Tag Archives: security policy

the art of not thinking about elephants

We have been quite busy here at Security Art in the last few weeks (as the blog posting frequency suggests), but I figured I would provide a quick preview of some of the elements we have been working on in terms of risk management.

Now, I suppose you have read Yoram’s earlier post about risk informed decision making, so I won’t elaborate on this for too long, nevertheless, we are often posed with the question “so how does this apply to my organization”. this usually comes form someone who did spend a lot of time and resources on the technical aspects of their network security. The answer is usually “let’s take a look at how you do your business”, which is what we usually do anyways…

Having that in mind, we set off to investigate in a few recent engagements how would some of our clients actually fare against an informed and skilled attacker that has been commissioned to break into the organization. These engagements have been prompted by a few incidents in which the organization in questions was basically left in the dark as they were basing their forensics on the tools that commercial security vendors provided them with, and nothing much more than that (remember the ever expressive “generic” detection from your AV vendor… Ever wonder what it really means?).

With that in mind, and a network to steal data from as a target we accepted the challenge. The only caveat is that the network was disconnected. For real. No Internets…

But (and there’s always a “but”), there was a voice network that went out through PSTN to provide the office with telephony connectivity. Bingo. Ever seen a complete separation of the VOIP network and the internal network? yeah, neither have I. To make a long story short, we managed to get the data in the most old fashioned way possible… we beeped it away (actually transmitted over a VOIP connection using a custom written simulated trojan that encoded the data into audible voice signals and left them as a message on one of our voice mailboxes). Done deal. (and the PoC code can be found here if you’d like to play with some of the conecpts).

Bottom line – always remember that when you think of solutions, you should not be “blinded” by what’s available out there and the accompanying marketing materials. That’s basically the “pink elephant” that vendors tell you not to think about when pitching their solutions. You usually end up thinking about it (and buying the product thinking that you’ll never see that elephant again as you just bought the best “anti-elephant” solutions…).

Always challenge the way you think of networks and processes (we did have to get the code INTO the network somehow… but that’s for another post 🙂 ), and ALWAYS test your assumptions and protections. You’d be surprised how easy it mat be to out-compartmentalize you just because you were boxed in to take care of just a single aspect of the security 9and yes – that even applies to CIO’s, CISO’s, etc…).

Identity crisis

Here’s a common question I get asked a lot: “What technology should I use to secure my server/network/[some technology]?”

wpid-IdentityCrisis-2010-06-7-14-11.jpgThe question is usually presented by someone who’s in charge of “Security” in an organization. Now, I wouldn’t have had a problem with this if this was a technician, or a pen-tester of sorts, but I get really nervous when the CISO/CIO/Security manager is the one asking.

I think that this question is highly inappropriate for two reasons:

  1. You should not be looking for “technology”. Buying a product is not going to make you more secure or less secure.
  2. You should not be trying to protect a technology. Your servers, networks, routers, PCs, etc… are not the focus of information security. The information is…

Having been working with senior management – sometimes as an advisor/consultant, and sometimes as a “virtual CISO”, I know that this is not what we expect the CISO or security manager to ask. We expect business savvy, we expect an understanding of what the information assets are, what are the information critical paths, who owns the information and what is the impact of every asset on the business. We expect that the understanding of how each assets fits into the grand scheme of things would be clear to whoever is in charge of securing it, and we expect them to take into account what is the potential damage related to each of these assets (in terms of losing it, having it fall into the wrong hands, etc…).
For me (or us when talking as management) this is the only way to approach security. Funny how things get a little unclear when all you thought you needed to know was which vendor/product fits where in your topology, huh?

What strikes me as most peculiar is the fact that a lot of these security “professionals” find themselves in a self proclaimed identity crisis, having to deal with business requirements and financial understanding of how the business operates. and the weirdest thing is that they often choose to get back to what then “know” best – the technology side of things. Definitely not the way to make a move…

wpid-risk-blocks-2010-06-7-14-11.jpgI’m really hoping that all this preaching of “know thyself before you know your enemy” would help somehow, because right now unfortunately the situation at hand only brings us more business (not that I’m complaining). But seriously now – technology is fine and cool, but having the aptitude to know where it fits, not on an architectural level, but from a business perspective is the key to what we do. Get back to the drawing board, erase the network topology and start drawing the business one!

Being in the middle (or: things we didn’t manage to learn in a decade)

This is going to be painful, so hold on.
Instead of mumbling short tweets about things I think that suck, I decided to keep everything in and just formulate a post on it.
This post is a rant. It’s a complicated rant by an “old” guy (my excuse for cynicism) in the industry who’s had a chance to see a lot going. Disclaimer: I’m going to give some examples here, real life examples from my own experience in the security industry. Some are from my consulting days, some from the vendor days, some from freelance and other gig days. If you think you are someone who I’m describing here – you probably aren’t. On the other hand, if you can recall some snotty smart-ass dude come into your company wearing orange bermuda pants (swear to god) sandals and (hold it) silver toenail polish (I was going through something back then), telling you how badly your security sucks and leave a single pager report on it showing gaping holes in technology and processed, well, I’m sorry…

Disclaimers aside, down to business.

What have we learned over the past decade in the security business – let’s see: AV is pretty much the same as it was in 2000 (which is the same as it was in 1990, you get the point). Firewalls do pretty much the same give or take a couple of useless protocols that nobody needs. Oh, oh, I know (yeah – I can hear you from the back of the room) – WAF!. Well, WAF right back at you. Doesn’t work, didn’t work back in the days when it took 3 days to configure it for a small site, and still doesn’t do much good other than the simple stuff (which you can get for free at ModSecurity).

We have almost no technological advantage over what we used to have 10 years ago. So, you must say, we learnt that we as security people must have gone through so much that we manage and deal with the risks and threats much better. Yes, that’s a tear at the corner of my eye. How much I wish you were right.

The same people who I used to see so excited by their newfangled CxO title and their big office 10 years ago, who didn’t know what to do in order to do their jobs, are not doing any better than most companies nowadays.

Then, just like now, they are still trying to find the right “stuff” that’s going to save their world if they just buy/lease/license it and install it in a shiny new rack. Now, just like then, we are focused on finding “vulnerabilities” and categorizing them “high, medium, low” (or whatever scale that doesn’t mean anything) in our networks, operating systems and applications. Then, just like now, we can’t tell the difference whether a threat will render our business useless, rob us blind, or just evaporate like a baby hiccup with a faint noise of “FUD”.

I meet a lot of talented young (and old) security people, they are all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to fight until the last drop of blood over what they were trained/self-taught/researched. And I envy them. I envy the ability to just disconnect, to adapt that tunnel-vision that allows them to dig right in to the utter abyss of a technical challenge. I also meet a lot of people with broad vision of how security should be. They have forgotten the technical mumbo-jumbo the kids are talking about today. “Sea surf? Yeah! I remember surfing when I was a kid…”, “Sequel? Which one? I thought the matrix series was over…”, “But let me tell you about my new world cyber-peace strategy…”. You get the point.

And don’t even get me started on all these certifications that everyone goes after. The sad fact is, these things have kept us back from thinking differently. They boxed us into whatever the course/certification/training is trying to cram into us on a technical level, and basically leave it at that. It created a 400 pound gorilla of money sucking industry without really giving us back any more talent. Most of my friends in the industry have some kind of certification (or two, or ten), but I still call them friends not because the number of certs they have on their business card, but because I know they don’t really need these certs to be professional security people.

What I’m still struggling with is the middle. I have always been looking for the middle (even as a kid – “your son is about average, but he’s got great potential” was a recurring parent-meeting slogan through all my school years). The middle which have built itself over the foundations of technical research, got their hands dirty in pen-tests, trying out new products, breaking stuff left and right, losing once in a while to get their bearings right. The middle who didn’t get blinded by a new management position, and kept relatively up-to-date on what’s going on. The middle who didn’t skip last year’s DefCon/BlackHat/Shmoocon/[your-favorite-con] talk because he thought it was some passing fad (and didn’t want to admit that it’s just too darn complicated for them to get into new stuff). The middle who took up looking at how the business works. From the numbers, through the sales, operations, tech-support, client meetings, competition and the board-room decisions. We forgot that this middle is our only chance to make progress, because this middle can translate the latest threat to numbers. Numbers that not only the CIO/IT guy can understand, but the CFO, the accountant, the COO and the order fulfillment guys can understand. The real impact on the business. With numbers, with a strategy on how (if ever) to address it, with an understanding that it might not be the latest and greatest gizmo that we need here, but something much simpler. An old solution, a tweak here and there – in a product, or a business operation. A quick chat with the procurement department on how they process stuff, or a change in the way that the sales organization works in the field when they run off to customers and meet the competition.

I find myself trying to fit in the middle too many times. I’ll admit it – I didn’t think of a middle back when I started getting paid for breaking things, but I saw the middle. I haven’t figured out the right terminology until 6 or 7 years ago for this middle. But darn it! (imagine what I held back until now…) I like that middle, and unfortunately (or fortunately as my accountant would say) we are still bad at filling that middle. We still haven’t bridged the gaps between the techies and senior management (I’m obviously generalizing, but look at your average F-100 company – you’ll get it…). Between the millions of dollars we spend on the wrong things, and the vague strategies we build on top of them to fend off auditors and boardroom questions.

Let’s get the good guys from both sides back to the middle. Let’s get the techies some business training, dress ‘em up nice and give them the tour. Let’s send our CxO’s to DefCon for a refresher on how things are done these days. There’s no shame in learning. If I find a day in which I didn’t have a chance to learn something new – technical, financial, political, strategy or disassembly, I feel wrong. Let’s justify our overpriced salaries and really make something out of it. We were used to be paid to think outside the box, and all we did since we started getting paid is to paint the box in crayons.

Break the box. Down to it’s nails and planks. See what makes it tick. Reassemble, open, get out, close it, and think how to make it better.

p.s. – what’s with the parenthesis you ask? well, that’s just how I like to write, and besides – it leaves room to put things in the middle 😉

The China/Google thing, accountants and other miscreants

Aha! Can’t believe I managed to avoid the unbelievable hype flood that swept across the interwebs in the last month. And to think that the last post (long overdue, I know… had REALLY good reasons for not being able to post anything) was somewhat oracleish in predicting that this would be the focus of this year.

Just to set the stage right – we are at a point where I just saw a USA Today “Money” section front page article on how Google’s engagement with the NSA post the breach will affect the security vendor market, and a few VCs were also quoted to the fact that we will be seeing IPOs this year that will ride this trend.

Overhyped – definitely. Real – just as it’s overhyped. You must be asking then what to do? If the hype is too much, then there must not be so much behind these scary global cyberwar threats! Not exactly – the threat exists, and countries do deal with making sure they have an edge over everyone else (see how I didn’t use adversaries… hint, hint 😉 ), but at the same time this has been happening for years now.

The news here is somewhat lukewarm when compared to the hype. The news is that it is becoming common knowledge that companies tend to miserably fail when keeping their own intellectual and informational assets under wraps. The news is that even the “do no evil” Google(tm) have their own share of problem using old(tm) (or should I say pathetically insecure?) software inside the Googleplex.

But let’s dig a little deeper past the hype – have anyone heard of the fourty-something other “big” companies that were affected? have anyone heard of the thousands of companies that deal with data of sensitive nature (whether they know it or not) that also have a big job ahead of them dodging the flak from their local government trying to make sure the exposure is somewhat lessened? Probably not.

I’ve have the questionable pleasure of assisting some of these entities – which have anywhere between loose and close ties to local and federal government (either providing data at will, or being relied on for compiling national threat level information at varying level of the threat modeling). Without getting into any specific details I can truly say that I was simply disappointed. A lot of good people trying to do good things, but ev

entually (as always) a big fat failure due to some sideline error brings the whole security architecture down. Things as easy as applying service packs, eliminating use of old un-pached software (IE6 – are you still here? I think I to

ld you to get out and never come back again!) and just plain good-ole’ malpractice.

Without sounding too dreary (I’m sure the horrible weekend east-coast weather is doing that to me) we still have our work cut out for us. As long as people (non-security-industry ones) are ignorant regarding the implications of their actions in an all-connected world (nice evasion of “cyberworld”!), holes will be cut open in any modern security design – no matter how well it was thought to be, or how much money was thrown into it. With almost zero-cost, we managed to implement an “idiot-proof” system that would just stop these things from happening for one of the companies…

What can you do? remember how we were taught to plan for the worst – count people in that too. Your people. They may be the smartest guys in accounting, or marketing, or production, but in terms of information assurance they can be your worst enemy (no offense guys, but it’s just like that…).

Clouds, and the winds that blows them away…

You must have seen this coming – I was holding off from discussing cloud security for quite some time for a few good reasons, but now it’s time to take a look at where are we (or more correctly – are we there yet?).

First things first – the main reason for abstaining from the cloud security discussion was simply the lack of definition (and existence) of clouds… True – Amazon has provided the infrastructure to the first layers of building cloud solutions, but full-on “process-as-a-service” has yet to emerge from the different offerings that call themselves cloud. There has been enough ink (bits?) spilled over what really is  cloud computing and what it isn’t (you can check out Craig’s presentation, and Hoff’s view on things).

And now to my 2c on the subject at hand, I have been involved with a few cloud security companies in the past months and being able to lend a hand at the strategic level, I was exposed to several aspects of where are we now with cloud computing, where are the gaps that security firms will need to pitch in and provide basic protections, and a whole lot of marketing fuzz that needed to be thrown off in order to realize what’s out there.

To begin with, we had to sift through the marketing mambo-jumbo to get to the point – seems like the more expensive your marketing budget is, the farther away you get from reality in your message – too bad (and that’s coming from someone who turned a lot of technical material into marketing…). Hence the first point – blowing enough smoke to make everyone tear does not constitute for creating a cloud.

Point two – now that we to the bottom of the offering (and I’m not going to name names…), one usually realizes that it has either been out there for quite a while and has been wrapped in clouds to sell it better, or that someone has made some basic adaptations to an existing offering (see roaming users, VPN, scanning services) to cloudify it. Whatever is left that did not fit into the previous schemes is worth a second (or is it third by now) look.

Point three – what’s the market for your cloud offering? The last hurdle that all these new cloud companies face is choosing (or defining) a direction. Do you see yourself providing a solution for the end users? for businesses? for the cloud infrastructure providers? for providers of services/software/processes on the cloud? If you get an answer in the lines of “we basically provide a solution for all of them” – run! As each of the mentioned markets have different needs, and different views on their place in the cloud, you better get a solid answer for this. I strongly suggest reading the “Cloud Architecture” section written by Chris Hoff which is part of the Cloud Security Alliance’s “Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus” starting at page 15 in order to get an idea on the latter.

Now with most of the fluff away, and the offering at hand we can actually focus on whether it makes sense (business-wise), and where does security fit in. By no means this is going to be a guide for securing the cloud, but always remember the architectural model – from hypervisor, all the way through multi-tenanting, data abstraction and sharing, inter and outer process communication, and off to simple abuses of the cloud in the form of DDoS, Botnet tools, etc…

Hope this made some sense – if not I can only suggest reading some more material on it, and to play around with the current offerings from Amazon, Azure (MS), and Ubuntu (Canonical).