by that CA? Oh, and what if you use that CA for your shit? A situation beyond your control just gut-punched you.
For more information on the DigiNotar incident(s), F-Secure has a great post about it.
Pretty lame to have your pants yanked down, then find out they've been yanked down several times in the past, and even though you told people you pulled them back up, you actually didn't, and still had them down. GG for hacker calling cards. :)
by michael 08.31.11 at 9:52 AM in /general