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Monday, January 19, 2015

Firestarter: Full Toddler

By Rich

Full Toddler

Yes, people, the disclosure debate is still alive and kicking. But now it is basically a pissing match between two of the largest tech companies. With Google setting rigid deadlines, and Microsoft stuck on their rigid schedule, who will win? Grab the popcorn as we talk about egos, internal inconsistencies, and why putting the user first is so damn hard.

Watch or listen below:


Friday, January 16, 2015

Summary: No Surprises

By Rich

Rich here,

First a quick note. I will be giving a webcast on managing SaaS security later this month. I am about to start writing more on the Cloud Security Gateway market and new techniques for dealing with SaaS.

I planned to write something irreverent in this week’s Summary (like my favorite films), but it has been an odd week in the security world. I expect the consequences to play out over the next decade. I should probably write this up as a dedicated post, but my thoughts are shifting around so much that I am not sure my ideas are ready to stand on their own.

Before I go into this, please keep in mind that the security ‘world’ is a collection of different groups. Tribes might be a better word. But across all subgroups we tend to be skeptical and critical. That is quite healthy, considering what we do, but can easily turn negative and self-defeating.

This is especially true when we engage with society at large. We are, on the whole, the pain-in-the-ass cousin who shows up at the holidays and delights in challenging and debating the rest of the family long past the point where anyone else cares. Yeah, we get it, you caught me in a logical fallacy because I like my new TV but bitched at you for not recycling your beer cans. You win. Now pass the stuffing and STFU.

Also factor in our inherent bias against anyone who does things others don’t understand. (Hat tip to Rob Graham for first introducing me to this concept). We have a long lineage that looks something like heretic > witch > egghead > nerd > geek > hacker. No, not everyone reading this is a hacker, but society at large cannot really differentiate between specific levels of technical wizardry. This is especially true for those of you who play with offensive security, no matter how positive your contributions.

Back to the main story, which is shorter than all this preamble. This week the White House proposed some updates to our computer security laws. Some good, some bad. The Twitter security echo chamber exploded a bit, with much hand-wringing over how this could lead to bad legal consequences – not only for anyone working legitimately in offensive security; it could also create all sorts of additional legal complexities with chilling effects.

There are actually a bunch of proposals circulating, which would affect not only cybersecurity but general Internet usage. From the UK wanting to ban encryption, to mandating DNSSEC, to the FBI wanting to ban effective encryption, to… well, everyone wanting to ban encryption, file sharing, and… stuff.

Many in the security world seem to feel we should have some say over these laws and policies. But we have mostly seen vendors lobby to have their products mandated (and then shrug when people using them get hacked), professional groups pushing to have their training or certifications mandated, and the occasional researcher treated like a dancing monkey for the cameras. And political leaders probably don’t see much distinction between any of these and the big Internet protests that their Hollywood funders all tell them are just criminals who want to watch movies free.

We have mostly done this to ourselves. We are fiercely independent, so it isn’t like we speak with a single voice. We can’t even decide what constitutes a “security professional”. Then we keep shooting ourselves in the foot by demanding evidence from law enforcement and intelligence agencies on things like the Sony hack. And, er, telling the FBI they are wrong rarely works out well.

I am not telling anyone not to do or say what they want. Just keep in mind how the world views you (as witches), and how much technology just scares people, no matter how much they love their iPhones. And if you want to affect politics you need to play politics. Twitter ain’t gonna cut it.

Seriously, no one likes that smarty-pants cousin (or in-law, in my case). And if any lobbyists are reading this, please fix the Kinderegg ban first, then get started on defending encryption.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

  • Mike Rothman: Your Risk Isn’t My Risk. It is always important to consider likelihood when looking at new attacks. Rich puts the latest in context.
  • Rich: Incite 1/14/2015: Facing the Fear. Because that was my only other choice. I mean, it’s still a good post, but it isn’t like I had an option.

Other Securosis Posts

And now you see why I had to pick Mike’s post.

Favorite Outside Posts

  • Adrian Lane: The importance of deleting old stuff. Honestly, it’s not as valuable as you think, and it is likely to cause harm in the long run.
  • Mike Rothman: The Stunning Scale of AWS. I remember Rich mentioning some of these stats after he got back from the AWS conference in 2013. It is shocking to see this documented, and to understand that when trying to really scale something… commercial products just won’t cut it. Really interesting.
  • Rich: Encryption is Not the Enemy. Dennis lays it out nicely, not that I expect the latest round of crypto wars to end any time soon.

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Incite 1/14/2015: Facing the Fear

By Mike Rothman

Some folks just naturally push outside their comfort zones as a matter of course. I am one of them. Others only do things that are comfortable, which is fine if it works for them. I believe that while you are basically born with a certain risk tolerance, you can be taught to get comfortable with pushing past your comfort zone.

For example, kids who are generally shy will remain more comfortable holding up the wall at a social event, but can learn to approach people and get into the mix. It’s tough at first but you figure it out. There is always resistance the first few times you push a child beyond what they are comfortable with, and force them to try something they don’t think they can do. But I believe it needs to happen. It comes back to my general philosophy that limitations exist only in our minds, and you can move past those limitations once you learn to face your fear.

Faces of Fear

The twins’ elementary school does a drama production every year. XX1 was involved when she was that age, and XX2 was one of the featured performers last year. We knew that she’d be right there auditioning for the big role, and she’d likely get one of them (as she did). But with the Boy we weren’t sure. He did the hip hop performance class at camp so he’ll perform, but that’s a bit different than standing up and performing in front of your friends and classmates. Though last year he did comment on how many of his friends were in the show, and he liked that.

We were pleased when he said he wanted to try out. The Boss helped him put together both a monologue and a song to sing for the audition. He knew all the words, but when it came time to practice he froze up. He didn’t want to do it. He wanted to quit. That was no bueno in my book. He needed to try. If he didn’t get a part, so be it. But he wasn’t going to back out because he was scared. He needed to push through that fear. It’s okay to not get the outcome you hope for, but not to quit.

So we pushed him. There were lots of tears. And we pushed some more. A bit of feet stomping at that point. So we pushed again. He finally agreed to practice for us and then to audition after we wore him out. Sure, that was a little heavy-handed, but I’m okay with it because we decided he needed to at least try.

The end result? Yes, he got a part. I’m not sure how much he likes the process of getting ready for the show. We’ll see once he gets up on stage and performs for everyone whether it’s something he will want to do again. But whether he does it again doesn’t matter. He can always say he tried, even when he didn’t want to. That he didn’t let fear stop him from doing something. And that’s the most important lesson of all.


Photo credit: “Faces of fear!” originally uploaded by John Seb Barber

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

Securosis Firestarter

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

Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Security Best Practices for Amazon Web Services

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Monitoring the Hybrid Cloud: Evolving to the CloudSOC

Security and Privacy on the Encrypted Network

Newly Published Papers

Incite 4 U

  1. Full discraposure: Google discovers a bug in a Microsoft product. Google has a strict 90-day policy to disclose, no matter what. Microsoft says, “Hey, we have a fix ready to go on Patch Tuesday, can we get a few extra days?” but Google releases anyway. I’m sorry, but who does that help? Space Rogue summed it up best; he has a long history in the disclosure debate. In his words, “The entire process has gotten out of hand. The number one goal here should be getting stuff fixed because getting stuff fixed helps protect the user, it helps defeat the bad guys and it helps make the world a better place.” Another great quote is: “And so the disclosure debate continues unabated for over a hundred years. With two of the giants in our industry acting like spoiled children we as security professionals must take the reigns from our supposed leaders and set a better example.” Marry me, Space Rogue. Marry me. – RM

  2. The impact of Sony in 2015? FUD! Okay, I am being a little facetious by saying the Sony breach will enable the security industrial complex to launch a new wave of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt at organizations in 2015. But it already has folks using tried and true tactics in an attempt to create urgency for whatever widget they are selling today. Ben Rothke is a little more constructive in his analysis for CSO. He makes some good points about the reality that improving security requires ongoing investment and that shiny security products/services are not a complete answer. The one I like best is “a good CISO is important; great security architects are critical.” Amen to that. We believe that as security increasingly gets embedded within the cloud and continuous deployment environments, the security architect will emerge as one of the most valued members of the team. So study up on your architecture, kids! – MR

  3. Making the effort: Gunnar has another really good post, challenging folks to think differently about security. It’s very popular to accept defeat because the odds are stacked against defenders. To mail it in because you will be pwned anyway. And that much is true. You can make progress, but only if you make the effort to improve. Always quick with good analogies, GP refers to how smog was reduced in Los Angeles by 98% over the past 50 years, which most thought was impossible 60 years ago. And how the Scandinavian countries don’t have airplane delays because of snow. They just don’t because they made the effort to figure out how to optimize their processes. I guess another way to put it is a quote I use frequently: “I’m not in the excuses business.” And neither is your senior management, so as Gunnar says: “There is a lot to do, can’t get started any sooner than right now. No such thing as bad winter weather, only opportunities to improve bad snow removal equipment, dysfunctional teams and processes.” Truth. – MR

  4. Free, as in crapware: I seem to have a ‘crap’ theme for my submissions this week. A couple of writers over at HowToGeek decided to go to CNET’s Downloads.com [no link, for obvious reasons and obviousness] to see what happens if they download and install the top 10 apps listed. Hilarity ensues. Spyware, ads, browser hijackers, and more… all from a site that claims its downloads are safe. I frequently see links to these sorts of sites when I search for an application. Sometimes search engines show these contaminated links before the software developer’s site. This is especially common when I look for anything more obscure or no longer maintained. I never download from those sites and I’m on a Mac, but this highlights the ridiculous dangers facing normal Windows users (including your employees). Needless to say, this is why I’m a fan of app stores for PCs, even the open ones (where stuff can still sneak through). I suspect Microsoft will need to move in that direction for the same reasons Apple did, and kill the economic model of bundling and installing backdoors. As long as I always still have the option to go outside the store, I am down with it. – RM

  5. You want a seat, Mr./Ms. CISO? Good luck. I wanted to dig into the archives a bit to mention research that confirms what many of you already know. CISOs are not considered players at the big table. ThreatTrack commissioned a study last summer and came away with some disturbing numbers. 74% of respondents said CISOs should not be part of the organization’s leadership team. 54% don’t think CISOs should be responsible for security purchasing. 28% say the CISO’s decisions negatively impacted financial health. Holy crap! It’s time for a reality check. This is clearly a failure to communicate with folks in senior management. And it needs to be fixed ASAP. It is not like we are going to see fewer attacks or breaches, so if these folks don’t understand what you do and why, that needs to be job #1. Or polishing up your resume will be job #2. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Your Risk Isn’t My Risk (Apple Thunderbolt Edition)

By Rich

Last Friday I wrote an article on the Thunderstrike proof of concept attack against Macs. I won’t spend any more time analyzing it but I think it’s valuable as an example of risk assessment.

The short version is… it’s a creative attack that, if you have physical access to a Mac, could allow you to completely compromise it by merely connecting external hardware and triggering a reboot. The attack is against the firmware, and even removing the Mac’s hard drive leaves it infected.

The Thunderstrike proof-of-concept takes advantage of this trust to replace the contents of the Mac’s boot ROM with the attacker’s own code, effectively embedding it into the Mac’s hardware and making it impossible to remove using standard techniques. The attack works because Apple relies on software checks to confirm the firmware is valid, and Hudson developed techniques to circumvent those checks (and even replace the encryption key).

Apple is taking this seriously; it is already fixed on new hardware (Retina iMacs and new Mac Minis), and a further fix for older hardware is coming soon according to my sources (sooner than you probably think). But that is only a partial fix because an attacker can still downgrade the firmware and then execute the attack, although that doubles the time requirement.

In my article I made clear that very few people need to worry about this now:

While all Macs are technically vulnerable to the Thunderstrike attack, few TidBITS readers face any immediate risk. The attack is highly targeted – someone needs both physical access to your Mac and time to reboot it and reinstall the firmware. On top of that, it isn’t like everyone is walking around with maliciously modified Thunderbolt dongles.

So why write it up? Why talk about an attack that has to be designed for the specific hardware version you are using, requires physical control of your device, and can’t realistically spread on any wide basis?

Because I’m at risk, as are many readers here at Securosis.

For the TidBITS crowd I mostly wanted to assuage concerns and compensate for the usual spate of over-hyped stories. For Securosis? Some of you need to worry. I have direct reports of executives and security pros being compromised when their hardware leaves their control; typically when traveling internationally, usually to one of a few countries. (Make that mostly one country).

BTW, I don’t have any reports of these attacks on Macs, and I am very interested if you have a confirmed report, even if you can’t provide details.

Starting in about 2008 I started paying a lot more attention to physical control over my computers and mobile devices under certain circumstances (I am not counting hacker conferences – I have always kept hard control at those). The reports coming in from clients indicated that customs and hotel rooms were not safe places to lose physical control. I even stopped traveling to China with devices I was worried about, which did inhibit my ability to get work done while there.

Thunderstrike itself isn’t a big deal. It’s super interesting, but damn low on the risk list.


As a proof of concept it is incredibly educational, and some of you, especially readers of this site, need to pay attention to these kinds of attacks (for yourselves or your organizations). That’s why I like this story as a good example of understanding risk. For one publication, TidBITS, I wrote it up to debunk fear. For another, here, I am writing it up as a warning of real risk, if you fall into the right bucket. [Ed: The presentation is also remarkably readable – much easier to understand than I expected for something this complicated. –cp]


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Friday Summary: Favorite Films of 2014 (Redux)

By Rich

Rich here. Something went wonky so most of the Summary didn’t load properly on Friday. So I am reposting with the lost content…

The Securosis blog has been around since 2006, with pretty much constant posts over that entire time (multiple posts a week, with a few exceptions). That is a lot of words, a large percentage of which came through my keyboard.

We have always used the Summary (and when Mike joined, the Incite) to add some color to our security coverage, and give glimpses into our personal lives, or random thoughts that don’t really fit in a security-oriented blog post. I will expand on that in some posts this year, starting today with a post on my favorite films of 2014. Yep, you heard me, and you can skip to the Summary itself below if you just want the top links and news of the week.

Favorite Films of 2014

These aren’t necessarily the best movies of the year – not even close – but the ones I most enjoyed. My wife and I are huge film buffs, but since having (3 young) kids we dropped from seeing movies near weekly, to monthly if we are lucky. This changed our tastes because due to constant exhaustion we are more likely to pick something light and fun than arty and independent (we still watch those, usually over 2 nights, at home).

Top Films I Saw in a Theater

Guardians of the Galaxy: Flat out, the most fun I had in a theater all year. I saw it twice, then bought the Blu-Ray (3D with digital copy) for home. Some consider comic book films the death of ‘serious’ movies, but as we transition deeper into the digital age spectacles like this will sustain movie theaters and allow more serious films to still show in the smaller rooms at the back of the megaplex.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Almost my #1 pick because this one elevated the ‘classic’ comic-book genre film. Its comments on society were heavy-handed but the timing was perfect – especially if you know what’s coming in the Civil War storyline. But what really hooked me were the effects and character of Cap himself. His movements, style, and pure kinesis made even the Avengers action scenes look pedestrian.

Gravity: I love space. I went to Space Camp three times as a kid (and considering our limited household income, that was more than a big deal). The science may have been way off in parts, but the immersive 3D IMAX experience was incredible. And the tension? Oh, the tension! It makes me almost want to cry that I missed seeing Interstellar on an IMAX screen.

Favorite Film Most of You Skipped

Edge of Tomorrow: This did poorly in the theaters, and we only watched it on an iPad at 35,000 feet ourselves, but I immediately bought the book on my Kindle when we landed. If you have ever ground out a level in a video game this is the movie for you. If you want to see Tom Cruise die, a lot, this is the movie for you. If you want to see the best time-travel film since Looper… you know the rest. And definitely read the book.

The One We Loved Until Our iTunes Rental Expired

The Grand Budapest Hotel: I have the Blu-Ray from Netflix sitting here so we can watch the last 20 minutes. But unless they completely suck this was Wes Anderson at his best. Amazing style, characters with panache, and his usual visual splendor.

The One I Enjoyed, but Really Didn’t Get As Much As Anyone Else

Snowpiercer: I get it, Bong Joon-Ho is awesome and Tilda Swinton just nailed it, but I still don’t understand why this made so many Top 10 lists. It was good, but not that good.

My Favorites with the Kids

Our girls are finally old enough to sit through and enjoy a movie with, and this was an awesome year to bond in a theater (or with a rental).

The Lego Movie: I really really really wish we had seb this in the theater, instead of on video, but we all loved it. Our dining room table has been covered in Legos for months, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. The message hit the perfect tone of “be creative, but sometimes you still need to listen to your damn parents so you don’t die a tragic death!” Maybe I’m projecting, a little.

How to Train Your Dragon 2: Oh, wow. Even on a smaller 3D TV at home this is still amazing (we did see it in a theater first). It goes where few kids films have the balls for any more, putting you on an emotional roller coaster with plenty of spectacle. I really love this series, and will be sad when it ends with the next one.

Big Hero 6: Another one full of emotion, evoking classic Disney themes in a fully modern, comic-book tale. It could have gone horribly wrong and is far from perfect, but the kids loved it, we enjoyed it, and the visual design is truly special. I wouldn’t place this up there with The Incredibles, but it really shines is creating bonds between the audience and the main characters.

Favorite Comedy

Neighbors: I enjoyed 22 Jump Street, but Neighbors had a few scenes that floored me. Let’s be honest – I am at a stage of life where I can appreciate a hangover + full boobs joke more than when I was 20 or 30.

The One I Will Only See in Private

Boyhood: I have kids. I’m going to cry. Screw you if you think I’m doing that in a theater.

The Best Movie to See While Hopped up on Painkillers after… Guy Surgery

G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Not much else to say. I dare you to refute.

There are a lot of other films I enjoyed, especially Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but these were my overall favorites. There were also a lot of films I missed, most of which I keep on a list for later rental. I’m also sure I’m forgetting some, but there you have it. I may cover television in a later post, which will be interesting because I timeshift everything I watch, and some shows haven’t even been on the air for a year or more.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

Skipping this week since we are just back to the office, and don’t have enough posts to pick from.

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

  • David Mortman: Tech Super Women.
  • Mort (again): It’s Usability All the Way Down
  • Mike Rothman: Hack Yourself First. Great post by Jeremiah Grossman about the need to test your stuff. Before the adversary (nation state or not) does it for you…
  • Mike Rothman: Scaling CloudFlare’s WAF. We joke about “Internet scale,” but some organizations actually need to think about scalability different. Interesting post here about how CloudFlare does some filtering of the inbound traffic on the websites they protect.
  • Adrian Lane: Sony Breach Linked to …. This is awesome. Don’t like the answer? Click refresh and get the one you want, complete with details to back up your assumption.
  • Rich: How Lego Became the Apple of Toys. I admit I have a bit of a Lego problem, but I love stories on creating quality.

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Incite 1/7/2014: Savoring the Moment

By Mike Rothman

Early December is a big deal in our house. It’s Nutcracker time, with both girls working all fall to get ready for their dance company’s annual production of the Xmas classic. They do 5 performances over a weekend, and neither girl wants it to end. We have to manage the letdown once that weekend is over. It has been really awesome to see all of the dancers grow up, via the Nutcracker. They start as little munchies playing party boys and girls in the first scene, and those who stick with it become Dew Drop or possibly even the Sugarplum Fairy.

The big part for XX1’s group this year was Party Clara. It’s on Pointe and it’s a big and featured role in Act 1. She has been dreaming about this part for the past 4 years, and when we heard she got it for one of the performances this year, we knew it was going to be a special Nutcracker. She also got a featured Rag Doll part for another performance and was on stage 4-5 times during the show.

XX2 wasn’t left out, and she got a number of featured parts as well. I used to dread that weekend but the girls didn’t really do much, so I could get away with going to one performance and being done with it. Now I attend 3 out of the 5 performances, and would go to all 5 if the girls had sufficient parts. I’m pretty sure the Boy wouldn’t be happy going to 5 performances, but he’ll get over it. I even skipped a home Falcons game to see the Sunday afternoon performance (I did!).

Savor the moment

One of the things I am working on is to pause during the big stuff and just enjoy it. You could call it smelling the flowers or something like that. For me it’s about savoring the moment. To see XX1 with a grin ear to ear performing as Party Clara was overwhelming for me. She was so poised, so in command, so happy. It was incredible. During those 3-4 minutes the world fell away. There was only my girl on stage. That’s it.

Some folks watch their kids perform through a camera viewfinder. Or a cellphone screen while taking video. Not me. I want to experience it directly through my own eyes. To immerse myself in the show. I want to imprint it in my memory. Yes, we’ll buy the DVD of the performance, but that’s for the folks who weren’t there. I don’t need it. I was fully in that moment, and I can go back any time I want. And I do.


Photo credit: “P1-VS-P2” originally uploaded by MoreInterpretations

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

Securosis Firestarter

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

Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Security Best Practices for Amazon Web Services

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Monitoring the Hybrid Cloud: Evolving to the CloudSOC

Security and Privacy on the Encrypted Network

Newly Published Papers

Incite 4 U

  1. Security deadly sin: offensive envy: I dug up Richard Bejtlich’s awesome post from right before New Year, where he dismantles a list from Microsoft’s John Lambert and calls him out for minimizing the potential of defensive security. It is true that hacking stuff is sexy, and the chicks & dudes dig it. But still, the fact that many defenders work off checklists doesn’t mean all do. Because the defenders seem to come up on the losing end of some breach every day doesn’t mean their efforts are pointless. It means it’s a hard job, pure and simple. And glorifying the adversary only provides a defeatist attitude before you even start playing. Which I guess is the adversary’s plan… – MR

  2. No hands: I just love it when someone comes up with an entire class of security vulnerability – and if it might affect an Apple product guess what’s in the headlines? Like the general GSM wireless issue that was hyped as “iPhones Vulnerable” (every GSM phone was vulnerable). That hype sometimes does the issue a disservice, as highlighted in this piece at the Huffington Post on Jan Krissler recreating thumbprints from normal photographs at the Chaos Computer Club. It’s a fascinating and brilliant idea as we progress towards ubiquitous high-definition cameras throughout the world. Not merely for hacking phones, but for all the CSI-spinoff episodes it will inspire. Practically speaking, today I think the barriers to successfully executing this attack are high enough to keep this from becoming a major issue now, and anyone in a sensitive position should never rely on biometrics alone, but in 10 or years? Oh, and don’t forget to read the bit at the end about researchers pulling pass codes from over 100 feet away via screen reflections in someone’s eye via high def video. – RM

  3. Leadership: I think I was too young to understand what the term ‘leadership’ meant when I was promoted to CTO for the first time. Blindly stepping into a role I knew nothing about, I was blessed with a CEO who did not mince words: “If I catch you coding again, you’re fired!” That forced me to focus on the CTO job, which was leading the development team – communicating vision and providing direction on how we were going to deliver product. Over at Security Uncorked JJ wrote a thought-provoking piece on the mental challenges of changing – or even expanding – one’s role in Infosec. Releasing your grip on the hands-on work that got you where you are today is not easy. It’s not just learning leadership and management skills, but also giving up many things you enjoy in your current job. No college offers a “Security Leadership and Management 101” course, and as a new profession we don’t have that many resources to draw on. Bravo to JJ for sharing the angst of this transition. – AL

  4. In the real world, it depends… Wendy kills it again, pointing out that compliance is a pretty low bar, highly dependent on the competence of the assessor and with “the(ir) ability to measure objectively, not just answer questions.” A control can be implemented in such a way that it fails to protect anything. And the process may be in place, but if no one uses it, who cares? This isn’t really about maligning compliance (again), but the fact that prescriptive lists in mandates must be considered the lowest of low bars; once they are taken care of you can start really thinking about how to protect your stuff. So is compliance even helpful? Well, it depends… – MR

  5. Unintended consequences: If I were to redirect cellular tower traffic or interfere with cell transmissions, I would be prosecuted and go to jail for a very long time. If it’s illegal for me, shouldn’t law enforcement need a warrant to do it? The FBI says ‘No’: search warrants are not needed to use ‘stingrays’ in public places to perform mass surveillance of voice and data traffic on everyone in the area. Our government is spurring an interest in security I never thought would make the mainstream. Accusations like monitoring a CBS journalist – true or not – are so creepy that they will keep this story in the limelight for a while. Even at the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week, vendors are competitively positioning consumer products with security features, and the keynote touched on the Sony hack. We are moving into a culture of digital security. Whodathunk that a few years ago? – AL

  6. Airway. Breathing. Cyberattack. As a geek and paramedic I became involved fairly early in healthcare IT. I still remember almost being fired for hacking into our manager’s computer because he accidentally locked us out of an important application that was only on his PC but required for our job, and he wouldn’t answer his landline or pager (yeah, I’m dating myself). Nothing fancy – I just found his password for the app in a plain text file via legit access we already had. Anyhow… Pre-Gartner I helped design an EMR app (and implement it in a clinic) for replacing dictation. I also have some more recent experience due to family connections in the industry. So it was no surprise to read Jack Daniel’s story of witnessing multiple hospital IT failures while visiting friends. Forget about security – this is an industry with massive structural issues in IT management. The situation is so much worse than you think, and despite all the security headlines fundamental reliability will consume healthcare dollars for a long time. Hop over to any healthcare forum (especially the physician ones) to see how bad things are, and be glad your providers would all prefer to go back to paper charting and orders in the first place. – RM

  7. The other EMET: I’m a football head, so when I hear the name “Emmitt” I always think of those times Emmitt Smith ran into the end zone to finish off the Giants as I was growing up. But I’m not talking about that Emmitt. I’m referring to EMET, Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit, which should be implemented on all your Windows devices. And it’s good that TrustedSec’s Dave Kennedy found some time (when he wasn’t hugging it out with the entire industry) to document how to install EMET. Is EMET perfect? Of course not. But it definitely makes it much harder to compromise Windows devices, so you should have it in your anti-malware toolkit. Yes, there are other cool technologies emerging to help on endpoints, but EMET is free, so why not use it? – MR

—Mike Rothman

Friday, December 19, 2014

Summary: That’s a Wrap!

By Rich

Rich here,

Holy crap, what a year!

I have been in the security business for a while now. I wouldn’t say I am necessarily jaded, but… yeah. Wow.

First, the news. This was the year of Target and Sony. Symantec finally breaking up. All sorts of wacky M&A. The year family members checked in for the first time in decades, after reading my quotes in articles with “celebrity nudes” in the headlines. Apple getting into payments. My guidance counselor totally left that out when we discussed infosec as a career option.

Not that infosec was a career option in the late 80’s, but I digress.

As I have often said, life doesn’t demarcate itself cleanly into 365 day cycles. There is no “year of X” because time is a continuum, and events have tendrils which extend long before and after any arbitrary block of time. That said, we will sure as hell remember 2014 as a year of breaches. Just like 2007/2008, for those who remember those ancient days. It was also a most excellent year for general security nonsense.

Then there was the business side. 2014 was an epic year for Securosis on every possible level. And thanks to the IRS and our fiscal year being the calendar year, we really do get to attribute it to 2014. We cranked out a bunch of papers (mostly Mike) and engaged in some insanely fun projects (mostly me). A year or so ago I wasn’t sure there was enough of a market for me to focus so much of my research on cloud and DevOps. Now I wonder if there’s enough of me to support all the work.

We were so busy we didn’t even get around to announcing a new research product: Securosis Project Accelerators. Focused workshops for end users and (for now) SaaS providers tied to specific project initiatives (like our Cloud Security for SaaS Providers package). On the upside, we sold a bunch of them anyway.

The main thing that suffered was this blog. We mostly kept up with our scheduled posts and open research, but did drop a lot of the random posts and commentary because we were all so busy. I wish I could say that’s going to change, but the truth is 2015 looks to be even busier.

Personally this has been my favorite work year yet, due to the amount of primary research I have been able to focus on (including getting back to programming), working more with end-user organizations on projects, and even getting to advise some brand-name cloud providers on technical aspects of their security.

I am not sure whether I mentioned it on the site, but my wife stopped working after RSA due to an acute onset of “too many children”. We decided it was no longer worthwhile for both of us to work full time. And changes in the healthcare system meant we were no longer so reliant on her employee benefits. That reduced a lot of home scheduling stress, but also meant I was short on excuses to stay off airplanes. I was definitely away from home a lot more than I liked, but when I am home, I get to be far more engaged than a lot of parents.

On the non-work front it was also an awesome year. We are done with babies (but not diapers), which means we are slowly clawing back some semblance of a life outside being parents. Our older two started in public school, which is like some kind of fantasy after years of paying a prison company to keep our children mostly alive and intact (daycare… shudder). We spent a month in Boulder, a week in Amsterdam, and a weekend in Legoland. I am running as fast as I was in my 20’s, over longer distances, and I am almost not embarrassed on the bike. (Remember, triathlon is latin for “sucks at three sports”).

So on the overall good/bad scale I would mark 2014 as “awesome”. Mostly because I don’t work for a retailer or a film studio.

And, without going into details, 2015 has some serious potential for epic.

As I like to do every year before we close down for the holidays, I would really like to thank all of you for supporting us. Seriously, we are 3 guys and a half-dozen friends with a blog, some papers, and a propensity to sit in front of webcams with our clothes on. Not that many people get to make a living like this, and we can only pull it off due to the tremendous support you have all given us for over 7 years.

I may not be religious but I sure am thankful.

On to the Summary (our last this year):

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Favorite Securosis Posts

  • Mike Rothman: Firestarter: Predicting the Past. I can only hope you had half as much fun watching as we had recording the year-end FS. That’s right vendors – think twice before making those predictions. Even if you’re our friends, we will still call you out!
  • Rich: Ditto. Natch.

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

And a major one for us DevOps types:

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to Ilia, in response to Firestarter: Predicting the Past..

There is a grain of joke in every joke ;-) As freaky as it sounds, wifi connected light bulbs were hacked already – as a proof of concept so far, but the folks from Contextis explain how they could steal home WiFi credentials via light bulbs: http://contextis.co.uk/resources/blog/hacking-internet-connected-light-bulbs/

(Disclosure: yes, I work for the guys you’ve never heard of. And yes we’re working to fix that.)



Security and Privacy on the Encrypted Network: Selection Criteria and Deployment

By Mike Rothman

Our Use Cases post ran through setting policies for decryption, and specific use cases driving decryption of network traffic. We also brought up human resources and compliance considerations when building policies. But that doesn’t address the technical nuances of actually figuring out where to decrypt, or how to select and deploy the technology, so here we go. First let’s talk a bit about whether you need a standalone device.

Standalone or Integrated?

Many network and security devices can terminate and decrypt network sessions – including firewalls, IPS, load balancers, UTM, and web & email security gateways. Obviously using an existing device is simpler, often the path of least resistance for decryption and inspection. You don’t have to add other boxes or risk messing up your network addressing scheme, and you can enforce policies right at the point of decryption/inspection. A security device can decrypt traffic, inspect it, apply policy, and re-encrypt – all within a single product. For environments with minimal network volumes and simple policies, integrated devices work well.

But those who need to decrypt substantial network traffic tend to quickly crush the performance of existing security devices if they try to decrypt on existing devices. As we mentioned in our last post, onboard decryption may reduce performance of security devices by 33% to 80%. If you have plenty of performance headroom on your security devices that’s OK. If you don’t you need to look at another device to offload decryption load, in order to let your security devices do what they do best: inspect traffic, apply policies, and monitor or capture traffic.

If you deploy complicated policies, such as multiple policy triggers across the entire network stream rather than limiting yourself to port 443 (HTTPS), an integrated device’s relatively simple decryption policies may be insufficient. Additionally, if you need to send decrypted traffic to multiple places, such as a SIEM or network packet capture device, an integrated solution may not be a good fit.

We have nothing against the integrated option, but pragmatism and drives us toward the right tool for the job. If onboard decryption can meet your performance and policy requirements, do it. But if not you likely need a standalone decryption device.

Selection Criteria

Once you have decided to use a dedicated decryption device, what should you look for? Here are a few things to think about:

  • Performance: Much of the value of dedicated hardware is its ability scale up with traffic volume. Make sure any device or devices you buy can scale to your current and future volumes. Don’t paint yourself into a corner by buying equipment that will need to be replaced when traffic volume grows.
  • All Port Support: One of the easiest evasion techniques for attackers is to simply change the port number of their outbound traffic, sending encrypted traffic where it is not expected or monitored. Inspection devices cannot afford to trust port numbers – you need deep packet inspection looking at payloads to detect evasion.
  • Accuracy: Decryption strategy is highly policy dependent, so success requires accurate categorization of traffic. Related to looking at the full traffic stream, you need to ensure your devices accurately find encrypted traffic and categorize it effectively.
  • Policy actions: Once you have a policy hit, make sure your device supports a variety of different actions. You should be able to decrypt, not decrypt, drop the session, or reject the session (with a website failure code). You also want the ability to list sources or destinations as always decrypt (blacklist) or never decrypt (whitelist), by group or user.
  • Website category/reputation support: A big chunk of our use case post talked about setting policies; they may include websites, IP addresses, and applications. Given how quickly website reputation and categories change (minutes – if not seconds), it is important to have a dynamic source of current information to base policies on. That usually means some kind of cloud-based website categorization service for whitelisting, along with dynamic reputation scoring for websites and applications.
  • Multiple device support: Given the varied decryption use cases, these devices should be flexible in how they forward traffic, and to how many devices. For example you might want to send traffic to both an IPS for active control, and also a packet capture device for monitoring and forensics. It is also important for decryption devices to interoperates natively with security devices, so that (for instance) an IPS which detects decrypted attack traffic can drop that session without human intervention.
  • Security: This is a security device, so you will want to ensure that decryption/resigning keys and data on the device are protected. You also want the ability to reject/drop sessions if their security is insufficient. For example a weak encryption cipher could data at risk; it might be forbidden to transmit encrypted data which cannot be decrypted by the security device, to prevent unknown data from leaving your environment.
  • Transparency: It is also important to ensure decryption doesn’t impact application behavior or user interaction. End users should not need to concern themselves with security inspection. Further, the decryption device shouldn’t alter packet headers in any way, as that might impair other security devices’ inspection. Basically, nobody should know the device is there.
  • Deployment flexibility: Decryption needs to be inserted into the flow of traffic, so you want a device that supports multiple deployment models, discussed below. For devices with multiple ports, you should have flexibility in assigning them to specific devices. You should also be able to apply policies both actively and passively.


Decryption device deployment should be as non-disruptive as possible. You don’t want to mess around with IP addressing schemes, force every user to see a security warning every time they make an SSL connection, or have the device manipulate IP address headers and screw up your ability to monitor and analyze traffic. You want transparency, as mentioned above.

Also make sure you are seeing all relevant traffic. Don’t make assumptions about what is relevant and what isn’t. Attackers frequently hide encrypted traffic on odd traditional ports to evade decryption. So you should look at all traffic – not just the most obvious ports (HTTPS, SSH, SFTP, etc.) to make sure you don’t miss anything.

There are a few deployment options.

  • Passive Inline: In this configuration the decryption device is positioned as a bump in the wire – inline to ensure that all traffic can be inspected and decrypted according to the policy. Once traffic is decrypted the device can forward it to a variety of different security devices for inspection/monitoring, and can load balance between security devices if throughput is an issue. As a passive device, it won’t drop or block sessions itself, nor will it re-encrypt traffic – it just copies traffic to inspection devices, while forwarding the original (encrypted) traffic on to the network.
  • Active Inline: This configuration is similar to passive inline but can enforce policies. Based on policy the device decrypts traffic and forwards it to an inspection device. It queues the encrypted session until it receives a verdict back from the security device. If the session is fine it re-encrypts and sends the traffic on its way. If the session looks like an attack it is dropped.
  • Passive Tap: In this deployment the decryption device is connected to a network tap or span port on a switch to receive a copy of all the traffic. These passive devices aren’t in the flow of traffic, so they cannot enforce policy by dropping or blocking sessions. You will also need the private keys of receiving servers to decrypt because in this configuration you cannot get in the middle of the session to resign traffic. This model is only appropriate for inspecting traffic to internal servers, and so not commonly used.

In inline deployment models the device is basically a man-in-the-middle between your employees and their website destinations. The decryption device terminates user sessions, and establishes new sessions with destination websites. To avoid having the user see a security alert every time they initiate a secure session, users need to trust a certificate issued by the decryption device. That means either loading up a signed certificate into every user’s browser (typically through a workstation policy) or having decryption device certificates signed by a root which users (browsers) already trust, such as a public Certificate Authority (CA). This way the TCP session is not interrupted, and neither side has any idea that decryption is happening or that you are inspecting traffic.

These devices inspect and influence sensitive traffic, so availability is critical. Availability isn’t an issue in a passive tap deployment because tapas aren’t in the traffic flow. But in an inline configuration you need to decide what happens if the device fails. Choices include:

  • Fail to Network: If the device fails, the traffic is sent to the outbound network port but not to inspection devices. Sessions are not disrupted, but failure circumvents inspection and monitoring.
  • Fail to Device: In this scenario if the decryption device fails, traffic is still sent to inspection devices. Encrypted traffic cannot be decrypted, but unencrypted traffic can still be inspected and monitored/captured.
  • Fail Closed: This configuration takes the network offline by not forwarding traffic when the decryption device is down. This ensures you don’t miss an attack by taking the network out of commission entirely.

Most organizations choose Fail to Network – if decryption fails they do not want to stop all traffic. But that is something you will need to figure out with senior management, to ensure they understand the ramifications.

Now that you know how you should set policies to deal with encrypted traffic, where to decrypt it, and the criteria that should guide your selection of a dedicated device (if you go in that direction), you are ready to deal with the reality of encrypted networks. That was our objective for this short series. We will build a paper from this series before the end of the year, so keep an eye out.

—Mike Rothman

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Security Best Practices for Amazon Web Services: Third Party Tools

By Rich

This is our third post on AWS security best practices, to be compiled into a short paper. See also our first post, on defending the management plane and our second post, on using built-in AWS tools.

Finish with Additional Security Tools

AWS provides an excellent security foundation but most deployments require a common set of additional tools:

  • Amazon’s monitoring tools (CloudTrail, CloudWatch, and Config) offer incomplete coverage, and no correlation or analysis. Integrate their feeds into existing log management, SIEM, monitoring, and alerting tools that natively support and correlate AWS logs and feeds, so they can fill gaps by tracking activity AWS currently misses.
  • Use a host configuration management tool designed to work in the cloud to automatically configure and update instances.
    • Embed agents into approved AMIs or bootstrap through installation scripts.
    • Insert baseline security policies so all instances meet security configuration requirements. This is also a good way to insert security agents.
  • Enhance host security in key areas using tools and packages designed to work in highly dynamic cloud deployments:
    • Agents should be lightweight, communicate with the AWS metadata service for important information, and configure themselves on installation.
    • Host Integrity Monitoring can detect unauthorized changes to instances.
    • Logging and alerting collect local audit activity and alerts on policy violations.
    • Host firewalls fill gaps left by security group limitations, such as rule set sizes.
    • Some tools can additionally secure administrator access to hosts without relying solely on ssh keys.
  • For web applications use a cloud-based Web Application Firewall.
  • Some services also provide DDoS protection. Although AWS can support high levels of traffic, DDoS protection stops traffic before it hits your instances… and your AWS bill.
  • Choose security assessments and scanning tools that tie into AWS APIs and comply with Amazon’s scanning requirements.
    • Look for tools that not only scan instances, but can assess the AWS environment.

Where to Go from Here

These fundamentals are just the surface of what is possible with cloud security. Explore advanced techniques like Software Defined Security, DevOps integration, and secure cloud architectures.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Firestarter: Predicting the Past

By Rich

In our last Firestarter for this year, Mike, Adrian, and I take on some of the latest security predictions for 2015. Needless to say, we aren’t impressed. We do, however, close out with some trends we are seeing which are likely to play out next year, and are MOST DEFINITELY NOT PREDICTIONS.

One warning: despite a lack of Guinness, we use some bad words, so let’s just brand this NSFW. Unless your workplace is like ours – then go for it.

Lastly, here are links to the predictions we called out (the only ones we found – feel free to mention more in the comments):

  • Websense. Which we didn’t read because you need to register to see them.
  • Trend Micro. Home of the legal disclaimer in case you get hacked after believing their predictions.
  • Kaspersky. A hard one to rip because we have friends there.
  • Netwrix. Yeah, we don’t know who they are either.
  • Vormetric. Another company we like, but we haz to play fair.
  • My 2011 security predictions. I keep renewing them every year, without change. Still mostly holding up – I estimate I hit 70-80% accuracy for 2014.

The audio-only version is up too.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Security Best Practices for Amazon Web Services: Built-In Features

By Rich

This is our second post on AWS security best practices, to be compiled into a short paper. The first post on defending the management plane is here.

Implement Built-in AWS Infrastructure Security Features

Once you lock down and establish monitoring for your Amazon Web Services management plane, it’s time to move on to protecting the virtual infrastructure. Start with these tools that Amazon provides:

Use Security Groups and VPCs for network defense

AWS uses a proprietary Software Defined Network with more security than physical networks. All new accounts on AWS use Virtual Private Clouds for underlying networking, giving you extensive control over network configurations, allowing you to run dozens or hundreds of separate virtual networks. Security Groups combine features of network and host firewalls. They apply to groups of instances like a network firewall, but protect instances from each other like a host firewall. These are the basis of AWS network security:

  • By default, instances in the same security group can’t talk to each other. This prevents attackers from spreading horizontally.
  • Separate application components across security groups, with only required ports open between them.
  • External administrative access (ssh or RDP) should be restricted to the IP addresses and subnets used by your administrators.
  • Minimize the number of public subnets, and use NAT gateways to connect private subnets to the Internet as needed, just like most enterprise networks.
  • Establish Access Control Lists to isolate subnets. They aren’t a substitute for security groups, but a complementary tool.
  • Require administrators to connect through a VPN or ssh “jump box” before connecting to instances. This can be an existing Privileged User Management tool.

Defend hosts and data

AWS is a mixture of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Amazon bears most responsibility for keeping back-end components secure, but you are still responsible for properly configuring each service and your own instances. IAM is, again, your main tool for defense, but Amazon also offers features which can help you secure instances and protect data.

  • Establish an incident response process for compromised instances and other AWS services.
  • Use the AWS API or command line to collect all metadata, snapshot storage volumes, quarantine with IAM, and quarantine network connections.
  • Design applications to use Autoscaling Groups. Instead of patching running or compromised servers, you can terminate them and replace them with clean up-to-date copies without downtime.
  • AWS supports encryption for several data storage tools – including S3, EBS, and RedShift. You can manage the keys yourself with their Key Management Service (located in the IAM console).
  • Amazon can access keys in the Key Management Service. If you need extra security consider using CloudHSM instead, although service integration isn’t as simple.
  • If you use CloudHSM make sure you have at least two redundant instances so you don’t lose your keys. Amazon cannot view or recover them.


Summary: Nantucket

By Rich

Rich here.

There once was a boy from Securosis.

Who had an enormous… to do list.

With papers to write…

And much coding in sight…

It’s time to bag out and just post this.

Okay, not my best work, but the day got away from me after spending all week out in the DC area teaching cloud security for Black Hat. Thanks to a plane change I didn’t have WiFi on the way home, and lost an unexpected day of work.

Next week will likely be our last Firestarter, Summary, and Incite for the year. We will still have some posts after that, then kick back into high gear come January. 2014 was our most insane year yet, with some of the best work of our careers (okay, mine, but I think Mike and Adrian are also pretty pleased.) 2015 is already looking to give ‘14 a run for the money.

And when you run your own small business, “run for the money” is a most excellent problem to have.

Unless it involves cops. That gets awkward.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Another quiet week. We promise to return to our media whoring soon.

Favorite Securosis Posts

  • Mike Rothman: Summary: 88 Seconds. Rich + tears. I’d need to see that to believe it. But I get it. Very emotional to share such huge parts of your own childhood with your children.
  • Rich: 3 Envelopes.

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

  • Mike Rothman: Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit. As an analyst, I make a living deciphering other folks’ baloney. Carl Sagan wrote a lot about balancing skepticism with openness, and this post on brainpickings.org is a great summary. Though I will say sometimes I choose to believe in stuff that can’t be proven. So your baloney may be my belief system, and we shouldn’t judge either way.
  • Rich: Analyzing Ponemon Cost of Data Breach. Jay Jacobs is a true data analyst. The kind of person who deeply understands numbers and models. He basically rips the Ponemon cost of a breach number to shreds. Ponemon can do good work, but that number has always been clearly flawed, and Jay clearly illustrates why. Using numbers.

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

Due to all the lost time this week I’m a bit low on stories, but here are some of the bigger ones.

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to Ke, in response to My $500 Cloud Security Screwup.

This is happening to me… Somehow the credential file was committed in git, which is strange because it is in the .gitignore file. I saw the email from AWS and deleted the key in 30 minutes and I found my account restricted at that time. One day after, however, I found a $1k bill in my account. It is also odd that I did not receive the alert email even though I enabled an alert. I am a student and I cannot afford this money :(


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Security and Privacy on the Encrypted Network: Use Cases

By Mike Rothman

In the first post of this series on Security and Privacy on the Encrypted Network, we argued that organizations need to encrypt more traffic. Unfortunately the inability to see and inspect encrypted traffic impairs the ability to enforce security controls/policies and meet compliance mandates. So let’s dig into how to strategically decrypt traffic in order to address a few key use cases – including enforcing security policies and monitoring for security and compliance. We also need to factor in the HR and privacy issues associated with decrypting traffic – you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of a worker council protesting your network security approach.

What to Decrypt

The first step in gaining visibility into the encrypted network is to set policies for when traffic will be decrypted and for how long. These decisions depend more on organizational culture than anything else, so you need to figure out what will work for your company. As security guys we favor more decryption than less, because that enables more comprehensive inspection… and therefore stronger monitoring and enforcement. But this is a company-specific choice.

Several factors influence decryption policies, most obviously the applications themselves. Let’s briefly cover the main applications you are most likely to decrypt:

  1. Webmail: Employees think they are doing your organization a favor by working at all times of the day. But this always-on workforce requires use of personal devices, and may decide (however misguided) that it’s easiest to send work documents to personal machines via personal email accounts. What could go wrong? And of course there are more malicious uses for webmail in a corporate environment. There are endpoint DLP agents that should catch this behavior, but if you don’t have them deployed you should be inspecting outbound webmail traffic. The complication is that most webmail is now encrypted so you need to decrypt sessions to inspect the traffic.
  2. Web browsing: Similarly social media sites and other web properties utilize user-generated content that may be protected or sensitive, so you need to ensure you can enforce policies on web application traffic as well. Many apps use SSL/TLS by default, so you will need to decrypt to enforce acceptable use policies and protect data.
  3. SaaS Apps: Business functions are increasingly migrating to Software as a Service (SaaS) so it is important to inspect SaaS traffic. You may want to enforce tighter content policies on SaaS apps, but first you need to decrypt their traffic for inspection and enforcement.
  4. Custom Apps: Similarly your custom web apps (or partner web apps) require scrutiny given the likelihood that they will use sensitive data. As with SaaS apps, you will want to enforce granular policies for these apps, which requires decryption.

To net it out, if an application has access to protected or critical data you should decrypt and inspect its traffic. Within each application defined above, secondary attributes may demand or preclude decryption. For example certain web apps/sites should be whitelisted because they handle private employee data, such as consumer healthcare and financial sites.

Another policy trigger will be individual employees and groups. Maybe you don’t want to decrypt traffic from the legal team, because it is likely protected and sensitive. And of course there are the folks who require exceptions. Like the CEO, who gets to do whatever he/she wants and may approve an exception for their own traffic. There will be other exceptions (we guarantee it), so make sure your policies include the ability to selectively decrypt and enforce policies. For example one app may need to always be inspected (regardless of user) based on the sensitivity of data it can access. Likewise perhaps one set of users won’t have their traffic inspected at all. You should have flexibility to decrypt traffic to enforce policies, based on applications and users/groups, to accurately map to business processes and requirements.

Regardless of the use case for decryption, you will want to be flexible about what gets decrypted, for whom, and when.

Where to Decrypt?

Now that you know what to decrypt you need to determine the best place to do it. This decision hinges on type of traffic (ingress vs. egress), which applications need to be inspected, and which devices you need to send data to for monitoring and/or enforcement.

  1. Firewall: Firewalls frequently take on the decryption role because they is inline for both egress and ingress, and already enforcing policies – especially as they evolve toward application-aware Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW). Unfortunately decryption is computationally demanding, which creates scaling issues even for larger and more powerful firewalls.
  2. IPS: IPS is an inspection technology, so an inability to inspect encrypted traffic is a serious limitation. To address this some organizations decrypt on their IPS devices. The IPS function is computationally demanding so these devices tend to have more horsepower, which helps when doing decryption. But as with firewalls, scalability can be an issue.
  3. Web filter: Due to their role, web filters need to decrypt traffic. They tend to be a bit underpowered compared to other devices in the DMZ, so unless there is minimal encrypted traffic, they can run out of gas quickly.
  4. Dedicated SSL decryption device: For organizations with a lot of encrypted traffic (which is becoming more common), a few dedicated decryption devices are available which specialize in decrypting traffic without disrupting employees, offering flexibility in how to route decrypted traffic for either active controls (FW, IPS, web filter, etc.) or monitoring, and then re-encrypting as it continues out to the Internet. We will get into specifics of selecting and deploying these devices in our next post.
  5. Cloud-based offerings: As Security as a Service (SECaaS) offerings mature, organizations have the option to decrypt in the cloud, removing their responsibility for scalability. On the other hand this requires potentially sensitive data to be decrypted and inspected in the cloud, which may be a cultural or regulatory challenge.

These devices are typically deployed inside your network permiter, so you remain blind to attackers encrypting internal reconnaissance traffic, or traffic moving out of the data center to a staging server inside your internal network. To address these issues you might choose to put one of the devices above (most likely a firewall or IPS) in front of your data center to enforce security policies and inspect traffic. We increasingly see this deployment model for network security gear, although the internal network traffic characteristics are different than on the perimeter. Scale is important important in the data center environment, given multi-gigabit internal networks.

To ensure scalability you will want to test the performance impact of decryption. According to independent lab tests (from organizations such as NSS Labs), you may see a performance penalty of up to 80% when decrypting on firewalls and IPS devices. Obviously ensuring adequate throughput for typical traffic volumes is a hard architectural and deployment requirement

Enforcing Security Policies

Our first use case is active enforcement of security policies. This involves decrypting traffic and then enforcing policies using traditional devices, including firewalls, IPS, web filters, load balancers, etc. Harkening back to the first post in this series, it is very common for sophisticated attackers to encrypt traffic to and from compromised devices. So if you don’t decrypt both ingress and egress traffic you are blind to certain attacks. You can miss newly compromsied machines connecting to the mothership, along with the resulting malware downloads, because C&C traffic is encrypted. Another blind spot is exfiltration of sensitive data, which is consistently encrypted.

The key considerations to decrypt traffic and send it to an active security device are:

  1. Throughput: Networks continue to get faster so you to inspect the traffic at (or very near) wire speed. Of course decryption and re-encryption are very resource intensive so you need to make sure your decryption capability can scale sufficiently.
  2. Latency: Many applications are real-time or highly interactive, so you cannot afford to introduce major latency. So you need to not make sure that along with adequate throughput, scaling up doesn’t add unacceptable latency.
  3. Full protocol support: Attackers can hide encrypted traffic in other protocols on different ports, so it is important for inspection engines to analyze the full traffic stream – not just port 443.
  4. Policy granularity: Granular policies are necessary to dictate what gets decrypted by attributes such as protocol, user/group, application, web site category, etc.
  5. Send to multiple devices: You may want both an IPS and a network-based malware sandbox to analyze traffic, so you will want the ability to send it to multiple devices without a lot of fuss.
  6. Fail open or closed: If decryption fails do you just allow traffic to pass through, or will you block it? This can get sticky – ensure senior management and Legal sign off off. In many cases continuing business operations is prioritized over the possibility of an attack.

Given the performance impact of decryption you will need to manage expectations all along the way. You likely cannot buy enough decryption gear to keep pace with all your networks and security devices. So for traffic that needs to be decrypted and inspected, make sure everyone understands the potential performance impact. A little proactive communication with key stakeholders is essential for success.

Monitoring and Forensics

Improving incident response in the face of more sophisticated attacks requires that we monitor and capture more traffic for alerting and forensics. This use case differs signficantly from enforcing security policies because in this case you aren’t quickly re-encrypting or discarding data. The entire point is to either derive metadata from the packet stream, or actually capture packets for subsequent investigations.

When you decrypt to enforce a security policy the data may be unencrypted for a few seconds. But when you decrypt for monitoring and forensics, it may remain unencrypted indefinitely. You need to be sensitive to this change, and far more careful and stringent about how and how long you keep that unencrypted data.

Above we talked about kinds of applications and other attributes that might trigger or prevent decryption; use the same approach to define policies for monitoring and forensics. You also need a risk analysis on pretty much every policy, determining whether its traffic could contain sensitive information (either corporate or personal) and the risk of capturing it.

For example you might want to decrypt traffic from HR and send it to the IPS to check for attacks – HR tends to be a frequent phishing target. But you might avoid sending that decrypted stream to your packet capture device because sensitive personnel information could be captured, posing an unacceptable risk. There are no any simple right or wrong answers about what to decrypt or not – you need to ask the right questions when setting up policies.

This is a non-optimal situation for security; it doesn’t reconcile well with our general approach of capturing as much as we can and keeping it as long as we can afford. Unfortunately privacy issues, described in more detail below, force you to make tough choices about what you can decrypt for monitoring, and how long you can keep it. But even in places where packet capture is a no-go you will still want to decrypt and pull session metadata (source, destination, protocol, amount of data, application, etc.) to glean patterns for analysis by your SIEM (or other security analysis capability). The caveat is that in some geographies you cannot even do that basic traffic inspection, and adherence to local laws usually trumps corporate security policy.

You may be able to allay fears about capturing encrypted traffic by highlighting the security of the capture environment. If captured data is stored in a purpose-built device with proper access control and authorization protections, and the data is protected at rest somehow… that may comfort key influencers about decryption policies.

HR & Compliance Issues

As we have alluded, there are non-trivial privacy and compliance ramifications to decryption policy, and at some point (earlier rather than later) organizational lawyers should look at the policies. Here are a couple issues to consider:

  1. Regional variations: If you do business is a geography that is very privacy-sensitive you are better off getting the local team engaged as soon as possible – especially in Europe. You will likely need to work with local authorities and/or worker councils to make sure your policies don’t violate local laws. There are locales that specifically restrict website impersonation: decryption of traffic using an intermediate certificate in a man-in-the-middle implementation. There is also a great deal of sensitivity about employee surveillance, so consider local attitudes to that as well.
  2. Whitelisting: To address some of these issues you should consider whitelisting certain categories of applications and/or websites – typically healthcare and financial companies. This ensures you do not decrypt sites with a high likelihood of intercepting sensitive or protected information. Of course this is well known by attackers, who may use compromised servers within white-listed categories to evade decryption.
  3. Culture: Some organizations walk a fine line in terms of pushing for more monitoring/security. If you are in such an environment you may be able to decrypt more. Others are very conservative, and will not monitor if there is even a slight chance employees could feel alienated or violated. That’s why working with senior management and legal counsel is so important to define policies. Avoid making the final call on what to decrypt and what to bypass unilaterally.
  4. Documentation: Even if everyone signs off on the policies, they may have some issues later on. So make sure you can substantiate exactly what gets decrypted and when through solid documentation. Also make sure you can prove who has access to the data (especially when keeping data for monitoring and forensics), and the workflows for who access what during investigation. Do this by leveraging logs from decryption gear, and keep reports of the policies and response process workflows to prove what you are doing – and aren’t. Better to have too much documentation than ask worker councils to just trust you.

As usual, what should be a fairly straightforward technical discussion of what to decrypt and how devolves into a squishy reality of policies and privacy mandates. That is the game we have to play as security folks, and it won’t help to complain about it. Build your policies using an inclusive process to develop and update what gets deployed according to what is acceptable in your organization. Make sure to document everything because at some point you will be asked why that data or app or website was decrypted, and you will need answers and evidence.

Our next post will get back into our comfort zone, digging into technical details of how to select a decryption device and where to deploy it.

—Mike Rothman

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Incite 12/10/2014: Troll off the old block

By Mike Rothman

Every so often the kids do something that makes me smile. Evidently the Boss and I are doing something right and they are learning from our examples. I am constantly amused by the huge personality XX2 has, especially when performing. She’s the drama queen, but in a good way… most of the time.

The Boy is all-in on football and pretty much all sports – which of course makes me ecstatic. He is constantly asking me questions about players I’ve never heard of (thanks Madden Mobile!); he even stays up on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights listening to the prime-time game using the iPod’s radio in his room. We had no idea until he told me about a play that happened well after he was supposed to be sleeping. But he ‘fessed up and told us what he was doing, and that kind of honesty was great to see.


And then there is XX1, who is in raging teenager mode. She knows everything and isn’t interested in learning from the experience of those around her. Very like I was as a teenager. Compared to some of her friends she is a dream – but she’s still a teenager. Aside from her independence kick she has developed a sense of humor that frequently cracks me up.

We all like music in the house. And as an old guy I just don’t understand the rubbish the kids listen to nowadays. Twice a year I have to spend a bunch of time buying music for each of them. So I figured we’d try Spotify and see if that would allow all of us to have individual playlists and keep costs at a manageable level.

I set up a shared account and we all started setting up our lists. It was working great. Until I was writing earlier this week, jamming to some new Foo Fighters (Sonic Highways FTW), and all of a sudden the playlist switched to something called Dominique by the Singing Nun. Then Spotify goes berserk and cycles through some hardcore rap and dance. I had no idea what was going on. Maybe my phone got possessed or something. Then it clicked – XX1 was returning the favor for all the times I have trolled her over the years.

Yup, XX1 hijacked my playlist and was playing things she knew aren’t anywhere near my taste. I sent her a text and she confessed to the prank. Instead of being upset I was very proud. Evidently you can’t live with a prankster and not have some of that rub off. Now I have to start planning my revenge.

But for the moment I will just enjoy the fact that my 14-year-old daughter still cares enough to troll me. I know soon enough getting any kind of attention will be a challenge.


Photo credit: “Caution Troll Ahead” originally uploaded by sboneham

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

Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our video podcast, The Firestarter? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and.. hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail despite Adrian’s best efforts to keep us on track.

Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Monitoring the Hybrid Cloud: Evolving to the CloudSOC

Security and Privacy on the Encrypted Network

Newly Published Papers

Incite 4 U

  1. Flowing downhill: Breaches are ugly. Losing credit card numbers, in particular, can be costly. But after the PCI fines, the banks are always lurking in the background. When Target lost 40 million credit cards, and the banks needed to rotate card numbers and reissue, it isn’t like Target paid for that. And the card brands most certainly will never pay for that. No, they sit there, collect PCI fines (despite Target passing their assessment), and keep the cash. The banks were left holding the bag, and they are sure as hell going to try to get their costs covered. A group of banks just got court approval to move forward with a lawsuit to recover their damages from Target. They are seeking class action status. If the old TJX hack is any indication, they will get it and receive some level of compensation. Resolving all the costs of a breach like this plays out over years, and odds are we will no idea of the true costs for at least 5.

  2. Cloud security “grows up”? It’s funny when the hype machine wants to push something faster than it is ready to go. Shimmy argued that Cloud security grows up, but I don’t buy it. His point is that because we have gone from ‘cloudwashing’ (Rich’s term), to point solutions, to a few suites, it’s mature – but that doesn’t actually mean the industry has grown up. It is less about available products and services than about the broader industry having an idea how to secure the cloud. Our cloud security courses show that folks are learning fast, but we still have a long way to go. I consider cloud security more like a toddler now. It will be a few years before it is a pimply teen thinking it has figured everything out. Gosh, enterprise security is barely out of high school, and it can barely read… – MR

  3. Trolling along: A huge benefit of offering large bounties for security defects reported in your products is that third parties are incentivized to work with you when they discover issues. When they don’t use bug bounty programs they look like trolls. Google and Microsoft have led the way with bug bounties and shown the benefits of this practice. I have got no idea whether these flaws in Google App Engine are legit or not, but posting the defects to the full disclosure mailing list, given Google’s track record on security response, sure looks like trolling for publicity. And that’s no bueno. – AL

  4. What you don’t know… I guess Eddie the Yeti has a job other than drawing and posting cool portraits of security folks on his Twitter feed. A while back he correctly argued that “I didn’t know” isn’t a legitimate excuse when a breach happens. So you run assessment and test yourself frequently. But what do you decide to fix? You can’t address every issue, even if you knew about them all. It comes back to our old tired mantra: risk management. What presents the biggest risk to your environment? Fix that. Duh. But just as important, manage expectations about the priorities you chose. The last thing you want is to make a decision folks are free to disagree with in hindsight, because you never told them you were making the decision. – MR

  5. Practical watermarking: Krebs’ recent post on a breach canary discusses an underutilized idea that anyone who sells or shares data with third parties should consider – especially when working with data brokers. The idea is that when you examine breach data, ‘canary’ data can provide enough information to determine the source of records. This would not work as a column of irrelevant data which would be quickly stripped out, leaving only valuable financial or personal data behind. But canary data could work as elements of a larger data set – bogus records to let the original owner recognize their data. [Ed: But why would they want to know they were at fault? Much better to never know for sure you were the source, right??? –pepper] It is a bit like using marked bills when transporting large sums of money. Banks and insurance companies have done this over the last decade, even in production databases, to see if the data they shared with partners gets resold elsewhere. It works well when the recipient cannot differentiate faked ‘watermark’ records from the real ones, and so cannot remove those records to conceal the data set’s origin. – AL

  6. It’s never enough: Plenty of folks have been talking about the security skills gap every organization struggles with when trying to fill open positions. Jon Oltsik did a survey and I am a bit surprised that only 30% of folks surveyed feel we have a problematic shortage of security skills in areas like endpoint and network. I guess those other folks aren’t hiring for those positions. But is the answer to just train more folks? That is only a partial solution. The issue with security is that you learn by screwing up. College kids may be able to do simple stuff, but they don’t have the business skills or context to really do security yet. And even more challenging is the job. The fact is that security isn’t for everyone, so we will get a bunch of folks entering the market because supply & demand will grow salaries. But they won’t stay long because many of those folks don’t understand the security mindset, and it will frustrate them to no end. The fact is that we will never have enough security folks to meet demand. So we need to train more folks, embrace better automation and orchestration of security operations, and figure out how to recognize people better for doing their jobs – which, for security folks, means you never see or hear them. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Monday, December 08, 2014

3 Envelopes

By Mike Rothman

I really enjoyed Thom Langford’s recent post Three Envelopes, One CISO, on the old parable about preparing three envelopes to defer blame for bad things – until you cannot shift it, when you take the bullet.

Third envelope is the charm...

In the CISO’s case it is likely to be a breach. So first blame your predecessor, though I have found that only works for about 6 months. If you get that long a honeymoon, then by the time you have been in the seat for 6 months it is your problem. For the second breach, blame your team. Of course this is limiting – you need them to work for you, but it’s a question of survival at this point, right?

When the third breach comes around, you prepare 3 new envelopes, because you are done. Though most folks only get one breach now – especially if they bungle the response. But that’s not Thom’s point, nor is it mine. He brings the discussion back around to the recent Sony breach.

Everyone seems to want to draw and quarter a CISO for all sorts of ills. It may be well-deserved, but the rush to judgement doesn’t really help anything, does it? Especially now that it seems to have been a highly sophisticated attack, which Mandiant called ‘unprecedented’.

So did the CISOs do themselves any favors? Probably not. But as Thom says,

We seem to want to chop down the CISO as soon as something goes wrong, rather than seeing it in the context of the business overall.

Let’s wait and see what actually happened before declaring his Career Is So Over, and also appreciate that security breaches are not always the result of poor information security, but often simply a risk taken by the business that didn’t pay off.

And with that I open the second envelope Rich gave me when I started at Securosis…

Photo credit: “tiny envelope set: radioactive flora” originally uploaded by Angela

—Mike Rothman