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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DLP Selection Process: Defining the Content

By Rich

In our last post we kicked off the DLP selection process by putting the team together. Once you have them in place, it’s time to figure out which information you want to protect. This is extremely important, as it defines which content analysis techniques you require, which is at the core of DLP functionality.

This multistep process starts with figuring out your data priorities and ends with your content analysis requirements:

Stack rank your data protection priorities

The first step is to list our which major categories of data/content/information you want to protect. While it’s important to be specific enough for planning purposes, it’s okay to stay fairly high-level. Definitions such as “PCI data”, “engineering plans”, and “customer lists” are good. Overly general categories like “corporate sensitive data” and “classified material” are insufficient – too generic, and they cannot be mapped to specific data types. This list must be prioritized; one good way of developing the ranking is to pull the business unit representatives together and force them to sort and agree to the priorities, rather than having someone who isn’t directly responsible (such as IT or security) determine the ranking.

Define the data type

For each category of content listed in the first step, define the data type, so you can map it to your content analysis requirements:

  • Structured or patterned data is content like credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, and account numbers – that follows a defined pattern we can test against.
  • Known text is unstructured content, typically found in documents, where we know the source and want to protect that specific information. Examples are engineering plans, source code, corporate financials, and customer lists.
  • Images and binaries are non-text files such as music, video, photos, and compiled application code.
  • Conceptual text is information that doesn’t come from an authoritative source like a document repository but may contain certain keywords, phrases, or language patterns. This is pretty broad but some examples are insider trading, job seeking, and sexual harassment.

Match data types to required content analysis techniques

Using the flowchart below, determine required content analysis techniques based on data types and other environmental factors, such as the existence of authoritative sources. This chart doesn’t account for every possibility but is a good starting point and should define the high-level requirements for a majority of situations.

Determine additional requirements

Depending on the content analysis technique there may be additional requirements, such as support for specific database platforms and document management systems. If you are considering database fingerprinting, also determine whether you can work against live data in a production system, or will rely on data extracts (database dumps to reduce performance overhead on the production system).

Define rollout phases

While we haven’t yet defined formal project phases, you should have an idea early on whether a data protection requirement is immediate or something you can roll out later in the project. One reason for including this is that many DLP projects are initiated based on some sort of breach or compliance deficiency relating to only a single data type. This could lead to selecting a product based only on that requirement, which might entail problematic limitations down the road as you expand your deployment to protect other kinds of content.


Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall: Advanced Features, Part 1

By Mike Rothman

Since our main contention in the Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall series is the movement toward application aware firewalls, it makes sense to dig a bit deeper into the technology that will make this happen and the major uses for these capabilities. With an understanding of what to look for, you should be in a better position to judge whether a vendor’s application awareness capabilities will match your requirements.

Application Visibility

In the first of our application awareness posts, we talked about visibility as one of the key use cases for application aware firewalls. What exactly does that mean? We’ll break this up into the following buckets:

  • Eye Candy: Most security folks don’t care about fancy charts and graphs, but senior management loves them. What CFO doesn’t turn to jello at the first sign of a colorful pie chart? The ability to see application usage and traffic, and who is consuming bandwidth over a long period over time, provides huge value in understanding normal behavior on your network. Look for granularity and flexibility in these application-oriented visuals. Top 10 lists are a given, but be sure you can slice the data the way you need – or at least export to a tool that can. Having the data is nice; being able to use it is better.
  • Alerting: The trending capabilities of application traffic analysis allows you to set alerts to fire when abnormal behavior appears. Given the infinite attack surface we must protect, any help you can get pinpointing and prioritizing investigative resources increases efficiency. Be sure to have sufficient knobs and dials to set appropriate alerts. You’d like to be able to alert on applications, user/group behavior in specific applications, and possibly even payload in the packets (through regular expression type analysis), and any combination therein. Obviously the more flexibility you have in setting application alerts and tightening thresholds, the better you’ll be able to cut the noise. This sounds very similar to managing an IDS, but we’ll get to that later. Also make sure setting lots of application rules won’t kill performance. Dropped packets are a lousy trade-off for application alerts.

One challenge of using a traditional firewall is the interface. Unless the user experience has been rebuilt around an application context (what folks are doing), it still feels like everything is ports and protocols (how they are doing it). Clearly the further you can abstract network behavior to application behavior, the more applicable (and understandable) your rules will be.

Application Blocking

Visibility is the first step, but you also want to be able to block certain applications, users, and content activities. We told you this was very similar to the IPS concept – the difference is in how detection works. The IDS/IPS uses a negative security model (matching patterns to identify bad stuff) to fire rules, while application aware firewalls use a positive security model – they determine what application traffic is authorized, and block everything else.

Extending this IPS discussion a bit, we see most organizations using blocking on only a small minority of the rules/signatures on the box, usually less than 10%. This is for obvious reasons (primarily because blocking legitimate traffic is frowned upon), and gets back to a fundamental tenet of IPS which also applies to application aware firewalls. Just because you can block, doesn’t mean you should. Of course, a positive security model means you are defining what is acceptable and blocking everything else, but be careful here. Most security organizations aren’t in the loop on everything that is happening (we know – quite a shocker), so you may inadvertently stymie a new/updated application because the firewall doesn’t allow it. To be clear, from a security standpoint that’s a great thing. You want to be able to vet each application before it goes live, but politically that might not work out. You’ll need to gauge your own ability to get away with this.

Aside from the IPS analogy, there is also a very clear white-listing analogy to blocking application traffic. One of the issues with application white-listing on the endpoints is the challenge of getting applications classified correctly and providing a clear workflow mechanism to deal with exceptions. The same issues apply to application blocking. First you need to ensure the application profiles are accurate and up-to-date. Second, you need a process to allow traffic to be accepted, balancing the need to protect infrastructure and information against responsiveness to business needs.

Yeah, this is non-trivial, which is why blocking is done on a fraction of application traffic.

Overlap with Existing Web Security

Think about the increasing functionality of your operating system or your office suite. Basically, the big behemoth squashed a whole bunch of third party utilities that added value by bundling such capabilities into each new release. The same thing is happening here.

If you look at the typical capabilities of your web application filter, there isn’t a lot that can’t be done by an application aware firewall. Visibility? Check. Employee control/management? Check. URL blocking, heuristics, script analysis, AV? Check, check, check, check. The standalone web filter is an endangered species – which, given the complexity of the perimeter, isn’t a bad thing. Simplifying is good. Moreover, a lot of folks are doing web filtering in the cloud now, so the movement from on-premises web filters was under way anyway. Of course, no entrenched device gets replaced overnight, but the long slide towards standalone web filter oblivion has begun.

As you look at application aware firewalls, you may be able to displace an existing device (or eliminate the maintenance renewal) to justify the cost of the new gear. Clearly going after the web filtering budget makes sense, and the more expense neutral you can make any purchase, the better.

What about web application firewalls? To date, these categories have been separate with less clear overlap. The WAF’s ability to profile and learn about application behavior – in terms of parameter validation, session management, flow analysis, etc. – aren’t available on application aware firewalls. For now. But let’s be clear, it’s not a technical issue. Most of the vendors moving towards these new firewalls also offer web app firewalls. Why build everything into one box if you can charge twice, for the halves?

Sure that’s cynical, but it’s the way things work. Over time, we do expect web application firewall capabilities to be added to application aware firewalls, but that’s more of a 3-year scenario, and doesn’t mean WAFs will go away entirely. Within a large organization, the WAF may be under the control of the web app team, because the rules are directly related to application functionality rather than security. In this case, there is little impetus for integration/convergence of the devices. But again, this isn’t a technical issue – it’s a cultural one.

Our next post on advanced features will discuss cool capabilities like reputation and bot detection. Who doesn’t love bots?

—Mike Rothman

NSO Quant: Monitor Metrics—Define Policies

By Mike Rothman

The next step in our Monitoring process is to define the monitoring policies.

We previously defined the Define Policies subprocess as:

  1. Define Monitors
  2. Build Correlation Rules
  3. Define Alerts
  4. Define Validation/Escalation Policies
  5. Document

Here are the applicable operational metrics:

Define Monitors

Variable Notes
Time to identify which activities, on which devices, will be monitored
Time to define frequency of data collection and retention rules
Time to define threat levels to dictate different responses

Build Correlation Rules

Variable Notes
Time to define suspect behavior and build threat models You need to know what you are looking for.
Time to define correlation policies to identify attacks
Time to download available rule sets to kickstart effort Vendors tend to have out-of-the-box correlation rules to get you started.
Time to customize rule sets to cover threat models

Define Alerts

Variable Notes
Time to define specific alert types and notifications for different threat levels Based on the defined response, you may want different notification options.
Time to identify criticality of each threat and select thresholds for specific responses

Define Validation/Escalation Policies

Variable Notes
Time to define validation requirements for each alert. What type of confirmation is required before firing an alert?
Time to establish escalation procedures for each validated alert
Time to gain consensus for policies These policies will drive action, so it’s important to have buy-in from interested parties.


Variable Notes
Time to document policies
Time to communicate responsibilities to operations teams It takes time to manage expectations.

Next we move to the Monitor phase (of the Monitoring process, we know the terminology is a bit confusing), where we put these policies into action.

—Mike Rothman

Monday, September 13, 2010

NSO Quant: Monitor Metrics—Enumerate and Scope

By Mike Rothman

After our little break, it’s time to dig back into the Network Security Operations Quant project. We’re in the home stretch now, and will be tearing through each subprocess to define a set of metrics that can be used to measure what each step in the process costs.

The reality is that for both monitoring and management, a lot of the cost is time. That means to track your own costs, you’ll need to measure your activity down to a pretty granular level. That may or may not be possible in your environment. As such, remember to take what you can from this project. The last thing you want to do is spend more time gathering data than doing your job. But in order to really understand what it costs to manage your network security, you’ll need to understand where you spend your time – there is no way around it.

So without further ado, let’s jump into the Enumerate and Scoping steps in the Monitor Process.


We previously defined the Enumerate process as:

  1. Plan
  2. Setup
  3. Enumerate
  4. Document

Here are the applicable operational metrics:


Variable Notes
Time to determine scope, device types, and technique (manual, automated, combined)
Time to identify tools (automated) Only needs to happen once.
Time to identify business units
Time to map network domains
Time to develop schedule


Variable Notes
Cost and time to acquire and install tools (automated) Tools are optional, but scaling is a problem for manual procedures.
Time to contact business units
Time to configure tools (automated)
Time to obtain permissions and credentials You need permission before you start scanning networks.


Variable Notes
Time to schedule/run active scan (automated) Point in time enumeration
Time to run passive/traffic scan (automated) Identify new devices as they appear
Validate devices
Time to contact business units and determine ownership Must identify rogue devices.
Time to filter and compile results
Repeat as necessary Enumeration must happen on an ongoing basis.


Variable Notes
Time to generate report
Time to capture baseline

As you can see, almost all the effort (and thus cost) is in the time required to figure out what you have on your network. By tracking the time spent on these actions over time, you’ll be able to optimize efforts and gain leverage – saving time and thus cost.


We previously defined the Scope process as:

  1. Identify Requirements
  2. Specify Devices
  3. Select Collection Method
  4. Document

Here are the applicable operational metrics:

Identify Requirements

Variable Notes
Time to build case for monitoring devices
Time to monitor regulations mandating monitoring One of the easiest ways to justify monitoring is a compliance mandate.
Review best practices
Time to check with business units, risk team, and other influencers Factor business requirements into the analysis.

Specify Devices

Variable Notes
Time to determine which device types need to be monitored Start with enumerated device list as starting point. Then look at geographic regions, business units, and other devices to define final list.

Select Collection Method

Variable Notes
Time to research collection methods and record formats For in-scope devices
Time to specify collection method For each device type


Variable Notes
Time to document in-scope devices
Time to gain consensus on in-scope list Consensus now avoids disagreement later.

That detailed enough for you? Next we’ll cover metrics for defining monitoring policies.

—Mike Rothman

FireStarter: Automating Secure Software Development

By Adrian Lane

I just got back from the AppSec 2010 OWASP conference in Irvine, California. As you might imagine, it was all about web application security. We security practitioners and coders generally agree that we need to “bake security in” to the development process. Rather than tacking security onto a product like a band-aid after the fact, we actually attempt to deliver code that is secure from the get-go. We are still figuring out how to do this effectively and efficiently, but it seems to me a very good idea.

One of the OWASP keynote presentations was at odds with the basic premise held by most of the participants. The idea presented was (I am paraphrasing) that coders suck at secure code development. Further, they will continue to suck at it, in perpetuity. So let’s take security out of the application developers’ hands entirely and build it in with compilers and pre-compilers that take care of bad code automatically. That way they can continue to be ignorant, and we’ll fix it for them!

Oddly, I agree with two of the basic premisses: coders for the most part suck today at coding securely, and a couple common web application exploits can be addressed with this technique. Technology, including real and conceptual implementations, can deal with a wide variety of spoofing and injection attacks.

Other than that, I think this idea is completely crazy.

Coders are mostly ignorant of security today, but that’s changing. There are some vendors looking to productize some secure coding automation tactics because there are practical applications that are effective. But these are limited to correcting simple coding errors, and work because machines can easily recognize some patterns humans tend to overlook. Thinking that automating software security into a product through certifications and format checking programs is not just science fiction, it’s fantasy. I’ll give you one guess on who I’ll bet hasn’t written much code in her career. Oh crap, did I give it away?

On the other hand, I have built code that was perfect. Until it was hacked. Yeah, the code was exactly to specification, and performed flawlessly. In fact it performed too flawlessly, and was subject to a timing attack that leaked enough information that the output was guessed. No compiler in the world would have picked this subtle issue up, but an attacker watching the behavior of an application will spot it quickly. And they did. My bad.

I am all for automating as much security as we can into the development process, especially as a check on developer activities. Nothing wrong with that – we do it today. But to think that we can automate security and remove it from the hands of developers is naive to the point of being surreal. Timing attacks, logic attacks, and architectural flaws do not show up to a compiler or any form of pre/post automated checks. There has been substantial research on how to validate state machine behavior to detect business transaction fraud, but there has never been a practical application: it’s more work to establish the rules than to simply have someone manually verify the process. It doesn’t work, and it won’t work.

People are crafty. Ingenious. Devious. They don’t play by the rules. Compilers and processors do.

That’s certainly my opinion. I’m sure some entrepreneur just slit his/her wrists. Oh, well. Okay, smart guy/gal, tell me why I’m wrong. Especially if you are trying to build a company around this.

—Adrian Lane

DLP Selection Process, Step 1

By Rich

As I mentioned previously, I’m working on an update to Understanding and Selecting a DLP Solution. While much of the paper still stands, one area I’m adding a bunch of content to is the selection process. I decided to buff it up with more details, and also put together a selection worksheet to help people figure out their requirements. This isn’t an RFP, but a checklist to help you figure out major requirements – which you will use to build your RFP – and manage the selection process.

The first step, and this post, are fairly short and simple:

Define the Selection Team

Identify business units that need to be involved and create a selection committee. We tend to include two kinds of business units in the DLP selection process: content owners with sensitive data to protect, and content protectors with responsibility for enforcing controls over the data. Content owners include business units that hold and use the data. Content protectors tend to include departments like Human Resources, IT Security, Corporate Legal, Compliance, and Risk Management. Once you identify the major stakeholders you’ll want to bring them together for the next few steps.

This list covers a superset of the people who tend to be involved with selection (BU stands for “Business Unit”). Depending on the size of your organization you may need more or less, and in most cases the primary selection work will be done by 2-3 IT and IT security staff, but we suggest you include this larger list in the initial requirements generation process. The members of this team will also help obtain sample data/content for content analysis testing, and provide feedback on user interfaces and workflow if they will eventually be users of the product.


Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall: Management

By Mike Rothman

The next step in our journey to understand and select an enterprise firewall has everything to do with management. During procurement it’s very easy to focus on shiny objects and blinking lights. By that we mean getting enamored with speeds, feeds, and features – to the exclusion of what you do with the device once it’s deployed. Without focusing on management during procurement, you may miss a key requirement – or even worse, sign yourself up to a virtual lifetime of inefficiency and wasted time struggling to manage the secure perimeter.

To be clear, most of the base management capabilities of the firewall devices are subpar. In fact, a cottage industry of firewall management tools has emerged to address the gaps in these built-in capabilities. Unfortunately that doesn’t surprise us, because vendors tend to focus on managing their devices, rather than focusing on process of protecting the perimeter. There is a huge difference, and if you have more than 15-20 firewalls to worry about, you need to be very sensitive to how the rule base is built, distributed, and maintained.

What to Manage?

Let’s start by making a list of the things you tend to need to manage. It’s pretty straightforward and includes (but isn’t limited to): ports, protocols, users, applications, network access, network segmentation, and VPN access. You need to understand whether the rules will apply at all times or only at certain times. And whether the rules apply to all users or just certain groups of users. You’ll need to think about what behaviors are acceptable within specific applications as well – especially web-based apps. We talk about building these rule sets in detail in our Network Security Operations Quant research.

Once we have lists of things to be managed, and some general acceptance of what the rules need to be (yes, that involves gaining consensus among business users, tech colleagues, legal, and lots of other folks there to make you miserable), you can configure the rule base and distribute to the boxes. Another key question is where you will manage the policy – or really at how many levels. You’ll likely have some corporate-wide policies driven from HQ which can’t be messed with by local admins. You can also opt for some level of regional administration, so part of the rule base reflects corporate policy but local administrators can add rules to deal with local issues.

Given the sheer number of options available to manage an enterprise firewall environment, don’t forget to consider:

  • Role-based access control: Make sure you get different classes of administrators. Some can manage the enterprise policy, others can just manage their local devices. You also need to pay attention to separation of duties, driven by the firewall change management workflow. Keep in mind the need to have some level of privileged user monitoring in place to keep everyone honest (and also to pass those pesky audits) and to provide an audit trail for any changes.
  • Multi-domain administration: As the perimeter gets more complicated, we see a lot of focus around technologies to allow somewhat separate rule bases to be implemented on the firewalls. This doesn’t just provision for different administrators needing access to different functions on the devices, but supports different policies running on specific devices. Large enterprises with multiple operating units tend to have this issue, as each operation may have unique requirements which require different policy. Ultimately corporate headquarters bears responsibility for the integrity of the entire perimeter, so you’ll need a management environment that can effectively map to your the way your business operates.
  • Virtual firewalls: Since everything eventually gets virtualized, why not the firewall? We aren’t talking about running the firewall in a virtual machine (we discussed that in the technical architecture post), but instead about having multiple virtual firewalls running on the same device. Depending on network segmentation and load balancing requirements, it may make sense to deploy totally separate rule sets within the same device. This is an emerging requirement but worth investigating, because supporting virtual firewalls isn’t easy with traditional hardware architectures. This may not be a firm requirement now, but could crop up in the future.

Checking the Policy

Those with experience managing firewalls know all about the pain of a faulty rule. To avoid that pain and learn from our mistakes, it’s critical to be able to test rules before they go live. That means the management tools must be able to tell you how a new rule or rule change impacts the rest of the rule base. For example, if you insert a rule at one point in the tree, does it obviate rules in other places? First and foremost, you want to ensure that any change doesn’t violate your policies or create a gaping hole in the perimeter. That is job #1.

Also important is rule efficiency. Most organizations have firewall rule bases resembling old closets. Lots of stuff in there, and no one is quite sure why you keep this stuff or which rules still apply. So having the ability to check rule hits (how many times the rule was triggered) helps ensure all your rules remain relevant. It’s helpful to have a utility to help optimize the rule base. Since the rules tend to be checked sequentially for each incoming packet, making sure you’ve got the most frequently used rules early for maximum efficiency, so your expensive devices can work smarter rather than harder and provide some scalability headroom.

But blind devotion to a policy tool is dangerous too. Remember, these tools simulate the policies and impact of new rules and updates. Don’t mistake simulation for reality – we strongly recommend confirming changes with actual tests. Maybe not every change, but periodically pen testing your own perimeter will make sure you didn’t miss anything, and minimize surprises. And we know you don’t like surprises.


As interesting as managing the rule base is, at some point you’ll need to prove that you are doing the right thing. That means a set of reports substantiating the controls in place. You’ll want to be able to schedule specific times to get this report, as well as how to receive it (web link, PDF, etc.). You should be able to run reports about attacks, traffic dynamics, user activity, etc. You’ll also need the ability to dig into the event logs to perform forensic analysis, if you don’t send those events to a SIEM or Log Management device. Don’t neglect the report customization capabilities either. You know the auditor or your own internal teams will want a custom report – even if the firewall includes thousands built-in – so an environment for quickly and painlessly building your own ad hoc reports helps.

Finally, you’ll need a set of compliance specific reports – unless you are one of the 10 companies remaining in operation unconcerned with regulatory oversight. Most of the vendors have a series of reports customized to the big regulations (PCI, HIPAA, SoX, NERC CIP, etc.). Again, make sure you can customize these reports, but ultimately the vendor should be doing most of the legwork to map rules to specific regulations.

Other Considerations

  • Integration: Since we’re pretty sure you use more than just a firewall, integrating with other IT and security management systems remains a requirement. On the inbound side, you’ll need to pull data from the identity store for user/group data and possibly the CMDB (for asset and application data). From an outbound perspective, sending data to a SIEM/Log Management environment is the most critical need to support centralized activity monitoring, reporting, and forensics – but being able to interface directly with a trouble ticket system to manage requests helps manage the operational workflow.
  • Workflow: Speaking of workflow, organizations should have some type of defined authorization process for new rules and changes. Both common sense and compliance guidelines dictate this, and it’s not a particular strength for most device management offerings. This is really where the third-party firewall management tools are gaining traction.
  • Heterogeneous Firewalls: This is another area where most device management offerings are weak, for good reason. The vendors don’t want to help you use competitors’ boxes, so they tend to ignore the need to manage a heterogeneous firewall environment. This is another area where third-party management tools are doing well, and as organizations continue acquiring each other, this requirement will remain.
  • Outsourcing: Many organizations are also outsourcing either the monitoring or actual management of their firewalls, so the management capability must be able to present some kind of interface for the internal team. That may involve a web portal provided by the service provider or some kind of integration. But given the drive towards managed security services, it makes sense to at least ask the vendors whether and how their management consoles can support a managed environment.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

Now that we’ve gone through many of the base capabilities of the enterprise firewall, we’ll tackle what we call advanced features next. These new capabilities reflect emerging user requirements, and are used by the vendors to differentiate their offerings.

—Mike Rothman

HP Sets Its ArcSights on Security

By Mike Rothman

When there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. I’ve been pretty vocal over the past two weeks, stating that users need to forget what they are hearing about various rumored acquisitions, or how these deals will impact them, and focus on doing their jobs. They can’t worry about what deal may or may not happen until it’s announced. Well, this morning HP announced the acquisition of ArcSight, after some more detailed speculation appeared over the weekend. So is it time to worry yet?

Deal Rationale

HP is acquiring ArcSight for about $1.5 billion, which is a significant premium over where ARST was trading before the speculation started. Turns out it’s about 8 times sales, which is a large multiple. Keep in mind that HP is a $120 billion revenue company, so spending a billion here and a billion there to drive growth is really a rounding error. What HP needs to do is buy established technology they can drive through their global channels and ARST clearly fits that bill.

ARST has a large number of global enterprise customers who have spent millions of dollars and years making ARST’s SIEM platform work for them. Maybe not as well as they’d like, but it’s not something they can move away from any time soon. Throw in the double-digit growth characteristic of security and the accelerating cyber-security opportunity of ARST’s dominant position within government operations, and there is a lot of leverage for HP. Clearly HP is looking for growth drivers. Additionally, ARST requires a lot of services to drive implementation and expansion with the customer base. HP has lots of services folks they need to keep busy (EDS, anyone?), so there is further leverage.

On the analyst call (on which, strangely enough, no one from ArcSight was present), the HP folks specifically mentioned how they plan to add value to customers from the intersection of software, services, and hardware. Right. This is all about owning everything and increasing their share of wallets. This is further explained by the 4 aspects of HP’s security strategy: Software Security (Fortify’s code scanning technology), Visibility (ArcSight comes in here), Understanding (risk assessment?, but this is hogwash), and Operations (TippingPoint and their IT Ops portfolio). This feels like a strategy built around the assets (as opposed to the strategy driving the product line), but clearly HP is committed to security, and that’s good to see.

This feels a lot like HP’s Opsware deal a few years ago. ArcSight fits a gap in the IT management stack, and HP wrote a billion-dollar check to fill it. To be clear, HP still has gaps in their security strategy (perimeter and endpoint security) and will likely write more checks. Those deals will be considerably bigger and require considerably less services, which isn’t as attractive to HP, but in order to field a full security offering they need technology in all the major areas.

Finally, this continues to validate our long term vision that security isn’t a market, it will be part of the larger IT stack. Clearly security management will be integrated with regular IT management, initially from a visibility standpoint, and gradually from an operations standpoint as well. Again, not within the next two years, but over a 5-7 year time frame. The big IT vendors need to provide security capabilities, and the only way they are going to get them is to buy.

User Impact

End user customers tend to make large (read: millions of dollars), multi-year investments in their SIEM/Log Management platforms. Those platforms are hard to rip out once implemented, so the technology tends to be quite sticky. The entire industry has been hearing about how unhappy customers are with SIEM players like ARST and RSA, but year after year customers spend more money with these companies to expand the use cases supported by the technology.

There will be corporate integration challenges, and with these big deals product innovation tends to grind to a halt while these issues are addressed. We don’t expect anything different with HP/ARST. Inertia is a reality here. Customers have spent years and millions on ARST, so it’s hard to see a lot of them moving en masse elsewhere in the near term. Obviously if HP doesn’t integrate well, they’ll gradually see customers go elsewhere. If necessary, customers will fortify their ARST deployment with other technologies in the short term, and migrate when it’s feasible down the road. Regardless of the vendor propaganda you’ll hear about this customer swap-out or that one, it takes years for a big IT company to snuff out the life of an acquired technology. Not that both HP and IBM haven’t done that, but this simply isn’t a short-term issue.

Should customers who are considering ArcSight look elsewhere? It really depends on what problem they are trying to solve. If it’s something that is well within ARST’s current capabilities (SIEM and Log Management), then there is little risk. If anything, having access to HP’s services arm will help in the intermediate term. If your use case requires ARST to build new capabilities or is based on product futures, you can likely forget it. Unless you want to pay HP’s services arm to build it for you.

One of the hallmarks of the Pragmatic CSO approach is to view security within a business context. As we see traditional IT ops and security ops come together over time this becomes increasingly important. Security is critical to everything IT, but security is not a standalone and must be considered within the context of the full IT stack, which helps to automate business processes. The fact that many of security’s big vendors now live within huge IT behemoths is telling. Ignore the portents at your own peril.

Market Impact

We’ve been seeing a bifurcation of the SIEM/Log Management market over the past year. The strong are getting stronger and the not-so-strong are struggling. This will continue. The thing so striking about the EMC/RSA deal a couple years ago was the ability of EMC’s sales force to take competitive deals off the table. Customers would just buy the technology without competitive bids, because it was tacked onto a huge deal involving lots of other technologies. Big companies can do that; small ones can’t. HP both can and will.

But the real action in SIEM/Log Management is in the mid-market. Large enterprise is really a swap-out business and that’s hard. The growth is helping the mid-market meet compliance needs (and provide some security help too). ArcSight hadn’t figured that out yet, and being part of HP won’t help, so this is the real opportunity for the rest of the players. It’s easy to see ArcSight focusing on their large enterprise and government business as part of HP, and not doing what needs to be done to the Logger product to make it more mid-market relevant.

In terms of winners and losers, clearly ARST is a big winner here. They created a lot of value for shareholders, and their employees can now vest in peace. The larger of the independent SIEM/Log Management players will also benefit a bit, as they just got a bunch of ammunition for strategic FUD. The smaller SIEM/Log Management players can cross HP off their lists of potential buyers. That’s never a positive.

In terms of specifics, SenSage is probably the most exposed of the smaller players. They’ve had a long term OEM deal with HP and it was evidently pretty successful. There are still some use cases where ArcSight may not apply (and thus SenSage will be OK), but those are edge cases.

Overall, this deal is logical for HP and representative of how we see the security market evolving over time.

—Mike Rothman

Security Briefing: September 13th

By Liquidmatrix


It’s Monday the 13th and today I return to the ranks of the employed. It has been a nice break and I actually managed to make a dent in the “honey-do” list. Of course those accomplishments were quickly replaced with new items. As it will always be. In the news we have some interesting nuggets including news that HP may be nearing completion of a bid for ArcSight. Not sure how I feel about that. At any rate, I hope everyone has a great week!

Have a great day!


Click here to subscribe to Liquidmatrix Security Digest!.

And now, the news…

  1. Anti-US hacker takes credit for ‘Here you have’ worm | Computer World
  2. Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent | NY Times
  3. Police say IPhones can store a treasure trove of incriminating evidence | Silicon Valley
  4. Stuxnet and PLCs Update | Findings From The Field
  5. NIST to help retrain NASA employees as cyber specialists (WTF?) | Next Gov
  6. Facebook In New Hampshire Turns Into A Real-Life PleaseRobMe.com | Tech Crunch
  7. How to Disagree with Auditors: An Auditor’s Guide | t2pa
  8. Second SMS Android Trojan targets smut-seeking Russians | The Register
  9. HP said to be near deal for Cupertino-based ArcSight | Mercury News


Friday, September 10, 2010

Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall: Deployment Considerations

By Mike Rothman

Now that we’ve been through technical architecture considerations for the evolving firewall (Part 1, Part 2), let’s talk about deployment considerations. Depending on requirements, there many different ways to deploy enterprise firewalls. Do this wrong and you end up with either too many or too few boxes, single points of failure, suboptimal network access, and/or crappy application performance.

We could talk about all sorts of different models and use fancy names like tiered, mesh, peer to peer, and the like for them – but fortunately the situation isn’t really that complicated. To choose the most appropriate architecture you must answer a few questions:

  • Public or Private Network? Are your remote locations all connected via private connections such as MPLS or managed IP services, or via public Internet services leveraging site-to-site VPN tunnels?
  • How much is avoiding downtime worth? This fairly simple question will drive both network architecture and perimeter device selection. You can implement high availability architectures to minimize the likelihood of downtime but the cost is generally significant.
  • What egress filtering/protection do you need? Obviously you want to provide web and email filtering on outbound traffic. Depending on bandwidth availability and cost, it may make sense to haul that back to a central location to be processed by large (existing) content security gateways. But for bandwidth-constrained sites it may make more sense to do web/email filtering locally (using a UTM box), with the understanding that filtering at the smaller sites might be less sophisticated.
  • Who controls gateway policy? Depending on the size of your organization, there may be different policies for different geographies, business units, locations, etc. Some enterprise firewall management consoles support this kind of granular policy distribution, but you need to figure out who will control policy, and use this to guide how you deploy the boxes.

Remember the technical architecture post where we pointed out the importance of consistency. A consistent feature set on devices up and down a vendor’s product line provides a lot of flexibility in how you can deploy – this enables you to select equipment based on the throughput requirement rather than feature set. This is also preferable because application architectures and requirements change, and support for all features on branch equipment (even if you don’t initially expect to use them) saves deploying new equipment remotely if you decide to take advantage of those features later, but we recognize this is not always possible. Economic reality rears its head every so often.

Bandwidth Matters

We most frequently see tiers of firewalls implemented in either two or three tiers. Central sites (geographic HQ) get big honking firewalls deployed in a high-availability cluster configuration to ensure resilience and throughput – especially if they provide higher-level application and/or UTM features. Distribution locations, if they exist, are typically connected to the central site via a private IP network. These tend to be major cities with good bandwidth. With plentiful bandwidth, most organizations tend to centralize egress filtering to minimize the control points, so outbound traffic tends to be centralized through the central site.

With smaller locations like stores, or in emerging countries with expensive private network options, it may make more economic sense to use public IP services (commodity Internet access) with site-to-site VPN. In this case it’s likely not performance (or cost) effective to centralize egress filtering, so these firewalls generally must do the filtering as well.

Regardless of the egress filtering strategy you should have a consistent set of ingress policies in place, which usually means (almost) no traffic originating from the Internet is accepted: a default deny security posture. Most organizations leverage hosting providers for web apps, which allow tight rules to be placed on the perimeter for inbound traffic. Likewise, allowing inbound Internet traffic to a small location usually doesn’t make sense, since those small sites shouldn’t be directly serving up data. Unless you are cool with tellers running their Internet-based side businesses on your network.

High Availability Clusters

Downtime is generally a bad thing – end users can get very grumpy when they can’t manage their fantasy football teams during the work day – so you should investigate the hardware resilience features of firewall devices. Things like hot swappable drives and power supplies, redundant backplanes, multiple network connections, redundant memory, etc. Obviously the more redundancy built into the box, the more it will cost, but you already knew that.

Another option is to deploy a high availability cluster. Basically, this means you’ve got two (or more) boxes using sharing a single configuration, allowing automated and transparent load balancing between them to provide stable the performance and ride out any equipment failures. So if a box fails its peer(s) transparently pick up the slack.

High availability and clustering used to be different capabilities (and on some older firewall architectures, still are). But given the state of the hardware and maturity of the space, the terminology has evolved to active/active (all boxes in the cluster process traffic) and active/passive (some boxes are normally hot spares, not processing traffic). Bandwidth requirements tend to drive whether multiple gateways are active, but the user-visible functioning is the same.

Internal Deployment

We have mostly discussed the perimeter gateway use case. But there is another scenario, where the firewall is deployed within the data center or at distribution points in the network, and provides network segmentation and filtering. This is a bit different than managing inbound/outbound traffic at the perimeter, and largely driven by network architecture. The bandwidth requirements for internal devices are intense – typically 40-100gbps and here downtime is definitely a no-no, so provision these devices accordingly and bring your checkbook.


The final issue we’ll tackle in relation to deployment is getting old boxes out and new boxes in. Depending on the size of the environment, it may not be feasible to do a flash cutover. So the more the new vendor can do to assist in the migration, the better. Fortunately the market is mature enough that many vendors can read in their competitors’ rule sets, which can be facilitate switchovers.

But don’t forget that a firewall migration is normally a great opportunity to revisit the firewall rule base and clear out the crap. Yes, as we discussed in the Network Security Ops Quant research, you want to revisit your policies/rules systematically (hopefully a couple times a year), but we are realists. Having to update rules for new capabilities within new gear provides both the means and the motive to kill some of those stale firewall rules.

We’re about halfway through the Selection process. Next we’ll tackle enterprise firewall management expectations before moving on to the advanced features that really differentiate these devices.

—Mike Rothman

Friday Summary: September 10, 2010

By Adrian Lane

I attended the OWASP Phoenix chapter meeting earlier this week, talking about database encryption. The crowd was small as the meeting was the Tuesday after Labor day, rather than the normal Thursday slot. Still, I had a good time, especially with the discussion afterwards. We talked about a few things I know very little about. Actually, there are several areas of security that I know very well. There are a few that I know reasonably well, but as I don’t practice them day to day I really don’t consider myself an expert. And there are several that I don’t know at all. And I find this odd, as it seemed that 15 years ago a single person could ‘know’ computer security. If you understood netword security, access controls, and crypto, you had a pretty good handle on things. Throw in some protocol design, injection, and pen test concepts and you were a freakin’ guru.

Given the handful of people at the OWASP meeting, there were diverse backgrounds in the audience. After the presentation we were talking about books, tools, and approaches to security. We were talking about setting up labs and CTF training sessions. Somewhere during the discussion it dawned on me just how much things have changed; there are a lot of different subdisciplines in computer security. Earlier this week Marcus Carey (@marcusjcarey) tweeted “There is no such thing as a Security Expert”, which I have to grudgingly admit is probably true. Looking across the spectrum we have everything from reverse engineering malware to disk drive forensics. It’s reached a point where it’s impossible to be a ‘security’ expert, rather you are an application security expert, or a forensic auditor, or a cryptanalyst, or some other form of specialist. We’ve undergone several evolutionary steps in understanding how to compromise computer systems, and there are a handful of signs we are getting better at addressing bad security. The depth of research and knowledge in the field of computer security has progressed at a staggering rate, which keeps things interesting and means there is always something new to learn.

With Rich in Babyland, the Labor Day holiday, and me travelling this week, you’ll have to forgive us for the brevity of this week’s summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

  • Adrian Lane: Interview Questions. I know it’s a week old, but I just saw it, and some of it’s really funny.
  • Mike Rothman: Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid. We live a cloistered, ridiculously fortunate existence. Godin provides interesting perspective on how other parts of the world buy (or don’t buy) innovation.

Project Quant Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

Blog Comment of the Week

Remember, for every comment selected, Securosis makes a $25 donation to Hackers for Charity. This week’s best comment goes to ds, in response to FireStarter: Market for Lemons.

I guess this could be read both ways… more insight as would be gained from researchers could help shift the ballance of information to the consumer, but it could also confirm the conclusion that a product was low quality.

I don’t know of any related research that shows that consumer information helps improve consumer outcomes, though that would be interesting to see. Does anyone know if the “security seal” programs actually improve user’s perceptions? And do those perceptions materialize in greater adoption? Also may be interesting.

I don’t think we need something like lemon laws for two reasons:

1) The provable cost of buying a bad product for the consumer is nominal; not likely to get any attention. The cost of the security product failing are too hard to quantify into actual numbers so I am not considering these.

2) Corporations that buy the really expensive security products have far more leverage to conduct pre-purchase evaluations, to put non-performance clauses into their contracts and to readily evaulate ongoing product suitability. The fact that many don’t is a seperate issue that won’t in any case be fixed by the law.

—Adrian Lane

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Security Briefing: September 9th

By Liquidmatrix


Pouring over the news this morning and down the rabbit hole I went. Finally snapped back before lunch. So, here is the news in a not so timely fashion.

Have a great day!


Click here to subscribe to Liquidmatrix Security Digest!.

And now, the news…

  1. iPhone hacker discovers a new Jailbreaking exploit; to fix it, Apple must ship new hardware | Mobile Crunch
  2. R.I.P. Waledac: Undoing the damage of a botnet | Technet
  3. Government breathes fresh life into Gary McKinnon case | v3.co.uk
  4. Warrants may be needed for cell phone data, court says | Network World
  5. EPIC Body Scanner Incident Report | EPIC
  6. SQL Injection in SYS.DBMS_AQIN | AppSecInc
  7. Epic failures: 11 infamous software bugs | Computer World
  8. Apple’s secret “wispr” request | Erratasec
  9. Multiple vulnerabilities in Cisco Wireless LAN Controllers | Help Net Security


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall: Technical Architecture, Part 2

By Mike Rothman

In the first part of our Enterprise Firewall technical discussion, we talked about the architectural changes required to support this application awareness stuff. But the reality is most of the propaganda pushed by the firewall vendors still revolves around speeds and feeds. Of course, in the hands of savvy marketeers (in mature markets), it seems less than 10gbps magically becomes 40gbps, 20gbps becomes 100gbps, and software on an industry-standard blade becomes a purpose-built appliance. No wonder buying anything in security remains such a confusing and agonizing endeavor.

So let’s cut through the crap and focus on what you really need to know.


In a market dominated by what I’ll call lovingly “bit haulers” (networking companies), everything gets back to throughput and performance. And to be clear throughput is important – especially depending on how you want to deploy the box and what security capabilities you want to implement. But you also need to be very wary of the religious connotations of a speeds and feeds discussion, so be able to wade through the cesspool without getting lost, and determine the best fit for your environment.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Top Speed: Most of the vendors want to talk about the peak throughput of their devices. In fact many pricing models are based on this number – which is useless to most organizations in practice. You see, a 100gbps firewall under the right circumstances can process 100gbps. But turn anything on – like more than two filtering rules, or application policies, or identity integration, and you’ll be lucky to get a fraction of the specified throughput. So it’s far more important to understand your requirements, which will then give you a feel for the real-world top speed you require. And during the testing phase you’ll be able to ensure the device can keep up.
  • Proprietary or industry-standard hardware: Two camps exist in the enterprise firewall market: those who spin their own chips and those who don’t. The chip folks have all these cool pictures that show how their proprietary chips enable all sorts of cool things. On the other hand, the guys who focus on software tell stories about how they take advantage of cool hardware technologies in industry-standard chips (read: Intel processors). This is mostly just religious/PR banter, and not very relevant to your decision process. The fact is, you are buying an enterprise firewall, which needs to be a perimeter gateway solution. How it’s packaged and who makes the chips don’t really matter. The real question is whether the device will provide the services you need at the speed your require. There is no place for religion in buying security devices.
  • UTM: Many of the players in this space talk about their ability to add capabilities such as IDS/IPS and content security to their devices. Again, if you are buying a firewall, buy a firewall. In an enterprise deployment, turning on these additional capabilities may kill the performance of a firewall, which kind of defeats the purpose of buying an evolved firewall. That said there are clearly use cases where UTM is a consideration (especially smaller/branch offices) and having that capability can swing the decision. The point here is to first and foremost make sure you can meet your firewall requirements, and keep in mind that additional UTM features may not be important to the enterprise firewall decision.
  • Networking functions: A major part of the firewall’s role is to be a traffic cop for both ingress and egress traffic passing through the device. So it’s important that your device can run at the speeds required for the use case. If the plan is to deploy the device in the data center to segment credit card data, then playing nice with the switching infrastructure (VLANs, etc.) is key. If the device is to be deployed on the perimeter, how well it plays with the IP addressing environment (network address translation) and perhaps bandwidth rate limiting capabilities are important. Are these features that will make or break your decision? Probably not, but if your network is a mess (you are free to call it ‘special’ or ‘unique’), then good interoperability with the network vendor is important, and may drive you toward security devices offered by your primary network vendor.

So it’s critical that in the initial stage of the procurement process you are very clear about what you are buying and why. If it’s a firewall, that’s great. If it needs some firewall capabilities plus other stuff, that’s great too. But figure this out, because it shapes the way you make this decision.

Product Line Consistency

Given the significant consolidation that has happened in the network security business over the past 5 years, another aspect of the technical architecture is product line consistency. By that, we mean to what degree to the devices within a vendor’s product line offer the same capabilities and user experience. In an enterprise rollout you’ll likely deploy a range different-sized devices, depending on location and which capabilities each deployment requires.

Usually we don’t much care about the underlying guts and code base these devices use, because we buy solutions to problems. But we do have to understand and ask whether the same capabilities are available up and down the product line, from the small boxes that go in branches to the big box sitting at HQ. Why? Because successfully managing these devices requires enforcing a consistent policy across the enterprise, and that’s hard if you have different devices with different capabilities and management requirements.

We also need to mention the v-word – virtualization. A lot of the vendors (especially the ones praying to the software god) offer their firewalls as virtual appliances. If you can get past the idea that the anchor of your secure perimeter will be abstracted and run under a hypervisor, this opens up a variety of deployment alternatives. But again, you need to ensure that a consistent policy can be implemented, the user experience is the same, and ultimately all the relevant capabilities from the appliances are also available from the VM version.

As we’ve learned through the Network Security Operations Quant research, there is a significant cost to operating an enterprise firewall environment, which means you must look to streamline operations when buying new devices. Consistency is one of the keys to making your environment more efficient.

Embedded Firewalls

Speaking of consistency, we also see a number of offerings that run not on a traditional appliance, dedicated device, or VM – but instead embedded on another device. This might be a WAN optimization device which lets you do everything from a single device in the branch office, or a network switch to provide more granular segmentation internally, or even on a server device (although it’s always a bad idea to make your server Internet-visible). The same deal applies here as to a vendor’s own dedicated hardware. Can you manage the firewall policy on an enterprise-wide basis? Do you have all the same capabilities? And even more important, what are the performance characteristics of the device with the firewall capabilities active and fully configured? It’s very interesting to think about integrated WAN optimizers with firewall, but not if the firewall rules add latency to the connection. That would be silly, no?

Trust, but Verify

What all this discussion really boils down to is the need to test the device as you’ll be using it before you buy. It makes no difference what a product testing lab says about throughput. Based on how you’ll use the device, what rules and capabilities you’ll implement (especially relative to application awareness), and what size device you deploy, your real performance may be slower or faster than the spec. The only way to figure that out is to actually run a proof of concept to verify the performance characteristics. Again, we’ll discuss this in great deal when we look at the selection process, but it needs to be mentioned repeatedly because most enterprises make the mistake of figuring “a firewall is a firewall” and believing performance metrics provided by marketing folks.

Next we’ll tackle issues around deployment, including high availability, clustering, and supporting small offices.

—Mike Rothman

Security Briefing: September 8th

By Liquidmatrix


Back at the helm after a great long weekend. I hope everyone has a great week (what’s left of it) and to start things off, here’s the news.

Have a great day!


Click here to subscribe to Liquidmatrix Security Digest!.

And now, the news…

  1. Data breach fines will prolong the rot | New School Security
  2. The Effect of Snake Oil Security | Threat Post
  3. Safari and Firefox updates plug critical holes | The Register
  4. Slow-Going for Web-Privacy Software | Wall Street Journal
  5. Computer stolen with students’ information | WABC
  6. Symantec ‘Hack Is Wack’ Website Fixed (sad but, true) | eWeek
  7. US lawsuit seeks to halt searches of international travellers’ electronics without cause | Canadian Press
  8. Personal data on 2,484 Arkansas St. employees inadvertently sent to scores of people | KFSM
  9. Phone hacking and an unhealthy press-police relationship | Guardian
  10. UK police urge NY Times to show hacking evidence | Reuters


Incite 9/7/2010: Iconoclastic Idealism

By Mike Rothman

Tonight starts the Jewish New Year celebration – Rosh Hashanah. So L’Shana Tova to my Jewish peeps out there. I send my best wishes for a happy and healthy 5771. At this time of year, I usually go through my goals and take a step back to evaluate what I’ve accomplished and what I need to focus on for the next year. It’s a logical time to take stock of where I’m at. But as I’ve described, I’m moving toward a No Goal philosophy, which means the annual goal setting ritual must be jettisoned.

Really, it's easy. Just follow the signs... So this year I’m doing things differently. As opposed to defining a set of goals I want to achieve over the next 12 months, which build towards my 3 and 10 year goals, I will lay down a set of ideals I want to live towards. Yeah, ideals seem so, uh, unachievable – but that’s OK. These are things that are important to my personal evolution. They are listed in no particular order:

  • Be Kind: Truth be told, my default mode is to be unkind. I’m cynical, snarky, and generally lacking in empathy. I’m not a sociopath or anything, but I also have to think consciously to say or do something nice. Despite that realization, I’m not going to stop speaking my mind, nor will I shy away from saying what has to be said. I’ll just try to do it in a nicer way. I realize some folks will continue to think I’m an ass, and I’m OK with that. As long as I go about being an ass in the right way.
  • Be Active: As I’ve mentioned, I don’t really take a lot of time to focus on my achievements. But my brother was over last week, and he saw a picture from about 5 years ago, and I was rather portly. Since that time I’ve lost over 60 pounds and am probably in the best shape I’ve been since I graduated college. The key for me is activity. I need to work out 5-6 times a week, hard. This year I’ve significantly increased the intensity of my workouts and subsequently dropped 20 pounds, and am finally within a healthy range of all the stupid actuarial tables. No matter how busy I get with all that important stuff, I need to remain active.
  • Be Present: Yeah, I know it sounds all new age and lame, but it’s true. I need to appreciate what I’m doing when I’m doing it, not focus on the next thing on the list. I need to stay focused on the right now, not what screwed up or what might (or might not) happen. Easier said than done, but critical to making the most of every day. As Master Oogway said in Kung Fu Panda:
You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present’.
  • Focus on My Problems: I’ve always been way too focused on being right. Especially when it doesn’t matter. It made me grumpy. I need to focus on the things that I can control, where I can have an impact. That means I won’t be so wrapped up in trying to get other people to do what I think they should. I can certainly offer my opinion, and probably will, but I can’t take it personally when they ignore me. After all, if I don’t control it, I can’t take ownership of it, and thus it’s not my problem. Sure that’s a bit uncaring, but if I let someone else’s actions dictate whether I’m happy or not, that gives them way too much power.
  • Accept Imperfection: Will I get there? Not every day. Probably not most days. But my final ideal is to realize that I’m going to continue screwing things up. A lot. I need to be OK with that and move on. Again, the longer I hold onto setbacks and small failures, the longer it will take me to get to the next success or achievement. This also applies to the folks I interact with, like my family and business partners. We all screw up. Making someone feel bad about it is stupid and counterproductive.

Yes, this is a tall order. Now that I’m paying attention, over the past few days I’ve largely failed to live up to these ideals. Imperfect I am, that’s for sure. But I’m going to keep trying. Every day. And that’s my plan for the New Year.

– Mike.

Photo credits: “Self Help” originally uploaded by hagner_james

Recent Securosis Posts

With Rich being out on paternity leave (for a couple more days anyway), activity on the blog has been a bit slower than normal. But that said, we are in the midst of quite a few research projects. I’ll start posting the NSO Quant metrics this week, and will be continuing the Enterprise Firewall series. We’re also starting a new series on advanced security monitoring next week. So be patient during the rest of this holiday week, and we’ll resume beating you senseless with loads of content next week…

  1. FireStarter: Market for Lemons
  2. Friday Summary: September 3, 2010
  3. White Paper Released: Understanding and Selecting SIEM/Log Management
  4. Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall:
  5. LiquidMatrix Security Briefing:

Incite 4 U

  1. We’re from the Government, and we’re here to help… – Yes, that sentence will make almost anyone cringe. But that’s one of the points Richard Clarke is making on his latest book tour. Hat tip to Richard Bejtlich for excerpting some interesting tidbits from the interview. Should the government have the responsibility to inform companies when they’ve been hacked? I don’t buy it. I do think we systematically have to share data more effectively and make a concerted effort to benchmark our security activities and results. And yes, I know that is totally counter to the way we’ve always done things. So I agree that someone needs to collect this data and help companies understand how they are doing relatively. But I just don’t think it’s any government. – MR

  2. Injection overload – Dark Reading’s Ericka Chickowski looks at SQL Injection prevention, and raises a couple good points. Sure, you should never trust input, and filtering/monitoring tools can help block known injection attacks while the applications are fixed. But for the same reason you should not trust input, you should not trust the user either. This is especially important with error handling: a proper error hierarchy to dole out graduated information depending upon the audience is necessary. It’s also incredibly rare to see a design team build this into the product because it takes time, planning, and effort. But you must be careful which error messages are sent to the user otherwise you may leak information that will be used against you. Conversely, internal logs must provide enough information to be actionable, otherwise people will wait to see the error again, hoping the next occurrence will contain clues about what went wrong – I have seen my own IT and app teams do this. Missing from Ericka’s analysis is a strategy on how to deploy the 5 suggestions, but these tips will be integrated into different operational processes for software development, application administrators, and security management teams. Good tips, but this is clearly a more complicated discussion than can be addressed in a couple paragraphs. – AL

  3. Snake oil continues to be plentiful… – I suspect we’ll all miss RSnake when he moves onto blogging retirement, but he’s still making us think. So let’s appreciate that. One of his latest missives gets back to something that makes Rich’s blood boil – basically making faulty conclusions based on incomplete data. RSnake uses a simple analogy to show how bad data, opportunistic sales folks basically selling snake oil, and the tendency for most people to be lemmings, can result in wasted time and money – with no increase in security. Right, it’s a lose lose lose situation. But we’re talking about human nature here and the safety in doing something that someone else is doing. So this isn’t going to change. The point is to make sure you make the right decisions for the right reasons. Not because your buddy in the ISSA is doing it. – MR

  4. When is Security Admin day? – LonerVamp basically purged a bunch of incomplete thoughts he’s had in his draft folder probably for years. I want to focus on a few of his pet peeves. First off because they are likely pet peeves for all of us. Yeah, we don’t have enough time, and our J.O.B.s continues to want more, faster, for less money. Blah blah blah. The one that really resonated with me was the first, No Big Box Tool beats a good admin. True dat. In doing my research for the NSO Quant project, it was very clear that there is plenty of data and even some technology to help parse it, and sort of make sense of it. You can spend a zillion dollars on those tools, but compared to an admin who understands how your network and systems really work? The tools lose every time. Great admins use their spidey sense to know when there is an issue and identify the root cause much faster. Although it’s not on the calendar, we executive types probably should have a way to recognize the admins who keep things moving. And no, requesting they cover all our bases for less money probably isn’t the right answer. – MR

  5. Oil-covered swans – Regardless of whether you agree with Alex Hutton (on anything), you need to admire his passion. On the New School blog, he came a bit unglued yesterday in discussing Black Swans or the lack thereof. I have to admit that I’m a fan of Taleb (sorry Alex) because he put math behind an idea that we’ve all struggled with. Now identifying what is really a Black Swan and what isn’t seems like intellectual masturbation to me, but Alex’s points about what we communicate to management are right on the money. It’s easy to look at a scenario that came off the rails and call it a Black Swan. The point here is that BP had numerous opportunities to get in front of this thing, but they didn’t. Whether the resulting situation could have been modeled or not isn’t relevant. They thought they knew the risks, but they were wrong. More importantly (and I suspect, Alex’s real point) is that better governance wouldn’t have made a difference with BP. It was a failure at multiple levels and the right processes (and incentives and accountability) need to be in place at all levels to really prevent these situations from happening over and over again. – MR

  6. Mixed messages – For all of the time and money SIEM and Log Management products are supposed to save us, we still struggle to extract meaningful information from vast amounts of data. Michael Janke’s thoughts on Application Logging illustrate some of the practical problems with getting a handle on event data, especially as it pertains to applications. So many event loggers are geared toward generic network activity that pulling contextual information from the application layer is tough because the event formats aren’t really geared for it. And it does not help that application developers write to whatever log format they choose. I am seeing tools and scripts pop up, which tells me a lot of people share Michael’s wishes on this subject, but it’ll be years before we see adoption of a common event type. We have been discussing the concept for 8 years in the vulnerability space without significant adoption, and we don’t expect much different for application logging. – AL

  7. It’s someone else’s problem, until it’s not… – Funny, in last week’s Friday Summary both Adrian and I flagged Dave Shackleford’s hilarious 13th Requirement post as our favorite of the week. If you can get past the humor, there is a lot of truth to what Shack is saying here. Basically, due to our litigious business environment, anyone’s first response is always to blame someone else. Pointing fingers both deceives the people who need to understand (the folks with data at risk), but also reduces liability. It’s this old innocent until proven guilty thing. If you say you are innocent, they have to prove you are guilty. And the likelihood a jury of your peers will understand a sophisticated hack is nil. So Shack is right. If you’ve been hacked, blame the QSA. If you are a QSA, blame the customer. Obviously they were hiding something. And so the world keeps turning. But thanks, Shack, at least we can laugh about it, right? – MR

—Mike Rothman