Blog

Incite 7/20/2010: Visiting Day

By Mike Rothman

Back when I went to sleepaway camp as a kid I always looked forward to Visiting Day. Mostly for the food, because after a couple weeks of camp food anything my folks brought up was a big improvement. But I admit it was great to see the same families year after year (especially the family that brought enough KFC to feed the entire camp) and to enjoy a day of R&R with your own family before getting back to the serious business of camping.

Just like her room at home.... So I was really excited this past weekend when the shoe was on the other foot, and I got to be the parent visiting XX1 at her camp. First off I hadn’t seen the camp, so I had no context when I saw pictures of her doing this or that. But most of all, we were looking forward to seeing our oldest girl. She’s been gone 3 weeks now, and the Boss and I really missed her.

I have to say I was very impressed with the camp. There were a ton of activities for pretty much everyone. Back in my day, we’d entertain ourselves with a ketchup cap playing a game called Skully. Now these kids have go-karts, an adventure course, a zipline (from a terrifying looking 50 foot perch), ATVs and dirt bikes, waterskiing, and a bunch of other stuff. In the arts center they had an iMac-based video production and editing rig (yes, XX1 starred in a short video with her group), ceramics (including their own wheels and kiln), digital photography, and tons of other stuff. For boys there was rocketry and woodworking (including tabletop lathes and jigsaws). Made me want to go back to camp. Don’t tell Rich and Adrian if I drop offline for couple weeks, okay?

Everything was pretty clean and her bunk was well organized, as you can see from the picture. Just like her room at home…not! Obviously the counselors help out and make sure everything is tidy, but with the daily inspections and work wheel (to assign chores every day), she’s got to do her part of keeping things clean and orderly. Maybe we’ll even be able to keep that momentum when she returns home.

Most of all, it was great to see our young girl maturing in front of our eyes. After only 3 weeks away, she is far more confident and sure of herself. It was great to see. Her counselors are from New Zealand and Mexico, so she’s gotten a view of other parts of the world and learned about other cultures, and is now excited to explore what the world has to offer. It’s been a transformative experience for her, and we couldn’t be happier.

I really pushed to send her to camp as early as possible because I firmly believe kids have to learn to fend for themselves in the world without the ever-present influence of their folks. The only way to do that is away from home. Camp provides a safe environment for kids to figure out how to get along (in close quarters) with other kids, and to do activities they can’t at home. That was based on my experience, and I’m glad to see it’s happening for my daughter as well. In fact, XX2 will go next year (2 years younger than XX1 is now) and she couldn’t be more excited after visiting.

But there’s more! An unforeseen benefit of camp accrues to us. Not just having one less kid to deal with over the summer – which definitely helps. But sending the kids to camp each summer will force us (well, really the Boss) to let go and get comfortable with the reality that at some point our kids will grow, leave the nest, and fly on their own. Many families don’t deal with this transition until college and it’s very disruptive and painful. In another 9 years we’ll be ready, because we are letting our kids fly every summer. And from where I sit, that’s a great thing.

– Mike

Photo credits: “XX1 bunk” originally uploaded by Mike Rothman


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  7. Color-blind Swans and Incident Response
  8. Home Business Payment Security
  9. Simple Ideas to Start Improving the Economics of Cybersecurity
  10. Various NSO Quant Posts on the Monitor Subprocesses:

Incite 4 U

  1. We have a failure to communicate! – Chris makes a great point on the How is that Assurance Evidence? blog about the biggest problem we security folks face on a daily basis. It ain’t mis-configured devices or other typical user stupidity. It’s our fundamental inability to communicate. He’s exactly right, and it manifests in the lack of having any funds in the credibility bank, obviously impacting our ability to drive our security agendas. Holding a senior level security job is no longer about the technology. Not by a long shot. It’s about evangelizing the security program and persuading colleagues to think security first and to do the right thing. Bravo, Chris. Always good to get a reminder that all the security kung-fu in the world doesn’t mean crap unless the business thinks it’s important to protect the data. – MR

  2. Cyber RF – I was reading Steven Bellovin’s post on Cyberwar, and the only thing that came to mind was Sun Tsu’s quote, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Don’t think I am one of those guys behind the ‘Cyberwar’ bandwagon, or who likes using war metaphors for football – this subject makes me want to gag. Like most posts on this subject, there is an interesting mixture of stuff I agree with, and an equal blend of stuff I totally disagree with. But the reason I loathe the term ‘Cyberwar’ finally dawned on me: it’s not war – it’s about winning through trickery. It’s about screwing someone over for whatever reason. It’s about stealing, undermining, propagandizing, damaging and every other underhanded trick you use before you do something else underhanded. The term ‘Cyberwar’ creates a myopic over-dramatization that conjures images of guns, bombs, and dolphins with lasers strapped to their heads, when it’s really about getting what you want – whatever that may be. I prefer the term ‘Cyber – Ratfscking’, from a root term coined by Nixon staffers and perfected under the W administration. Sure, we could use plain old terms like ‘war’, ‘espionage’, and ‘theft, but they do not capture the serendipity of old tricks in a new medium. And I really don’t think the threats have been exaggerated at all, because stealing half a billion dollars in R&D from a rival nation, or changing the outcome of an election, is incredibly damaging and/or useful. But focusing on ‘war’ removes the stigma of politics from the discussion, and makes it sound like a military issue when it’s a more generalized iteration of screwing over your fellow man. – AL

  3. The SLA hammer hits the thumb – I once received a fair bit of guff over stating that your only consistent cloud computing security control is a good, well-written contract with enforceable service level agreements. It turns out even that isn’t always enough – at least if you are in Texas and hosting with IBM. Big Blue is about to lose an $863M contract with the state of Texas due to a string of massive failures. This was a massive project to merge 28 state agencies into two secure data, centers which has been nothing but a nightmare for the agencies involved. But what the heck, the 7-year contract started in 2006 and it only took 4 years to reach the “we really mean it this time” final 30-day warning. Needless to say, I have a Google alert set for 30 days from now to see what really happens. – RM

  4. Defining risk – Jack Jones puts up an interesting thought generator when he asks “What is a risk anyway?” This is a reasonable question we should collectively spend more time on. Risk is one of those words that gets poked, prodded, and manipulated in all sorts of ways for all sorts of purposes. The term is so muddled that no one really knows what it means. But we are expected to reduce, transfer, or mitigate risk systematically, in a way that can easily be substantiated for our auditors. No wonder we security folks are a grumpy bunch! How the hell can we do that? Jack has some ideas but mostly it’s about not trying to “characterize risks in terms of likelihood or consequence” (both of which are subjective), and focus on getting the terminology right. Good advice. – MR

  5. No SCADA to see here – Almost any time I post something on SCADA security, someone who works in that part of the industry responds with, “there’s no problem – our systems are all proprietary and bad guys can’t possibly figure out how to shut-the-grid-down/trigger-a-flood/blow-up-a-manufacturing-plant. Not every SCADA engineer thinks like that, but definitely more than we’d like (zero would be the right number). I wonder how they feel about the new Windows malware variant that spreads via USB, and appears to target a specific SCADA system? Not that this attack is worth a 60 Minutes special, but it is yet another sign that someone seems to be targeting our infrastructure – or at minimum performing reconnaissance to learn how to break it. – RM

  6. Buy that network person a beer – As an old networking guy, it’s a little discouraging to see the constant (and ever-present) friction between the security and networking teams. But that’s not going to change any time soon, so I have to accept it. Branden Williams makes a great point about how VLANs (and network segmentation in general) can help reduce scope for PCI – excellent for the security folks. Obviously the devil’s in the details, but clearly you have to keep devices accessing PAN on a separate network, which could mean a lot of things. But less scope is good, so if you don’t have a good relationship with the network team maybe it’s time to fix that. You should make a peace offering. I hear network folks like beer. Or maybe that was just me. – MR

  7. Warm and fuzzy – The Microsoft blog had an article on Writing Fuzzable Code a couple weeks back that I am still trying to wrap my head around. OK, so fuzzing is an art when done right. Sure, to the average QA tester it just looks like you are hurling garbage at the application with a perverse desire to crash it – perhaps so you can heckle the programming team for their incompetence. Seriously, it’s a valuable approach to security testing and a wonderful way to flush out bad programming assumptions and execution. But the Man-in-the-middle approach they discuss is a bit of an oddball. A large percentage of firms capture network activity and replay those sessions with altered parameters and commands for fuzzing and stress testing. Sure, modification of data on the fly is an interesting way to create dynamic tests and keep the test cases up to date, but I am not certain there is enough value to justify fuzzing both producer and the consumer as part of a single test. I am still unsure whether their goal was to harden the QA scripts or the communication protocols between two applications. Or perhaps the answer is both. This scenario creates a real-world debugging problem, though – transaction processing communications can get out of synch and crash at some indeterminate time later. The issue may be due to a transaction processing error, the communication dialog, or a plain old unhandled exception. I guess my point is that this seems to save time in test case generation at the expense of being much more difficult to debug. If anyone out there has real-world experience with this form of testing (either inside or outside Microsoft) I would love to hear about your experiences. I guess Microsoft decided on the more thorough (but difficult) test model, but I’m afraid that in most cases the problems will multiply fast, and the advantage in thoroughness (over testing the producer and consumer sides separately) is not enough to justify the inevitable debugging problems. And I’m afraid that for most organizations this level of ambition will make the whole fuzzing process miserable and substantially less useful. – AL

  8. Clarifying the final rule – Thanks to HIPAA, healthcare is one of the anchor verticals for security, so I was surprised to see very little coverage of HHS’ issuance of the final rule for meaningful use. Ed over at SecurityCurve did the legwork and has two posts (Part 1 & Part 2) clarifying what it means and what it doesn’t. The new rules are really about electronic health records (EHR), and HHS has basically declared that the existing HIPAA guidelines are sufficient. They are mandating somewhat better assessment and risk management processes, but that seems pretty squishy. Basically it gets back to enforcement. EHR is a huge can of security worms waiting to be exploited, and unless there is a firm commitment to make examples of some organizations playing fast and loose with EHR, this is more of a ho-hum. But if they do, we could finally get some forward motion on healthcare security. – MR

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Comments

At my camp if we wanted to water ski we needed people to row really friggen fast. Adventure course? Video production? ATVs?!?!?!? Hell, we had to hand carry wood since we didn’t even have wheelbarrows.

We are seriously paying you too much if you can afford to send your kid here….

By Rich


Alan, MitM fuzzing is even more useful when dealing with complex session-aware protocols.  Traffic replay would probably generate invalid traffic that will get discarded quickly, and generation fuzzing is a lot of work, as you have to reconstruct a consumer/producer from scratch.

You don’t have to fuzz both consumer and producer at the same time, the MitM fuzzer can be smart enough to differentiate between the two.

It’s true that debugging can be harder, but the time savings in test generation are substantiantial.  I’ve seen MitM fuzzers put together in a matter of hours that were producing actionable results for developers right away, for protocols where writing a generation fuzzer would have taken weeks.

By Max


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