Tag Archives: cyberwar

Learning from stux, and connecting more dots in infosec

So everyone has been fully focused on Stuxnet – trying to figure out (again) what 0-days were involved, how were networks crossed, which command-and-control channels are utilized and how the systems were compromised.

Great.

I’m really hoping that the technical analysis would help us get a better grip on what kind of risk a persistent and well-funded attacker poses to a target. Nevertheless, it’s almost as we have not really learned a lot from past events – and yes, I’m talking about connecting the dots again. This time not in the sense of linking between crime and nation-state, but more in the sense of understanding that the technological attacks are usually coupled with kinetic ones – especially when talking about the more advanced activities.

For starters – stuxnet could not have gotten to where it did without the “human factor”. Someone needed to carry the infected USB thumbdribve and stick it into some system that was in the separate network. Call it a hostile agent, call it a paid off internal agent, or a 3rd party provider that was recruited to provide slightly modified equipment. It had to be done.

Now that we established that the “matrix” could not have just jumped across networks, let’s see what else can we learn from such an incident. As in learn whether this could affect us, and how. Which brings me to the second point:

We got nothing. Nothing in the sense of actual protection. And no, your claims that “our production control and monitoring network is physically disconnected from other networks” does not hold water anymore. It didn’t before either, but now it’s easier to point out how wrong you were.
Not only we got nothing, we keep listening to vendors that are too cheap/lazy to implement proper controls (from proper secure development, to taking into account that security measures would need to live on the systems), and completely lose focus when something proprietary comes along the way. When we should have been kicking vendors in the round ones and making sure that we make ourselves experts in the “proprietary” protocols thrown at us. Time to taste a bit of what we’ve been cooking.

Because stuxnet is not going to be hitting us soon. It’s going to be something much more appropriate for our culture and more targeted towards our soft spots. If delaying a nuclear development plan was on the top of the objective list when the operation that included stuxnet was planned, the counter-plans we would have to defend from would be different.
Think more in the lines of altering the way we perceive reality. Seriously. What if someone would be able to change what the newspapers printed tomorrow morning? What if they could change/affect what we see on TV? And no, this is not science fiction (check out what happened during Cast Led where Israel hacked the palestinian TV station, and how a retaliation effort was mounted and almost succeeded).
Such actions can be pulled out more easily than you’d think. The fact the everyone is focused on the pure technical aspects of defense left us pretty much open on any front that combined both human/social, physical and technical efforts.
Thinks furthermore on how the economy would hurt if the stock exchanges would be provided with false information (remember what happened when computers were involved in making decisions back in May 2010?).

And there’s more. Out travel, insurance and a lot of our financial systems are running on technology that was created back in the time when “strong authentication” means that you had to guess a really cryptic username. That’s right – not even a password is needed. And we are running billions of dollars on these things. They are protected of course – by separation. But network separation is not enough as we have just seen.

So back to connecting the dots. Remember my last rant? (you better!) – that’s exactly where the dots connect. Think critically of the business as a whole. Not in a system by system, or network by network scheme, but in the “how does this business work” scheme. How does the paper get printed at the end of the day? It may be easier to hack into the printing press facility control system than to the editor’s or the publisher’s network. Same goes for financial institutions, hospitals, airports, manufacturers, etc… Identify the weak spots in your industry, not in your office or your network.
And don’t blame me from giving the bad people ideas. They should be considered at least as smart as all of us are (smarter than me for sure 🙂 ). The anger that you are feeling right now reading this, is coming from the pain of sticking your neck out of the sand your head was buried in, and the uncomfortable feeling of getting a grip on reality…
Thanks for taking the red pill, and welcome to the matrix.

Now go and change things.

Updated speaking schedule!

As noted before, for some reason beyond my understanding I am going to be speaking at both SOURCE Barcelona and Brucon in September, as well as in Excaliburcon in China (you guys must really like this whole crime meets state thing huh?).

So, down to business, SOURCE Barcelona is going to be awesome – It’s going to be my first SOURCE I’m really looking forward to getting back together with some of my friends (Chris, Wim, Jayson… the old Wuxi pwnage team en-scale), and meet people I wanted to pick their brains in person (Brian Honan – especially because I’ll miss his talk…).

Next up is Brucon. I’ve said enough about Brucon in the last conference schedule update, nevertheless, it’s shaping up to beat it’s last years’ reputation. Expecting great talks, great crowd, and awesome beer! As far as talks I’m looking forward to – will definitely catch up with Joe which I missed at DefCon, Craig who’s Skylab is of a personal/professional interest to me, Dale with the HeadHacking talk, and Fabian’s GSM one. Obviously there are many more, but as I’ve learned over the years – don’t be greedy (especially not at conferences)…

Last but definitely not least, Excaliburcon is going to happen after all! This year the location is going to be just outside of Beijing. We will all miss Wuxi a lot, but I’m really looking forward to checking out more of China. It was a great experience last year and I’m setting up my hopes pretty high for December as the speaker list is getting pretty hot!

The common threat across these three conferences is that unlike the “big ones”, they all allow the attendants a very close interaction with the talks. This really enables more information sharing and knowledge transfer, and I’ve really learned a lot more from smaller conferences such as these than from the big ones that sport a dozen tracks at the same time (think RSA… you are not going there for the content anymore…).

If you happen to be at one of those, feel free to ping me (or even better – buy me a beer 🙂 )!

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!

The community to the rescue again

I’ve had some hard time coming up with this post. I had the great opportunity to travel quite a bit lately – specifically to Berlin where basically EVERYBODY in security was at ph-neutral (have I thanked FX yet? I think so, but anyway – great con/party!).

It all started in Berlin when I realized what an amazing community we have. People from all over the world coming over for 3 days of sharing, networking and listening to talks (oh, and partying). I also have the great honor of calling a few of these guys friends. Friends that I know that I would be honored to help if they needed anything, and friends that I know I can “drop on” if I happen to get into a snag in their hometown. Friends that I only see in-person 2-4 times a year, but still consider them one of my closest.

I saw borders dissolve in an instant as politics, geography and history dropped in sight of a beer or a cool PoC demo on someone’s PC, and I had great conversations with people I just got to know and am sure will run into again in the future.

And then I got back home. I don’t need to mention the unfortunate events that took place a couple of days ago, and I’m not going to point fingers at anyone. Everyone had their agenda, some sides were more optimistic, some had better planning, some had better intent, but the end result is what it was. Sometimes as we say it’s better to be smart than to be right…

That was just a day before I flew over to Athens to talk at Athcon. People around me started freaking out, having the entire area feel like a barrel of gunpowder, and the media adding in some FUD to top it off. And then I recalled ph-neutral. A couple of hours later, a friendly cabbie and what looks to be a really cool con, everything is left behind. The community wins again, while politicians keep meddling with their agendas.

I just hope that more people could find such communities where borders are bridged, and religion/ethnicity/gender become irrelevant in light of a common cause/interest. I’m truly happy that I had a chance to debunk myths that I’ve had in my mind, and other people had in theirs, and really hope that this focus on a common interest could work elsewhere.
Now off to polish off my presentation for tomorrow. Stay safe out there!

Quick update [6/7/2010]: Athcon was fantastic! I’ve had a great time in Athens, had a chance to finally meet some really brilliant minds that I’ve been following for some time online, and was fortunate enough to experience the famous greek hospitality. I am reassured with my previous assumptions that all these politics are just the attempt of politicians to prove that they are worth their salaries (hint -they don’t). We just want to live our lives quietly – the only reason for some kind of army/politicians is to fend off anyone who wants to disturb this (terrorists).

Back to work now, as I need to start prepping for Miami next week…

Cyber[Crime|War] – connecting the dots – BlackHat EU 2010

Hola from Barcelona!

It’s been a very productive couple of days here. Quite a lineup for this version of the BlackHat briefings out here. I had the great fortune of speaking right after a fantastic opening by Jeff Moss (BlackHat founder and director) and Max Kelly (Facebook’s CSO) that just set me up perfectly – both discussed elements of attribution, deniability when talking about proxied attacks through certain countries, and how money is the driving force for all Cybercrime.

The talk went fairly well, and the responses I got afterward was favorable all around (if you were too shy to put me on the spot or complain feel free to do so here or on my email… all feedback will be highly appreciated). For your viewing pleasure, I am including the most up-to-date slides that I used for the talk here: CyberCrimeWar-BHEU2010.pdf