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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Network-based Threat Detection: Looking for Indicators

By Mike Rothman

Now that RSAC is behind us, it’s time to get back to our research agenda. So we pick up Network-based Threat Detection where we left off. In that first post, we made the case that math and context are the keys to detecting attacks from network activity, given that we cannot totally prevent endpoint compromise. Attackers always leave a trail on the network.

So we need to collect and analyze network telemetry to determine whether the communication between devices and the content of communications are legitimate, or warrant additional investigation. Modern malware relies heavily on the network to initiate the connection between the device and the controller, download attacks, perform automated beaconing, etc. Fortunately these activities show a deterministic pattern, which enables you to pinpoint malicious activity and identify compromised systems.

Attackers bet they will be able to obscure their communications within the tens of billions of legitimate packets traversing enterprise networks on any given day, and on defenders’ general lack of sophistication preventing them from identifying the giveaway patterns. But if you can identify the patterns, you have an opportunity to detect attacks.

Command and Control

Command and Control (C&C) traffic is communication between compromised devices and botnet controllers. Once the device executes malware (by whatever means) and the dropper is installed, the device searches for its controller to receive further instructions. There are two main ways to identify C&C activity: traffic destination and communications patterns between.

The industry has been using IP reputation for years to identify malicious destinations on the Internet. Security researchers evaluate each IP address and determine whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on activity they observe across a massive network of sensors. IP reputation turns out to be a pretty good indicator that an address has been used for malicious activity at some point. Traffic to known-bad destinations is definitely worth checking out, and perhaps even blocking. But malicious IP addresses (and even domains) are not active for long, as attackers cycle through addresses and domains frequently.

Attackers also use legitimate sites as C&C nodes, which can leave innocent (but compromised) sites with a bad reputation. So the downside to blocking traffic to sites with bad reputation is the risk of irritating users who want to use the legitimate site. Our research shows increasing comfort with blocking sites because the great majority of addresses with bad reputations have legitimately earned it.

Keep in mind that IP reputation is not sufficient to identify all the C&C traffic on your network – many malicious sites don’t show up on IP reputation lists. So next look for other indications of malicious activity on the network, which depends on how compromised devices find their controllers.

With the increasing use of domain generating algorithms (DGA), malware doesn’t need to be hard-coded with specific domains or IP addresses – instead it cycles through a set of domains according to its DGA, searching for a dynamically addressed C&C controller; the addresses cycle daily. This provides tremendous flexibility for attackers to ensure newly-compromised devices can establish contact, despite frequent domain takedowns and C&C interruptions. But these algorithms look for controllers in a predictable pattern, making frequent DNS calls in specific patterns. So DNS traffic analysis has become critical for identification of C&C traffic, along with monitoring packet streams.


Identifying C&C traffic before the compromised device becomes a full-fledged member of the botnet is optimal. But if you miss, once the device is part of the botnet you can look for indications that it is being used as part of an attack chain. You do this by looking for outliers: devices acting atypically.

Does this sound familiar? It should – anomaly detection has been used to find attackers for over a decade, typically using Netflow. You profile normal traffic patterns for users on your network (source/destination/protocol), and then look for situations where traffic varies outside your baseline and exceeds tolerances.

Network-based anomaly detection was reasonably effective, but as adversaries got more sophisticated detection needed to dig more deeply into traffic. Deep packet inspection and better analytics enabled detection offerings to apply context to traffic. Attack traffic tends to occur in a few cycles:

  1. Command and Control: As described above, devices communicate with botnet controllers to join the botnet.
  2. Reconnaissance: After compromising the device and gaining access via the botnet, attackers communicate with internal devices to map the network and determine the most efficient path to their target.
  3. Lateral Movement: Once the best path to the target is identified, attackers systematically move through your network to approach their intended target, by compromising additional devices.
  4. Exfiltration: Once the target device is compromised, the attacker needs to move the data from the target device, outside the network. This can be done using tunnels, staging servers, and other means to obfuscate activity.

Each of these cycles includes patterns you can look for to identify potential attacks. But this still isn’t a smoking gun – at some point you will need to apply additional context to understand intent. Analyzing content in the communication stream is the next step in identifying attacks.


One way to glean more context for network traffic is to understand what is being moved. With deep packet inspection and session reassembly, you can perform file-based analysis on content as well. Then you can compare against baselines to look for anomalies in the movement of content within your network as well.

  1. File size: For example, if a user moved 2gb of traffic over a 24 hour period, when they normally move no more than 100mb, that should trigger an alert. Perhaps it’s nothing, but it should be investigated.
  2. Time of day: Similarly, if a user doesn’t normally work in the middle of the night, but does so two days in a row by themselves, that could indicate malicious activity. Of course it might be just a big project, but it bears investigation.
  3. Simple DLP: You can fingerprint files to look for sensitive content, or regular expressions which match account numbers or other protected data. Of course that isn’t full DLP-style classification and analysis. But it could flag something malicious without the overhead of full DLP.

Content analysis won’t to provide a smoking gun either. But with network traffic detection as discussed above, it provides more context to start to discern intent. This context helps explain some behavior that would otherwise be flagged as anomalous, to reduce false positives.

Endpoint Confirmation

Malware crossing the perimeter does not necessarily mean it executed on any devices. That is a weakness of network-based sandboxes, which just look at and alert on files coming into the network. Those devices fire an alert whenever they see malware, even if the target device is totally protected from the attack. One way to further identify real attacks is to integrate endpoint telemetry into analysis, to verify and validate what actually happened. So we increasingly see a drive for network-based detection coordinated with endpoint detection.

That doesn’t mean you don’t want to know malware entered the network, but you need some way to prioritize whether or not it needs to be dealt with right now. Which brings up the much larger issue of prioritization, and knowing which potential attack to deal with first. It comes down to understanding what presents the most clear and present danger (risk) to your environment, which we’ll tackle in our next post.

—Mike Rothman

Thursday, April 23, 2015

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Security Management

By Mike Rothman

Last year Big Data was all the rage at the RSAC in terms of security monitoring and management. So the big theme this year will be…(drum roll, please)…Big Data. Yes, it’s more of the same, though we will see security big data called a bunch of different things—including insider threat detection, security analytics, situational awareness, and probably two or three more where we have no idea what they even mean.

But they all have one thing in common: math. That’s right—remember those differential equations you hated in high school and college? Be glad that helpful freshman in AP Calculus actually liked math. Those are the folks who will save your bacon, because their algorithms are helping detect attackers doing their thing.

Detecting the Insider

It feels a bit like we jumped into a time machine, and ended up in back 1998. Or 2004. Or 2008. You remember—that year when everyone was talking about insiders and how they were robbing your organization blind. We still haven’t solved the problem, because it’s hard. So every 4-5 years the vendors get tired of using black-masked external-attacker icons in their corporate PowerPoint decks, and start talking about catching insiders instead.

This year will be no different—you will hear a bunch of noise at RSAC about the insider threat. The difference this year is that the math folks I mentioned earlier have put their algorithms to work on finding anomalous behaviors inside your network, and profiling what insiders typically does while they are robbing you blind. You might even be able to catch them before Brian Krebs calls to tell you all about your breach.

These technologies and companies are pretty young, so you will see them on the outside rings of the conference hall and in the RSAC Innovation Sandbox, but they are multiplying like [name your favorite pandemic]. It won’t be long before the big SIEM players and other security management folks (yes, vulnerability management vendors, we’re looking at you) start talking about users and insiders to stay relevant. Don’t you just love the game?

Security Analytics: Bring Your PhD

The other epiphany many larger organizations had over the past few years is that they already have a crapton of security data. You can thank PCI-DSS for making them collect and aggregate all sorts of logs over the past few years. Then the forensics guys wanted packets, so you started capturing those too. Then you had the bright idea to put everything into a common data model.

Then what? Your security management strategy probably looked something like this:

  1. Collect data.
  2. Put all data in one place.
  3. ???
  4. Detect attacks.

This year a bunch of vendors will be explaining how they can help you with step 3, using their analytical engines to answer questions you didn’t even know to ask. They’ll use all sorts of buzzwords like ElasticSearch and Cassandra, talk about how cool their Hadoop is, and convince you they have data scientists thinking big thoughts about how to solve the security problem, and their magic platform will do just that.

Try not to laugh too hard at the salesperson. Then find an SE and have them walk you through setup and tuning of the analytics platform. Yes, it needs to be tuned regardless of what the salesperson tells you. How do you start? What data do you need? How do you refine queries? How do you validate a potential attack? Where can you send data for more detailed forensic analysis? If the SE has on dancing shoes, the product probably isn’t ready yet—unless you have your own group of PhDs you can bring to the table. Make sure the analytics tool actually saves time, rather than just creating more detailed alerts you don’t have time to handle.

We’re not saying PhD’s aren’t cool—we think it’s great that math folks are rising in prominence. But understand that when your SOC analyst wants you to call them a “Data Scientist” it’s so they can get a 50% raise for joining another big company.


We have finally reached the point as an industry where practitioners don’t actually believe they can stop all attacks any more. We know that story was less real than the tooth fairy, but way too many folks actually believed it. Now that ruse is done, so we can focus on the fact that at some point soon you will be investigating an incident. So you will have forensics professionals onsite, trying to figure out what actually happened.

The forensicators will ask to see your data. It’s good you have a crapton of security data, right? But you will increasingly be equipping your internal team for the first few steps of the investigation. So you will see a lot of forensics tools at the RSAC, and forensics companies repositioning as security shops. They will show their forensics hooks within your endpoint security products and your network security controls. Almost every vendor will have something to say about forensics. Mostly because it’s shiny.

forensication will make you blind

Even better, most vendors are fielding their own incident response service. It is a popular belief that if a company can respond to an incident, they are well positioned to sell product at the back-end of the remediation/recovery. Of course that creates a bull market for folks with forensics skills. These folks can jump from company to company, driving up compensation quickly. They are on the road 5 days a week anyway, if not more, so why would they care which company is on their business cards?

This wave of focus on forensics, and resulting innovation, has been a long time coming. The tools are still pretty raw and cater to overly sophisticated customers, but we see progress. This progress is absolutely essential – there aren’t enough skilled forensics folks, so you need a way to make your less skilled folks more effective with tools and automation. Which is a theme throughout the RSAC-G this year.


The other downside to an overheated security environment is that because end-user organizations can’t find skilled staff, they need to supplement with managed services. Of course that assumes your managed services provider will have better luck finding people than you do. Again, it’s just math. There aren’t enough folks who know enough about security. Just because the company is a managed service provider, doesn’t mean they have a secret fountain of security professionals. Nor is a higher being dropping those folks in some field like manna.

So make sure you aren’t buying a Sucker as a Service (SUKRaaS) offering, by contracting a multi-year deal with an organization that has a huge SOC but not enough folks to keep it staffed. Texans would call that “All SOC, no cattle.” Of course there is leverage to be found in this business, and a managed service provider will be able to scale a bit better than an enterprise. But they still have a lot of the same problems as their enterprise clients.

This is where the diligence part of the process comes in. Before you sign that 3-year deal, make sure your SECaaS (Security as a Service) partner actually has the folks. Dig into their HR and staffing plans. Understand how they train new analysts. Get a feel for turnover in their SOC, and what kinds of tools they are investing in to gain leverage in operations.

And be happy when they start talking about all the data scientists they hired and the wonderful security analytics platform they implemented over the past year. Math strikes again!

—Mike Rothman

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Identity and Access Management

By Mike Rothman

No Respect

Identity is one of the more difficult topics to cover in our yearly RSAC Guide, because identity issues and trends don’t grab headlines. Identity and Access Management vendors tend to be light-years ahead of most customers. You may be thinking “Passwords and Active Directory: What else do I need to know?” which is pretty typical. IAM responsibilities sit in a no-man’s land between security, development, and IT… and none of them wants ownership. Most big firms now have a CISO, CIO, and VP of Engineering, but when was the last time you heard of a VP of Identity? Director? No, we haven’t either. That means customers—and cloud providers, as we will discuss in a bit—are generally not cognizant of important advancements. But those identity systems are used by every employee and customer. Unfortunately, despite ongoing innovation, much of what gets attention is somewhat backwards.

vp of identity

The Cutting Edge—Role-Based Access Control for the Cloud

Roles, roles, and more roles. You will hear a lot about Role-Based Access Controls from the ‘hot’ product vendors in cloud, mobile management, and big data. It’s ironic—these segments may be cutting-edge in most ways, but they are decidedly backwards for IAM. Kerberos, anyone? The new identity products you will hear most about at this year’s RSAC show—Azure Active Directory and AWS Access Control Lists—are things most of the IAM segment have been trying to push past for a decade or more. We are afraid to joke about it, because an “identity wizard” to help you create ACLs “in the cloud” could become a real thing. Despite RBAC being outdated, it keeps popping up unwanted, like that annoying paper clip because customers are comfortable with it and even look for those types of solutions. Attribute Based Access Controls, Policy Based Access Controls, real-time dynamic authorization, and fully cloud-based IDaaS are all impressive advances, available today. Heck, even Jennifer Lawrence knows why these technologies are important—her iCloud account was apparently hacked because there was no brute-force replay checker to protect her. Regardless, these vendors sit unloved, on the outskirts of the convention center floor.

Standard Bearer

We hear it all the time from identity vendors: “Standards-based identity instills confidence in customers,” but the vendors cannot seem to agree on a standard. OpenID vs. SAML vs. OAuth, oh my! Customers do indeed want standards-based identity, but they fall asleep when this debate starts. There are dozens of identity standards in the CSA Guidance, but which one is right for you? They all suffer from the same issue: they are all filled with too many options. As a result interoperability is a nightmare, especially for SAML. Getting any two SAML implementations to talk to each other demands engineering time from both product teams. IAM in general, and specifically SAML, beautifully illustrate Tannenbaum’s quote: “The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from.” Most customers we speak with don’t really care which standard is adopted—they just want the industry to pick one and be done with it. Until then they will focus on something more productive, like firewall rules and password resets. They are waiting for it to be over so they can push a button to interoperate—you do have an easy button, right?

Good Dog, Have a Biscuit

We don’t like to admit it, but in terms of mobile payments and mobile identity, the U.S. is a laggard. Many countries we consider ‘backwards’ were using mobile payments as their principal means to move money long before Apple Pay was announced. But these solutions tend to be carrier-specific; U.S. adoption was slowed by turf wars between banks, carriers, and mobile device vendors. Secure elements or HCE? Generic wallets or carrier payment infrastructure? Tokens or credit cards? Who owns the encryption keys? Do we need biometrics, and if so which are acceptable? Each player has a security vision which depends on and only supports and their business model. Other than a shared desire to discontinue the practice of sending credit card numbers to merchants over SSL, there has been little agreement.

For several years now the FIDO Alliance has been working on an open and interoperable set of standards to promote mobile security. This standard does not just establish a level playing field for identity and security vendors—it defines a user experience to make mobile identity and payments easier. So the FIDO standard is becoming a thing. It enables vendors to hook into the framework, and provide their solution as part of the ecosystem. You will notice a huge number of vendors on the show floor touting support for the FIDO standard. Many demos will look pretty similar because they all follow the same privacy, security, and ease of use standards, but all oars are finally pulling in the same direction.

—Mike Rothman

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Endpoint Security

By Mike Rothman

What you’ll see at the RSAC in terms of endpoint security is really more of the same. Advanced attacks blah, mobile devices blah blah, AV-vendor hatred blah blah blah. Just a lot of blah… But we are still recovering from the advanced attacker hangover, which made painfully clear that existing approaches to preventing malware just don’t work. So a variety of alternatives have emerged to do it better. Check out our Advanced Endpoint and Server Protection paper to learn more about where the technology is going. None of these innovations has really hit the mainstream yet, so it looks like the status quo will prevail again in 2015. But the year of endpoint security disruption is coming—perhaps 2016 will be it…

White listing becomes Mission: POSsible

Since last year’s RSAC many retailers have suffered high-profile breaches. But don’t despair—if your favorite retailer hasn’t yet sent you a disclosure notice, it will arrive with your new credit card just as soon as they discover the breach. And why are retailers so easy to pop? Mostly because many Point-of-Sale (POS) systems use modern operating systems like Embedded Windows XP. These devices are maintained using state-of-the-art configuration and patching infrastructures—except when they aren’t. And they all have modern anti-malware protection, unless they don’t have even ineffective signature-based AV. POS systems have been sitting ducks for years. Quack quack.

Clearly this isn’t a really effective way to protect devices that capture credit cards and handle money, which happen to run on circa-1998 operating systems. So retailers and everyone else dealing with kiosks and POS systems has gotten the white listing bug, big-time. And this bug doesn’t send customer data to carder exchanges in Eastern Europe.

What should you look for at the RSAC? Basically a rep who isn’t taking an order from some other company.

Calling Dr. Quincy…

We highlighted a concept last year, which we call endpoint monitoring. It’s a method for collecting detailed and granular telemetry from endpoints, to facilitate forensic investigation after a device compromise. As it turned out, that actually happened—our big research friends who shall not be named have dubbed this function ETDR (Endpoint Threat Detection and Response). And ETDR is pretty shiny nowadays.

As you tour the RSAC floor, pay attention to ease-of-use. The good news is that some of these ETDR products have been acquired by big companies, so they will have a bunch of demo pods in their huge booths. If you want to check out a startup you might have to wait—you can only fit so much in a 10’ by 10’ booth, and we expect these technologies to garner a lot of interest. And since the RSAC has outlawed booth babes (which we think is awesome), maybe the crowded booths will feature cool and innovative technology rather than spandex and leather.

While you are there you might want to poke around a bit, to figure out when your EDTR vendor will add prevention to their arsenal, so you can finally look at alternatives to EPP. Speaking of which…

Don’t look behind the EPP curtain… The death of endpoint protection suites has been greatly exaggerated. Which continues to piss us off, to be honest. In what other business can you be largely ineffective, cost too much, and slow down the entire system, and still sell a couple billion dollars worth of product annually? The answer is none, but the reason companies still spend money is compliance. If EPP was a horse we would have shot it a long time ago.

So what is going to stop the EPP hegemony? We need something that can protect devices and drive down costs, without killing endpoint performance. It will take a vendor with some cajones. Companies offering innovative solutions tend to be content positioning them as complimentary solution to EPP suites. Then they don’t have to deal with things like signature engines (to keep QSAs who are stuck in 2006 happy) or full disk encryption.

impressive cajones

Unfortunately cajones will be in short supply at the 2015 RSAC—even in a heavily male-dominated crowd. But at some point someone will muster up the courage to acknowledge the EPP emperor has been streaking through RSAC for 5 years, and finally offer a compelling package that satisfies compliance requirements.

Can you do us a favor on the show floor? Maybe drop some hints that you would be happy to divert the $500k you plan to spend renewing EPP this year to something that doesn’t suck instead.

Mobility gets citizenship… As we stated last year, managing mobile devices is quite the commodity now. The technology keeps flying off the shelves, and MDM vendors continue to pay lip service to security. But last year devices were not really integrated into the organization’s controls and defenses. That has started to change. Thanks to a bunch of acquisitions, most MDM technology is now controlled by big IT shops, so we will start to see the first linkages between managing and protecting mobile devices, and the rest of infrastructure. Leverage is wonderful, especially now when we have such a severe skills gap in security.

Now that mobile devices are full citizens, what does that even mean? It means MDM environments are now expected to send alerts to the SIEM and integrate with the service/operations infrastructure. They need to speak enterprise language and play nice with other enterprise systems.

Even though there have been some high-profile mobile app problems (such as providing access to a hotel chain’s customer database), there still isn’t much focus on assessing apps and ensuring security before apps hit an app store. We don’t get it. You might check out folks assessing mobile apps (mostly for privacy issues, rather than mobile malware) and report back to your developers so they can ignore you. Again.

IoT: Not so much It wouldn’t be an RSAC-G if we didn’t do at least a little click baiting. Mostly just to annoy people who are hoping for all sorts of groundbreaking research on protecting the Internet of Things (IoT). At this point there doesn’t seem to be much to protect. But it is another thing to secure, so you will see vendors talking about it. Though it is still a bit early to add IoT to your RSAC buzzword bingo drinking game.

At some point a researcher will do some kind of proof of concept showing how your Roomba is the great-great-great-great-grandfather of the T1000. Click-baiting achievement unlocked! With a gratuitous Terminator reference to boot. Win!

—Mike Rothman

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Network Security

By Mike Rothman

We had a little trouble coming up with a novel and pithy backdrop for what you will see in the Network Security space at RSAC 2015. We wonder if this year we will see the first IoT firewall, because hacking thermostats and refrigerators has made threat models go bonkers. The truth is that most customers are trying to figure out what to do with the new next-generation devices they already bought. We shouldn’t wonder why the new emperor looks a lot like the old emperor, when we dress our new ruler (NGFW) up in clothes (rules) that look so similar to our old-school port- and protocol-based rulesets.

But the fact is there will be some shiny stuff at this year’s conference, largely focused on detection. This is a very productive and positive trend—for years we have been calling for a budget shift away from ineffective prevention technologies to detecting and investigating attacks. We see organizations with mature security programs making this shift, but far too many others continue to buy the marketing hyperbole, “of course you can block it.” Given that no one really knows what ‘it’ is, we have a hard time understanding how we can make real progress in blocking more stuff in the coming year.

Which means you need to respond faster and better. Huh, where have we heard that before?

Giving up on Prevention…

Talking to many practitioners over the past year I felt like I was seeing a capitulation of sorts. There is finally widespread acknowledgement that it is hard to reliably prevent attacks. And we are not just talking about space alien attacks coming from a hacking UFO. It’s hard enough for most organizations to deal with Metasploit.

Of course we are not going all Jericho on you, advocating giving up on prevention on the network. Can you hear the sigh of relief from all the QSAs? Especially the ones feeling pressure to push full isolation of protected data (as opposed to segmentation) during assessments. Most of those organizations cannot even manage one network, so let’s have them manage multiple isolated environments. That will work out just great.

There will still be a lot of the same old same old—you still need a firewall and IPS to enforce both positive (access control) and negative (attack) policies on your perimeter. You just need to be realistic about what they can block—even shiny NGFW models. Remember that network security devices are not just for blocking attacks. We still believe segmentation is your friend—you will continue to deploy those boxes, both to keep the QSAs happy and to make sure that critical data is separated from not-so-critical data.

And you will also hear all about malware sandboxes at the RSAC this year. Again. Everyone has a sandbox—just ask them. Except some don’t call them sandboxes. I guess they are discriminating against kids who like sand in today’s distinctly un-politically-correct world. They might be called malware detonation devices or services. That sounds shinier, no? But if you want to troll the reps on the show floor (and who doesn’t?), get them to debate an on-premise approach versus a cloud-based approach to detonation. It doesn’t really matter what side of the fence they are on, but it’s fun seeing them get all red in the face when you challenge them.

Finally, you may hear some lips flapping about data center firewalls. Basically just really fast segmentation devices. If they try to convince you they can detect attacks on a 40gbps data center network, and flash their hot-off-the-presses NSS Lab results, ask what happens when they turn on more than 5 rules at a time. If they bother you, say you plan to run SSL on your internal networks and the device needs to inspect all traffic. But make sure an EMT is close by, as that strategy has been known to cause aneurysms in sales reps.

To Focus on Detection…

So if many organizations have given up trying to block all attacks, what the hell are they supposed to do? Spend tons of money on more appliances to detect attacks they missed at the perimeter, of course. And the security industrial complex keeps chugging along. You will see a lot of focus on network-based threat detection at the show. We ourselves are guilty of fanning the flames a bit with our new research on that topic.

The fact is, the technology is moving forward. Analyzing network traffic patterns, profiling and baselining normal communications, and then looking for stuff that’s not normal gives you a much better chance of finding compromised devices on your networks. Before your new product schematics wind up in some non-descript building in Shanghai, Chechnya, Moscow, or Tel Aviv. What’s new is the base of analysis possible with today’s better analytics. Booth personnel will bandy about terms like “big data” and “machine learning” like they understand what they even mean. But honestly baselines aren’t based only on Netflow records or DNS queries any more—they can now incorporate very granular metadata from network traffic including identity, content, frequency of communication, and various other attributes that get math folks all hot and bothered.

The real issue is making sure these detection devices can work with your existing gear and aren’t just a flash in the pan, about to be integrated as features in your perimeter security gateway. Okay, we would be pulling your leg if we said any aspect of detection won’t eventually become an integrated feature of other network security gear. That’s just the way it goes. But if you really need to figure out what’s happening on your network, visit these vendors on the floor.

While Consolidating Functions…

What hasn’t changed is that big organizations think they need separate devices for all their key functions. Or has it? Is best of breed (finally) dead? Well, not exactly, but it has more to do with politics than technology. Pretty much all the network security players have technologies that allow authorized traffic and block attacks. Back when category names mattered, those functions were called firewalls and IPS respectively. But wait—now everything is a next-generation firewall, right? But it does a lot more than a firewall. It also detonates malware (or integrates with a cloud service that does). And it looks for command-and-control traffic patterns. All within one or many boxes, leveraging a single policy, right?

But that’s a firewall. Just ask Gartner. Sigh. And no, we won’t troll you any more by calling it an Enterprise UTM, for old time’s sake.

Product categories aside, regardless of whether a network security vendor started as a firewall player or with IPS (or both, thanks to the magic of acquisitions), they are all attacking the same real estate: what we call the network security gateway. The real question is: how can you get there? So on the show floor focus on migration. You know you want to enforce both access control and attack policies on the device. You probably want to look for malware on ingress, and C&C indicators on egress. And you don’t want to wrestle with 10 different management interfaces. Challenge the SEs in the booths (you know, the folks who know what they are doing) to sketch out how they’d solve your problem on a piece of paper. Of course they’ll be wrong, but it should be fun to see what they come up with on the fly.

And Looking for Automation…

Another hot topic in network security will be automation. Because managing hundreds of firewalls is a pain in the ass. Actually, managing hundreds of any kind of complicated technology causes ulcers. So a bunch of new startups will be in the Innovation Sandbox detonating malware. No, not that kind of sandbox. ISB is RSAC’s showcase for new companies and technologies, where they will happily show you how to use an alert from your SIEM or a bad IP address from your threat intelligence provider to make changes automagically on your firewalls. They have spent a bunch of time making sure they support vintage 2007 edge routers and lots of other devices to make sure they have you covered.

But all the same, you have been flummoxed by spending 60 percent of your time opening ports for those pesky developers who cannot seem to understand that port 443 is a legitimate port, and they don’t need a special port. Automating some of those rote functions can free you up to do more important and strategic things. As long as the sales rep in the booth isn’t named John Connor, everything should be fine.

automate the network

In the Cloud…

Even though you focus on network security, don’t think you can escape the cloud hype monster at RSAC. No chance. All the vendors will be talking about how their fancy 7-layer inspection technology is now available as a virtual machine. Of course unless they are old (like us), they won’t remember that network security appliances happened because granular inspection and policy enforcement in software did not scale. Details, we know. You are allowed to laugh when they position software-based network security as new and innovative.

They also don’t understand that inserting inspection points and bottlenecks in a cloud environment (public, private, or hybrid) breaks the whole cloud computing model. And they won’t be even paying lip service to SDN (Software Defined Networks) for the most part. SDN is currently a bit like voodoo for security people. So we guess avoidance is the best strategy at this point. Sigh, again.

The booth staff will faithfully stick to the talking points marketing gave them about how it’s the same, but just in the cloud… Smile politely and then come to our Pragmatic SecDevOps lab session, where we will tell you how to really automate and protect those cloud-based thingies that are popping up everywhere like Tribbles.

—Mike Rothman

Monday, April 20, 2015

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Application Security

By Mike Rothman

Coming Soon to an Application Near You: DevOps

For several years you have been hearing the wonders of Agile development, and how it has done wondrous things for software development companies. Agile development isn’t a product – it is a process change, a new way for developers to communicate and work together. It’s effective enough to attract almost every firm we speak with away from traditional waterfall development. Now there is another major change on the horizon, called DevOps. Like Agile it is mostly a process change. Unlike Agile it is more operationally focused, relying heavily on tools and automation for success. That means not just your developers will be Agile – your IT and security teams will be, too!

The reason DevOps is important at RSA Conference – the reason you will hear a lot about it – is that it offers a very clear and positive effect on security. Perhaps for the first time, we can automate many security requirements – embedding them into the daily development, QA, and operational tasks we already perform. DevOps typically goes hand in hand with continuous integration and continuous deployment. For software development teams this means code changes go from idea to development to live production in hours rather than months. Sure, users are annoyed the customer portal never works the same way twice, but IT can deliver new code faster than sales and marketing wanted it, which is itself something of a miracle. Deployment speed makes a leap in the right direction, but the new pipeline provides an even more important foundation for embedding security automation into processes. It’s still early, but you will see the first security tools which have been reworked for DevOps at this year’s RSA conference.

I Can Hardly Contain Myself

Containers. They’re cool. They’re hot. They… wait, what are they exactly? The new developer buzzword is Docker – the name of both the company and the product – which provides a tidy container for applications and all the associated stuff an application needs to do its job. The beauty of this approach comes from hiding much of the complexity around configuration, supporting libraries, OS support, and the like – all nicely abstracted away from users within the container. In the same way we use abstract concepts like ‘compute’ and ‘storage’ as simple quantities with cloud service providers, a Docker container is an abstract run-anywhere unit of ‘application’. Plug it in wherever you want and run it. Most of the promise of virtualization, without most of the overhead or cost.

Sure, some old-school developers think it’s the same “write once, crash anywhere” concept Java did so well with 20 years ago, and of coures security pros fear containers as the 21st-century Trojan Horse. But containers do offer some security advantages: they wrap accepted version of software up with secure configuration settings, and narrowly define how to interact with the container – all of which reduces the dreaded application “threat surface”. You are even likely to find a couple vendors who now deploy a version of their security appliance as a Docker container for virtualized or cloud environments.

docker makes me look fat

All Your Code-base Belong to Us

As cloud services continue to advance outsourced security services are getting better, faster, and cheaper than your existing on-premise solution. Last year we saw this at the RSA Conference with anti-malware and security analytics. This year we will see it again with application development. We have already seen general adoption of the cloud for quality assurance testing; now we see services which validate open source bundles, API-driven patching, cloud-based source code scanning, and more dynamic application scanning services. For many the idea of letting anyone outside your company look at your code – much less upload it to a multi-tenant cloud server – is insane. But lower costs have a way of changing opinions, and the automated, API-driven cloud model fits very well with the direction development teams are pulling.

—Mike Rothman

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Data Security

By Mike Rothman

Data security is the toughest coverage area to write up this year. It reminds us of those bad apocalypse films, where everyone runs around building DIY tanks and improvising explosives to “save the children,” before driving off to battle the undead hordes and—leaving the kids with a couple spoons, some dirt, and a can of corned beef hash.

We have long argued for information-centric security—protecting data needs to be an equal or higher priority than defending infrastructure itself. Thanks to a succession of major breaches and a country or two treating our corporate intellectual property like a Metallica song during Napster’s heyday, CEOs and Directors now get it: data security matters. It not only matters—it permeates everything we do across the practice of security (except for DDoS).

But that also means data security appears in every section in this year’s RSAC Guide. But it doesn’t mean anyone has the slightest clue of how to stop the hemorrhaging.

Anyone Have a Bigger Hammer?

From secret-stealing APTs, to credit-card-munching cybercrime syndicates, our most immediate response is… more network and endpoint security.

That’s right—the biggest trends in data security are network and endpoint security. Better firewalls, sandboxes, endpoint whitelisting, and all the other stuff in those two buckets. When a company gets breached the first step (after hiring an incident response firm to quote in the press release, saying this was a “sophisticated attack”) is to double down on new anti-malware and analytics.

It makes sense. That’s how the bad guys most frequently get in. But it also misses the point.

Years ago we wrote up something called the “Data Breach Triangle.” A breach requires three things: an exploit (a way in), something to steal (data) and an egress (way out). Take away any side of that triangle, and no breach. But stopping the exploit is probably the hardest, most expensive side to crack—especially because we have spent the last thirty years working on it… unsuccessfully.

The vast majority of data security you’ll see at this conference, from presentations to the show floor, will be more of the same stuff we have always seen, but newer and shinier. As if throwing more money at the same failed solutions will really solve the problem. Look—you need network and endpoint security, but doubling down doesn’t seem to be changing the odds. Perhaps a little diversification is in order.

The Cloud Ate My Babies

Data security is still one of the top two concerns we run into when working with clients on cloud projects—the other is compliance. Vendors are listening, so you will see no shortage of banners and barkers offering to protect your data in the cloud.

Which is weird, because if you pick a decent cloud provider the odds are that your data is far safer with them than in your self-managed data center. Why? Economics. Cloud providers know they can easily lose vast numbers of customers if they are breached. The startups aren’t always there, but the established providers really don’t mess around—they devote far more budget and effort to protecting customer data than nearly any enterprise we have worked with.

Really, how many of you require dual authorization to access any data? Exclusively through a monitored portal, with all activity completely audited and two-factor authentication enforced? That’s table stakes for these guys.

Before investing in extra data security for the cloud, ask yourself what you are protecting it from. If the data is regulated you may need extra assurance and logging for compliance. Maybe you aren’t using a major provider. But for most data, in most situations, we bet you don’t need anything too extreme. If a cloud data protection solution mostly protects you from an administrator at your provider, you might want to just give them a fake number.

who else is going to protect the data


One area trending down is the concern over data loss from portable devices. It is hard to justify spending money here when we can find almost no cases of material losses or public disclosures from someone using a properly-secured phone or tablet. Especially on iOS, which is so secure the FBI is begging Congress to force Apple to add a back door (we won’t make a joke here—we don’t want to get our editor fired).

You will still see it on the show floor, and maybe a few sessions (probably panels) where there’s a lot of FUD, but we mostly see this being wrapped up into Mobile Device Management and Cloud Security Gateways, and by the providers themselves. It’s still on the list—just not a priority.

Encrypt, Tokenize, or Die (well, look for another job)

Many organizations are beginning to realize they don’t need to encrypt every piece of data in data centers and at cloud providers, but there are still a couple massive categories where you’d better encrypt or you can kiss your job goodbye. Payment data, some PII, and some medical data demand belt and suspenders.

What’s fascinating is that we see encryption of this data being pushed up the stack into applications. Whether in the cloud or on-premise, there is increasing recognition that merely encrypting some hard drives won’t cut it. Organizations are increasingly encrypting or tokenizing at the point of collection. Tokenization is generally preferred for existing apps, and encryption for new ones.

Unless you are looking at payment networks, which use both.

You might actually see this more in sessions than on the show floor. While there are some new encryption and tokenization vendors, it is mostly the same names we have been working with for nearly 10 years. Because encryption is hard.

Don’t get hung up on different tokenization methods; the security and performance of the token vault itself matters more. Walk in with a list of your programming languages and architectural requirements, because each of these products has very different levels of support for integrating with your projects. The lack of a good SDK in the language you need, or a REST API, can set you back months.

Cloud Encryption Gets Funky

Want to use a cloud provider but still control your own encryption keys? Want your cloud provider to offer a complete encryption and key management service? Want to NSA proof your cloud?

Done. Done. And sort of doable.

The biggest encryption news this year comes from the cloud providers themselves, and you will start seeing it all over the place. Box now lets you manage the encryption keys used by the platform. Amazon has two different customer-managed encryption options, one of them slowly being baked into every one of their services, and the other configurable in a way you can use to prevent government snooping. Even Microsoft is getting into the game with customer-manageed keys for Azure (we hear).

None of this makes the independent encryption vendors happy. Especially the startups.

But it is good news for customers, and we expect to see this trend increase every year. It really doesn’t always make sense to try bolting encryption onto the outside of your cloud. Performance and fundamental application functionality become issues. If your provider can offer it while you retain control? Then you are golden.

—Mike Rothman

Sunday, April 19, 2015

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Cloud Security

By Mike Rothman

Before delving into the world of cloud security we’d like to remind you of a little basic physics. Today’s lesson is on velocity vs. acceleration. Velocity is how fast you are going, and acceleration is how fast velocity increases. They affect our perceptions differently. No one thinks much of driving at 60mph. Ride a motorcycle at 60mph, or plunge down a ski slope at 50mph (not that uncommon), and you get a thrill.

But accelerate from 0mph to 60mph in 2.7 seconds in a sports car (yep, they do that), and you might need new underwear. That’s pretty much the cloud security situation right now.

Cloud computing is, still, the most disruptive force hitting all corners of IT, including security. It has pretty well become a force of nature at this point, and we still haven’t hit the peak. Don’t believe us? That’s cool—not believing in that truck barreling towards you is always a good way to ensure you make it into work tomorrow morning.

(Please don’t try that—we don’t want your family to sue us).

Clouds Everywhere

The most surprising cloud security phenomena are how widespread cloud computing has spread, and the increasing involvement of security teams… sort of. Last year we mentioned seeing ever more large organizations dipping their toes into cloud computing, and this year it’s hard to find any large organization without some active cloud projects. Including some with regulated data.

Companies that told us they wouldn’t use public cloud computing a year or two ago are now running multiple active projects. Not unapproved shadow IT, but honest-to-goodness sanctioned projects. Every one of these cloud consumers also tells us they are planning to move more and more to the cloud over time.

Typically these start as well-defined projects rather than move-everything initiatives. A bunch we are seeing involve either data analysis (where the cloud is perfect for bursty workloads) or new consumer-facing web projects. We call these “cloud native” projects because once the customer digs in, they design the architectures with the cloud in mind.

We also see some demand to move existing systems to the cloud, but frequently those are projects where the architecture isn’t going to change, so the customer won’t gain the full agility, resiliency, and economic benefits of cloud computing. We call these “cloud tourists” and consider these projects ripe for failure because all they typically end up doing is virtualizing already paid-for hardware, adding the complexity of remote management, and increasing operational costs to manage the cloud environment on top of still managing just as many servers and apps.

Not that we don’t like tourists. They spend a lot of money.

One big surprise is that we are seeing security teams engaging more deeply, quickly, and positively than in past years, when they sat still and watched the cloud rush past. There is definitely a skills gap, but we meet many more security pros who are quickly coming up to speed on cloud computing. The profession is moving past denial and anger, through bargaining (for budget, of course), deep into acceptance and…DevOps.

Perhaps we pushed that analogy. But the upshot is that this year we feel comfortable saying cloud security is becoming part of mainstream security. It’s the early edge, but the age of denial and willful ignorance is coming to a close.

Wherever You Go, There You Aren’t

Okay, you get it, the cloud is happening, security is engaging, and now it’s time for some good standards and checklists for us to keep the auditors happy and get those controls in place.

Wait, containers, what? Where did everybody go?

Not only is cloud adoption accelerating, but so is cloud technology. Encryption in the cloud too complex? That’s okay—Amazon just launched a simple and cheap key management service, fully integrated through their services. Nailed down your virtual server controls for VMWare? How well do those work with Docker? Okay, with which networking stack you picked for your Docker on AWS deployment, that uses a different management structure than your Docker on VMWare deployment.

Your security vendor finally offers their product as a virtual appliance? Great! How does it work in Microsoft Azure, now that you have moved to a PaaS model where you don’t control network flow? You finally got CloudTrail data into your SIEM? Nice job, but your primary competitor now offers live alerts on streaming API data via Lambda. Got those Chef and Puppet security templates set? Darn, the dev team switched everything to custom images and rollouts via autoscaling groups.

None of that make sense? Too bad—those are all real issues from real organizations.

Everything is changing so quickly that even vendors trying to keep up are constantly dancing to fit new deployment and operations models. We are past the worst cloudwashing days, but we will still see companies on the floor struggling to talk about new technologies (especially containers); how they offer value over capabilities Amazon, Microsoft, and other major providers have added to their services, and why their products are still necessary with new architectural models.

The good news is that not everything lives on the bleeding edge. The bad news is that this rate of change won’t let up any time soon, and the bleeding edge seems to become early mainstream more quickly than it used to.

This theme is more about what you won’t see than what you will. SIEM vendors won’t be talking much about how they compete with a cloud-based ELK stack, encryption vendors will struggle to differentiate from Amazon’s Key Management Service, AV vendors sure won’t be talking about immutable servers, and network security vendors won’t really talk about the security value of their product in a properly designed cloud architecture.

On the upside not everyone lives on the leading edge. But if you attend the cloud security sessions, or talk to people actively engaged in cloud projects, you will likely see some really interesting, practical ways of managing security for cloud computing that don’t rely on ‘traditional’ approaches.

Bump in the Cloud

Last year we included a section on emerging SaaS security tools, and boy has that market taken off. We call them Cloud Security Gateways and Gartner calls them Cloud Access and Security Brokers (hint, you only get to have 3-letter acronyms for product categories, even if you’re Gartner, or a kitten dies).

There are at least a dozen vendors on the market now, and on the surface most of them look exactly the same. That’s because the market has a reasonably clear set of requirements, and there are only so many ways to message that target. You want products to find out what cloud stuff you are using, monitor the stuff you approve, block the stuff you don’t, and add security when your cloud provider doesn’t meet your needs.

There actually is a fair amount of differentiation between these products, but it is hard to see from the surface. Most if not all of these folks will be on the show floor, and if you manage security for a mid-size or large organization, they are worth a look. But, as always, have an idea of what you need before you go in. Discovery is table stakes for this market, but there are many possible directions to take after that. From DLP, to security analysis and alerts (such as detecting account takeovers), all the way up to encryption and tokenization (often a messy approach, but also likely your only option if you do not trust your cloud provider).

blue horseshoe loves the cloud

One key question to ask is whether they integrate with cloud provider APIs (when available), and which. The alternative is to proxy all your traffic to the cloud, which is a really crappy way to solve the problem—but often the only option. Fortunately some cloud providers offer robust APIs that reduce or eliminate the need for a CSG (see what I did there?) to sniff the connection. If they say ‘yes’ then ask for specific examples.

You might see some other vendors pushing their abilities to kinda-sorta do the same thing as a CSG. Odds are you won’t be happy with their kludges, so if this is on your list, stick with folks whose houses are on the line if the product doesn’t actually work.

Calling Mr. Tufte

One thing you won’t see any shortage of is the same damn charts from every damn SIEM and analytics vendor. Seriously—we have been briefed by pretty much all of them, and they all look the same. Down to the color palette.

The upside is that they now include cloud data. Mostly just Amazon CloudTrail, because no other IaaS platform offers management plane data yet (rumor has it Microsoft is coming soon).

We understand there are only so many ways to visualize this data, but the vendors also seem to be struggling to explain how their cloud data and analytics are superior to competitors’. Pretty charts are great, but you look at these things to find actionable information—probably not because you enjoy staring at traffic graphs. Especially now that Amazon allows you to directly set security alerts and review activity in their own consoles.

Cloud Taylor Swift

You have probably noticed that we tend to focus on Amazon Web Services. That isn’t bias—simply a reflection of Amazon’s significant market dominance. After AWS we see a lot of Microsoft Azure, and then a steep dropoff after that.

The interesting trend is that we see much less demand for information on other providers. Demand has declined from previous years.

So don’t be surprised if vendors and sessions skew the same. Amazon really does have a big lead on everyone else, and only Microsoft (and maybe Google) is in the ballpark. That will show through in sessions and on the show floor.

DevOps, Automation, Blah, Blah, Blah

We hate to dump our favorite topics into a side note at the bottom of this section, but we already went long, and are covering those topics… in pretty much every other section of this Guide. DevOps and automation are as disruptive to process as cloud is to infrastructure and architecture.

It’s the future of our profession, folks—there is no shortage of things to talk about. Which you probably figured out 500 words ago, about when you stopped reading this drivel.

—Mike Rothman

RSA Conference Guide 2015 Deep Dives: Overview

By Mike Rothman

With lots of folks (including us) at the RSA Conference this week, we figured we’d post the deep dives we wrote for the RSAC Guide and give those of you not attending a taste of what your missing. Though we haven’t figured out how to relay the feel of the meat market at the W bar after 10 PM nor the ear deafening bass at any number of conference parties nor the sharp pain you feel in your gut after a night of being way too festive. Though we’re working on that for next year’s guide.


While everyone likes to talk about the “security market” or the “security industry,” in practice security is more a collection of markets, tools, and practices all competing for our time, attention, and dollars. Here at Securosis we have a massive coverage map (just for fun, which doesn’t say much now that you’ve experienced some of our sense of humor), which includes seven major focus areas (like network, endpoint, and data security), and dozens of different practice and product segments.

It’s always fun to whip out the picture when vendors are pitching us on why CISOs should spend money on their single-point defense widget instead of the hundreds of other things on the list, many of them mandated by auditors using standards that get updated once every decade or so.

In our next sections we dig into the seven major coverage areas and detail what you can expect to see, based in large part on what users and vendors have been talking to us about for the past year. You’ll notice there can be a bunch of overlap. Cloud and DevOps, for example, affect multiple coverage areas in different ways, and cloud is a coverage area all on its own.

When you walk into the conference, you are likely there for a reason. You already have some burning issues you want to figure out, or specific project needs. These sections will let you know what to expect, and what to look for.

The information is based in many cases on dozens of vendor briefings and discussions with security practitioners. We try to help illuminate what questions to ask, where to watch for snake oil, and what key criteria to focus on, based on successes and failures from your peers who tried it first.

—Mike Rothman

Friday, April 17, 2015

LAST CHANCE! Register for the Disaster Recovery Breakfast

By Mike Rothman

Holy crap! The RSA Conference starts on Monday. Which means… you don’t have much time left to register for the 7th annual Disaster Recovery Breakfast.*

2015 DRB, the be careful what you wish for edition

Once again we have to provide a big shout out to our DRB partners, MSLGROUP, Kulesa Faul, and LEWIS PR. We’re expecting a crapton of folks to show up at the breakfast this year, and without their support there would be no breakfast for you.

no breakfast for you

As always, the breakfast will be Thursday morning 8-11 at Jillian’s in the Metreon. It’s an open door – come and leave as you want. We will have food, beverages, and assorted recovery items (non-prescription only) to ease your day.

See you there.

To help us estimate numbers, please RSVP to rsvp (at) securosis (dot) com.

*But don’t get nuts if you forget to RSVP – the bouncers will let you in… Right, there are no bouncers.

—Mike Rothman

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Presenting the 2015 RSA Conference Guide

By Mike Rothman

As you’ve seen over the past week, we’ve been reposting our RSAC Guide here. That’s because the RSA Conference folks allowed us to post it on their blog first. Yes, they are nuts, but we aren’t going to complain.

We also take all that raw content and format it into a snazzy PDF with a ton of meme goodness. So you can pop the guide onto your device and refer to it during the show. Without further ado, we are excited to present the entire RSA Conference Guide 2015 (PDF).

Just so you can get a taste of the memish awesomeness of the published RSAC Guide, check out this image. Plenty of folks are first finding out about Securosis through the RSAC blog. So we figured it would be good to provide some perspective on what we do and how we do it.

pontification FTW

Pontification FTW.

And in case you want to check out the coverage area deep dives (which will go up on the Securosis blog next week), check out the RSAC blog posts:

—Mike Rothman

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Incite 4/15/2015: Boom

By Mike Rothman

I’ve been on the road a bit lately, and noticed discussions keep working around to the general health of our industry. I’m not sure whether we’re good or just lucky, but we security folk find ourselves in the middle of a maelstrom of activity. And that will only accelerate over the next week, as many of us saddle up and head to San Francisco for the annual RSA Conference. We’ve been posting our RSA Conference Guide on the RSA Conference blog (are they nuts?) and tomorrow we’ll post our complete guide with all sorts of meme goodness.

The theme of this year’s Disaster Recovery Breakfast is be careful what you wish for. For years we have wanted more internal visibility for security efforts. We wanted to engage with senior management about why security is important. We wanted to get more funding and resources to deal with security issues. But now it’s happening. CISO types are being called into audit committee meetings and to address the full board (relatively) frequently. Budget is being freed up, shaken loose by the incessant drone of the breach of the day. We wanted the spotlight and now we have it. Oh crap.

balloon go boom

And investors of all shapes and sizes want a piece of cybersecurity. We’ve been engaged in various due diligence efforts on behalf of investors looking at putting money to work in the sector. You see $100MM funding rounds for start-ups. WTF is that about? A friend told me his successful friends call him weekly asking to invest in security companies. It’s like when you get stock tips from a cabbie (or Uber driver), it’s probably time to sell. That’s what this feels like.

But security will remain a high-profile issue. There will be more breaches. There will be additional innovative attacks, probably hitting the wires next week, when there is a lot of focus on security. Just like at Black Hat last year. Things are great, right? The security juggernaut has left the dock and it’s steaming full speed ahead. So why does it feel weird? You know, unreal?

Part of it is the inevitable paranoia of doing security for a long time. When you are constantly trying to find the things that will kill you, it’s hard to step back and just appreciate good times. Another part is that I’ve lived through boom and bust cycles before. When you see low-revenue early-stage start-ups acquired in $200MM+ and $50MM+ funding rounds for, you can’t help but think we are close to the top of the boom. The place to go from there is down. Been there, done that. I’m still writing off my investment tax losses from the Internet bubble (today is Tax Day in the US).

But you know what? What’s the use in worrying? I’m going to let it play out and do a distinctly atypical thing and actually enjoy the boom. I was too young and naive to realize how much fun the Internet boom was on the way up. I actually believed that was the new normal. Shame on me if I can’t enjoy it this time around.

I’ll be in SF next week with a huge smile on my face. I will see a lot of friends at RSAC. Rich, Adrian, and I will offer a cloud security automation learning lab and JJ and I will run a peer-to-peer session on mindfulness. I’ll have great conversations with clients and I’m sure I’ll fill the pipeline for the next couple months with interesting projects to work on. I’ll also do some damage to my liver. Because that’s what I do.

These halcyon days of security will end at some point. There is no beanstalk that grows to the sky. But I’m not going to worry about that now. I’ll ride through the bust, whenever it comes. We all will. Because we’re security people. We’ll be here when the carpetbaggers have moved on to the next hot sector promising untold riches and easy jobs. We’ll be here after the investors doing stupid deals wash out and wonder why they couldn’t make money on the 12th company entering the security analytics business. We’ll be here when the next compliance mandate comes and goes, just like every other mandate.

We’ll be here because security isn’t just a job. It’s a calling. And those who have been called ride through the booms and the busts. Today is just another day of being attacked by folks who want to steal your stuff.


Photo credit: “Explosion de ballon Polyptyque“_ originally uploaded by Mickael

Have you registered for Disaster Recovery Breakfast VII yet? What are you waiting for. Check out the invite and then RSVP to rsvp (at) securosis.com, so we know how much food to get…

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.

Network-based Threat Detection

Applied Threat Intelligence

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers

Incite 4 U

  1. Slap in the face: Part of the cellphone security model is locking and/or remotely wiping stolen cellphones. Allowing owners to control transfer of ownership makes stolen phones are almost worthless, and should discourage phone theft. But a giant case of insider fraud at AT&T barely made news last week, because it was positioned in the press as just another data breach. The real story is that a handful of employees in foreign markets accessed customer accounts to allow the transfer and activation of stolen phones. What makes the story so painful is that the criminal organization which got its mules into AT&T profited, the US government got the cost of its investigation covered by the $25M fine, and AT&T enjoyed 500k or so new subscribers on stolen phones and a tax write-down on the fine. The slap is to that people who had phones stolen get worthless “credit monitoring”, while FCC chair Tom Wheeler sprays perfume onto this steaming pile by claiming this is a victory for privacy – which implies the insiders actually stole personal information, rather than just transferring phone ownership. – AL

  2. Lay off my forensicators: In what appears to be another example of a company with too many lawyers, one company is sore another company hired a bunch of their people. MasterCard is suing Nike over former MC employees allegedly taking ‘proprietary’ network configurations to their new employer. But the hook in the suit is that some service providers were now working with Nike instead of MC. So apparently we are not in a free-market economy and service providers have become indentured servants to their clients. Bah. Too many damn lawyers. There has to be a better way to handle this. If they wanted to cut down employee churn, perhaps they could make it more interesting and attractive for employees to stick around. And there isn’t much you can do if an employee leaves, taking their multi-decade relationships with service providers. But when you have lawyers, evidently you need to lawyer up. – MR

  3. You’re the product: It’s not a question of whether your emails are tracked – Wired Magazine explains a browser tool to detect common email tracking elements, nicely illustrating that the only question is by whom and how many firms track each email you receive or send. It’s not uncommon to receive email with several trackers embedded – I get some with a half dozen. In some cases the trackers are added unbeknownst to the sender, instead tacked on by service providers. Most email providers earn money by tracking you, and every marketing manager running a ‘campaign’ demands to know not just who – but how – people are reading their precious content, so pretty much every email is tracked. Be it a browser or a dedicated mail tool, these email viewers don’t offer any insight into what’s being requested, by who, or how much data they pull out. Of course not, because that might interfere with their the ability to monetize you. The web pages you visit are far worse: even the Wired web page for that article serves fourteen trackers from sites you didn’t visit and which don’t serve the content you requested. They are solely to track what you do and how you do it, and that data is likely shared and resold yet again. The tools listed in this Wired article – such as UglyMail – lift just one veil obscuring the horrors underneath. If you really want to see – and control – what your email client and browsers transmit, get an outbound firewall to detect and filter. Remember, if you’re not paying, you’re the product. – AL

  4. Minority Security Report: One of the hot hot hot areas of security for 2015 is insider threat detection. These new security analytics tools look at a bunch of data and have means to determine when an employee is doing something that puts corporate data at risk. It turns out these technologies have been under development for a while for other use cases as well. For instance JP Morgan has a system that looks for signs that a trader is going to go rogue. Evidently they’ve profiled and found patterns that indicate an employee is going to do bad stuff. So they can then put the employee under watch. Is this a slippery slope? Yes and no. There is nothing wrong with monitoring an employee’s behavior if they show indicators of doing something bad for the organization. But how do you deal with false positives? And could the tools be used to curry favor for political purposes within the organization? I guess we should expect the equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials at some point. – MR

  5. Any time now: In 1999 I saw my first television ad proclaiming the amazing benefits of chip-based credit cards, and how they would protect customers and banks from fraud. It was the “Internet Age”, these cards looked Star Trek cool, and I wanted one. Too bad: My bank didn’t carry them. And even if they did, none of the merchants used the chip-based capabilities to counter card cloning. Fast forward to today, 16 frigging years later, and it’s still the same. My bank, sadly, still does not issue EMV-based credit cards. They do have a plan to roll them out, oh, sometime in 2016. So while I think it’s beyond pathetic that food retailers have asked for an extension on the EMV deadline – which shifts card fraud liability onto merchants who do not comply – I get it. It’s not just that they have been dragging their feet, but banks have been dragging as well. But honestly, the only way these cards can supplant magstripes in the US is for the card brands to not extend the deadline and to shift liability. When the financial incentive hits, we’ll see action. 16 years is enough warning. – AL

  6. Not a bad thing: Andreas Gal, Mozilla CTO, offers an interesting rant on limited access to Google search data available to other search engines. Over the last decade search engines have used user query data, more than crawling the Internet, to refine their own search results. Other search engines, ISPs, and telcos used to – ahem – collect user search data entered into Google and leverage that information. The crux of Andreas’ rant is that Google started encrypting its search strings, so only Google has access to user queries. But this is exactly what I want as a user – that the information I entrust ti Google not be shared. I want them to encrypt it and keep it to themselves. Further, this is part of Google’s moat, born from early technical advantages and the “network effect” of providing a service people really like, which is a good thing which Google earned. It requires other firms to innovate to attract users – and to do something unique or better before they can assail Google’s moat. Plus, I think Andreas missed that the embedded search bars in browsers like Firefox offer users a feature they do take advantage of: easy switching between search engines when they don’t like the results from their default option. Only vendors see this as a turf war; users see the value in both privacy and different results from different search tools. – AL

—Mike Rothman

Friday, April 10, 2015

RSAC Guide 2015: P.Compliance.90X

By Adrian Lane

Compliance. It’s a principle driver for security spending, and vendors know this. That’s why each year compliance plays a major role in vendor messaging on the RSA show floor. A plethora of companies claiming to be “the leader in enterprise compliance products” all market the same basic message: “We protect you at all levels with a single, easy-to-use platform.” and “Our enterprise-class capabilities ensure complete data security and compliance.” Right.

The single topic that best exemplifies our fitness meme is compliance. Most companies treat compliance as the end goal: you hold meetings, buy software, and generate reports, so you’re over the finish line, right? Not so much. The problem is that compliance is supposed to be like a motivational poster on the wall in the break room, encouraging you to do better – not the point itself. Buying compliance software is a little like that time you bought a Chuck Norris Total Gym for Christmas. You were psyched for fitness and harbored subconscious dreams it would turn you into a Chuck Norris badass. I mean, c’mon, it’s endorsed by Chuck Friggin’ Norris! But it sat in your bedroom unused, right next to the NordicTrack you bough a few years earlier. By March you hadn’t lost any weight, and come October the only thing it was good for was hanging your laundry on, so your significant other posted it on Craigslist.

The other side of the compliance game is the substitution of certifications and policy development for the real work of reducing risk. PCI-DSS certification suggests you care about security but does not mean you are secure – the same way chugging down 1,000-calorie fruit smoothies makes you look like you care about fitness but won’t get you healthy. Fitness requires a balance of diet and exercise over a long period; compliance requires hard work and consistent management towards the end goal over years. Your compliance requirements may hinge on security, privacy, fraud reduction or something else entirely, but success demands a huge amount of hard work.

So we chide vendors on their yearly claims about compliance-made-easy, and that the fastest way to get compliant is buy this vendors class-leading product. But this year we think it will be a little more difficult for vendors, because there is a new sheriff in town. No, it’s not Chuck Norris, but a new set of buyers. As with every period of disruptive innovation, developers start to play a key role in making decisions on what facilities will be appropriate with newer technology stacks. Big Data, Cloud, Mobile, and Analytics are owned by the fitness freaks who build these systems. Think of them as the leaner, meaner P90X fitness crowd, working their asses off and seeing the results of new technologies. They don’t invest in fancy stuff that cannot immediately show its worth: anything that cannot both help productivity and improve reliability isn’t worth their time. Most of the value statements generated by the vendor hype machine look like Olivia Newton-John’s workout gear to this crowd – sorely out of date and totally inappropriate. Still, we look forward to watching these two worlds collide on the show floor.

—Adrian Lane

Thursday, April 09, 2015

RSAC Guide 2015: IOWTF

By James Arlen

Have you heard a vendor tell you about their old product, which now protects the Internet of Things? No, it isn’t a pull-up bar, it’s an Iron Bar Crossfit (TM) Dominator!

You should be mentally prepared for the Official RSA Conference IoT Onslaught (TM). But when a vendor asks how you are protecting IoT, there’s really only one appropriate response:

“I do not think that means what you think it means.”

Not that there aren’t risks for Internet-connected devices. But we warned you this would hit the hype bandwagon, way back in 2013’s Securosis Guide to RSAC:

We are only at the earliest edge of the Internet of Things, a term applied to all the myriad of devices that infuse our lives with oft-unnoticed Internet connectivity. This wonʼt be a big deal this year, nor for a few years, but from a security standpoint we are talking about a collection of wireless, Internet-enabled devices that employees wonʼt even think about bringing everywhere. Most of these wonʼt have any material security concerns for enterprise IT. Seriously, who cares if someone can sniff out how many steps your employees take in a day (maybe your insurance underwriter). But some of these things, especially the ones with web servers or access to data, are likely to become a much bigger problem.

We’ve reached the point where IoT is the most under- or mis-defined term in common usage – among not just the media, but also IT people and random members of the public. Just as “cloud” spent a few years as “the Internet”, IoT will spend a few years as “anything you connect to the Internet”.

If we dig into the definitional deformation you will see on the show floor, IoT seems to be falling into two distinct classes of product: (a) commercial/industrial things that used to be part of the Industrial Control world like PLCs, HVAC controls, access management systems, building controls, occupancy sensors, etc.; and (b) products for the consumer market – either from established players (D-Link, Belkin, etc.) or complete unknowns who got their start on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

There are real issues here, especially in areas like process control systems that predate “IoT” by about 50 years, but little evidence that most of these products are actually ready to address the issues, except for the ones which have long targeted those segments. As for the consumer side, like fitness bands? Security is risk management, and that is so low on their priority list that it is about as valuable as a detoxifying foot pad. We aren’t dismissing all consumer product risks, but worry about your web apps before your light bulbs.

At RSAC this year we will see ‘IoT-washing’ in the same way that we have seen ‘cloud-washing’ over the last few years – lots of mature technology being rebranded as IoT. What we won’t see is any meaningful response to consumer IoT infiltration in the business. This lack of meaningful response nicely illustrates the other kinds of change we still need in the field: security people who can think about and understand IPv6, LoPAN, BLE, non-standard ISM radios, and proprietary protocols. Sci-Fi writers have told us what IoT is going to look like – everything connected, all the time – so now we’d better get the learning done so we can be ready for the change that is already underway, and make meaningful risk decisions, not based on fear-mongering.

—James Arlen

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

RSAC Guide 2015: DevOpsX Games

By Rich

DevOps is one of the hottest trends in all of IT – sailing over every barrier in front of it like a boardercross racer catching big air on the last roller before the drop to the finish. (We’d translate that, but don’t want to make you feel too old and out of touch).

We here at Securosis are major fans of DevOps. We think it provides opportunities for security and resiliency our profession has long dreamed of. DevOps has been a major focus of our research, and even driven some of us back to writing code, because that’s really the only way to fully understand the implications.

But just because we like something doesn’t mean it won’t get distorted. Part of the problem comes from DevOps itself: there is no single definition (as with the closely related Agile development methodology), and it is as much as a cultural approach as a collection of technical tools and techniques. The name alone conveys a sense of de-segregation of duties – the sort of thing that rings security alarm bells. We now see DevOps discussed and used in nearly every major enterprise and startup we talk with, to varying degrees.

DevOps is a bit like extreme sports. It pushes the envelope, creating incredible outcomes that seem nearly magical from the outside. But when it crashes and burns it happens faster than that ski jumper suffering the agony of defeat (for those who remember NBC’s Wide World of Sports… it’s on YouTube now – look it up, young’ns).

Extreme sports (if that term even applies anymore) is all about your ability to execute, just like DevOps. It’s about getting the job done better and faster to improve agility, resiliency, and economics. You can’t really fake your way through building a continuous deployment pipeline, any more than you can to backflip a snowmobile (really, we can’t make this stuff up – YouTube, people). We believe DevOps isn’t merely trendy, it’s our future – but that doesn’t mean people who don’t fully understand it won’t try to ride the wave.

This year expect to see a lot more DevOps. Some will be good, like the DevOps.com pre-RSA day the Monday before the conference starts. And vendors updating products to integrate security assessment into that continuous deployment pipeline. But expect plenty bad too, especially presentations on the ‘risks’ of DevOps that show someone doesn’t understand it doesn’t actually allow developers to modify production environments despite policy. As for the expo floor? We look forward to seeing that ourselves… and as with anything new, we expect to see plenty of banners proclaiming their antivirus is “DevOps ready”.