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Monday, December 14, 2015

Threat Detection Evolution [New Paper]

By Mike Rothman

Most organizations have realized that threat prevention has limitations, so we have seen renewed focus on threat detection. But like most other security markets, the term threat detection has been distorted to cover almost everything. So we figure it’s time to clarify what threat detection is and how it is evolving to deal with advanced attacks, sophisticated adversaries, and limited resources.

TDE Cover

From the paper:

Not to worry – we haven’t become the latest security Chicken Little, warning everyone that the sky is falling. Mostly because it fell a long time ago, and we have been picking up the pieces ever since. It can be exhausting to chase alert after alert, never really knowing which are false positives and which indicate real active adversaries in your environment. Something has to change. We need to advance the practice of detection, to provide better and more actionable alerts. This requires thinking more broadly about detection, and starting to integrate the various different security monitoring systems in use today.

Our Threat Detection Evolution paper starts by reviewing security data collection, including both internal and external data sources that can facilitate detection efforts. Next we discuss how to use that data ti reliably figure out what is an attack. We wrap up by going through th process, using a quick wins scenario to show the concepts in action.

We would like to thank AlienVault for licensing the content in this paper. Our unique Totally Transparent Research model allows us to do objective and useful research and still make ends meet, so you should thank them too.

The landing page for the paper is here. Direct download: Threat Detection Evolution (PDF)

—Mike Rothman

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Building Security Into DevOps [New Paper]

By Adrian Lane

We are pleased to announce the launch of our latest research paper, on Building Security Into DevOps. We expect DevOps to fundamentally change the practice of software development over the next decade, and with it how we handle application security.

From the report:

The following graphic reflects our conversations, with development and security practitioners, on where they are successfully deploying security testing tools in a DevOps framework. The callouts map the types of tests being conducted at specific phases of CI & CD. Keep in mind that it’s early days for DevOps and the orchestration of security tools – basically what works where – is far from settled. More importantly, many security tools were built before these concepts of rapid and automated deployment existed; older products are too slow, some could not focus their tests on new code, and still others did not offer API support. Which is another way of saying not all tools are created equal, so you’ll need to evaluate for both performance and API integration capabilities as well as code coverage capabilities.

Security Integration

A special thanks to Veracode for licensing this content. As usual everything was written completely independently, using our Totally Transparent Research process. It is only thanks to licenses that we are able to give this research away free.

You can download a free copy of the white paper in our research library, or grab a copy directly: Building Security Into DevOps (PDF).

—Adrian Lane

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Incite 12/9/2015: Looking Backwards

By Mike Rothman

As a guy who pretty much always looks forward, I still find it useful at the end of each calendar year to look backwards and evaluate where I am in life and what (if anything) I want to focus on in the coming year. 2015 has been a very interesting year, both personally and professionally. I’m at an age where transformation happens, and that has been a real focus for me. I’ve spent a long time evaluating every aspect of my life and making changes, some small and some very significant. Trying to navigate those changes gracefully requires focus and effort.

From a business perspective, it’s a pretty good time to be in the security industry. You have seen a slowdown in our blog activity over the past couple months because our business continues to evolve and we’ve been doing a lot more work out of the public eye. We’ve been called in to do a lot more strategic advisory, and we’re even starting to do security architecture work for some enterprise organizations, typically around cloud initiatives.

We’re also increasingly being called into diligence efforts for companies considering acquisitions, and investors considering putting large sums of money to work in this space. These are pretty intense gigs and that usually means more external projects lag a bit. We also aren’t sure how long the good times will continue to roll, so we usually jump on diligence projects.

Emu

Personally, suffice it to say things are substantially different for me, though I’m not going to go into detail at this point. Different is scary for most people, but I’ve always embraced change, so my challenge is more about having the patience to let the world around me adapt. My kids continue to amaze me with how they are growing into fantastic people, and this past year they’ve navigated new schools and additional workload with minimum drama and angst. You can’t entirely avoid drama and angst (not as a teenager anyway), but their Mom and I are proactive about making them aware of the drama.

Physically I’m still working my program, running two half marathons and continuing my yoga practice. I’m making many new friends who provide different perspectives on life, and I’ve been able to fulfill a need for social activity I didn’t even know I had. As I look back at 2015, I realize that the signs of significant disruption were there both personally and professionally. It has been a long road, and I finally feel that my world is opening up and I’m moving toward my potential, away from my self-imposed limitations.

I’m really excited for what’s next. All is see ahead is blue sky. As I wrap up the Incite next week, I’ll ruminate a little into what the path ahead looks like.

–Mike

Photo credit: “Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) looking backwards at Auckland Zoo” from Wikimedia Commons


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


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, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Building Security into DevOps

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. R marks the spot: NetworkWorld ran a great article examining how the Verizon Data Breach report folks use R to do the analysis and generate the charts in their widely read report. I personally haven’t played with statistical programs since I was in college, but there is an increasing need for math people (although we call them data scientists now) to perform the analysis to mine through all of that security data and figure out what’s going on. I tell many younger folks, who ask what they should focus on, to dust off their programming/scripting skills – security automation is coming. The other thing I now suggest is for the math-inclined to study a lot more statistics and get to know these kinds of tools. The future is here and it seems to require math (so says the writer). – MR

  2. Pre-owned: If you’re wondering how the credit card you just got two weeks ago already got popped, here is on possible answer. Samy Kamkar demonstrated that AmEx-based new card numbers are predictably generated from the previous numbers allowing crackers to guess the number of the next card they issue you. If you’re an application developer, this is why you need to be careful with sequence generators – they tend to leak information attackers can (and do) exploit. This attack does not compromise the CVV, and other protections are embedded in credit card magstripes, but there are enough cracks in the credit card ecosystem for attackers to trick terminals with bogus card-present transactions. And if history repeats itself, it will only take one phony transaction to trigger an AmEx card re-issue, so you’ll get to re-enter your next number at the dozen or so websites you use. Again. – AL

  3. Keep your enemies closer… Running a big business can be messy at times, and it seems it’s tough to scale ethics. I can’t say I’m surprised to hear that Walmart spies on the employees who advocate for change and agitate its workforce. I’m also not surprised they hired Lockheed to run their intelligence gathering program. I am a bit surprised they got FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force help, but I guess they made the case that they were worried about a terrorist strike against a store. And that’s how a lot of surveillance is justified. It’s about knowing before something bad happens. I don’t know that there is a clear answer, because most folks gladly will cede privacy for a perception of security. Of course, as we’ve seen all too frequently, any sense of personal security is a myth. And as we in the security industry know, computer security is a myth as well. I guess the only thing to accept is that Big Brothers are watching. And yes, that’s intentionally plural. – MR

  4. Payments for nothin’, chips for free: Speaking of cracks in the payment system: University College London researchers are reporting an uptick of card present fraud, specifically with Chip and PIN cards. It seems hackers are using stolen cards with embedded EMV chips, without their PIN codes. So to perpetrate the fraud the attacker forces the terminal into a “referral mode” where the merchant transmits the code from the PIN pad. But the attacker has possession of the terminal to enter their secret PIN while the alternative authorization occurs. To add insult to injury, it seems no one ever tested this procedure – because transactions are accepted even with bogus authorization codes. Security! It’s amazing that so many financial processes seem to lack any kind of threat modeling prior to rollout, as we also saw with the banks’ failure to vet cards in the so-called “Apple Pay Hack”, and Starbucks mobile account takeovers with automatic replenishment. This is threat modeling 101. This attack should be short-lived – whether prevented with payment terminal patches or mitigated through merchant employee training. – AL

  5. Attacks never go away either: We joke as security professionals that we can never get rid of a control – we just keep adding to the mix. Go into your telecom room and check out the link encryptors if you don’t believe me. It seems old attack kits never go away either. Peter Stephenson assembled information from a bunch of sources to show that NEK (Nuclear Exploit Kit) is back. This shouldn’t be a surprise – folks are inherently lazy. Unless you are doing something totally novel (like StuxNet), why wouldn’t you use stuff that already exists as a starting point. We do that in development now (just ask your developers to list the external and open source libraries they use in an app), we do it with monitoring (leveraging existing patterns), and we recycle pretty much everywhere. Why wouldn’t attackers do the same? Peter’s conclusions (use multiple AV products, LOL) are suspect, but if most attacks seem familiar it’s because they are. – MR

—Mike Rothman

2015 Wrap Up and 2016 Non-Predictions

By Rich

Rich, Mike, and Adrian highlight the big trends from the year and where our expectations were right and wrong. We teeter on the brink of predictions, but manage to pull ourselves back from falling into that chasm of idiocy. Mostly.

We cover a fair bit of ground, but the main trends are the weirdnesses on the investment and M&A side of the security industry, breaches, the faster than expected adoption of cloud computing, and the changing regulatory environment.

This is likely our last Firestarter for the year, and our posting volume will be lower as we all cram in those last few projects. We sincerely want to thank everyone watching and reading for your continued support. It lets us try out best to “do good work” while feeding our families. We are a very lucky band over here.

Watch or listen:


—Rich

Friday, December 04, 2015

Summary: Surviving the Holidays

By Adrian Lane

With the holidays upon us, and the weather in Phoenix at that optimal temperature of 50F warmer than wherever people come from, the migration has begun. The snowbirds are back in Phoenix. And all my relatives want to visit. All pretty much at the same time. As I write this I am recovering from 20 contiguous days of four different groups of friends and relatives staying at my home. Overlapping, I might add. And it was glorious – it was great to see each and every one of them – but I heaved a great sigh of relief when the last party got onto a plane and flew back home. I think I have baked, roasted, toasted, and barbecued every type of food I know how to cook. I’ve been a tour guide across the state – twice over – showing off every interesting place within a three-hour drive. Today’s summary is a toast to all of you who survived Thanksgiving – I am thankful for many things, and I am also thankful this holiday is only once a year.


Paul Ford has a thoughtful piece called I Dreamed of a Perfect Database. It nails down the evolutionary track of many of us, who have long straddled the database and software development worlds. As our needs changed there were grass-roots projects to make new types of databases – that did, well, whatever the heck we needed them to do. Cheaper and faster. More data, or maybe more types of data, or maybe a single specific type of data with functions optimized for it. There were some that performed analytics or cube analysis, and some that offered lightning fast in-memory lookups or graph data. We got self-healing, self-organizing, self-indexing clouds of data nodes, with whatever the heck we wanted sitting on top of them. When the Internet boom hit, Oracle was the database of choice. During this last cloudburst we got 250 flavors of NoSQL. But Paul’s dream is getting closer to reality. When you assemble Hadoop with a stack of add on modules, namely Apache Spark, you get pretty close. Want SQL? OK, you can have it. Or MapReduce. Deep analytics or memory-resident lookups. You want it, you can have it.

The point is that the demands on databases will always be in flux. Performance and scalability have always been core needs, but how we want to use data will continue to morph. The current generation of databases, typically based off Hadoop, are veritable Swiss Army knives, to be formed and customized as we need them. There has never been a better time to be a database developer!


If you run a bug bounty program you know there is a lot more to it than Most people consider when they start. Randy Westergren’s post on his experience with the United Airlines Bug Bounty Program offers some insight into what can happen. For example, when multiple researchers find the same critical flaw, the researchers who do not get paid can – and likely will – go public. Sure, this is bad behavior by the researcher. Your legal team can try to stop it, but you need to plan for this situation before it comes up. Second, it is amazing to me that what in-house developers consider a suitably fast release date for vulnerabilities; but it is often totally unacceptable to the research community. Both are developers by nature, but to one party three months is lightning fast. The other considers that criminally dangerous. You’ll need to set expectations going in. United Airlines was communicative, but in today’s world six months to patch is an eternity. Virtual patching techniques, API gateways, and Continuous Deployment techniques allow many organizations to deal with these issues far more quickly. A bug bounty program is a great way to leverage the community of experts to help you find flaws your in-house team might never discover, but you need to have this effort fully planned out before you start.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

—Adrian Lane

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Incite 12/2/2015: Grateful Habits

By Mike Rothman

A week ago most folks in the US were in food comas from the Thanksgiving feast. Of course this is a great time of year to be grateful for what you have. Whether it’s family, health, work, or anything else. This morning I got a great reminder that expressing gratitude is a habit, which requires daily work – especially for security people.

I was doing a speaking gig for a client in Atlanta, and I ran into an old friend who traveled in for the seminar. We were catching up and he mentioned how busy he was and that it was a bit overwhelming. I jumped right in because we at Securosis are pretty busy ourselves. But then I got a flash of awareness and decided I had to break the cycle. I specifically asked whether he remembered 10 years ago when no one cared about security?

I certainly do. A lot of you (like Rich, Adrian, and myself) did security before security was cool. You remember talking to blank stares when evangelizing the importance of security. You remember cleaning the same malware off the same person’s device, over and over again, because they just couldn’t understand why they can’t click ads on questionable sites. You also remember looking for a new job when the senior team needed a scapegoat after yet another breach, after they didn’t listen to what you said the first time.

It’s a different situation now. Many folks still don’t understand what they need to do, but they don’t really argue about the importance of security any more. Most of us have a bigger issue finding talent to fill open positions, rather than making the case for why any security people are needed. These are things to be grateful for.

It turns out that a little gratitude leads to a lot. So if you have any interest, don’t just think about being thankful around the holidays. Start the day by making a list of 2 or 3 things you are grateful for every day. It’s hard to get into the right mindset to get things done, when you wake up overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that needs to get done. So break that cycle too. Think about what’s working in your life. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just a little thing. Take a small step toward feeling gratitude every day.

I do this consistently, every day. It puts me in the right frame of mind. I’m thankful for so many things, but none more than the habits I have established over the past few years, which have made a huge difference in my life.

–Mike


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


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, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Building Security into DevOps

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. Can security be fixed? Is it broken? I’ve gotta send a hat tip to my friend Don, who pointed out this article on TechCrunch explaining how Humility, Accountability And Creative Thinking Can Fix IT Security. Really? A lot of the security folks I know are pretty humble and creative. It’s not like they sit around and talk about how great they are while the city is burning. But aside from the clickbait title, there are some decent points in that post. I especially like the idea of killing silver bullet syndrome. There is no single answer for dealing with sophisticated adversaries. I also agree that security will need to evolve as the cloud and mobility continue to take root. Inflection anyone? The article also points out the need to share information, and that’s all about Threat Intelligence. But I still push back on the contention that security is broken. It’s not broken, because that supposes that it can be fixed. I posit that you don’t win security – you just survive to fight another day. – MR

  2. Student jobs: It appears the FBI is funding security vulnerability research; not for bug bounties, but to conduct surveillance. Recently they paid University students to hack Tor networks so they could inspect Tor traffic and de-anonymize Tor users. The FBI’s disclosed target could have been tracked financially, and Tor offers law enforcement other means to locate users, which implies (shockingly) their goal was something more than they disclosed. The problem is that they used the same techniques legitimate security researchers use to find flaws – efforts which the FBI is more known for prosecuting than for sponsoring. So we come back to the sad fact that some folks in law enforcement think the rules are importang, but don’t apply to them. – AL

  3. Volunteering to get started in security: Recently I highlighted a great article from Lesley Carhart about getting started in infosec. Given the skills gap, all the help we can offer interested parties who want to join us in security is welcome. So check out this interview with Ron Woerner on Michael Santarcangelo’s blog. Ron points out the Catch-22 that security jobs demand experience, but most entry-level folks have no way to get it. Ron suggests volunteering on open source projects or with local organizations, such as schools and religious organizations. Maybe even your doctor’s or dentist’s office. Ron also suggests reading. A lot. He’s right – there are so many talks and so much content out there free, that anyone can familiarize themselves with the practice. Of course nothing replaces the experience of screwing things up, so reading isn’t enough. But these are all good ways to get onto the path of security ‘bliss’. LOL. – MR

  4. Delusional: The claim that Snowden’s leaks contributed to the Paris bombings is so outrageous I thought at first I would not comment on it at all. But in our daily jobs, helping firms deploy encryption, I realize how few communications – email, voice, data, text messages. etc. – are actually encrypted even after we learned mass surveillance is a reality. I have used encryption on and off during my professional career for both personal and professional communications. Most of the time I have used encryption during the development phases of new encryption, key management, and PRNG modules to protect us from both eavesdropping and code tampering. But even most paranoids like myself don’t use it most of the time, because it is too hard to use except for the most sensitive communications. But after the Snowden revelations I am still surprised how little of our critical infrastructure is encrypted and private. But maybe I shouldn’t be. – AL

  5. Screwing up is part of the process: Fahmida posted a pretty entertaining article on 10 dumb security mistakes that sys admins make. It’s mostly simple stuff like using sudo and making changes as root. I mean, the list is the list, and dumb mistakes are made all day, every day. My point is that screwing up is an integral part of learning security. Those with a future in this practice mess things up all the time. They try stuff. They hack together solutions to problems no one has ever seen, and sometimes they work. But often they don’t. That’s part of the learning process, and as security folks we always need to be learning. So don’t stigmatize mistakes – embrace them. Just don’t make the same mistakes more than once. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Friday, November 20, 2015

Summary: Boy in the Bubble

By Rich

I’m going to write a fairly innocuous opening to this week’s Friday Summary, despite the gravity of current events. Because some things are best dealt with… not now, and not here.

It’s November 19th as I write this. A week until Thanksgiving, and less than a week until we take a family vacation (don’t worry, one of our relatives stays at our place when we are gone, the advantage of living near in-laws and having the fastest Internet connection in the family). I’m not really sure how that happened, since I’m fairly certain I just took our Christmas lights down a few weeks ago.

When we get back from the trip it will be exactly ten days until Star Wars comes out. At this point some of you are possibly a tad worried about my mental state (especially if the movie sucks) and the depth of my obsession. But based on the private emails, some of you put my to shame. I just happen to have a publishing platform.

Last week I actually engaged my filter bubble. I stopped reading certain news sites, fast forwarded through the commercials on television, and skipped the Japanese trailer with extra footage. That last official trailer was so perfect I don’t have any compelling need to see anything except the film itself. It set the tone, it built the trust, and now it all comes down to the final execution.

Filter bubbles are interesting anomalies. We most often see the term used in a negative way, as people create feedback loops to only reinforce their existing opinions. This isn’t merely a political manifestation, it’s one with profound professional effects, especially in risk and research related fields. It’s one of the first characteristics I look for in a security professional – is a person able to see things outside their existing frames of reference? Can they recognize contradictory information and mentally adjust their models?

For example, “cloud is less secure”. Start with that assumption and you fail to see the security advantages. Or “cloud is always more secure”, which also isn’t true. If you start on either side there is a preponderance of evidence to support your position, especially if you filter out the contradictory data. Or “the truth is somewhere in between”, which is probably true, but it’s rarely dead center, which people tend to assume.

Filter bubbles can be positive, used properly. One of the first things you learn as an emergency responder, at least if you are going to be halfway decent, is how to filter out the things that don’t matter. For example, the loudest patient is usually a low priority. You need a certain amount of energy to scream and it proves you have a good pulse and respirations. It’s the quiet ones you need to worry about.

Same for security. We all know how easy it is to become totally overwhelmed with the flood of data and priorities we face every day. The trick is to pick a place to start, iterate through, and adapt when needed. No, it certainly isn’t easy, but analysis paralysis is a real thing.

My Star Wars filter might not last until December 17th, but I’ll certainly make the effort. Besides, I’ll probably be too busy playing Star Wars: Battlefront on my Xbox to pay attention to pesky things like “the news”, “work”, or “eating”.

Although we’ve been writing more recently, with the holidays kicking in publishing will be more sporadic for a while due to vacations and end of year client work. Thanks, as always, for sticking with us.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to Dewight, in response to Cloud Security Best Practice: Limit Blast Radius with Multiple Accounts.

Since one looses the ability to centrally manage the accounts with this practice, can you give an example of how to use automation? In particular for a highly decentralized organization that has a very large IT presents.

See the post’s comments for my reply…

—Rich

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cloud Security Best Practice: Limit Blast Radius with Multiple Accounts

By Rich

This is one of those ideas that I’m pretty sure I picked up on while either at a presentation or working with a client, but I honestly can’t remember where I first heard it. That said, it’s become one of my absolutely essential cloud security recommendations for years now. It’s also a great example of using the cloud for security advantage, rather than getting hung up on the differences.

I do know that I first heard the term blast radius from Shannon Lietz over at DevSecOps.org.

Here’s the concept:

  • Accounts at each cloud provider are completely segregated and isolated from each other. That is a core capability for multitenancy. It’s also the kind of thing a cloud provider can’t screw up if they want to stay in business.
  • There is nothing limiting you from buying multiple accounts from a cloud provider. Heck, that’s sometimes kind of the problem, since any old employee (especially those developers) can sign up with nothing more than an email address and a credit card.
  • Some cloud providers allow you to communicate across accounts. This is usually pretty restrictive, and both sides need to set it up, and only for very specific things. But these ‘things’ can include cross-connecting networks, migrating storage, or sharing other assets.
  • Super admin (root) accounts are distinct for each account, and can’t be bridged.
  • Thus you can use cloud provider accounts to segregate your environments! This seriously limits the blast radius of any security events, since there’s no way to bridge between accounts except those specific connections you allow.
    • Use of multiple accounts is often an operational best practice anyway.

I currently recommend multiple accounts per project for different environments (e.g. dev/test/prod/sec_monitoring). For me this started as a way to limit administrator activity. You can allow developers full admin access in their dev environment, but lock things down in test, and then lock them out completely in production. DevOps techniques can handle moving code and updates across environments.

But talking with admins who manage much larger environments than I do emphasized how powerful this is in limiting security incidents. Some companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts. If something bad happens, they blow the entire account away and build it from scratch. Clearly you need to be using automation and immutable infrastructure to pull this off.

But think about the advantages. Every project is isolated. Heck, every environment is isolated. It makes it nearly impossible for an attacker to move laterally. This makes network segregation look passe.

What’s the downside?

  • This is much harder to manage, since there is no centralization.
  • It absolutely relies on automation.
  • You need to be super careful with your automation, so that doesn’t become the single point of failure.
  • Not all cloud providers support it.

I don’t know any large-scale cloud operations that haven’t eventually ended up with this approach. Even most new cloud projects on a smaller scale start this way, purely for operational reasons, if they use any kind of continuous delivery/deployment (DevOps).

Think of accounts as disposable, because they are.

—Rich

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Blame Game

By Rich

Get hacked? Blame China. Miss a quarter? Blame China. Serve malware to everyone visiting your site? Don’t take responsibility, just blame your anti-ad-blocking vendor. Or China. Or both. Look, we really can’t keep track of these things, but in this episode Mike and Rich talk about the lack of accountability in our industry (and other industries). One warning… a particular analogy goes a little too far. Maybe we need the explicit tag on this one.

Watch or listen:


—Rich

Friday, November 13, 2015

Summary: Refurbished

By Rich

The grout in my shower isn’t merely cracking, it’s starting to flake out in chunks, backed by the mildew it spent years defending from my cleansing assaults. Our hallway walls downstairs are streaked like the protective concrete edges around a NASCAR track. Black, gray, and red marks left behind from hundreds of minor impacts with injection-molded plastic vehicles. The carpet in our family room, that little section between the sliding glass door to our patio and the kitchen, looks like it misses its cousins at the airport.

In other words, our house isn’t new anymore.

This is the second home I have owned. Well, it’s the second home a bank has owned with my name attached to it. The first was an older condo back in Boulder, but this is the house my wife and I custom ordered after we ere married.

I still have the pictures we took the day we moved in, before we filled the space with our belongings and furniture. Plus all the minor things that lay waste to the last of your post-home disposable income, like window treatments and light fixtures. It was clean. It was exciting. A box of wood and drywall, filled with the future.

That was about 9 years ago. A year before I left Gartner, and near when I started Securosis as a blog. Since then the house isn’t the only thing that’s a little rougher around the edges. Take me, for instance. I’m running a little light on hair, some days I can barely read my Apple Watch, and I’ve never recovered the upper body strength I lost after that rotator cuff surgery. I won’t even mention the long-term effects of a half-decade of sleep deprivation, thanks to having three kids in four years.

Even Securosis shows its age. Despite our updates and platform migrations, I know the time is coming when I will finally need to break down and do a full site refresh. Somehow without losing 90 research papers and 19,000 blog posts. No, those aren’t typos. We also haven’t seen significant blog comments since Twitter entered the scene, and while we know a ton of people read our work, the nature of engagement is different. But that’s fine – it’s the nature of things.

We are busy. Busier than ever since my personal blog first transformed into a company. And the nature of the work is frankly the most compelling of my career. We don’t really write as much, although we still write more than anyone else short of full-time news publications.

Pretty soon I need to have the house painted, fix some cracking drywall, and replace some carpet. This house isn’t full of potential anymore – it’s full of life. It’s busy, messy, and sometimes broken. That only means it’s well used. So the next time you find a blog post with a broken image, or our stupid comment system snaps, drop us a line. We aren’t new, exciting, or shiny anymore, but sure as hell we still get shit done. Even if it takes an extra week or so.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

—Rich

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Critical Security Capabilities for Cloud Providers

By Rich

Between teaching classes and working with clients, I spend a fair bit of time talking about particular cloud providers. The analyst in me never wants to be biased, but the reality is there are big differences in terms of capabilities, and some of them matter.

Throwing out all the non-security differentiators, when you look at cloud providers for enterprises there are some critical security capabilities you need for security and compliance. Practically speaking, these quickly narrow down your options.

My criteria are more IaaS-focused, but it should be obvious which also apply to PaaS and SaaS:

  • API/admin logging: This is the single most important compliance control, a critical security control, and the single biggest feature gap for even many major providers. If there isn’t a log of all management activity, ideally including that by the cloud provider itself, you never really know what’s happening with your assets. Your only other options are to constantly snapshot your environment and look for changes, or run all activity through a portal and still figure out a way to watch for activity outside that portal (yes, people really do that sometimes).
  • Elasticity and autoscaling: If it’s an IaaS provider and it doesn’t have autoscaling, run away. That isn’t the cloud. If it’s a PaaS or SaaS provider who lacks elasticity (can’t scale cleanly up or down to what you need), keep looking. For IaaS this is a critical capability because it enables immutable servers, which are one of the cloud’s best security benefits. For IaaS and PaaS it’s more of a non-security advantage.
  • APIs for all security features: Everything in the cloud should be programmatically manageable. Cloud security can’t scale without automation, and you can’t automate without APIs.
  • Granular entitlements: An entitlement is an access right/grant. The provider should offer more than just ‘admin’. Ideally down to each feature or API call, especially for IaaS and PaaS.
  • Good, easy, SAML support that maps to the granular entitlements: Federated identity is the only reasonable way to manage all your users in the cloud. Fortunately, we nearly always see this one available. Unfortunately, some cloud providers make it a pain in the ass to set up.
  • Multiple accounts and cross-account access: One of the best ways to compartmentalize cloud deployments is to use entirely different accounts for different projects and environments, then connect them together with granular entitlements when needed. This limits the blast radius if someone gets into the account and does something bad. I frequently recommend multiple accounts for a single cloud project, and this is considered normal. It does, however, require security automation, which ties into my API requirement.
  • Software Defined Networking: Most major IaaS providers give you near complete control over your virtual networks. But some legacy providers lack an SDN, leaving you are stuck with VLANs or other technologies that don’t provide the customization you need to really make things work. Read my paper on cloud network security if you want to understand more.
  • Regions/locations in different countries: Unless the cloud provider only want business in their country of origin, this is required for legal and jurisdictional reasons. Thanks to Brian Honan for catching my omission.

This list probably looks a hell of a lot different than any of the other ones you’ve seen. That’s because these are the foundational building blocks you realize you need once you start working on real cloud projects.

I’m probably missing some, but if I break this out all I’m really talking about are:

  • Good audit logs.
  • Decent compartmentalization/segregation at different levels.
  • Granular rights to enforce least privilege.
  • A way to manage everything and integrate it into operations.

Please let me know in the comments or via Twitter if you think I’m missing anything. I’m trying to keep it relatively concise.

—Rich

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Massive, Very Bad Java 0-Day (and, Sigh, Oracle)

By Rich

Last Friday my wife and I were out at a concert when, thanks to social media, I learned there is a major vulnerability in a common component of Java. I planned to write it up, but spent most of Monday dealing with a 6+ hour flight delay, and all day yesterday in a meeting. I’m glad I waited.

First, if you are technical at all read the original post at Foxglove Security. Then read Mike Mimoso’s piece at Threatposst.

The short version is this is a full, pre-authentication remote code execution vulnerability in a component that isn’t built into Java, but is nearly always installed and used in applications. Including things like WebSphere and JBoss.

What’s fascinating is that this one has been floating around for a while but no one really paid attention. It was even reported to Oracle, who (according to Threatpost) didn’t pass the information on to the team that maintains that component!

While Apache Commons has told Breen and Kennedy that a patch is being developed, there had been debate within the bowels of the Java community as to who should patch the bug: Apache Commons? Affected vendors? Oracle? Breen and Kennedy said Oracle was notified in July but no one had disclosed the issue to the Apache Commons team until recently. Jenkins has already mitigated the issue on its platform.

“We talked to lots of Java researchers and none of us had heard of [the vulnerability]. It was presented at the conference and made available online, but no one picked it up,” Breen said. “One thing it could be is that people using the library may not think they’re affected. If I told you that Apache Commons has an unserialize vulnerability, it probably wouldn’t mean much. But if I tell you JBoss, Jenkins and WebSphere have pre-authentication, remote code execution vulnerabilities, that means a lot more to people. The way it was originally presented, it was an unserialize vulnerability in Commons.”

I harp on Oracle a lot for their ongoing failures in managing vulnerabilities and disclosures, going back to my Gartner days. In this case I don’t know how they were informed, which team it hit, or why it wasn’t passed on to the Apache Commons team. These things happen, but they do seem to happen more to Oracle than other major vendors responsible for foundational software components. This does seem like a major internal process failure, although I need to stress I’m basing that off one quote in an article, and happy to correct if I’m wrong.

I’m trying really hard not to be a biased a-hole, but, well, you know…

I don’t blame Oracle for all the problems in Java. Those started long before they purchased Sun. And this isn’t even code they maintain, which is one of the things that really complicates security for Java – or any programming framework. Java vulnerabilities are also a nightmare to patch because the software is used in so many different places, and packaged in so many different ways.

If you use any of the major affected products, go talk to your vendor. If you write your own applications with Java, it’s time to pull out the code scanner.

—Rich

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Power of Immutable

By Rich

I wrote up a post over at the RSA Conference blog this week introducing the idea of immutable infrastructure to security professionals. It is a concept that really highlights some of the massive security benefits when you combine cloud computing and DevOps principles. Here’s a snippet:

A simple example is when you use autoscaling in a cloud provider. You have a standard image of a server, and when you need more capacity the cloud service starts new instances behind a load balancer. When you don’t need that much capacity anymore (based on preset rules) the cloud service shuts down instances. This is exactly how elasticity in the cloud works.

No live patching. No remote logins. No antivirus needed (maybe). Any change, at all, to a running server easily detectable and indicative of an attack.

I skipped a lot… go read the full article.

—Rich

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Economist Hack: Good Intentions, Bad Execution

By Rich

The Economist used a tool on their site to block collect stats and serve ads to visitors using ad blockers. I will avoid diving into the ad-blocking debate, but I will note that my quick check showed 16 ad trackers and beacons on the page. I don’t mind ads, but I do mind tracking.

It turns out that tool, called PageFair, was compromised by attackers to serve malware to Economist readers. The Economist is one of the few publications I still respect, so this made me more than a little sad.

This one is a good learning case. Ryan Naraine and I discussed it on Twitter. Both of us were critical of The Economist’s hack response, Ryan a bit more than me. I see the seeds of good intent here, but flawed execution. Let’s use this as a learning opportunity.

  • Good: They detected the situation (or, more likely, someone else did and told them) and responded within 6 days.
  • Good: They put up a dedicated page with information on the attack and what people should do.
  • Good: They didn’t say “we care very deeply about the security and privacy of our customers”. I hate that crap.
  • Good: The response page pops up when you visit the home page.
  • Bad: The response page only pops up when you visit the home page from certain browsers (probably the ones they think are affected), and could be stopped if you use certain blockers. That’s a real problem if people use multiple systems, or if the attackers decide to block the popup.
  • Bad: They don’t specify the malware to look for. They mention it was packaged as a fake Adobe update, but that’s it. No specificity, so you cannot know if you cleaned up the right badness.
  • Bad: They recommend you change passwords before you clean the malware. VERY BAD. Thanks to @hacks4pancakes and @malwrhunterteam for finding that and letting me know.
  • Bad: They recommend Antivirus, without confirm recommended tools would really find and remove this particular malware. That should be explicitly called out.

It looks like an even split, but I’d give this response a C-. Right intention, poor execution. They should have used an in-page banner (not a popup) and a popup to grab attention. They should have identified the malware and advised people to clean it up before changing banking passwords.

There is one issue of contention between myself and Ryan. Ryan said, “No one should ever rely on free anti-malware for any kind of protection”. I often recommend free AV, especially to consumers (usually Microsoft). It’s been many years since I used AV myself. Yes, Ryan works for an AV vendor, but he’s also someone I trust, who actually cares about doing the right thing and providing good advice.

I don’t want to turn this into an AV debate, and Ryan and I both seem to agree that the real questions are:

  • Would the AV they recommend have stopped this particular attack?
  • Would the AV they recommend clean an infection?

But they don’t provide enough detail, so we cannot know. Even just a line like, “we have tested these products against the malware and confirm it will completely remove the infection” would be enough.

I’m not a fan of blaming the victim, but this is the risk you always face when embedding someone else’s code in your page. Hell, I talked about that when I was at Gartner over 10 years ago. You have a responsibility to your customers. The Economist seems to have tried to make the right moves, but made some pretty critical mistakes. Let’s not lambaste them, but we should certainly use this as a learning opportunity.

—Rich

Summary: Distract and Deceive

By Rich

Today I was sitting in my office, window open, enjoying the cold front that finally shoved the summer heat out of Phoenix. I had an ice pack on my leg because my achilles tendon has been a little twitchy as I go into the last 8 weeks of marathon training. My wife was going through the mail, walked in, and dropped a nice little form letter from the United States Office or Personnel Management onto my desk.

It’s no secret I’m still an active disaster responder on a federal team. And, as previously mentioned, my data was lost in the OPM hack. However, my previous notification was for the part where they hacked the employment information database. This notification is for the loss of all security investigation records.

Which is cool, because I don’t even have a security clearance.

What was on there? Aside from my SSN, every address I’ve lived at (once going back to childhood, but I think the most recent form was only 7 years), most of my jobs, all my relatives, and (I think) my wife’s SSN. I’m not sure about that because I can’t remember exactly what year I most recently filled out that form, but I’m pretty sure it was after we were married.

Here’s the fun part. The OPM just offered me 3 years of identity theft protection. Three. Years. Which I can only assume means my SSN will expire in that time and I’ll be safe afterwards. And it must mean China wasn’t responsible, because they would go after me as espionage, not identity theft. Right? RIGHT?!?

It’s just another example of the old distract and deceive strategy to placate. No one involved in intelligence or security thinks for half a second that ID theft protection for three years is meaningful when an SSN is lost – never mind when it (and all my personal info) is lost to a foreign intelligence adversary. But it sounds good in the press and distracts the many millions of federal workers who don’t work in security and understand the implications. People who trust the government, their employer.

This isn’t limited to the OPM hack – it’s really a shitty playbook for the security industry overall. Been hacked? Call it “advanced and persistent” and then announce you hired a top-tier incident response firm. It doesn’t matter that you used default admin passwords, it’s all about looking like you take security seriously, when you don’t. Well, didn’t.

Really. Look at all the breach announcements from the past couple of years. Cut and paste.

And then there are our security tools. Various point technologies, each designed to stop one particular type of attack during a particular time window. Some of them really work. But we don’t acknowledge that security is really about stopping adversaries (Gunnar Peterson constantly hammers on this), and then the window for that particular tech closes. This throws the vendors into a spin cycle because, let’s be honest, their entire livelihood is on the line.

Distract. Deceive. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Admitting failure is hard. Addressing root causes is hard. Realizing something you built is no longer as valuable as it once was is even harder. Hell, we here at Securosis once spent two years and a couple hundred thousand dollars building something that we had to walk away from because the market shifted. That was cash out of my personal pocket – I get it.

This isn’t a security industry problem, it’s basic human behavior. I don’t have an issue with someone covering their ass, but when you deceive and distract to protect yourself, and put others at greater risk?

Not cool.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

  • Rich: Incite 11/4/2015 – The Taper. I’m training for my first marathon right now. Well, second time training, because I got stomach flu the week of my planned first and had to miss it. My entire life right now is focused on starting my taper on December 6th.

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to Guillaume Ross, in response to Why I design for one cloud at a time.

It’s weird. Companies that never thought twice about getting locked into Windows as a platform, now super concerned to have code calling S3!

—Rich