What’s Next?

For the record, yes, those hazmat suits are really freaking hot and sweaty. I guess that’s what they mean by, “vapor barrier”. No, nothing freaky is going on; that’s just a picture from an old practice. And that’s pretty much how I’m spending this week- training, practicing, and cleaning bathrooms. I’ve talked about the value of training before, and it’s one reason we’re constantly practicing those critical skills until they become second nature. At this point, putting on a hazmat suit (level A, B, or C) is second nature. That’s the only way to survive if I ever have to wear one during a real incident. It’s an opportunity I highly doubt I’ll ever experience, but it’s also the kind of thing you can only screw up once. One of the classes I’m taking this week is Basic Disaster Life Support. It’s a fairly new class that focuses on medical management in massive incidents from the natural (earthquakes) to the man made (blowing stuff up). The biggest lesson I’m taking away from this class isn’t some specific technique for managing a specific injury but a single general principle with direct applications in the IT world- What’s next? When donning a hazmat suit it means what’s the next step? Boots, mask, hood? Then, when something fails (and it will) what do you do next? In a disaster it means what happens after you’ve exceeded your plans. Finished getting all those patients out of your hospital when the big storm is coming in? Great, where are you going to send them next? Oh, the ambulances. Right, um, how many of them are there? Where are they going? When we plan for disasters that’s the one question we need to ask at every step, and keep asking. Forever. We need contingency plans for our contingency plans. It really isn’t any different in IT. The parallels to the business continuity side are easy to draw. What happens when the power goes out? Okay, the generators just ran out of gas, what next? The roads are flooded so you can’t get more gas, so what’s next? Same thing for security, except usually we’re talking defenses. Web application firewall? Great, what happens when some bad guy gets past it or they skip it by hitting the database from a compromised internal machine? How about if they had an 0day you didn’t know about and now own the machine? And eventually you’ll run out of answers, because at that point there’s either nothing to do or it’s time to just turn it all off, or let it burn and collect the insurance money. But through the process of constantly asking that question you’ll develop a methodical, mechanical approach to solve seemingly insurmountable problems. You’ll even learn that sometimes it isn’t just having the right answer, but continuously moving (or appropriately pausing) that eventually gets you past those obstacles. What’s next? Never assume. React faster, and better. Stay in school. Don’t do drugs. Share:

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Guest Editorial- The MBTA/MIT Disclosure Failure

Securosis Guest Editorial On occasion we invite some of our non-blogging friends to steal our thunder. Jesse Krembs, known as Agent X to those of us at DefCon, is a network engineer at undisclosed locations out East. He’s one of the guys who keeps the tubes running, and, on occasion, loves a good rant. I couldn’t sleep last night. I’ve been thinking about the MIT/MBTA hacking controversy lately. Zack Anderson, RJ Ryan, & Alessandro Chiesa are not the victims of this saga, although that plays a lot better in the media. Truth is, the MBTA is the real victim here. I can completely understand exactly where the MBTA is coming from, and why they ran to the lawyers. They are out of their depth, dealing with smart kids screwing with their systems (and livelihood) in a very public manner. The MBTA’s not in the business of running secure systems- far from it, they are the business of moving people & making the trains run on time. This is a harrowing tasking, fraught with enough complications without some kids mucking around in the back office. The MBTA didn’t request a security audit; they got audited, in the same way that a burglar cases a house before breaking in, or a mugger sizes up a mark. But unlike a burglar just looking for a single score, as far as the MBTA could tell these students were cracking the entire system and teaching the public how to do it themselves. The worst part is this was 100% avoidable. The big mistake that the MIT boys made was to treat the victim like the enemy instead of like a client. What they did is valuable; valuable enough to get an “A” from Ron Rivest, valuable enough to be presented to a crowd at Defcon 16. Valuable enough that the MBTA is willing to pay lawyers to shut them up and sort it out. If the MIT students had disclosed what they had found to the MBTA first in an honest and forthright manner, I wouldn’t be writing this. Had they done the responsible thing, everyone could win, the MIT kids could have had an awesome summer gig securing the MBTA, the MBTA & the people of Boston could be more secure. Maybe that sounds idealistic, but the MIT name carries enough weight the odds are they could have engaged in a real project, not an adversarial relationship. The baddies wouldn’t know much more then they know now. The MIT boys could even have still given their talk at DefCon. Instead, with all the arrogance of youth & higher education, the boys from MIT sco ed contact with the MBTA. They made the MBTA the enemy; the ogre in the cave, without even giving them a chance. And let’s be honest, it isn’t like this was a security issue affecting the health and safety of the train-riding public; it targeted revenue generation, and releasing the vulnerability details didn’t do anything to help the public at large. Well, the law-abiding public. Please grow up; in the connected world there are very few ogres in caves any more, and they don’t let you ride their trains. The difference between black hats and white hats is a line, and it’s a gray one. But occasionally it gets a little contrast. When you treat the person or organization with a security problem like a victim or and enemy, then you’re the bad guy. You’re basically fucking them over, sometimes hard, sometimes gently, but it’s still a screw job. When you treat them like a partner, then everyone wins. Sure, sometimes they don’t want partners, and sometimes you have to go public because they put the rest of the world at risk, but you don’t know that until you try talking to them. Finally I should note that in the end the only people winning in this case are the lawyers; the kids won’t win in the way they want, nor will the MBTA. The lawyers, on the other hand, always get paid. I understand the principle of free speech, but at the same time I also don’t believe in yelling “FIRE!” in the movie theater. The right of free speech is a gift from our Founder Fathers; use it responsibly. Finally, when you start to hack the grown-up systems of the world, be prepared to behave like adults. /rant -Jesse Share:

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