Welcome to the Friday the 13th edition of the Friday Summary! It has been a while since I wrote the summary so there is lots to cover …

My favorite external post this week is a research paper, Mongo Databases At Risk, outlining a very common trend among MongoDB users: not using basic user authentication to secure their databases. Well, that, and putting them on the Internet. On the default port. Does this sound like SQL Server circa 2003 to anyone else?

One angle I found important was the number of instances discovered: nearly 40k databases. That is a freakin’ lot! Remember, this is MongoDB. And just those running on the Internet at the default port. Yes, it’s one of the top NoSQL platforms, but during our inquiries we spoke with 4 Hadoop users for every MongoDB user. MongoDB was also behind Hadoop and Cassandra. I don’t know if anyone publishes download or usage numbers for the various platforms, but extrapolating from those numbers, there are a lot of NoSQL databases in use. Someone with more time on their hands might decide to scan the Internet for instances of the other platforms (the default port for Hadoop, Cassandra, CouchDB, and Redis is 6380; RIAK is 8087). I would love to know what you find.

Back to security… I have had conversations with several firms trying to figure out how to monitor NoSQL usage; we know how to apply DAM principles to SQL, but MapReduce and other types of queries are much more difficult to parse. I expect several vendors to introduce basic monitoring for Hadoop in the next year, but it will take time to mature, and even more to cover other platforms. What I haven’t heard discussed is the easier – and no less pressing – issue of configuration and vulnerability assessment. The enterprise distributions are providing best practices but automated scans are scarce – and usually custom. That is a free hint for any security vendors looking for a quick way to help big data customers get secure.

Mobile security consumes much more of my time than it should. I geek out on it, often engaging Gunnar in conversation on everything from the inner workings of secure elements to the apps that make payments happen. And I read everything I can find. This week I ran across Why Banks Will Win the Battle for the Mobile Wallet, by John Gunn – the guy who runs the wonderfully helpful twitter feed @AuthNews. But on this I think he has missed the point. Banks are not battling to win mobile wallets. In fact those I have spoken with don’t care about wallets. They care about transactions. And moving more transactions from cash to credit means a growing stream of revenue for merchant banks and payment processors, which makes them very happy.

Wallets in and of themselves don’t fosters adoption – as Google is well aware – and in fact many users don’t really trust wallets at all. What gets people to move from a plastic card or cash, at least in the US, is a combination of convenience and trust. Starbucks leveraged their brand affinity into seven million subscribers for their app and an impressive 2.1 million transactions per week. Banks benefit directly when more transactions move away from cash, and they are happy to let others own the user experience.

But things get really interesting in overseas markets, which make US adoption of mobile payments look like a payments backwater. Nations without traditional banking or payment infrastructure can now move money in ways they previously could not, so adoption rates have been huge. Leveraging cellular infrastructure makes it faster and safer to move money, with fewer worries about carrying cash. Nations like Kenya – which is not often considered on the cutting edge of technology, but had 25 million mobile payment users and moved $26 billion in 2014 via mobile payments and mobile money subscriptions. Sometimes technology really does make the world a better place. The banks don’t care which wallets, apps, technology, or carriers wins – they just want someone to make progress.

In January I normally publish my research calendar for the coming year. But Rich has been hogging the Friday Summary for weeks now, so I finally get a chance to talk about what I am seeing and doing.

  1. Tokenization: I am – finally – going to publish some thoughts on the latest trends in tokenization. I want to talk about changes in the technology, adoption on mobile platforms, how the latest PCI specification is changing compliance, and some customer user cases.
  2. Risk-Based Authentication and Authorization: We see many more organizations looking at risk-based approaches to augment the security of web-based applications. Rather than rewrite applications they use metadata, behavioral information, business context, and… wait for it… big data analytics to better determine the acceptability of a request. And it is often cheaper and easier to bolt this on externally than to change applications. Gunnar and I have wanted to write this paper for a year, and now we finally have the time.
  3. Building a Security Analytics Platform: I have been briefed by many of security analytics startups, and each is putting together some basic security analysis capabilities, usually built on big data databases. I have, in that same period, also spoken with many large enterprises who decided not to wait for the industry to innovate, and are building their own in-house systems. The last couple even asked me what I thought of certain architectural choices, and which data elements should they use as hash keys! So there is considerable demand for consumer education; I will cover off-the-shelf and DIY options.

I am still on the fence about some secure code development ideas, so if you have an idea, let’s talk. Even the security vendors I have visited in the last year have pulled me aside to ask about transitioning to Agile, or how to fix a failed transition to Agile. Most want to know what this whole DevOps thing is about. I have got a few ideas, and there is broad interest from end users and software vendors alike, so this is on the docket but not yet fully defined. Let me know if you have ideas… on any of these.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

  • Mortman: Let’s Discuss Zero-Knowledge Data. Craptacular!
  • Adrian Lane: MongoDB database at Risk (PDF). Nice writeup by Jens Heyens, Kai Greshake, and Eric Petryka on misconfigured MongoDB databases sitting on default ports with mongo shell set not to require user credentials. They provide one workaround but you can also enable access controls, change the port temporarily, or disable external Internet access. Another interesting note: they found ~40k instances of MongoDB – not counting Hadoop or Cassandra. Who said big data was a fad?
  • Mike Rothman: Find Improvements That Lie Clearly At Hand. Our own GP argues that it’s better to find quick, dirty, and cheap ways to improve security than to try for perfection. A perfect sentiment. Not too many fields need to embrace such abstract concepts as infosec. Software is abstract to begin with; layer humans’ difficulty grasping risk on top of that, and information security has to climb two mountains. Believe it or not, infosec people can learn some things from developers. For better and worse, Agile projects ship code. Developers have clearly embraced Thomas Carlyle: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to…”

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to Kamal Govindaswamy, in response to Even if Anthem Had Encrypted, It Probably Wouldn’t Have Helped.


Nice article. Thank you!

A question on your statement around DAM and 2FA not being effective as well. I am curious as to your thoughts on how they could be ineffective against a persistent actor. I can think of a scenario or two but am interested in your thoughts, wherher/how they would be bypassed, compromised etc.