Tag Archives: Information security

A trip down cyber memory lane, or from C64 to #FF0000 teaming

Reposting this from the original post I put on the IOActive website for the national cyber security awareness month…

So, it’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and here at IOActive we have been lining up some great content for you. Before we get to that, I was asked to put in a short post with some background on how I got to info sec, and what has been keeping me here for almost 20 years now.

Brace yourselves for a trip down memory lane then :-). For me getting into security didn’t start with a particular event or decision. I’ve always been intrigued by how things worked, and I used to take things apart, and sometimes also put them back together. Playing with Meccano, Lego, assorted electrical contraptions, radios, etc. Things got a bit more serious when I was about 6 or 7 when somehow I managed to convince my parents to get me one of those newfangled computers. It was a Commodore 64 (we were late adopters at the Amit residence), but the upside is I had a real floppy drive rather than a tape cassette 😉

That has been my introduction to programming (and hacking). After going through all the available literature I could get my hands on in Hebrew, I switched over to the English one (having to learn the language as I went along), and did a lot of basic programming (yes, BASIC programming). That’s also when I started to deal with basic software protection mechanisms.

Things got more real later on in my PC days, when I was getting back to programming after a long hiatus, and I managed to pick this small project called Linux and tried to get it working on my PC. Later I realized that familiarity with kernel module development and debugging was worth something in the real world in the form of security.

Ever since then, I find myself in a constant learning curve, always running into new technologies and new areas of interest that tangent information security. It’s what has been keeping my ADD satisfied, as I ventured into risk, international law, finances, economic research, psychology, hardware, physical security and other areas that I’m probably forgetting in the edits to this post (have I mentioned ADD?).

I find it hard to define “what I like to research” as my interest range keeps expanding and venturing into different areas. Once it was a deep dive into Voice over IP and how it can be abused to exfiltrate data, another time it was exploring the business side of cyber-crime and how things worked there from an “economy” perspective, other times it was purely defense based when I was trying to switch seats and was dealing with a large customer who needed to up their defenses properly. It even got weird at some point where I was dealing with the legal international implications of conflict in the 5th domain when working with NATO on some new advisories and guidance (law is FUN, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!).

I guess that for me it’s the mixture of technical and non-technical elements and how these apply in the real world… It kind of goes back to my alma-mater (The Interdisciplinary Center) where I had a chance to hone some of these research skills.

As for advice on to how to become a pentester/researcher/practitioner of information security? Well, that’s a tough one. I’d say that you would need to have the basics, which for me has always been an academic degree. Any kind of degree. I know that a lot of people feel they are not “learning” anything new in the university because they already mastered Ruby, Python, C++ or whatever. That’s not the point. For me the academia gave tools rather than actual material (yes, I also breezed through the programming portions of college). But that wouldn’t be enough. You’d need something more than just skills to stay in the industry. A keen eye for details, an inquisitive mind, at times I’d call it cunning, to explore things that are out of boundaries. And sometimes a bit of moxie (Chutzpa as it’s called in Hebrew) to try things that you aren’t completely allowed to. But safely of course 😉
Hope this makes sense, and maybe sheds some light on what got me here, and what keeps driving me ahead. Have a safe and enjoyable “Cyber” month! 🙂

Seeing RED in your future? – Recap from DerbyCon 3.0

Yes, I know, It’s been a while since I updated anything here. Work, life, etc…

yin and yang

So here’s a quick update/recap on some of the latest: SecurityZone 2013 was an excellent experience. Always great to get back to Cali to meet who are now friends rather than just colleagues and conference organizers. I delivered the keynote there, where it was fun getting feedback for stating out-loud some of the things that we all (should) realize, which is our reliance on products is hurting us.

And this week was DerbyCon. Can’t stress enough how much fun it is to run the Red Team Training class with my best friend Chris, and the kind of feedback (and learning) we have a chance to get.

Speaking of DerbyCon – OMG what a conference! It’s just amazing what a small crew of dedicated individuals can come up with in such a short period of time. If you’d ask me for how long this con has been running I’d say at least 8-9 years. And this one was just the third iteration. Everything from the volunteer crew, through the hotel staff (major kudos to the Hyatt for taking DerbyCon on, and “working” with us – going well above just accommodating a conference venue).

My talk at DerbyCon focused on the “receiving end” of a red-team, which articulates what an organization should do in order to thoroughly prepare for such an engagement, and maximize the impact from it and the returns in the form of improving the organizational efficiency and security posture. Had a lot of great feedback on it, and some excellent conversations with people who have been struggling to get to that “buy-in” point in their organizations. Really hoped that I managed to help a bit in figuring out how to more accurately convey the advantages and ROI of such an engagement to the different internal groups.

Following are the video and slides. Have fun!

Security Awareness and Security Context – Aitel and Krypt3ia are both wrong?

It was pretty obvious that after an Information Security persona such as Dave Aitel has posted his “Why you shouldn’t train employees for security awareness” article, there would be a lot of flak from the industry. A lot has been said about training employees to be somewhat more savvy users when dealing with corporate equipment and data (i.e. “stop clicking shit”). And even one of my favorite and outspoken Information Security personal had a great rebuttal on the matter – Krypt3ia’s “Throwing out the baby with the bathwater: Dave Aitel’s approach to INFOSEC“.

While I really appreciate both opinions, and while Dave’s might have been a little self-serving (aren’t all of our statements online?), I find myself in a very “Zen” place – saying, yes – you are both right, and wrong at the same time.

Krypt3ia points out that dismissing the human factor is going to lead to failures beyond what we can imagine as an industry. The reason here lies back in the fact that when we approach “Information Security” we focus too much on the “Information” part, and less on the more holistic meaning of the “Security” part. Trying to solve infosec issues through technological means is a guaranteed recipe for failure. No one, no technology, or software can account for every threat scenario possible, and this is exactly why we layer our defenses. And layering shouldn’t just be done from a network or software perspective – security layers also include access control, monitoring, tracking, analysis, and yes – human awareness. Without the human factor you are doomed. And that’s a personal promise from someone who’s been abusing the lack of layering and dismissal of such human factor for quite some time now running red-team engagements with high-profile, high-security clients (see – I can be self-serving too!).

On the other hand, Dave is also right – you can’t just throw everything on the employee and expect them to magically turn into “APT detectors” just because they clicked through some CBT program for a few minutes (or hours for that matter). You have to get the basics first, and Dave’s list is just as good as anyone else’s:

  • Audit periphery
  • Perimeter defense and monitoring
  • Isolate & protect critical data
  • Network segmentation
  • Access creep
  • Incident response
  • Strong security leadership

In no particular order, one should establish a consistent and solid implementation of all of these aspects for their organization.

Having said that, saying that employee awareness should be out of this list is where Dave went a little too far. Strong security leadership, access creep, and data protection are not technical feats by themselves. These are exactly the areas where employee awareness turns what could be useless (but very expensive) pieces of software or appliances to something that would actually work under an attack on your information assets. The point is not to _divert_ the spending on awareness, but to _combine_ them into your security strategy.

Which brings me back to my first (and only) point – stop thinking of information security as an industry of blinkenlights and snazzy software solutions. It’s about hacking, and hacking as we all know never stops at gadgets and code. Think of information security like an ATTACKER. Think about _their_ scope, and realize how your organization looks from that perspective. Now, take your budget and spend it on the areas where attackers could have compromised your informational integrity (HEY! Don’t touch that Nessus scan result! I told you to THINK goddamnit!).

And with that, I’ll leave you to your wonderful weekend before Vegas (one last self-serving statement – go check out “Sexy Defense” if you are really interested in an effective defensive strategy that goes beyond blogging and writing articles 🙂 ).

Happy hacking!


Sexy Defense

So, Source Boston proved to be a great venue for the inauguration of the Sexy Defense paper and talk that I was working on recently. Had a great time both developing the concepts, as well as discussing them before, on stage, and especially after the talk.

I really was amazed by the great feedback that people had to this, especially from some of my more respected peers. It’s always a great feeling to get an “attaboy” from people you consider experts in their fields.

For convenience, here is the slide-deck I used during the talk. Would love to get more feedback and ideas for pushing this forward into more organizations, and to hear about ways to improve both on the strategy itself, as well as on how to “sell” it, or get organizational “buy-in” internally.

Last but not least – this could not have been done without the support and the peer-review from some of my friends and colleagues: Chris Nickerson, Brian Honan, Chris John Riley, Wim Remes, and Leon van der Eijk. Thanks for going through this and providing excellent commentary and insights!


Update: Dark Reading have posted a great article by Robert Lemos covering the topic, with a really insightful analysis and additional views.

Cyber, Cyber, Cyber. What are we talking about anyway?

A long draught (almost a month) in this blog is finally coming to an end after I had some great conversations with good friends at the cyber un-conference here in Israel. One of the obvious discussions is around the use of the term cyber (surprise). The general agreement is that the term has been violated pretty badly by security consulting firms and vendors trying to jump on the “cyber” bandwagon without a slim clue of what they are talking about (another shocker!).

But seriously now, we are all to blame for using the term once in a while (yours truly not excluded), while we all refer to different things. So, let’s try to get some order in the media hype and understand (at least the way I see it) what is this cyber we are talking about.

Disclaimer: this is what I believe that Cyber actually refers to. Your mileage may vary…

For me, cyber starts from way up. Beyond technology and Internet, and even beyond warfare and conflict. Cyber is first and foremost a domain. Much like air, land, sea, and space. A domain is (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary):

1. a. complete and absolute ownership of land
b. land so owned
2. a territory over which dominion is exercised

As such, domains that are not under the direct ownership, are treated by sovereign countries as first and foremost economical factors that affect their well-being. Most importantly, shared, or international domains are crucial to enabling international trade, communication, travel and freedom (especially air, sea and space). Such domains are referred to as “global commons“.

Now think of the Internet and the underlying parts that make it work. Computers, network equipment, cabling, satellite communications and other elements that are owned by a variety of private companies, governments, and are under different jurisdictions around the world. Because it is so hard to pinpoint the ownership of a specific part of the Internet, it is much simpler to treat it as a general domain, and as such, a global common. This is exactly how most modern countries act, and how it, much like the other global commons, became an element of conflicts when such countries escalate diplomatic efforts into actions. A good example of how this works can be seen in the work that NATO are putting to address this exact question. Note how a lot of the efforts are placed first on the legal and cooperative elements before addressing the battlefield (NATO and Cyber Defense – PDF) .

So we went from an economical domain that supports communications, trade and information, to an element which countries may use as part of their available conflict management against other countries. Enter: cyberwar. What most abuses of the term these days do not take into account, that cyberwar, much like airwar, seawar, spacewar and landwar is almost never a singular element in a conflict. It is part of a larger strategy and a mean of affecting diplomatic efforts to achieve some goal at a national or international level. Hence, cyber-weapons are never products or pieces of software, but more generally tactics that are deployed in order to gain an advantage in the cyber common in conjunction with other tactics and strategies used in other domains.

I’m sorry that this isn’t the “sexy” cool thing that some consultant that used to do vulnerability assessments is trying to pitch to you, or some product that a vendor is trying to sell you in preparation to the imminent cyberwar that will erupt any minute now and eject all the CD trays of the PCs in your organization. It’s more in the lines of a broader understanding of what elements that would be used in the cyber common would affect us as individuals, organizations, cultures and countries that we should be concerned about. It’s more about how countries are developing capabilities that would be used to gain an advantage over their adversaries in diplomatic conflicts. Whether on an ongoing basis – much like “normal” spying and intelligence gathering is done in times of peace, or in times when more active measures are taken.

The bottom line is that the “Cyber” term is first handled at the higher levels which may have nothing to do with some virus or worm hitting a nuclear plant, and only then translated to the tactics used to protect or attack assets which have some manifestation in that domain.

Now we can all get back to abusing the term. At least we knowhow we are going to abuse it :-).

Additional reading: