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Monday, March 01, 2010

FireStarter: Will Social Media Kill the Conference Star?

By Mike Rothman

On the eve of perhaps the biggest conference we security folks have (RSA Conference), we wanted to bait the echo chamber a bit, and wonder what the future of conferences is – especially given the amount and depth of information that is available via blogs and social media. Interestingly enough, we don’t necessarily have a consistent opinion here, but we want to hear what the community has to say.

Hypothesis: Security conferences continue to decrease in importance because the events don’t really help customers do their jobs any better.

The Bad and the Ugly

  • Weak sessions: In general, most sessions at any big conference are weak. Either poor content, poor speaking skills, or the double whammy of both, make most sessions intolerable – unless you dig making fun of the speaker on Twitter throughout the entire session.

  • Vendor Shiny Objects: The expo floors have degraded to a combination of booth babes and bandwagon-jumping exhibitors who are just trying to capitalize on whatever the buzzword or attack du jour happens to be.

The Good

  • Relationship building: All the folks I talk to continue to value the networking and relationship building opportunities that can only be accomplished in a face to face environment. These shows provide an opportunity to compare notes and figure out if you are missing something. Personally, this is the #1 reason I go to RSA and Black Hat and other conferences.

  • Trend watching: Clearly the “hallway track”, the show floor, and the conversations after hours provide guys like me with a good idea of what is hot and happening. Not necessarily what is working in the real world, but tracking trends is important too – especially for end users trying to make sure they aren’t losing too much ground to the bad guys.

  • Getting out of the office: With the number of directions the typical practitioner is pulled when they’re setting at their desk, sometimes they need to get out to have a chance to focus. Going to a nice locale is only part of this, but also the ability to do a lot of research in a short time.

Social Media Impact

So the real question is: can you replicate the relationship building and trend-spotting aspects of great conferences via social media? If you Twitter, can you build relationships and stay in tune with what is happening out there? The answer is yes, but not entirely. Personally, interacting with folks via Twitter allows me to stay in touch much more frequently and interact on a less superficial level than grabbing a beer at the W during RSA. And via blogs, online media, and forums, focused end users can do the kind of research typically possible only at a big show in the past, with a level of objective commentary which was simply not available before. So overall, social media certainly has the basis to largely supplant conferences over the next few years.

But as Rich pointed out during his review of this post, in a lot of cases social media can add impact to a conference. There is nothing like actually meeting someone you interact with through the ether, but the electronic interactions eliminates a lot of the “getting to know you” phase, because through social media you can familiarize yourself with the folks in your networks. And as Adrian mentioned, social media brings us back to an another advantage of attendance – conversations amongst small groups of folks, which gets lost in a crowd of 10,000 of your closest friends.

Not So Fast

Before we start shoveling the dirt on big security conferences, we need to look at the dark side of social media. Adrian actually calls it “anti-social media”, and he’s right. It seems vendors are working hard to screw up social media and make it basically an always-on trade show. Unfortunately, without the booth babes to make it tolerable.

For example, many bloggers got hammered with LinkedIn spam in the now-infamous Rapid7 incident a few weeks ago. My Twitter stream is polluted by PR types basically just linking to press releases and other press coverage notes. I won’t friend work contacts on Facebook (for the most part) because it’s hard enough keeping up with all the folks from high school I don’t want to hear from.

Unless folks figure out how to increase the signal to noise ratio, many of the social media networks will become as fun and as well attended as CSI. Yeah, I know that’s a low blow.

Conference 2.0

So what should the organizers be doing to change this trend? Here are a couple ideas, which may or may not be interesting. At least they should get the conversation going.

  • Get Small(er)

  • Kill Keynotes (will you miss the hot air?)

  • Community-driven content (like B-sides)

  • More pragmatism and tactics, less pontificating in sessions

The good news (for RSAC anyway) is that the show organizers recognize some of these issues and are working to address them. RSA specifically has been very welcoming to blogger types, and is experimenting with programs like the ESPP and Innovation Sandbox to add value. Over the past few years, there has also been a focus on improving the sessions through greater reviews and more oversight of presentation materials. This includes sending speaker scores from previous conferences to selection committee members in an attempt to eliminate crappy speakers from subsequent shows. But is it enough?

What do you think? At some point will you bypass the big cons for the warm confines of social media?

—Mike Rothman

Friday, February 26, 2010

RSAC 2010 Guide: Compliance

By Rich

And this is it: the final piece of the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010. Yes, there will be a lot to see at the show, and we hope this guide has been helpful for those planning to be in San Francisco. For those of you not able to attend, we’d like to think getting a feel for the major trends in each of our coverage areas wasn’t a total waste of time.

Anyhow, without further ado, let’s talk about another of the big 3 themes, and the topic you love to hate (until it allows you to fund a project): compliance.


Compliance isn’t merely a major theme for the show, it’s also likely the biggest driver of your security spending. While there’s no such thing as a compliance solution, many security technologies play a major role in helping achieve and maintain compliance.

What We Expect to See

For compliance, we will see a mix of regulation-focused messages and compliance-specific technologies:

  • New Regulations/Standards: Over the past year we’ve seen the passing or increased enforcement of a handful of new regulations with security implications – the HITECH act in healthcare, NERC-CIP for energy utilities, and the Massachusetts data protection law (201 CMR 17.00). Each of these adds either new requirements or greater penalties than previous regulations in their industries, which is sure to get the attention of senior management. While PCI is still the biggest driver in our industry, you’ll see a big push on these new requirements. If you are in one of the targeted verticals, we suggest you brush up on your specific requirements. Many of the vendors don’t really understand the specific industry details, and are pushing hard on the FUD factor. Ask which requirements they meet and how, then cut vendors who don’t get it. Your best bet is to talk with your auditor or assessor before the show to find out where you have deficiencies, and focus on addressing those issues.

  • The ‘Easy’ Compliance Button: While it isn’t a new trend, we expect to see a continued push to either reduce the cost and complexity of compliance, or convince you that vendors can. Rapid deployment, checkbox rules sets, and built-in compliance reports will top feature lists. While these capabilties might help you get off to a good start, even checkbox regulations can’t always be satisfied with checkbox solutions. Instead of focusing on the marketing messaging, before you wander the floor have an idea of the areas where you either need to improve efficiency, or have an existing deficiency. Many of the reporting features really can reduce your overhead, but enforcement features are trickier. Also, turning on all those checkboxes (especially in tools with alerts) might actually increase the time the tool eats up. Ask to walk through the interface yourself rather than sticking with the canned demos – that will give you a much better sense of whether the product can help more than it hurts. Also check on licensing, and whether you have to pay more for each compliance feature or rule set.

  • IT-GRC and Pretty Dashboards: Even though only a handful of large enterprises actually buy GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) products, plan on seeing a lot of GRC tools and banners on the show floor. Most of you don’t need dedicated IT-GRC tools, but you do need good compliance reporting in your existing security tools. Dashboards are also great eye candy – and some can be quite useful – but many are more sales tools for internal use than serious efforts to improve the security of your environment. Dig in past the top layer of GRC tools and security dashboards. Are they really the sorts of things that will help you get your job done better or faster? If not, focus on obtaining good compliance reports using your existing tools. You can use these reports to keep assessors/auditors happy and reduce audit costs.

Just in case you are getting to the party late, you can download the entire guide (PDF). Or check out the other posts in our RSAC Guide: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, Content Security, Virtualization/Cloud Security, and Security Management.


Friday Summary: February 26, 2010

By Adrian Lane

Next week is the RSA conference. You might have noticed from some of our recent blog entries. And I am really looking forward to it. It’s one of my favorite events, but I am especially anxious for good food. Yes, I want to see a bunch of friends, and yes, I have a lot of vendors I am anxious to catch up with to chat ‘bout some of their products. But honestly, all that takes a back seat to food. I like living in Arizona, but the food here sucks. Going to San Francisco, even the small hole-in-the-wall lunch places are excellent. In Phoenix, if you want a decent steak or good Mexican food, you’re covered. If you want Thai, Greek, Japanese or quality Chinese (and by that I mean a restaurant with less than two health code violations), you are out of luck. San Francisco? Every other block you find great places. And Italian. Really good Italian.

sigh … What was I talking about? Oh yeah, food!

Have you ever noticed that most security guys are into martial arts and food? Seriously. It’s true. Ask the people you know and you may be surprised at the pervasiveness of this phenomena. Combined with the fact that there are a lot of ‘foodies’ in the crowd of people I want to see, I am going look like I want to hang out, but still find quality pad thai. And I know there are going to be a dozen or so people I want to see who have the same priorities, so they won’t be offended by my ulterior motives. I plan to sneak off a couple of days and get a good lunch, and at least one evening for a good dinner, schedule be dammed! Maybe some of the noodle houses on the way up to Union Square or the hole-in-the-wall at the Embarcadero center that has surprisingly good sushi. Then swing by Peet’s on the way back for coffee that could fuel a nuclear reactor.

Anyway, it’s a short Friday summary this week because I’ve got to pack and get my presentations ready. Hope to see you all there, and please shoot me an email if you are in town and want to catch up! Just say Venti-double-shot-iced-with-cream-n-splenda-shaken, and I’m there.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

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 Alan Shimel, in response to RSAC 2010 Guide: Network Security. And in case you think this is a case of nepotism, this very topic has been on the minds of every Securosis team member too. We will have a lot more to say on this subject, but Alan is this week’s winner as he captured the essence of our internal debate!

Guys I love the RSA guide. here is one stat I would like to see though. How many at RSA are actually potential customers or is truly a party by the security industry for the security industry. SE’s actually showing you stuff on the show floor? Its more adult trick or treaters looking for t-shirts and other chatchkes.

—Adrian Lane

Thursday, February 25, 2010

RSAC 2010 Guide: Security Management

By Mike Rothman

To end a fine day, let’s continue through the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010 and discuss something that has been plaguing most of us since we started in this business: security management.

Security Management

For the past 20 years, we’ve been buying technologies to implement security controls. Yet management of all this security tends to be considered only when things are horribly broken – and they are.

What We Expect to See

There are four areas of interest at the show relative to security management:

  • Log Religion: Driven by our friends at the PCI Security Standards Council, the entire industry has gotten the need to aggregate log data and do some level of analysis. Thank you, Requirement 10! So at the show this year, we’ll find a log management infestation, with a new vendor poking out of every nook and cranny to espouse a new architecture, disruptive pricing, or some other eye candy. And yes, you do need to collect logs, so focus your efforts at the show on figuring out what is the best fit for your organization. Are you just collecting logs, or do you need to correlate and alert? What are your volume and scalability requirements? What kind of reporting do you need? What about integration with the rest of your infrastructure? The point here is not to make a decision but to establish a short list of 3-4 vendors to dig deeper into after the show.

  • Platform Mentality: Since security management is supposed to make your life easier, you don’t need to be a genius to realize that having a management console for every device type in your network doesn’t make a lot of sense. So you’ll hear a lot about SIEM + Log Management + Configuration/Patch + Vulnerability + Network Flow = Nirvana. To be clear, management leverage is good. Getting it by adding even more complexity to your environment: not so much. So to the degree that you are ready to start integrating management disciplines, focus your discussions on migration. How do you get to the promised land? Which hopefully doesn’t involve a truckload of high-priced consultants to do the ‘customization’.

  • Risk Mumbo Jumbo: Risk is likely to be a hot topic at RSA as well. The more mature security programs have figured out that ‘security’ means nothing to senior management, but C-level folks get ‘risk’. Unfortunately, there are no accepted mechanisms to define or quantify risk. So when a vendor starts talking about “risk scores” you should focus on the amount of effort to get a risk model set up and what’s required to keep it up to date. You can’t go down to Best Buy and get Risk Management in a box, so the question is how much effort you are willing to put in to show a graph – which may or may not reflect reality – to the CFO.

  • Operational Efficiency: Finally, you’ll likely hear a lot about improving the operations of your environment. That was a major theme last year in the depths of the recession, but the issue hasn’t gone away. This plays into the themes around integration and platforms, but ultimately there will be a number of niche tools (like firewall policy managers) designed to make your operational teams more efficient, saving money. Depending on the size and/or maturity of your security program, some of these tools may yield value. But adding yet another widget isn’t a good thing unless you can redeploy resources onto other functions by taking advantage of automation.

For those so inclined (or impatient), you can download the entire guide (PDF). Or check out the other posts in our RSAC Guide: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, Content Security, and Virtualization/Cloud Security.

—Mike Rothman

Retro Buffoonery

By Mike Rothman

I’m probably not supposed to do this, as I took the security marketer’s oath to get my first VP Marketing gig. But I’m going to pull the curtain back on some of the wacky stuff vendors do to sell their product/services. Today’s specific tactic is what I’ll dub retro buffoonery, which is when a vendor looks back in time, and states that they could have stopped attack X, Y and Z – if only their products were deployed before the attack.

Time machine + t-shirt = retro buffoon

You see this stuff all the time. Whether it was TJX, Heartland, ZeuS, or now the APT, vendor after vendor builds a marketing program saying they could have stopped or detected the attack. They build very specific timelines and show how their product theoretically defended customers. Note I said ‘theoretically’, because I’ve yet to see a case where a vendor had an actual customer to say “I didn’t get hosed by [Attack X] because I was using [Product Y].”

To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at McAfee’s recent post-mortem on Operation Aurora. Now I’m singling out McAfee here, but there is nothing personal. Every vendor does it. I’ve done it probably a hundred times. If you work for a vendor, you’ve done it too. Rees Johnson, the blogger, did his job and pieced together a somewhat plausible story about how a combination of McAfee products could have been assembled to defend against the Aurora attack.

Basically, if you had all your traffic going through a SSL proxy, had reputation working on every single gateway seeing network traffic, had whitelisting on every single device running code, and a huge research arm that could tell you there was something going on – then you could have detected the attack. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like either an economically feasible or realistic user experience situation – but let’s not split hairs here. And we know plenty of folks were running McAfee, but they don’t seem to have any success stories of actual Aurora detection ahead of the fact to share.

Now to be clear, retro buffoonery tells a good marketing story and allows sales people to make a compelling case to customers for a company’s technology. Even better, by referencing a real attack, it can create enough customer urgency to get a check written. Which is good because security sales reps have those monthly BMW payments to make.

But please understand, this Tuesday Morning Quarterback exercise will not help you protect your environment any better for the next attack.

In the 20 years I’ve been in this business, we have proven to be lousy at predicting the future. How many of you predicted that a 0-day attack against IE6 on XP would constitute 30+ huge and successful attacks over the past 3 months? Probably the same folks who predicted SQL Slammer, TJX-style wireless POS attacks, and Heartland-style network sniffers. Even better, there are always multiple vendors telling stories about how different classes of products stop these attacks. Yet the attacks still happen, so it always gets back to the same thing – in hindsight, you’re sure you could’ve caught the attack. In reality, not so much.

Vendors hope we’ll forget that it’s more than just a signature or a product that actually protects us against these attacks. We also must remember process and people complete the picture. Maybe if you backed up the truck and implemented everything McAfee has to sell you, you could have stopped Aurora. But probably not, because most companies have at least one unsuspecting employee who would have clicked on the wrong thing from the wrong place, and given the attacker a foothold on your network. And remember what persistent means. These folks are targeting you, so they’ll find a way in, regardless of how many cents per share you contribute to the bottom line of your favorite security vendor.

So sorry, Mr. Retro Buffoonery Tuesday Morning Quarterback Always Completing the Pass Because It’s Easy to See in the Rear View Mirror, I don’t buy it. There are too many other things that go wrong to believe a wacky marketing claim that any set of products would stop a determined, well-funded attacker specifically targeting your organization.

But you’ll see plenty of this bravado at the RSA Conference next week. And hopefully you’ll do as I do, and just laugh.

—Mike Rothman

RSAC 2010 Guide: Virtualization and Cloud Security

By Rich

Now that we are at the end of the major technology areas covered in the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010, let’s discuss one of the 3 big themes of the show: Virtualization and Cloud Security.

Virtualization and Cloud Security

The thing about virtualization and ‘cloud’ is that they really cut across pretty much every other coverage area. But given they’re new and shiny – which really means confusing and hype-ridden – we figured it was better to split out this topic, to provide proper context on what you’ll see, what to believe, and what is important.

What We Expect to See

For virtualization and cloud security there are four areas to focus on:

  • Virtualization Security: The tools and techniques for locking down virtual machines and infrastructures. Most virtualization risk today is around improper management configuration and changes to networking, which may introduce new security issues or circumvent traditional network security controls. Focus on virtualization security management tools – especially configuration management that can handle the virtualization configuration, not just the operating system configuration and network security. Be careful when vendors over-promise on network security performance – you can’t simply move a physical appliance into a virtual appliance on shared hardware and expect the same performance.

  • Security as a Service: A variety of new and existing security technologies can be delivered as services via the cloud. Early examples included cloud-based email filtering and DDoS protection, and we now have options for everything from web filtering, to log management, to vulnerability assessment, to configuration management. Many of these are hybrid models, which require some sort of point of presence server or appliance on your network. Security as a Service is especially interesting for mid-sized enterprises, since it’s often able to substantially reduce management and maintenance costs. Although many of these offerings don’t technically meet the definition of cloud computing, don’t tell the marketing departments.

  • Cloud-Powered Security: Some vendors are leveraging cloud-based features to enhance their security product offerings. The product itself isn’t delivered from the cloud or aimed at securing the cloud, but uses the cloud to enhance its capabilities. For example, an anti-malware vendor that leverages cloud technologies to collect malware samples for signature generation. This is where we see the most abuse of the term ‘cloud’, and you should push the vendor on how the technology really works rather than relying on branding vapor.

  • Cloud Security: The tools and techniques for securing cloud deployments. This is what most of us think of when we hear “cloud security”, but it’s what you’ll see the least of on the show floor. We suggest you attend the Cloud Security Alliance Summit on Monday (if you’re reading this before then) or Rich’s presentation with Chris Hoff on Tuesday at 3:40. You can also visit the Cloud Security Alliance in booth 2641.

We guarantee your data center, application, and storage teams are looking hard at, or are already using, cloud and virtualization, so this is one area you’ll want to pay attention to despite the hype.

For those so inclined (or impatient), you can download the entire guide (PDF). Or check out the other posts in our RSAC Guide: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, and Content Security.


RSAC 2010 Guide: Content Security

By Adrian Lane

Two business days and counting, so today and tomorrow we’ll be wrapping up our Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010. This morning let’s hit what the industry calls “content security,” which is really email and web filtering. Rich just loves the term content security, so let’s see how many times we can say it.

Email/Web (Content) Security

In case you missed it, every email security vendor on the planet offers web content filtering within their portfolio of products and – for better or worse – the combination is now known as content security. No other security market has embraced the concept of ‘the cloud’ and SaaS offerings as enthusiastically as content security providers. In an effort to deal with increasing volumes of spam and malware without completely overhauling all your hardware, vendors offer outsourced content filtering as a cost effective way to add both capacity and capability. Almost all vendors offer traditional on-premise software or appliances, fortified with cloud services (most refer to this as a hybrid model) for additional screening of content.

What We Expect to See

There are three areas of interest at the show relative to content security:

  • Fully Integrated Platforms: As you wander the show floor at Moscone Center, we expect every vendor to say that their web and email security platforms are completely integrated. What this usually means is that your reports are shared, but cloud and appliance consoles are separate, as is policy management. It’s funny how the vendors have such a flexible definition of ‘integrated.’ If you are looking at migrating to a combined solution, you need to dig in to see what is really integrated and what simply shares the same dashboard, how your user experience will change (for the better), and how effective & clean their results are – end users get grumpy if their favorite web sites are classified as unsafe or they get spam in their inboxes.

  • Hybrid Cloud Services: We expect every vendor to offer a ‘cloud’ service in order to jump on the cloud bandwagon. This may be nothing more that an anti-spam or remote web filtering gateway deployed on shared infrastructure as a hosted service. The quality and diversity of cloud services varies greatly, as does the level of security provided by different cloud hosting companies. Once you get past the hype of certifications and technobabble, ask the vendors what types of audits and third party security certifications they will allow. Ask what sort of financial commitments they will make in the event that they fail to live up to their service level agreements, and what their SLAs with the cloud infrastructure providers look like. Those two questions usually halt the discussion, and will quickly distinguish hype mongers rom folks who have really thought through cloud deployment.

  • DLP Lite: As we’ll see in the Data Security section, DLP is hot again. Thus we expect to see every content security vendor offering ‘DLP’ or ‘Data Loss Prevention’ within their products, but in reality most only offer regular expression checks of network content. Yes, they’ll be able to detect an account number or a social security number, but that is only a sliver of what DLP needs to be. Content discovery and more advanced forms of content inspection (heuristic, lexical, cyclic hash, etc.) will be noticeably absent. Again, we recommend you challenge the content security vendor to dig into their discovery and detection capabilities and prove it’s more than regular expressions. Keep in mind that a trade show demo is probably inadequate for you to sufficiently explore the advanced features, so your objective should be to identify 3-4 vendors for deep dives after the show.

For those so inclined (or impatient), you can download the entire guide (PDF). Or check out the other posts in our RSAC Guide: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, and Endpoint Security.

—Adrian Lane

Answering Dan Geer: It’s Time to Reexamine Priorities and Revisit Paradigms

By Adrian Lane

Dan Geer wrote an article for SC Magazine on The enterprise information protection paradigm, discussing the fundamental disconnect between the derived value of data and the investment to protect information. He asks the important question: If we reap ever increasing returns on information, where is the investment to protect the data? Dan has an eloquent take on a long-standing viewpoint in the security community that Enterprise Information Protection (EIP) is a custodial responsibility of corporations, as it is core to generation of revenue and thus the company’s value.

Dan’s point that we don’t pay enough attention (and spend enough money and time) on data security is inarguable – we lose a lot of data, and it costs. His argument that we should concentrate on (unification of) existing technologies (such as encryption, audit, NAC, and DLP), however, is flawed – we already have lots of this technology, so more of the same is not the answer.

Part of our problem is that in the real world, inherent security is only part of the answer. We also have external support, such as police who arrest bank robbers – it’s not entirely up to the bank to stop bank robbers. In the computer security world – for various reasons – legal enforcement is highly problematic and much less aggressive than for physical crimes like robbery.

I don’t have a problem with Dan’s reasoning on this issue. His argument for the motivation to secure information is sound. I do, however, take issue with a couple of the examples he uses to bridge his reasoning from one point to the next.

First, Dan states, “We have spent centuries learning about securing the physical world, plus a few years learning about securing the digital world. What we know to be common to both is this: That which cannot be tolerated must be prevented.” He puts that in very absolute terms, and I do not believe it is true in either the physical or electronic realms. For example, our society absolutely does not tolerate bank robberies. However, preventative measures are miniscule. The banks are open for business and pretty much anyone can walk in the door. Rather than prevent a robbery, we collect information from witnesses, security cameras, and other forensic information – to find, catch, and punish bank robbers. We hope that the threat of the penalty will deter most potential robbers, and sound police work will allow us to catch up with the remainder who are daring enough to commit these crimes.

While criminals are very good at extracting real value from virtual objects, law enforcement has done a crappy job at investigating, punishing, and (indirectly) deterring crimes in and around data theft. These two crucial factors are absent in electronic crimes in comparison to physical crimes. It’s not that we can’t – it’s that we don’t.

This is not to undermine Dan’s basic point – that enterprises which derive value from data are not protecting themselves sufficiently, and contributorily negligent. But stating that “The EIP mechanism – an unblinking eye focused on information – has to live where the data lives.” and “EIP unifies data leakage prevention (DLP), network access control (NAC), encryption policy and enforcement, audit and forensics,” argues that network and infrastructure security are the answer. As Gunnar Peterson has so astutely pointed out many times, while the majority of IT spending is in data management applications, our security spending is predominately in and around the network. That means the investments made today are to secure data at rest and data in motion, rather than data in use. Talking about EIP as an embodiment of NAC & DLP and encryption policy reinforces the same suspect security investment choices we have been making for some time. We know how to effectively secure data “at that point where data-at-rest becomes data-in-motion”. The problem is we suck ” … at the point of use where data is truly put at risk …” – that’s not network or infrastructure, but rather in applications.

A basic problem with data security is that we do not punish crimes at anywhere near the same rate as we do physical crimes. There is no (or almost no) deterrence, because examples of capturing and punishing crimes are missing. Further, investment in data security is typically misguided. I understand how this happens – protecting data in use is much harder than encrypting TCP/IP or disk drives – but where we invest is a critical part of the issue. I don’t want this to come across as disagreement with Dan’s underlying premise, but I do want to stress that we need to make more than one evolutionary shift.

—Adrian Lane

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Webcast on Thursday: Pragmatic Database Compliance and Security

By Rich

Auditors got you down? Struggling to manage all those pesky database-related compliance issues?

Thursday I’m presenting a webcast on Pragmatic Database Compliance and Security. It builds off the base of Pragmatic Database Security, but is more focused on compliance, with top tips for your favorite regulations.

It is sponsored by Oracle, and you can sign up here.

We’ll cover most of the major database security domains, and I’ll show specifically how to apply them to major regulations (PCI, HIPAA, SOX, and privacy regs). If you are a DBA or security professional with database responsibilities, there’s some good stuff in here for you.


RSAC 2010 Guide: Endpoint Security

By Mike Rothman

The fun is just beginning. We continue our trip through the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010 by discussing what we expect to see relative to Endpoint Security.

Endpoint Security

Anti-virus came onto the scene in the early 90’s to combat viruses proliferated mostly by sneakernet. You remember sneakernet, don’t you? Over the past two decades, protecting the endpoint has become pretty big business, but we need to question the effectiveness of traditional anti-virus and other endpoint defenses, given the variety of ways to defeat those security controls. This year we expect many of the endpoint vendors to start espousing “value bundles” and alternative controls such as application whitelisting, while jumping on the cloud bandwagon to address the gap between claims and reality.

What We Expect to See

There are four areas of interest at the show for endpoint security:

  • The Suite Life: There are many similarities between current endpoint security suites and office automation suites in the early part of the decade. The applications don’t work particularly well, but in order to keep prices up, more and more stuff you don’t need gets bundled into the package. There is no end to that trend in sight, as the leading endpoint agent companies have been acquiring new technologies (such as full disk encryption and DLP) to broaden their suites and maintain their price points. But at the show this year, it’s reasonable to go to your favorite endpoint agent vendor and ask them why they can’t seem to “get ahead of the threat.” Yes, that is a rhetorical question, but we Securosis folks like to see vendors squirm, so that would be a good way to start the conversation. Also be on the lookout for the folks offering “Free AV” and talking about how ridiculous it is to be paying for AV nowadays. Just be aware, the big booths with the Eastern European models don’t come cheap, so they will get their pound of flesh in the form of management consoles and upselling to more full-featured suites (which actually may do something).

  • The Cloud Messiah: Endpoint vendors aren’t the only ones figuring the ‘cloud’ will save them from all their issues, but they will certainly be talking about how integrating malware defenses into the ‘cloud’ will increase effectiveness and keep the attackers at bay. This is another game of three-card monty, and the endpoint vendors are figuring you won’t know the difference. After you’ve asked the vendor why they can’t stop even simplistic web attacks or detect a ZeuS infection, they’ll probably start talking about “shared intelligence” and the great googly-moogly malware engine in the sky. At this point, ask a pretty simple question: “How do you win this arms race?” With 2-3 million new malware attacks happening this year, how long can this signature-based approach work? That should make for more interesting conversation.

  • Control Strategies: Given that traditional anti-virus is mostly useless against today’s attacks, you are going to hear a number of smaller application whitelisting vendors start to go more aggressively after the endpoint security companies. But this category (along with USB device control technology) suffers from a perception that the technology breaks applications and impacts user experience. As with every competitive tete-a-tete, there is some truth to that argument. So challenge the white listing vendors on how they impact the user experience (or don’t) and can provide similar value to an endpoint security suite (firewall, HIPS, full disk encryption, etc.).

  • Laptop Encryption: You’ll likely also be hearing about another feature of most of the endpoint suites: full disk encryption (FDE). There will be lots of FUD about the costs of disclosure and why it’s just a lot easier to encrypt your mobile devices and be done with it. For once, the vendor mouthpieces are absolutely right. But this brings us to the question of what features you need, whether FDE should be bundled into your endpoint suite, and how you can recover data when users inevitably lose passwords and devices are stolen. So if you have mobile users (and who doesn’t?), it’s not an issue of whether you need the technology – it’s the most effective way to procure and deploy.

For those so inclined (or impatient), you can download the entire guide (PDF). Or check out the other posts in our RSAC Guide: Network Security, Data Security, and Application Security.

—Mike Rothman

Incite 2/23/10: Flexibility

By Mike Rothman

It is said that unhappiness results from either not getting what you want, or getting what you don’t want. I’m pretty sure strep throat qualifies as something you don’t want, and it certainly is causing some unhappiness in Chez Rothman. Yesterday, I picked up 4 different antibiotics for everyone in the house except me, which must qualify me for some kind of award at the Publix pharmacy.

How do you get it to bend like that?

I like to think of myself as a reasonably flexible person who can go with the flow – but in reality, not so much. I don’t necessarily have a set schedule, but I know what I need to get done during the day and roughly when I want to work on certain things. But when the entire family is sick, you need to improvise a bit. Unfortunately that is hard for a lot of people, including me. So when the best laid plans of sitting down and cranking out content were subverted by a high maintenance 6 year old – who wanted to converse about all sorts of things and wanted me to listen – I needed to engage my patience bone.

Oh yeah, I don’t have a patience bone. I don’t even have a patience toenail. So I got a bit grumpy, snarled a bit, and was generally an ass. The Boss was good in pointing out I’m under a lot of stress heading into a big conference and to give me a wide berth, but that’s a load of crap. I had my priorities all screwed up. I needed to take a step back and view this as a positive and figure this is another great opportunity to work on my patience and show the flexibility that I claim to have. So I chat with my girl when she’s done watching Willy Wonka, and I go out to the pharmacy and get the medicine.

Here is the deal – crap is going to happen. You’ll get sick at the most inopportune time. Or your dog will. Or maybe it’s your kid. Or your toilet will blow up or your washing machine craps out. It’s always something. And there are two ways to deal with it. You can get pissy (like I did this morning), which doesn’t really do anything except make a bad situation worse. My other option was to realize that I’m lucky to have a flexible work environment and a set of partners who can (and do) cover for me. Yes, the latter is the right answer. So I cover at home when I need to and soon enough I’ll be back to my regular routine and that will be good too.

Um, I’m not sure who wrote this post, but I kind of like him.

– Mike

Photo credit: “Be Flexible” originally uploaded by Chambo25

Incite 4 U

I’d like say it’s the calm before the storm, but given that 4 out of the 5 people I live with are sick, there’s no calm on the home front, and there is always the last minute prep work involved in getting ready for the RSA Conference that makes the week before somewhat frantic. And that’s a good description of this week thus far.

If you are heading out to San Francisco, check out our Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010 (PDF), or the bite-size chunks as we post them on the blog this week. That should help you get a feel for the major themes and what to look for at the show.

Finally, make sure to RSVP for the Disaster Recovery Breakfast we are hosting on Thursday morning with the fine folks of Threatpost.

  1. Without exploits, what’t the point? – Andy the IT Guy wrote a piece about whether pen tests require the use of exploits. He cites some PCI chapter and verse, coming to the conclusion that exploits are not required for the pen testing requirement of PCI. Whether it is or is not required is up to your assessor, but that misses the point. Yes, exploits can be dangerous and they can knock stuff down. But pen testing using real exploits is the closest you are going to get to a real world scenario. That old adage that any battle plan doesn’t survive contact with the enemy – it’s true. So your vulnerability scanner will tell you what’s vulnerable, not what can be exploited, and I can assure you the bad guys don’t just stop once they’ve knocked on your door with Nessus. – MR

  2. IE6 + Adobe = Profit! – An article by Brian Krebs on a new experimental tool to prevent drive-by malware on Windows got me thinking. Blade (BLock All Drive-by Exploits) doesn’t stop the exploit, but supposedly eliminates the ability to install a download without user approval. Assuming it works as advertised, it could be useful, although it won’t stop horny users from installing malware in attempts to view videos of nekked folks. But the interesting part is the statistics from their testing – over 40% of attacks are against IE 6, with a whopping 67% of drive by attacks targeting Adobe Reader or Flash. If those numbers don’t give you at least a little juice with management to update your applications and get off IE6, or to prioritize Adobe patches, perhaps it’s time to polish the resume. – RM

  3. Socially Inept – Security Barbie had a good post on the Rapid 7 incident in “My ode to Rapid7” where a few sales people Twitter & LinkedIn spammed the bejesus out of the entire security community. Or at least the echo chamber of folks most likely to bitch about it. “Fine, fine. I’m gonna take them off my list of successful people today.” I am not poking fun at Rapid7, but there are strange boundaries of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior on venues like Twitter. It’s fine to ask my friends what they think of a product or company, but not OK for people I don’t know from that company to offer an opinion. Every corporation out there has a PR and media strategy for social media, and usually approaches it in a totally anti-social way. A corporation acting like it’s my friend on social media is, well, creepy. It’s not like a corporation comes to my house to have a beer and watch a UFC match, especially since I don’t have cable TV. Following tweets to gauge customer acceptance is one thing, but trying to participate with me like we’re buddies is more about managing perceptions than socially interacting. But people representing companies on social media venues is a grey area. Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t tweet more often is much of what interests me in security is now (my) business, and I am uncertain where to draw the line. – AL

  4. Business Advice from Van Halen – This is an awesome way to tell if your vendor isn’t paying attention. It’s the business version of asking if the product supports RFC3514 or RFC2549. A former coworker would ask vendors about LRF support. Similarly, I’ve thrown all sorts of bizarre requirements into contracts and RFIs just to see what the responses are, and whether people are paying attention. What are your indicators that vendors are just going through the motions? – DMort

  5. It’s about the Business, Stupid… – I absolutely love this response from a CIO in response to why a CISO candidate didn’t get a job. Right, it’s not about ‘us’ and our security problems. It’s about relating value to business problems and showing how security can help the business achieve its goals. It seems a lot of security folks don’t get senior management because they don’t understand how important security is, and how not doing security well puts the company at risk. Read this, and make sure it’s not you with such a myopic view of the business. – MR

  6. An Agile Crust, Tinged with a Risk Reduction and a Side of Backlog – J.D. Meier posted on Agile Security Engineering this week, talking about overlaying security activities on top of an “Agile software cycle”. He broke down security tasks and mapped them to Agile phases. The post raised several red flags for me, because the security tasks mapped to the iteration cycle a) are not performed on every iteration, b) don’t necessarily fit in the iteration time line, or c) are part of the implicit test-driven development. Agile is good at getting high priorities attention very fast – the middle ground is the killer. Security ‘stories’ end up on the project backlog, with mid-to-low priority levels, and the “buckets” described are never pushed up the queue for web applications because there is no end state for web application development programs. If J.D. is making this work I would love to see a fully fleshed out case study, because this describes a model I find to be broken. – AL

  7. You Can’t Outsource Thinking – Bejtlich tackles whether it makes sense to outsource incident response, and honestly I did a double take. Did someone really ask that? OK, Richard basically says in a very nice and politically correct way that it’s not a very good idea. Being neither nice nor politically correct, I say that’s security career suicide. It gets back to my philosophy that the only thing you can’t outsource is thinking. Everything else is fair game. So you can get some help with your incident response. But you need to run your IR team, just like you need to run your security program, though parts of it can (and should) be outsourced. – MR

  8. Don’t Catch a Social Networking Disease – I am completely fascinated by the larger historical implications of social networking and technology over time. Years ago I wrote a post on the potential political implications once we reach a point where all politicians grew up with social technologies. Can you image George W. Bush having to deal with tweets like, “Crashed daddy’s car into tree on lawn and told him he’s an ass. Need more beer.” Andy the IT Guy writes about the dangers of poor social networking policies using an example from reality TV. If you don’t have a clear policy and educate employees (and prospects), you’re leaving the door open for problems. And don’t forget to balance your policies with the need to attract and maintain workers, or you might end up like Forrester. – RM

—Mike Rothman

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

RSAC 2010 Guide: Application Security

By Adrian Lane

Continuing our postings from the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010, we turn our attention to application security.

Application Security

Application Security is a nascent market, but data from several recent data breach reports and OWASP studies have disproven the myth of the “Insider Threat”. The primary cause of breaches is poorly executed applications – specifically web applications that rely on complex multi-layered infrastructure. While there is no agreement on which methods and technologies are ‘best’ for securing applications, application developers show growing interest in learning about the available options.

What We Expect to See

  • A Focus on Web Application Development Security: As a general rule we don’t have very good statistics in security and risk management, but this trend is changing. With better forensic information we are showing that web application breaches are the leading cause of security breaches. While this has not yet translated into a significant change in security spending, expect to see long lines and greater interest in code security products and education. Vendors will be disappointed at dealing with lower level IT and software practitioners who come across as tire-kickers who ask too many questions, but this is tomorrow’s buying center! These are the people who will change their applications and deployments to be more secure, not CIOs.

  • Anti-exploitation: While education in the development community lags regarding what constitutes risky code, tools that identify poor code or provide anti-exploitation will get a lot of attention as they raise the bar without a lot of re-engineering. The tools vary greatly in the depth of their features, how they are deployed, and where in the development cycle they fit. For example, some examine source code, some examine objects while they are compiled or linked, and others offer run-time protection. You will need to ask the vendor what classes of anti-exploitation they provide, and see if their model fits your development framework.

  • Integrated Assessment and Firewall Technologies: Web application development cycles are so short that full regression testing of new functions is generally impossible. More, test systems fail to mimic live production sites, so many vulnerabilities are missed prior to deployment. This has increased demand for application scanning, and changed it into a never-ending task. The window of time between when a vulnerability is introduced and when it is discovered is very small. In most cases exploitation begins before a fix can be identified, implemented, tested, and rolled out to production servers. To fill the gap, vulnerabilities discovered by application scanners are being fed into web application firewall (WAF) platforms in near-real-time to block while the application fix is underway. Since the 2009 RSA show, the number of WAF vendors who offer dynamic blocking has tripled. The quality of the assessment is still key, but investigate what your WAF provider is offering, how quickly new policies can be deployed, and what the performance impact will be. This is an effective security feature but has potential policy management and performance impacts which you need to understand.

For those so inclined (or impatient), you can download the entire guide (PDF). Or check out the first post in the RSAC Guide on Network Security.

—Adrian Lane

RSAC 2010 Guide: Data Security

By Rich

Over the next 3 days, we’ll be posting the content from the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010. We broke the market into 8 different topics: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, Content (Web & Email) Security, Cloud and Virtualization Security, Security Management, and Compliance. For each section, we provide a little history and what we expect to see at the show. Next up is Data Security.

Data Security

Although technically nearly all of Information Security is directed at protecting corporate data and content, in practice our industry has historically focused on network and endpoint security. At Securosis we divide up the data security world into two major domains based on how users access data – the data center and the desktop. This reflects how data is managed far more practically than “structured” and “unstructured”. The data center includes access through enterprise applications, databases, and document management systems. The desktop includes productivity applications (the Office suite), email, and other desktop applications and communications.

What We Expect to See

There are four areas of interest at the show relative to data security:

  • Content Analysis: This is the ability of security tools to dig inside files and packets to understand the content inside, not just the headers or other metadata. The most basic versions are generally derived from pattern matching (regular expressions), while advanced options include partial document matching and database fingerprinting. Content analysis techniques were pioneered by Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools; and are starting to pop up in everything from firewalls, to portable device control agents, to SIEM systems.

The most important questions to ask identify the kind of content analysis being performed. Regular expressions alone can work, but result in more false positives and negatives than other options. Also find out if the feature can peer inside different file types, or only analyze plain text. Depending on your requirements, you may not need advanced techniques, but you do need to understand exactly what you’re getting and determine if it will really help you protect your data, or just generate thousands of alerts every time someone buys a collectable shot glass from Amazon.

  • DLP Everywhere: Here at Securosis we use a narrow definition for DLP that includes solutions designed to protect data with advanced content analysis capabilities and dedicated workflow, but not every vendor marketing department agrees with our approach. Given the customer interest around DLP, we expect you’ll see a wide variety of security tools with DLP or “data protection” features, most of which are either basic content analysis or some form of context-based file or access blocking. These DLP features can be useful, especially in smaller organizations and those with only limited data protection needs, but they are a pale substitute if you need a dedicated data protection solution.

When talking with these vendors, start by digging into their content analysis capabilities and how they really work from a technical standpoint. If you get a technobabble response, just move on. Also ask to see a demo of the management interface – if you expect a lot of data-related violations, you will likely need a dedicated workflow to manage incidents, so user experience is key. Finally, ask them about directory integration – when it comes to data security, different rules apply to different users and groups.

  • Encryption and Tokenization: Thanks to a combination of PCI requirements and recent data breaches, we are seeing a ton of interest in application and database encryption and tokenization. Tokenization replaces credit card numbers or other sensitive strings with random token values (which may match the credit card format) matched to real numbers only in a central highly secure database. Format Preserving Encryption encrypts the numbers so you can recover them in place, but the encrypted values share the credit card number format. Finally, newer application and database encryption options focus on improved ease of use and deployment compared to their predecessors.

You don’t really need to worry about encryption algorithms, but it’s important to understand platform support, management user experience (play around with the user interface), and deployment requirements. No matter what anyone tells you, there are always requirements for application and database changes, but some of these approaches can minimize the pain. Ask how long an average deployment takes for an organization of your size, and make sure they can provide real examples or references in your business, since data security is very industry specific.

  • Database Security: Due partially to acquisitions and partially to customer demand, we are seeing a variety of tools add features to tie into database security. Latest in the hit parade are SIEM tools capable of monitoring database transactions and vulnerability assessment tools with database support. These parallel the dedicated Database Activity Monitoring and Database Assessment markets. As with any area of overlap and consolidation, you’ll need to figure out if you need a dedicated tool, or if features in another type of product are good enough. We also expect to see a lot more talk about data masking, which is the conversion of production data into a pseudo-random but still usable format for development.


RSVP for the Securosis and Threatpost Disaster Recovery Breakfast

By Rich

We quite enjoy all the free evening booze at the RSA conference, but most days what we’d really like is just a nice, quiet breakfast. Seriously, what’s with throwing massive parties for people to network, then blasting the music so loud that all we can do is stand around and stare at the mostly-all-dude crowd?

In response, last year we started up the Disaster Recovery Breakfast, and it went over pretty well. It’s a nice quiet breakfast with plenty of food, coffee, recovery items (aspirin & Tums), and even the hair of the dog for those of you not quite ready to sober up. No marketing, no presentations, no sales types trolling for your card. Sit where you want, drop in and out as much as you want, and if you’re really a traditionalist, blast your iPod and stand in a corner staring at us while nursing a Bloody Mary.

This year we will be holding it Thursday morning at Jillian’s in the Metreon from 8-11. It’s an open door during that window, and feel free to stop by at any time and stay as long as you want. We’re even cool if you drive through just to mooch some quick coffee.

Please RSVP by dropping us a line at rsvp@securosis.com, and we’ll see you there!


RSAC 2010 Guide: Network Security

By Mike Rothman

Over the next 3 days, we’ll be posting the content from the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010. We broke the market into 8 different topics: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, Content (Web & Email) Security, Cloud and Virtualization Security, Security Management, and Compliance. For each section, we provide a little history and what we expect to see at the show. First up is Network Security.

Network Security

Since we’ve been connecting to the Internet people have been focused on network security, so the sector has gotten reasonably mature. As a result, there has been a distinct lack of innovation over the past few years. There have certainly been hype cycles (NAC, anyone?), but most organizations still focus on the basics of perimeter defense. That means intrusion prevention (IPS) and reducing complexity by collapsing a number of functions into an integrated Unified Threat Management (UTM) device.

What We Expect to See

There are four areas of interest at the show for network security:

  • Application Awareness: This is the ability of devices to decode and protect against application layer attacks. Since most web applications are encapsulated in HTTP (port 80) or HTTPS (port 443) traffic, to really understand what’s happening it’s important for network devices to dig into each packet and understand what the application is doing. This capability is called deep packet inspection (DPI), and most perimeter devices claim to provide it, making for a confusing environment with tons of unsubstantiated vendor claims. The devil is in the details of how each vendor implements DPI, so focus on which protocols they understand and what kinds of policies and reporting are available on a per-protocol basis.

  • Speeds and Feeds: As with most mature markets, especially on the network, at some point it gets down to who has the biggest and fastest box. Doing this kind of packet decodes and attack signature matching requires a lot of horsepower, and we are seeing 20gbps IPS devices appear. You will also see blade architectures on integrated perimeter boxes, and other features focused on adding scale to the environment as customer networks continue to go faster. Since every organization has different requirements, spend some time ahead of the show on understanding what you need and how you’d like to architect your network security environment. Get it down on a single piece of paper and head down to the show floor. When you get to the vendor booth, find an SE (don’t waste time with a sales person) and have them show you how their product(s) can meet your requirements. They’ll probably want to show you their fancy interface and some other meaningless crap. Stay focused on your issues and don’t leave until you understand in your gut whether the vendor can get the job done.

  • Consolidation and Integration: After years of adding specific boxes to solve narrow problems, many organizations’ perimeter networks are messes. Thus the idea of consolidating both boxes (with bigger boxes) and functions (with multi-function devices) continues to be interesting. There will be lots of companies on the show floor talking about their UTM devices, targeting small companies and large with similar equipment. Of course, the needs of the enterprise fundamentally differ from small business requirements, so challenge how well suited any product is for your environment. That means breaking out your one-page architecture again, and having the SEs on the show floor show you how their integrated solutions can solve your problems. Also challenge them on their architecture, given that the more a box needs to do (firewall, IPS, protocol decode, content security, etc.) the lower its throughput. Give vendor responses the sniff test and invite those who pass in for a proof of concept.

  • Forensics: With the understanding that we cannot detect some classes of attacks in advance, forensics and full packet capture gear will be high profile at this year’s conference. This actually represents progress, although you will see a number of vendors talking about blocking APT-like attackers. The reality is (as we’ve been saying for a long time under the React Faster doctrine) that you can’t stop the attacks (not all of them, anyway), so you had better figure out sooner rather than later that you have been compromised, and then act accordingly. The key issues around forensics are user experience, chain of custody, and scale. Most of today’s networks generate a huge amount of data, and you’ll have to figure out how to make that data usable, especially given the time constraints inherent to incident response. You also need to get comfortable with evidence gathering and data integrity, since it’s easy to say the data will hold up in court, but much harder to make it do so.

And for those of you who cannot stand the suspense, you can download the entire guide (PDF).

—Mike Rothman