Open Invitation to the University of California at Berkeley IT Dept.

You probably heard the news last week that hackers have infiltrated restricted computer databases at Cal Berkeley. 160,000 current and former students and alumni personal information “may” have been stolen. The University says social security numbers, health insurance information and non-treatment medical records dating back to 1999 were stolen. Within that data set was 97,000 Social Security Numbers, from both Berkeley and Mills College students who were eligible for medical treatment. I am going to make an educated guess that this was a database either for or located at Cowell Hospital, but there are [very few other details available. Not unusual in data breach cases, but annoyingly understandable and the reason I do not post comments on most data breaches. This one is different. This is an offer to help UC Berkeley with their data security challenge. As a security professional and Berkeley alumnus, I want to offer my services to assist with security and product strategy to ensure this does not happen again. Free of charge. I am willing to help. This is a service Securosis provides: free strategic consultation services to end users. Within reason, of course, but we do. So I am extending an open offer of assistance to the University. In 2008, when I was still with my previous employer, we had a couple meetings with IT staff members at UC Berkeley for some of the security challenges and to see if our products were of interest to them. As most initial conversations go, we covered as much background about the environment and goals as we could. While the people we were speaking with were smart and highly educated, the questions they asked and the order of their priorities suggested that they were naive about security. I do not want to provide too many details on this out of respect for confidentiality, but the types of products they were reviewing I would have assumed were already in place, and policies and procedures would have been more evolved. I can even hear Adam Dodge in the back of my head saying “Well … education is a lot different than the private sector”. He’s right, and I get that, but for an organization that has already had a data breach through a lost laptop in March 2005, I expected that they would have gotten ahead of the curve. The liability here goes all the way up to the UC Regents, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed. My goal is not to insult the IT staff at UC Berkeley. Just look at the Privacy Rights web site, or the Open Security Foundation, and you will see that they are no better and no worse than any other university in the country. What pisses me off is that my alma mater, one of the best computer schools in the world, is below average in their data security! Come on!!! This is Berkeley we are talking about. UCLA, OK, I could understand that. But Berkeley? They should be leading the nation in IT security, not the new poster child for University data breaches. Berkeley has among its student body some of the smartest people in computer science, who gather there from all over the world to learn. When I was there if you wanted to know about inner details of the UNIX kernel, say at 2:30 in the morning, there was someone in the lab who could answer your question. Want to know the smallest of details on network architecture? The ‘finger’ daemon could point you to the guys who had all the answers. You might need to pull them away from Larn for a couple minutes, but they knew scary levels of detail on every piece of software and hardware on the campus. It is no different today, and they are clearly not leveraging the talent they have effectively. So go ahead. Ask for help. The university needs assistance in strategy and product suitability analysis, Securosis can help, and we will do it for free. Now I am going to have the Cal fight song in my head for the rest of the day. Share:

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Database Encryption: Option 2, Enforcing Separation of Duties

This is the next installment in what is now officially the longest running blog series in Securosis history: Database Encryption. In case you have forgotten, Rich provided the Introduction and the first section on Media Protection, and I covered the threat analysis portion to help you determine which threats to consider when developing a database encryption strategy. You may want to peek back at those posts as a refresher if this is a subject that interests you, as we like to use our own terminology. It’s for clarity, not because we’re arrogant. Really! For what we are calling “database media protection” as described in Part 1, we covered the automatic encryption of the data files or database objects through native encryption built into the database engine. Most of the major relational database platforms provide this option, which can be “seamlessly” deployed without modification to applications and infrastructure that use the database. This is a very effective way to prevent recovery of data stored on lost or stolen media. And it is handy when you have renegade IT personnel who hate managing separate encryption solutions. Simple. Effective. Invisible. And only a moderate performance penalty. What more could you want? If you have to meet compliance requirements, probably a lot more. You need to secure credit card data within the database to comply with the PCI Data Security Standard. You are unable to catalog all of the applications that use sensitive data stored in your database, so you want to stop data leakage at the source. Your DBAs want to be ‘helpful’, but their ad-hoc adjustments break the accounting system. Your quality assurance team exports production data into unsecured test systems. Medical records need to be kept private. While database media protection is effective in addressing problems with data at rest, it does not help enforce proper data usage. Requirements to prevent misuse by credentialed users or compromised user accounts, or enforce separation of duties, are outside the scope of basic database encryption. For these reasons and many others, you decide that you need to protect the data within the database through more granular forms of database encryption; table, column, or row level security. This is where the fun starts! Encrypting for separation of duties is far more complex than encrypting for media protection; it involves protecting data from legitimate database users, requiring more changes to the database itself. It’s still native database encryption, but this simple conceptual change creates exceptional implementation issues. It will be harder to configure, your performance will suffer, and you will break your applications along the way. Following our earlier analogy, this is where we transition from hanging picture hooks to a full home remodeling project. In this section we will examine how to employ granular encryption to support separation of duties within the database itself, and the problems this addresses. Then we will delve into the problems you will to run into and what you need to consider before taking the plunge. Before we jump in, note that each of these options are commonly referred to as a ‘Level’ of encryption; this does not mean they offer more or less security, but rather identifies where encryption is applied within the database storage hierarchy (element, row, column, table, tablespace, database, etc). There are three major encryption options that support separation of duties within the database. Not every database vendor supports all of these options, but generally at least two of the three, and that is enough to accomplish the goals above. The common options are: Column Level Encryption: As the name suggests, column level encryption applies to all data in a single, specific column in a table. This column is encrypted using a single key that supports one or more database users. Subsequent queries to examine or modify encrypted columns must possess the correct database privileges, but additionally must provide credentials to access the encryption/decryption key. This could be as simple as passing a different user ID and password to the key manager, or as sophisticated as a full cryptographic certificate exchange, depending upon the implementation. By instructing the database to encrypt all data stored in a column, you focus on specific data that needs to be protected. Column level encryption is the popular choice for compliance with PCI-DSS by restricting access to a very small group. The downside is that the column is encrypted as a whole, so every select requires the entire column to be deencrypted, and every modification requires the entire column to be re-encrypted and certified. This is the most commonly available option in relational database platforms, but has the poorest performance. Table / Tablespace Encryption: Table level encryption is where the entire contents of a table or group of tables are encrypted as one element. Much like full database encryption, this method protects all the data within the table, and is a good option when all more than one column in the table contains sensitive information. While it does not offer fine-grained access control to specific data elements, it more efficient option than column encryption when multiple columns contain sensitive data, and requires fewer application and query modification. Examples of when to use this technique include personally identifiable information grouped together – like medical records or financial transactions – and this is an appropriate approach for HIPAA compliance. Performance is manageable, and is best when the sensitive tables can be fully segregated into their own tablespace or database. Field/Cell/Row Level Encryption, Label Security: Row level encryption is where a single row in a table is encrypted, and field or cell level encryption is where individual data elements within a database table are encrypted. They offer very fined control over data access, but can be a management and performance nightmare. Depending upon the implementation, there might be one key used for all elements or a key for each row. The performance penalty is a sharp limitation, especially when selecting or modifying multiple rows. More commonly, separation of duties is supported by label security.

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