PDF Security Pain: We Told You So

Thanks to Slashdot, here’s a story on Adobe PDF vulnerabilities: The Portable Document Format (PDF) is one of the file formats of choice commonly used in today”s enterprises, since it’s widely deployed across different operating systems. But on a down-side this format has also known vulnerabilites which are exploited in the wild. I normally ignore stories coming out of vendor labs on new exploits that are coincidentally blocked by said vendor’s products, but on occasion they highlight something of interest. Back in February I mentioned three applications that are a real pain in our security behinds- IE/ActiveX, QuickTime, and Adobe Acrobat (the entire pdf format, to be honest). It’s nice to see a little validation. Each of these, in their own way, allows expansion of their formats. In the Adobe case they keep shoveling all sorts of media types and scripting into the format. This creates intense complexity that, more often than not, leads to security vulnerabilities. When you manage an open format, content validation/sanitization is an extremely nasty problem. Unless you design your code for it from the ground up, it’s nearly impossible to keep up and lock down a secure format. I suspect Adobe’s only real option at this point is to start failing with grace and focus on anti-exploitation and sandboxing (if that’s even possible, I’ll leave it up to smarter people than me). Truth is I should have also put Flash on the list. My bad. Share:

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The Breach Reporting Dillema

Over at Emergent Chaos, Adam raises the question of whether we are seeing more data breaches, or just more data breach reporting. His post is inspired by a release from the Identity Theft Resource Center stating that they’ve already matched the 2007 breach numbers this year. Personally, I think it’s a bit of both, and we’re many years away from any accurate statistics for a few reasons: Breaches are underreported. As shown in the TJX case, not every company performs a breach notification (TJX reported, other organizations did not). I know of a case where a payment processor was compromised, records lost for some financial services firms that ran through them, and only 1 of 3-4 of the companies involved performed their breach notification. Let’s be clear, they absolutely knew they had a legal requirement to report and that their customer information was breached, and they didn’t. Breaches are underdetected. I picked on some of the other companies fleeced along with TJX that later failed to report, but it’s reasonable that at least some of them never knew they were breached. I’d say less than 10% of companies with PII even have the means to detect a breach. Breaches do not correlate with fraud. Something else we’ve discussed here before. In short, there isn’t necessary any correlation between a “breach” notification and any actual fraud. Thus the value of breach notification statistics is limited. A lost backup tape may contain 10 million records, yet we don’t have a singe case that I can find where a lost tape correlated with fraud. My gut is that hacking attacks result in more fraud, but even that is essentially impossible to prove with today’s accounting. There’s no national standard for a breach, never mind an international standard. Every jurisdiction has their own definition. While many follow the California standard, many others do not. Crime statistics are some of the most difficult to gather and normalize on the planet. Cybercrime statistics are even worse. With all that said I need to go call Bank of America since we just got a breach notification letter from them, but it doesn’t reveal which third party lost our information. This is our third letter in the past few years, and we haven’t suffered any losses yet. Share:

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