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Dan Kaminsky

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Summary, April 3, 2009

By Adrian Lane

The big news at Securosis this week centered around the Conficker worm. As Rich blogged earlier in the week, he got a call from Dan Kaminsky on Saturday with the outline of what was going on. Rich and I scrambled Saturday to reach as many AV vendors as we could to get the word out. While some were initially a little annoyed at getting called on their cell phones Saturday afternoon, everyone was really eager to see what Tillmann Werner and Felix Leder had discovered and get their scanning tools updated. I expected things to be quiet on April 1st. A lot of security researchers have been watching and studying the worm’s behavior, and devising plans for detecting and containing the threat. I imagine the authors of the worm are reading every bit of news they can get their hands on and learning how to improve their code in response. This has been fascinating to watch. Thanks again to the Honeynet Project and Dan Kaminsky for doing a great job, and for involving us in the effort.

On a more personal note, you probably have noticed that neither Rich nor I have been blogging as much lately, partially due to our desire to not create more work for ourselves prior to the new site launch; partially because, well, family comes first. For those of you who know me, you know I have dogs. When people ask me if I have kids, I typically say “No, I have dogs.” What I mean to say is “Yes, several; of the four legged variety.” March has been a terrible month for me because in the first few days one of my puppies went into kidney failure as she had been prescribed the wrong pain medication and dosage. I spent 5 days at the emergency vet clinic with her, even signing the DNR papers as we did not think she would make it. Happy to say she did, and is slowly recovering her ability to walk and some of the 30 lbs. she lost. A couple of days after I got back from Source Boston, her brother, and our all time favorite, started having trouble breathing. To make a long story short, we found cancer everywhere, and he only made it five days after his first visible symptoms, dying in my lap Tuesday morning. We know even several of you hardened veterinarians and long time breeders who have “seen it all” shed a tear over this one, and Emily and I understand and appreciate your heartfelt condolences. Looking forward to a much brighter and happier April.

And now for the week in review… at least what little of it I managed to notice:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences:

Favorite Securosis Posts:

Favorite Outside Posts:

Top News and Posts:

  • Microsoft Security Advisory 969136 for MS Office PowerPoint.
  • Internet too dangerous? I think most people just do not appreciate how dangerous it is.
  • Conficker ‘eye-chart’. This is a great idea and works for several malware variants.
  • One topic I really wanted to blog on this week was the Internet Crime Complaint Center report that incidents (discovered and reported, of course) were up 33% year over year.
  • Mini-Botnets. Smaller, just as much of a problem.
  • The Open Cloud Manifesto. Ugh. Too many grandstanders with too little to say. If Hoff wants to fight that fight, fine, but it feels like yelling at the wind to me. Just not worth the time jumping into this mess until there is a bit more of a market. Don’t get me wrong- Rich and I will cover cloud and virtualization security in the future, maybe even this year. But not in response to this, and when we do, will will try to have something to say that does not suck.

Blog Comment of the Week:

This week’s best comment was from ‘Anonymous’:

@Andre, I think once the Institute store makes its exclusive gear available, you should be the first to buy an ASS hat.

We are working on the merchandise page for the new site … we will be sure to stock those hats.

–Adrian Lane

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Comments on “Containing Conficker”

By Adrian Lane

As you have probably read, a method for remotely detecting systems infected with the Conficker worm was discovered by Felix Leder and Tillmann Werner. They have been working with Dan Kaminisky, amongst others, to come up with a tool to detect the worm and give IT organizations the ability to protect themselves. This is excellent news. The bad news is how unprepared most applications are to handle threats like this. Earlier this morning, the guys at The Honeynet Project were kind enough to forward Rich and myself a copy of their Know Your Enemy: Containing Conficker paper. This is a very thorough analysis of how the worm operates. I want keep my comments on this short, and simply recommendation strongly that you read the paper. If you are in software development, you need to read this paper.

Their analysis of Conficker illustrates that the people who wrote it are far ahead of your typical application development team in their understanding of application security. Developers need to understand the approach that attackers are taking, understand the dedication to their craft these guys are exhibiting, and increase their own knowledge and dedication if they are going to have a chance of producing code that can counter these types of threats.

Is Conficker a well-written piece of code? Is it architected well? No idea. But it is clear that each iteration has advanced their three core functions (find & infect, maintain, & defend) and had this flexibility in mind from the begining. Look at how Conficker uses identification techniques to protect itself in avoid downloading the wrong/malicious patches to their worm. And check out the examination of incoming requests to help protect their now infected system from other viruses. This should serve as an example of how to write internal monitoring code to detect exploit attempts (see section 4), either in lieu of a full blown patch, or as self-defending code at critical points, or both. And it is done in a manner that gives them a generic tool that, when updated, will be an effective anti-malware tool. Neat, huh? The authors have a pretty good understanding of randomness and used multiple sources, not only to get better randomness, but to avoid an attack on any one- smart. These are really good application security practices that very few software authors actually put into practice. Heck, most web applications trust everything that comes in, and it looks like the authors of Conficker understand that you must trust nothing!

Once again, if you are a software developer or IT practitioner, read the paper. The research that Felix and Tillmann have put into this is impressive. They have proof points for everything they believe to be true about the worm’s behavior, and have stuck with the facts. This is really time consuming, difficult work. Excellent job, guys!

–Adrian Lane

Monday, March 30, 2009

(Updated) Easily Detect Conficker Infections- Over the Network

By Rich

Update: Dan just let me know that Tillmann Werner and Felix Leder have been working on this for 5 months! Dan came in (and then brought me in) only on Friday. They deserve major credit and thanks for this impressive work. Also, Nmap (which is still free) and the free feed of Nessus have their signatures out for those of you that don’t have an enterprise product.

Ever since last year, I always get a little nervous when Dan Kaminsky starts asking me certain questions over Twitter. Last time it was the DNS vulnerability, and this time it was something not as big, yet still extremely cool.

Some researchers with the Honeynet Project (Tillmann Werner and Felix Leder) discovered a way to remotely (as in via network scan) detect Conficker infections. It seems that whoever is behind Conficker attempts to patch the MS08-067 vulnerability when they infect a system so no other attackers can get in. The patch is flawed, causing a specific response to network probes. Yes folks, this means you can tell if a system is infected with Conficker just by scanning it. Now how cool is that?


p>The HoneyNet guys contacted Dan for some help, and then he contacted me to get connected with the major scanning vendors. I called Adrian, and we managed to wrangle up nCircle, McAfee, nCircle, Nmap, Qualys, and Tenable (Nessus) and most have already incorporated, or are about to incorporate, Conficker sigs for their scanners. I think Dan is giving me too much credit in his post; all I did was connect the right people with each other; I wasn’t involved in the tool creation or testing. (We did shoot for some other vendors, but didn’t have the right contacts).

I know Dan, the HoneyNet guys, and the vendor research teams all put in a heck of a lot of time on this over the weekend.

Here’s what you enterprise guys need to know:

  1. There is a free proof-of-concept tool available from the HoneyNet Project, or you can contact your network vulnerability assessment vendor to see if they have an updated signature.
  2. This should work on all Conficker variants. (I suspect that won’t last long).
  3. The “Know Your Enemy” paper will be released by the HoneyNet Project in the next couple of days, with far greater detail.
  4. This doesn’t guarantee you will detect all infections, but it’s a powerful way to reduce your risk. We recommend you start scanning immediately if you have the slightest worry over Conficker.
  5. Expect the tools to undergo a series of updates in the next few days as we all learn more. This really is hot-out-of-the-oven stuff that still needs to settle in.
  6. The next phase will be to include this in NAC products for pre-connect scanning.

That’s about it- simple enough! If you start using these and find anything interesting, please come back and post it in the comments.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Security Researchers Discover ... 5 Stages of Disclosure Grief

By Adrian Lane

Denial: “Dan may be smart, but Tom Ptacek states the obvious that this isn’t a new threat. Maybe a new spin on an old flaw.”

Anger: “Dan didn’t find shit. He read RFC3383 …” and “Dan has brought NOTHING new to the table. Simply made a name for himself by regurgitating the same old problems.”

Bargaining: “… the sky was already falling before Dan opened his mouth, …”, and “This is just another reason why we need DNSSEC”, and “What Should Dan Have Done?”

Depression: “What can we say right now? Dan has the goods.”

Acceptance: “Dan Kaminsky Disqualified from Most Overhyped Bug Pwnie” and “This is absolutely one of the most exceptional research projects I’ve seen. Dan’s reputation will emerge more than intact …”

DNS Vulnerability: Very interesting. Blog Discourse on DNS Vulnerability: Absolutely mesmerizing. Dan Kaminsky finds a DNS flaw, and half the security research community grieves.

–Adrian Lane

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pure Genius

By Rich

There is nothing else to say.

(Hoff claims he wrote it in 8 minutes).


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More On The DNS Vulnerability

By Rich

Okay- it’s been a crazy 36 hours since Dan Kaminsky released his information on the massive multivendor patch and DNS issue. I want to give a little background on how I’ve been involved (for full disclosure) as well as some additional aspects of this. If you hate long stories, the short version is he just walked me through the details, this is a very big deal, and you need to patch immediately.

Dan contacted me about a week or so ago to help get the word out to the CIO-level audience. As an analyst, that’s a group I have more access to. I was involved with the initial press conference and analyst briefings, and helped write the executive overview to put the issue in non-geek terms.

At the time he just gave me the information that was later made public. I’ve known Dan for a few years now and trust him, so I didn’t push as deeply as I would with someone I don’t have that relationship with. Thus, as the comments and other blogs dropped into a maelstrom of discontent, I didn’t have anything significant to add.

Dan realized he underestimated the response of the security community and decided to let me, Ptacek, Dino, and someone else I won’t mention into the fold.

Here’s the deal- Dan has the goods. More goods than I expected. Dino and Ptacek agree. Tom just issued a public retraction/apology. This is absolutely one of the most exceptional research projects I’ve seen. Dan’s reputation will emerge more than intact, although he will still have some black eyes for not disclosing until Black Hat.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. You must patch your name servers as soon as possible. This is real, it’s probably not what you’re thinking. It’s a really good exploit (which is bad news for us).
  2. Ignore the “Important” rating from Microsoft, and other non-critical ratings. You have to keep in mind that for many of those organizations nothing short of remote code execution without authentication will result in a critical rating. That’s how the systems are built.
  3. Dan screwed up some of his handling of this, and I’m part of that screwup since I set my cynical analyst hat aside and ran totally on trust and reputation. Now that I know more, I stand behind my reaction and statements, but that’s a bad habit for me to get into.
  4. This still isn’t the end of the world, but it’s serious enough you should break your patch cycle (if you have one) on name servers to get them fixed. Then start rolling out to the rest of your infrastructure.
  5. CERT is updating their advisory on an ongoing basis. It’s located here.

Next time something like this happens I’ll push for full details sooner, but Dan is justified in limiting exposure of this. His Black Hat talk will absolutely rock this year.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dan Kaminsky Discovers Fundamental Issue In DNS: Massive Multivendor Patch Released

By Rich

Today, CERT is issuing an advisory for a massive multivendor patch to resolve a major issue in DNS that could allow attackers to easily compromise any name server (it also affects clients). Dan Kaminsky discovered the flaw early this year and has been working with a large group of vendors on a coordinated patch.

The issue is extremely serious, and all name servers should be patched as soon as possible. Updates are also being released for a variety of other platforms since this is a problem with the DNS protocol itself, not a specific implementation. The good news is this is a really strange situation where the fix does not immediately reveal the vulnerability and reverse engineering isn’t directly possible.

Dan asked for some assistance in getting the word out and was kind enough to sit down with me for an interview. We discuss the importance of DNS, why this issue is such a problem, how he discovered it, and how such a large group of vendors was able to come together, decide on a fix, keep it secret, and all issue on the same day.

Dan, and the vendors, did an amazing job with this one. We’ve also attached the official CERT release and an Executive Overview document discussing the issue.

Executive Overview (pdf)

CERT Advisory (link)

Update: Dan just released a “DNS Checker” on his site Doxpara.com to see if you are vulnerable to the issue. Network Security Podcast, Episode 111, July 8, 2008

And here’s the text of the Executive Overview:

Fixes Released for Massive Internet Security Issue

On July 8th, technology vendors from across the industry will simultaneously release patches for their products to close a major vulnerability in the underpinnings of the Internet. While most home users will be automatically updated, it’s important for all businesses to immediately update their networks. This is the largest synchronized security update in the history of the Internet, and is the result of hard work and dedication across dozens of organizations.

Earlier this year, professional security research Dan Kaminsky discovered a major issue in how Internet addresses are managed (Domain Name System, or DNS). This issue was in the design of DNS and not limited to any single product. DNS is used by every computer on the Internet to know where to find other computers. Using this issue, an attacker could easily take over portions of the Internet and redirect users to arbitrary, and malicious, locations. For example, an attacker could target an Internet Service Provider (ISP), replacing the entire web – all search engines, social networks, banks, and other sites – with their own malicious content. Against corporate environments, an attacker could disrupt or monitor operations by rerouting network traffic traffic, capturing emails and other sensitive business data. Mr. Kaminsky immediately reported the issue to major authorities, including the United States Computer Emergency Response Team (part of the Department of Homeland Security), and began working on a coordinated fix. Engineers from major technology vendors around the world converged on the Microsoft campus in March to coordinate their response. All of the vendors began repairing their products and agreed that a synchronized release, on a single day, would minimize the risk that malicious individuals could figure out the vulnerability before all vendors were able to offer secure versions of their products. The vulnerability is a complex issue, and there is no evidence to suggest that anyone with malicious intent knows how it works.

The good news is that due to the nature of this problem, it is extremely difficult to determine the vulnerability merely by analyzing the patches; a common technique malicious individuals use to figure out security weaknesses. Unfortunately, due to the scope of this update it’s highly likely that the vulnerability will become public within weeks of the coordinated release. As such, all individuals and organizations should apply the patches offered by their vendors as rapidly as possible.

Since not every system can be patched automatically, and to provide security vendors and other organizations with the knowledge they need to detect and prevent attacks on systems that haven’t been updated, Mr. Kaminsky will publish the details of the vulnerability at a security conference on August 6th. It is expected by this point the details of the vulnerability will be independently discovered, potentially by malicious individuals, and it’s important to make the specific details public for our collective defense. We hope that by delaying full disclosure, organizations will have time to protect their most important systems, including testing and change management for the updates. Mr. Kaminsky has also developed a tool to help people determine if they are at risk from “upstream” name servers, such as their Internet Service Provider, and will be making this publicly available.

Home users with their systems set to automatically update will be protected without any additional action. Vendor patches for software implementing DNS are being issued from major software manufacturers, but some extremely out of date systems may need to updated to current versions before the patches are applied. Executives need to work with their information technology teams to ensure the problem is promptly addressed.

There is absolutely no reason to panic; there is no evidence of current malicious activity using this flaw, but it is important everyone follow their vendor’s guidelines to protect themselves and their organizations.