On Preboot Authentication and Encryption

I am working on an encryption project – evaluating an upcoming product feature for a vendor – and the research is more interesting than I expected. Not that the feature is uninteresting, but I thought I knew all the answers going into this project. I was wrong. I have been talking with folks on the Twitters and in private interviews, and have discovered that far more organizations than I suspected are configuring their systems to automatically skip preboot authentication and simply boot up into Windows or Mac OS X (yes, for real, a bunch are using disk encryption on Macs). For those of you who don’t know, with most drive encryption you have a mini operating system that boots first, so you can authenticate the user. Then it decrypts and loads the main operating system (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.). Skipping the mini OS requires you to configure it to automatically authenticate and load the operating system without a password prompt. Organizations tend to do this for a few reasons: So users don’t have to log in twice. So you don’t have to deal with managing and synchronizing two sets of credentials (preboot and OS). To reduce support headaches. But the convenience factor is the real reason. The problem with skipping preboot authentication is that you then rely completely on OS authentication to protect the device. My pentester friends tell me they can pretty much always bypass the OS encryption. This may also be true for a running/sleeping/hibernating system, depending on how you have encryption configured (and how your product works). In other words – if you skip preboot, the encryption generally adds no real security value. In the Twitter discussion about advanced pen testering, our very own David Mortman asked: @rmogull Sure but how many lost/stolen laptops are likely to be attacked in that scenario vs the extra costs of pre-boot? Which is an excellent point. What are the odds of an attacker knowing how to bypass the encryption when preboot isn’t used? And then I realized that in that scenario, the “attacker” is most likely someone picking up a “misplaced” laptop and even basic (non-encryption) OS security is good enough. Which leads to the following decision tree: Are you worried about attackers who can bypass OS authentication? If so, encrypt with preboot authentication; if not, continue to step 2. Do you need to encrypt only for compliance (meaning security isn’t a priority)? If so, encrypt and disable preboot; if not, continue to step 3. Encrypt with preboot authentication. In other words, encrypt if you worry about data loss due to lost media or are required by compliance. If you encrypt for compliance and don’t care about data loss, then you can skip preboot. Share:

Read Post

Incite 3/30/2011: The Silent Clipper

I’m very fortunate to have inherited Rothman hair, which is gray but plentiful and grows fast. Like fungus. Given my schedule, I tend to wait until things get lost in my hair before I get it cut. Like birds; or yard debris; or Nintendo DS games. A few weeks back the Boss told me to get it cut when I lost my iPhone in my hair. So I arranged a day to hit the barber I have frequented for years. I usually go on Mondays when I can, because his partner is off. These guys have a pretty sophisticated queuing system, honed over 40+ years. Basically you wait until your guy is open. That works fine unless the partner is open and your guy is backed up. Then the partner gives me the evil eye as he listens to his country music. But I have to stay with my guy because he has a vacuum hooked up to his clipper. Yes, I wait for my guy because he uses a professional Flowbee. But when I pulled up the shop was closed. I’ve been going there for 7 years and the shop has never been closed on Monday. Then I looked at the sign, which shows hours only for the partner – my guy’s hours aren’t listed. Rut roh, I got a bad feeling. But I was busy, so I figured I’d go back later in the week and see what happened. I went in Thursday, and my guy wasn’t there. Better yet, the partner was backed up, but I had just lost one of the kids in my hair, so I really needed a cut. I’m quick on the uptake, so I figured something was funky, but all my guy’s stuff was still there – including pictures of his grandkids. It’s like the place that time forgot. But you can’t escape time. It catches everyone. Finally the situation was clarified when a customer came in to pay his respects to the partner. My fears were confirmed: my guy was gone, his trusty clippers silenced. The Google found his obituary. Logically I know death completes the circle of life, and no one can escape. Not even my barber. Truth be told, I was kind of sad. But I probably shouldn’t be. Barber-man lived a good life. He cut hair for decades and enjoyed it. He did real estate as well. He got a new truck every few years, so the shop must have provided OK. He’d talk about his farm, which kept him busy. I can’t say I knew him well, but I’m going to miss him. So out of respect I wait and then sit in the partner’s chair. Interestingly enough he gave me a great cut, even though I was covered in hair without the Flowbee. I was thinking I’d have to find a new guy, but maybe I’ll stick with partner-man. Guess there is a new barber-man in town. Godspeed Richard. Enjoy the next leg of your journey. -Mike Photo credits: “Barber Shop” originally uploaded by David Smith Incite 4 U Can I call you Dr. Hacker?: Very interesting analysis here by Ed Moyle about whether security should be visionary. Personally I don’t know what that means, because our job is to make sure visionary business leaders can do visionary things without having critical IP or private data show up on BitTorrent. But the end of the post on whether security will be innovation-driven (like product development), standards-driven, innovation-averse (like accounting), or standard-driven, innovation-accepting (like medicine) got me thinking. I think we’d like to think we’ll be innovation-driven, but ultimately I suspect we’ll end up like medicine. Everyone still gets sick (because the viruses adapt to our defenses), costs continue to skyrocket, and the government eventually steps in to make everything better. Kill me now, Dr. Hacker. – MR Learn clarity from the (PHP)Fog: One of the things that fascinates me about breaches (and most crisis events) is how the affected react. As I wrote about last week, most people do almost exactly the wrong thing. But as we face two major breaches within our industry, at RSA (“everyone pretend you don’t know what’s going on even though it’s glaringly obvious”), and Comodo (“we were the victim of a state-sponsored attack from Iran, not a teenager, we swear”); perhaps we should learn some lessons from PHPFog (“How We Got Owned by a Few Teenagers (and Why It Will Never Happen Again)”). Honesty is, by far, the best way to maintain the trust of your customers and the public. Especially when you use phrases like, “This was really naive and irresponsible of me.” Treat your customers and the public like adults, not my 2 year old. Especially when maintaining secrecy doesn’t increase their security. – RM MySQL PwNaGe: For the past few days, the news that has both a SQL injection vulnerability and a Cross Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability has been making the rounds. The vulnerabilities are not in the MySQL database engine, but in the site itself. Detailed information from the hacked site was posted on Full Disclosure last Sunday as proof. Appearently the MySQL team was alerted to the issue in January, and this looks like a case of “timely disclosure” – they could have taken the hack further if they wanted. Not much in takeaways from this other than SQL injection is still a leading attack vector and you should have quality passwords to help survive dictionary attacks in the aftermath of a breach. Still no word from Oracle, as there is no acknowledgement of the attack on I wonder if they will deploy a database firewall? – AL APT: The FUD goes on and on and on and on: I applaud Chris Eng’s plea for the industry to stop pushing the APT FUD at all times. He nails the fact that vendors continue to offer solutions to the APT because they don’t want to miss out when the “stop APT project” gets funded. The nebulous definition of APT helps vendors obfuscate the truth, and as Chris points out it frustrates many of us. Yes, we should call out vendors for

Read Post

Security Benchmarking, Going Beyond Metrics: Security Metrics (from 40,000 feet)

In our introduction to Security Benchmarking, Going Beyond Metrics, we spent some time defining metrics and pointing out that they have multiple consumers, which means we need to package and present the data to these different constituencies. As you’ll see, there is no lack of things to count. But in reality, just because you can count something doesn’t mean you should. So let’s dig a bit into what you can count. Disclaimers: we can only go so deep in a blog series. If you are intent on building a metrics program, you must read Andy Jaquith’s seminal work Security Metrics: Replacing Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. The book goes into great detail about how to build a security metrics program. The first significant takeaway is how to define a good security metric in the first place: Expressed as numbers Have one or more units of measure Measured in a consistent and objective way Can be gathered cheaply Have contextual relevance Contextual relevance tends to be the hard thing. As Andy says in his March 2010 security metrics article in Information Security magazine: “the metrics must help someone–usually the boss–make a decision about an important security or business issue.” That’s where most security folks tend to fall down, focusing on things that don’t matter, or drawing suspect conclusions from operational data. For example, generating a security posture rating from AV coverage won’t work well. Consensus Metrics We also need to tip our hats to the folks at the Center for Internet Security, who have published a good set of starter security metrics, built via their consensus approach. Also take a look at their QuickStart guide, which does a good job of identifying the process to implement a metrics program. Yes, consensus involves lowest common denominators, and their metrics are no different. But keep things in context: the CIS document provides a place to start, not the definitive list of what you should count. Taking a look at the CIS consensus metrics: Incident Management: Cost of incidents, Mean cost of incidents, Mean incident recovery cost, Mean time to incident discovery, Number of incidents, Mean time between security incidents, Mean time to incident recovery Vulnerability Management: Vulnerability scanning coverage, % systems with no severe vulnerabilities, Mean time to mitigate vulnerabilities, Number of known vulnerabilities, Mean cost to mitigate vulnerabilities Patch Management: Patch policy compliance, Patch management coverage, Mean time to patch, Mean cost to patch Configuration Management: % of configuration compliance, Configuration management coverage, current anti-malware compliance Change Management: Mean time to complete changes, % of changes with security review, % of changes with security exceptions Application security: # of applications, % of critical applications, Application risk access coverage, Application security testing coverage Financial: IT security spending as % of IT budget, IT security budget allocation Obviously there are many other types of information you can collect – particularly from your identity, firewall/IPS, and endpoint management consoles. Depending on your environment these other metrics may be important for operations. We just want to provide a rough sense of the kinds of metrics you can start with. For those gluttons for punishment who really want to dig in we have built Securosis Quant models that document extremely granular process maps and the associated metrics for Patch Management, Network Security Operations (monitoring/managing firewalls and IDS/IPS), and Database Security. We won’t claim all these metrics are perfect. They aren’t even supposed to be – nor are they all relevant to all organizations. But they are a place to start. And most folks don’t know where to start, so this is a good thing. Qualitative ‘Metrics’ I’m very respectful of Andy’s work and his (correct) position regarding the need for any metrics to be numbers and have units of measure. That said, there are some things that aren’t metrics (strictly speaking) but which can still be useful to track, and for benchmarking yourself against other companies. We’ll call these “qualitative metrics,” even though that’s really an oxymoron. Keep in mind that the actual numbers you get for these qualitative assessments isn’t terribly meaningful, but the trend lines are. We’ll discuss how to leverage these ‘metrics’/benchmarks later. But some context on your organization’s awareness and attitudes around security is critical. Awareness: % of employees signing acceptable use policies, % of employees taking security training, % of trained employees passing a security test, % of incidents due to employee error Attitude: % of employees who know there is a security group, % of employees who believe they understand threats to private data, % of employees who believe security hinders their job activities We know what you are thinking. What a load of bunk. And for gauging effectiveness you aren’t wrong. But any security program is about more than just the technical controls – a lot more. So qualitatively understanding the perception, knowledge, and awareness of security among employees is important. Not as important as incident metrics, so we suggest focusing on the technical controls first. But you ignore personnel and attitudes at your own risk. More than a few security folks have been shot down because they failed to pay attention to how they were perceived internally. Again, entire books have been written about security metrics. Our goal is to provide some ideas (and references) for you to understand what you can count, but ultimately what you do count depends on your security program and business imperatives. Next we will focus on how to collect these metrics systematically. Because without your own data, you can’t compare anything. Share:

Read Post

Totally Transparent Research is the embodiment of how we work at Securosis. It’s our core operating philosophy, our research policy, and a specific process. We initially developed it to help maintain objectivity while producing licensed research, but its benefits extend to all aspects of our business.

Going beyond Open Source Research, and a far cry from the traditional syndicated research model, we think it’s the best way to produce independent, objective, quality research.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed ‘live’ on the blog. Primary research is generally released in pieces, as a series of posts, so we can digest and integrate feedback, making the end results much stronger than traditional “ivory tower” research.
  • Comments are enabled for posts. All comments are kept except for spam, personal insults of a clearly inflammatory nature, and completely off-topic content that distracts from the discussion. We welcome comments critical of the work, even if somewhat insulting to the authors. Really.
  • Anyone can comment, and no registration is required. Vendors or consultants with a relevant product or offering must properly identify themselves. While their comments won’t be deleted, the writer/moderator will “call out”, identify, and possibly ridicule vendors who fail to do so.
  • Vendors considering licensing the content are welcome to provide feedback, but it must be posted in the comments - just like everyone else. There is no back channel influence on the research findings or posts.
    Analysts must reply to comments and defend the research position, or agree to modify the content.
  • At the end of the post series, the analyst compiles the posts into a paper, presentation, or other delivery vehicle. Public comments/input factors into the research, where appropriate.
  • If the research is distributed as a paper, significant commenters/contributors are acknowledged in the opening of the report. If they did not post their real names, handles used for comments are listed. Commenters do not retain any rights to the report, but their contributions will be recognized.
  • All primary research will be released under a Creative Commons license. The current license is Non-Commercial, Attribution. The analyst, at their discretion, may add a Derivative Works or Share Alike condition.
  • Securosis primary research does not discuss specific vendors or specific products/offerings, unless used to provide context, contrast or to make a point (which is very very rare).
    Although quotes from published primary research (and published primary research only) may be used in press releases, said quotes may never mention a specific vendor, even if the vendor is mentioned in the source report. Securosis must approve any quote to appear in any vendor marketing collateral.
  • Final primary research will be posted on the blog with open comments.
  • Research will be updated periodically to reflect market realities, based on the discretion of the primary analyst. Updated research will be dated and given a version number.
    For research that cannot be developed using this model, such as complex principles or models that are unsuited for a series of blog posts, the content will be chunked up and posted at or before release of the paper to solicit public feedback, and provide an open venue for comments and criticisms.
  • In rare cases Securosis may write papers outside of the primary research agenda, but only if the end result can be non-biased and valuable to the user community to supplement industry-wide efforts or advances. A “Radically Transparent Research” process will be followed in developing these papers, where absolutely all materials are public at all stages of development, including communications (email, call notes).
    Only the free primary research released on our site can be licensed. We will not accept licensing fees on research we charge users to access.
  • All licensed research will be clearly labeled with the licensees. No licensed research will be released without indicating the sources of licensing fees. Again, there will be no back channel influence. We’re open and transparent about our revenue sources.

In essence, we develop all of our research out in the open, and not only seek public comments, but keep those comments indefinitely as a record of the research creation process. If you believe we are biased or not doing our homework, you can call us out on it and it will be there in the record. Our philosophy involves cracking open the research process, and using our readers to eliminate bias and enhance the quality of the work.

On the back end, here’s how we handle this approach with licensees:

  • Licensees may propose paper topics. The topic may be accepted if it is consistent with the Securosis research agenda and goals, but only if it can be covered without bias and will be valuable to the end user community.
  • Analysts produce research according to their own research agendas, and may offer licensing under the same objectivity requirements.
  • The potential licensee will be provided an outline of our research positions and the potential research product so they can determine if it is likely to meet their objectives.
  • Once the licensee agrees, development of the primary research content begins, following the Totally Transparent Research process as outlined above. At this point, there is no money exchanged.
  • Upon completion of the paper, the licensee will receive a release candidate to determine whether the final result still meets their needs.
  • If the content does not meet their needs, the licensee is not required to pay, and the research will be released without licensing or with alternate licensees.
  • Licensees may host and reuse the content for the length of the license (typically one year). This includes placing the content behind a registration process, posting on white paper networks, or translation into other languages. The research will always be hosted at Securosis for free without registration.

Here is the language we currently place in our research project agreements:

Content will be created independently of LICENSEE with no obligations for payment. Once content is complete, LICENSEE will have a 3 day review period to determine if the content meets corporate objectives. If the content is unsuitable, LICENSEE will not be obligated for any payment and Securosis is free to distribute the whitepaper without branding or with alternate licensees, and will not complete any associated webcasts for the declining LICENSEE. Content licensing, webcasts and payment are contingent on the content being acceptable to LICENSEE. This maintains objectivity while limiting the risk to LICENSEE. Securosis maintains all rights to the content and to include Securosis branding in addition to any licensee branding.

Even this process itself is open to criticism. If you have questions or comments, you can email us or comment on the blog.