Why. Continuous. Security. Monitoring? [New Series]

Remember the old marketing tagline, “Get Ahead of the Threat?” It seems pretty funny now, doesn’t it? Given the kinds of attacks we are facing and attackers’ increasing sophistication, we never see the threats coming and being even marginally reactive seems like a pipe dream. The bad news is that it will not get easier any time soon. Don’t shoot the messenger, but understand that is the reality of today’s information security landscape. The behavior of most organizations over the past decade hasn’t helped, either. Most companies spend the bulk of their security budget on protective controls that have been proven over and over again to be ineffective. Part of this is due to compliance mandates for ancient technologies, but only very forward-thinking organizations have invested sufficiently in the detection and response aspects of their security programs. Unfortunately organizations become enlightened only after cleaning up major data breaches. For the unenlightened detection and response remain horribly under-resourced and underfunded. At the same time the US government has been pushing a “continuous monitoring” (CM) agenda on both military and civilian agencies to provide “situational awareness,” which is really just a fancy term for understanding what the hell is happening in your environment at any given time. The problem is that CM applies to a variety of operations disciplines in the public sector, and it doesn’t really mean ‘continuous’. CM is a good first step, but as with most first steps, too many organizations take it for the destination rather than the first step of a long journey. We have always strongly advocated security monitoring, and have published a ton of research on these topics, from our philosophical foundation: Monitor Everything, to our SIEM research: (Understanding and Selecting, SIEM Replacement). And don’t forget our process modeling of Network Security Operations, which is all about security monitoring. So we don’t need to be sold on the importance of security monitoring, but evidently the industry still needs to be convinced, given the continued failure of even large organizations to realize they must combine a strong set of controls with (at least) equally strong capabilities for detection, monitoring, and incident response. To complicate matters technology continues to evolve, which means the tools and processes for a comprehensive security monitoring look different than even 18 months ago, and they will look different again 18 months from now. So we are spinning up a series called Continuous Security Monitoring (CSM) to evaluate these advancements, fleshing out our definition of CSM and breaking down the decision points and technology platforms to provide this cornerstone of your security program. React Faster and Better We have gotten a lot of mileage from our React Faster and Better concept, which really just means you need to accept and plan for the reality that you cannot stop all attacks. Even more to the point (and potentially impacting your wallet), success is heavily determined by how quickly you detect attacks and how effectively you respond to them. We suggest you read that paper for a detailed perspective on what is involved in incident response – along with ideas on the organization, processes, and tools required to do it well. This series is not a rehash of that territory – instead it will help you assemble a toolkit (including both technology and process) to monitor your information assets to detect attacks more quickly and effectively. If you don’t understand the importance of this aspect of security, just consider that a majority of breaches (at least according to the latest Verizon Business Data Breach Report) continue to be identified by third parties, such as payment processors and law enforcement. That means organizations have no idea when they are compromised. And that is a big problem. Why CSM? We can groan all day and night about how behind the times the PCI-DSS remains, or how the US government has defined Continuous Monitoring. But attackers innovate and move much more quickly than regulation, and that is not going to change. So you need to understand these mandates for what they are: a low bar to get you moving toward a broader goal of continuous security monitoring. But before we take the security cynical approach and gripe about what’s wrong, let’s recognize the yeoman’s work already done to highlight the importance of monitoring to protecting information (data). Without PCI and the US government mandating security data aggregation and analysis we would still be spending most of our time evangelizing the need for even simplistic monitoring in the first place. The fact that we don’t is a testament to the industry’s ability to parlay a mandate into something productive. That said, if you are looking to solve security problems and identify advanced attackers, you need to go well beyond the mandates. This series will introduce what we call “Continuous Security Monitoring” and dig into the different sources of data you need to figure out how big your problem is. See what we did there? You have a problem and we won’t argue that – your success hinges on determining what has been compromised and for how long. As with all our research we will focus on tangible solutions that can be implemented now, while positioning yourself for future advances. We will make sure to discuss the technologies that enable Continuous Security Monitoring, and identify pitfalls to avoid as you progress. As a reminder, we develop our research using our Totally Transparent Research methodology to make sure that you all have an opportunity to let us know when we are right – and more importantly when we are wrong. Finally, we would like to thank Qualys, Tenable, and Tripwire for agreeing to potentially license the paper at the end of this process. After the July 4th holiday we will get going fast and furious. But no race cars will be harmed in the production of this series… Share:

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New Paper: Quick Wins with Website Protection Services

Simple website compromises can feel like crimes with no clear victims. Who cares if the Joey’s Bag of Donuts website gets popped? But that is not a defensible position any more. Attackers don’t just steal data from these websites – they also use them to host malware, command and control nodes, and proxies to defeat IP reputation systems. Even today, strange as it sounds, far too many websites have no protection at all. They are built on vulnerable technologies without a thought for securing critical data, and then let loose in a very hostile world. These sites are sitting ducks for script kiddies and organized crime. In this paper we took a step back to write about protecting websites using Security as a Service (SECaaS) offerings. We used our Quick Wins framework to focus on how Website Protection Services can protect web properties quickly and without fuss. Of course it’s completely valid to deploy and manage your own devices to protect your websites; but Mr. Market tells us every day that the advantages of an always-on, simple-to-deploy, and secure-enough service consistently win out over yet another complex device in the network perimeter. The landing page is in our Research Library. You can also download Quick Wins with Website Protection Services (PDF) directly. We would like to thank Akamai Technologies for licensing the content in this paper. Obviously we wouldn’t be able to do the research we do, or offer it to you folks for this most excellent price, without companies licensing our content. Share:

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Database Denial of Service: Attacks

Today’s post will discuss database denial of service attacks so later we can consider how to stop them. From the security researcher’s perspective I cannot help but be impressed by the diversity of database DoS attacks. Many such attacks are pretty dumb – they seem to be written by a person who does not understand SQL, writing horrible queries that are the opposite of efficient. Some exploits are so simple – yet clever – that we are amazed the targeted vulnerability was not found in quality assurance tests. But dumb or not, these attacks are effective. For example you could start a couple different searches on a website, choose a very broad list of values, and hit ‘search’. The backend relational system starts to look at every record in every table, chewing up memory and waiting for slow disk reads. Let’s look more closely at a couple different classes of denial of service attacks: Abuse of Functions The abuse of database functions is, by my count of reported vulnerabilities related to DoS, the single most common type of database DoS attack. There have been hundreds, and it seems like no externally accessible feature is safe. This class of attack is a bit like competitive judo: as you shift your weight in one direction, your opponent pushes you in the same direction to make you lose your balance and fall over. A judo expert will use your weight against you, just like an attacker uses database features against you. For example, if you implement restrictions on failed logins attackers may try bad passwords until they lock all legitimate users out. If you implement services to automatically scale up to handle user requests attackers can scale the database up until it collapses under its own weight, or the bill becomes ruinous, or you hit a billing threshold and service is shut down. There is no single attack vector, but there is a whole range of ways to misuse database features. This class of attacks is essentially an attacker getting a database function to misbehave. Typically it occurs when a database command confuses the database, the query parser, or a sub-function enough to lock up or crashes. Relational databases are complex gestalts of many interdependent processes, so the loss of a single service can often cause the entire database to grind to a halt. One example is an attacker sending malformed Remote Procedure Calls, incomprehensible to the parser, which cause it to simply stop. Malformed XML and TDS calls have been used the same way, as well as SNMP queries. Pretty much every database communication protocol has, at one time or another, been fooled or subverted by requests that are formatted correctly but violate the expectations of the database developers in some way that causes a problem. SQL injection is the best known type of functional abuse: SQL strings are bound into a variable passed to the database, so the database processes a very different query than was expected. SQLi is not typically associated with DoS – it is more often employed as a first step in a database takeover because most attackers want to control the database but don’t want to be detected, but it SQL injection works and is used in both ways. Back to judo: every feature you have can be used against you. Complex Queries Complex queries are an attack class that works by giving the database too much work to do. Attackers find the most resource-intensive process accessible, and kick off a few dozen requests. Computed columns and views: Computed columns are virtual columns, typically created from the results of a query, and usually stored in memory. A view is a virtual table, the contents of which are also derived from a query. If the query selects a large amount of data the results occupy a large space in memory. And if the column or view is based on a complex query, it requires significant processing power to create. Exposure of computed columns and views has been the source of database DoS attacks in the past, with attackers continually refreshing views to slow down the database. Nested queries & recursion: Recursion is when a program calls itself; each time it recreates declared parameters or variables in memory. A common attack is to place a recursive call within a cursor FOR loop; after a few thousand iterations the database runs out of cursors or memory and comes to a halt. The IN operator: This operator tests whether a supplied variable matches any value within a set. The operation itself is very slow – even if the number of values to be compared is small. An attacker can inject the IN operator into a query to compare a large set of values against a variable that never matches. This is also called the snowflake search because it is like attempting to match two unique snowflakes, but the database continues to search regardless. Cartesian products and joins: The JOIN operation combines rows from two or more tables. A cartesian product is the sum of all rows from all tables specified in the FROM clause. Queries which calculate cartesian products on a few large tables generate huge result sets – possibly as large as the entire database. Any operations on a cartesian product can overwhelm a database. User defined functions: Similar to computed columns and views, any user-defined function gives an attacker carte blanche to abuse the database with whatever query they choose. Attackers leverage any of the above complex queries. Attackers attempt to exploit any complex query they can access. All these abuses are predicated on the attacker being able to inject SQL into some part of the database or abuse legitimate instances of complex operations. A couple complex queries running in parallel are enough to consume the majority of a database platform’s resources, badly slowing or completely stopping the database. Bugs and Defects Attackers exploit defects by targeting a specific weakness or bug in the database. To succeed the attacker needs to know or guess the type of database in use, and must know or learn of a weakness in code or design that can

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Incite 7/3/2013: Independence

During the week of July 4th in the US we cannot help but think about independence. First of all, it’s a great excuse for a party and BBQ, right? To celebrate our escape from the tyranny of rulers from a far-off land, we eat and drink beer until we want to puke, and blow up fireworks made in other far-off lands. Being serious for a moment (but only a moment, we promise), independence means a lot of things to a lot of people, and now is a good time to revisit what it means to you, and make sure your choices reflect your beliefs. With the recent media frenzy around Snowden and NSA surveillance, many folks are questioning how the government justifies their actions under the heading of defending independence. Lots of folk aren’t sure which presents a greater threat to our independence – the bad guys or the government. Regardless of which side of that fence you take, folks in the US at least have an opportunity to discuss and exercise our rights to maintain that independence. Many folks, in many countries, take to the streets in protest every day, fighting like hell to get half the rights Americans have. So as you slug down your tenth beer on Thursday, keep that in mind. The truth is that I don’t really think much about those macro issues. I’m one of the silly few who still appreciate that living in the US affords me opportunities I couldn’t readily get elsewhere. I choose to be thankful that the founding fathers had the stones to fight for this country, and the foresight to put in place a system that has held up pretty well for a couple hundred years. Is it perfect? No, nothing is. But compared to the other options it is definitely okay. I struggle to be optimistic about most things, but I’m pretty optimistic about the opportunities ahead of me, and I’ll be drinking to that on Thursday. And I may even drink some American beer for good measure. But independence has a different context in my day-to-day life. I spend a lot of my time ensuring my kids grow up as independent, productive members of society. Whether that means leading by example by showing them a strong work ethic, providing for their needs (and my kids want for nothing), or helping them navigate today’s tech-enabled social-media-obsessed reality, the more we can prepare them for the real world the less unsettling their path to adulthood will be. That’s why we send them away to camp each year. Sure it’s fun (as I described last week), but it also allows them to learn independence before they are really independent. A side benefit is that the Boss and I get a few weeks of independence from the day-to-day challenges of being actively engaged parents. I’m not sure what the Founding Fathers would have thought about sending their kids away to camp (although I’m sure the political pundits on cable news has an idea – they know what the founders would have thought about everything), and I don’t much care. It works for us. And with that it is time to head down to see the Braves scalp the Marlins tonight. Summer camp isn’t only for kids. –Mike Photo credit: “Independence Mine State Park” originally uploaded by Kwong Yee Cheng Heavy Research We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, where you can get all our content in its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too. Database Denial of Service Introduction API Gateways Key Management Developer Tools Access Provisioning Security Enabling Innovation Security Analytics with Big Data Deployment Issues Integration New Events and New Approaches Use Cases Introduction Newly Published Papers Email-based Threat Intelligence: To Catch a Phish Network-based Threat Intelligence: Searching for the Smoking Gun Understanding and Selecting a Key Management Solution Building an Early Warning System Implementing and Managing Patch and Configuration Management Incite 4 U (Certified) content is king: Mozilla’s new mixed content blocker feature rolled out with the beta release of Firefox version 23. The feature provides three basic advantages: content privacy, man-in-the-middle (MitM) protection, and multi-site validation. It provides these capabilities by forcing HTTP to HTTPS and validating site certificates. All content is encrypted, and provided the site certs are valid, you get reasonable assurance that you are connected to your intended site. Content from non-HTTPS sources is ignored. I am one of the last at Securosis who continues to use Firefox as my primary browser. It has a bunch of weird usability anomalies but I find my combination of basic features and security extensions (NoScript, Ghostery, & 1Password) indispensable. – AL You must tuna SIEM: Yes, that is a lame play on the REO Speedwagon album (You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish), but Xavier’s point “Out of the Box” SIEM? Never is right on the money. These tools need tuning, period. Xavier “… demonstrate[s] that a good SIEM must be one deployed for your devices and applications by you and for your business!” It cannot be generic – the out-of-the-box stuff provides a starting point but requires substantial work to be operational and useful in your environment. Xavier even includes screen shots and pokes fun at built-in compliance reports. One-click PCI reports? Not so much. This post is full of win! But don’t lose sight of the point. Monitoring out of the box is not very useful. Just dealing with the noise would be a full-time gig. So make sure that any planned deployment has adequate time and resources allocated to tuna SIEM. Unless you want some more very expensive shelfware. – MR Spurn the scumbag, update the law: Over the past twenty or thirty years technology has moved so rapidly, and changed society so fundamentally, that our laws haven’t come close to keeping up. The problem is exacerbated by lobbying efforts and elected officials and aides who lack the fundamental knowledge

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