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Friday, January 15, 2016

Summary: Impossible

By Rich

Rich here.

When I hurt my knee running right before Thanksgiving everyone glanced at my brace and felt absolutely compelled to tell me how much “getting old sucks”. Hell, even my doctor commiserated as he discussed his recent soccer injury.

The only problem is I first hurt me knee around junior high, and in many way’s it’s been better since I hit my 40’s than any other time I can remember.

As a kid my mom didn’t want me playing football because of my knees (I tried soccer for a year in 10th grade, hurt it worse, then swapped to football to finish up high school). I wore a soft brace for most of my martial arts career. I’ve been in physical therapy so many times over the past three decades that I could write a book on the changing treatment modalities of chondromalacia patellae. I had surgery once, but it didn’t help.

As a lifetime competitive athlete, running has always been part of my training, but distance running was always a problem. For a long time I thought a 10K race was my physical limit. Training for more than that really stressed the knee. Then I swapped triathlon for martial arts, and realized the knee did much better when it wasn’t smashing into things nearly every day.

marathon medal

Around that time my girlfriend (now wife) signed us up for a half-marathon (13.1 miles). I nearly died, but I made it. Over the subsequent decade I’ve run more of them and shaved 45 minutes off my PR. The older I get, the better my times for anything over a couple miles, and the longer distances I can run. But there’s one goal that seemed impossible – the full marathon. 26.2 miles of knee pounding awesomesauce. Twice as far as the longest race I ever ran.

My first attempt, last year, didn’t go so well. Deep into my training program I developed plantar fasciitis, which is a fancy way of saying “my foot was f-ed up”. So I pushed my plans back to a later race, rehabilitated my foot… and got stomach flu the week before the last race of the year before Phoenix weather went “face of the sun” hot. A seriously disheartening setback after 6 months training. I made up for it with beer. Easier on the foot.

A few months later an email popped up in my inbox letting me know registration for the Walt Disney World Marathon opened the next day. My wife and I looked at it, looked at each other, and signed up before the realistic parts of our brains could stop us. Besides, the race was only a month after we would be there with the kids, so we felt justified leaving them at home for the long weekend.

I built up a better base and then started a 15-week custom program. Halfway through, on a relatively modest 8-mile run in new shoes, I injured my achilles tendon and had to swap to the bike for a couple weeks. Near the peak of my program, on a short 2-mile run and stretch day, I angled my knee just the wrong way, and proceeded to enjoy the pleasure of reliving my childhood pain.

Three weeks later the knee wasn’t better, but I could at least run again. But now I was training in full-on panic mode, trying to make up for missing some of the most important weeks of my program. My goal time went out the window, and I geared down into a survival mindset. Yes, by the time I lined up at the race start I had missed 5 of 15 weeks of my training program. Even my wife missed a few weeks thanks to strep throat (which I also caught). To add insult to injury, it was nearly 70F with 100% humidity. In December. At 5:35am.

You know what happened next? We ran a friggin’ marathon. Yes, at times things hurt. I got one nasty blister I patched up at an aid station. My headphones crapped out. I stopped at every single water station thanks to the humidity, and probably should have worn a bathing suit instead of running shorts. But overall it wasn’t bad. Heck, I enjoyed most of the race. I didn’t really start hurting until mile 17, and my pace didn’t fully crack until mile 22. Disney puts on a hell of a race, with distracting entertainment along the entire course.

Thanks to the humidity it was the slowest Disney marathon in the 23-year history of the event. Even then, my time wasn’t embarrassing, and I finished in the top 20% or so (at a time that isn’t even close to getting into Boston or New York). I didn’t feel terrible. My wife also finished up in the front third of the pack, and we spent the afternoon walking around Disney World (slowly). We felt really good the next day, other than my darn knee. The one that held up for all 26.2 miles. The one that will be better in a week or two.

I checked off a bucket list item and completed something I thought was impossible. Something I told myself my entire life I couldn’t do.

There is nothing more satisfying than proving yourself wrong. Except, perhaps, doing it again.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

—Rich

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Incite 1/13/2016: Permitted

By Mike Rothman

I’m not sure how it happened, but XX1 turned 15 in November and got her driver’s permit. Wait, what?!?! That little girl can now drive. Like, legally? WTF? Clearly it is now January, and I am still in shock that 15 years has passed by in the blink of an eye.

Now it’s on me to teach her to drive. She’ll take a driver’s ed course in February, so that will help and give her some practical experience with someone who actually drives with teenagers for a living. Is that on the list of worst jobs? Second to elephant cage cleaner at the zoo, driving with inexperienced drivers seems like my version of hell on earth.

Then I remembered back to when I learned to drive. My Dad had a ‘72 Bug for me that he drove around. He picked me up and drove me to the local town pool parking lot. He taught me how to balance the clutch (yes, it was a stick shift) and start, stop, drive in a straight line, and turn. I recall him being extraordinarily patient as I smoked the clutch and stalled out 10 times. But after a while I got the hang of it.

drivers permit

Then he said, “OK Mike. Drive home.” WHAT? I was kind of in shock. It was maybe 3 miles to my house, but it was 3 miles of real road. Road with other drivers on it. I almost crapped my pants, but we got home in one piece. Dad would let me drive most places after that, even on the highway and on bridges. He remained incredibly patient, even when I stalled 10 times on a slight incline with about 50 cars behind me sitting on their horns. Yup, crapped my pants that time too. I remember that like it was yesterday, but it was 31 years ago. Damn.

So before winter break I took XX1 out to the parking lot of the library. She got into the driver’s seat and I almost crapped my pants. You getting the recurring theme here? She had no idea what she was doing. I have an automatic transmission, so she didn’t have to worry about the clutch, but turning the car is a learned skill, and stopping without giving me whiplash was challenging for a little while. She did get the hang of it, but seeing her discomfort behind the wheel convinced me that my plan of having her drive home (like my Dad did to me) wouldn’t be a great idea. Neither for her self-esteem nor my blood pressure.

She’ll get the hang of it, and I have to remember that she’s different than me and I’m a different teacher than my Dad. We’ll get her driving at her pace. After she takes the driver’s ed class I’ll have her start driving when she’s with me. Before we know it, she’ll have 25-30 hours behind the wheel.

But I’m not taking any chances. I plan on sending her to an advanced driving school. My cousin sent me a link to this great program in NC called B.R.A.K.E.S, which provides a 4-hour defensive driving workshop specifically for teens. I’m also going to take her to a Skip Barber racing class or something similar, so she can learn how to really handle the car. Sure it’s expensive, but she’s important cargo, commanding a two-ton vehicle, so I want to make sure she’s prepared.

But I have to understand this is a metaphor for the rest of her life. As parents we can prepare her to the best of our ability. Then we need to let her loose to have her own experiences and learn her lessons. She can count on our support through the inevitable ups and downs. My little girl is growing up.

–Mike

Photo credit: “International Driving Permit” from Tony Webster


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

SIEM Kung Fu

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. Security as a business problem: The more things change, the more they stay the same. NetworkWorld’s Overcoming stubborn execs for security sake took me back to 2006, right before I wrote the Pragmatic CSO. Senior management doesn’t get it? Yup. Mid-managers want to circumvent the rules? Yup. On and on it goes, and we run on the hamster wheel for a decade, ending up right back in the same place. Welcome to the rest of your security career. The fact is that as high-profile as security has become to senior management and the Audit Committee, what’s a lot more important to them is making the numbers and hitting their objectives. So how can you get them to understand? You can’t. Not fully anyway. But you can make sure you discuss security in business terms, and that will at least provide some common ground for discussion. The article does a good job of discussing those tactics. – MR

  2. Shoot the messenger: Every year some legitimate tool – security or otherwise – gets labeled as a security threat. It’s not just nmap or Metasploit – even Google’s web crawlers can detect certain vulnerabilities and catalog the results (and do), and are therefore called a “hacker tool”, especially after con talks that explain how to use Google to hack. This time the Shodan web crawler was called a threat, as a recent advisory from Checkpoint noted what appeared to be Shodan scans prior to data breaches. The advisory itself is a good thing, but advice to block Shodan scans to deter hacking made the Twitterverse erupt in controversy. Thankfully social media has set everyone straight and the issue is resolved, right? Honestly, there is nothing wrong with blocking external Shodan scans while you address the vulnerabilities, but those pesky skeptics in the security community know blocking will be the ‘solution’ – not merely a starting point. Exactly like last time. – AL

  3. 4 tips for IR? Obviously there are more steps an incident response. So this quick post by the CrowdStrike folks was interesting, but I think they did a decent job making a few critical points. First, you have to start with a damage assessment and an understanding of whether the adversary is still active in your environment. Next try to corral the devices in question, and data at risk, in some segmented and monitored environment, being careful to keep systems up to avoid either alerting the adversary or destroying evidence. Then call in the Forensicators. Given the shortage of those folks, and the level of demand, that is a non-trivial effort. But unless you are a Fortune-class enterprise with a group of incident responders you’ll need to work with an external firm. Then you need to notify affected stakeholders, and return systems to a healthy state. Obviously there are dozens of activities behind each of those tips, but they are good things to keep in mind.– MR

  4. Down in front: When Firefox stopped connecting via HTTPS to many web sites, some of you might have been frustrated enough to switch to a new browser. Firefox’s latest version stopped accepting SHA-1 signed certificates because the algorithm has been deprecated. But if your company uses DLP or a web security product that performs a ‘man-in-the-middle’ intercept to inspect content, odds are likely it still issues SHA-1 signed certificates. That makes Firefox barf, so you can’t connect. Too bad, so sad. You can use another browser if you choose, but as your requests are already being filtered (thanks, web proxy!), you can configure FF to accept those SHA-1 certificates without concern for degraded privacy or security. But you should ask your security vendor to up their game. – AL

  5. Can you change your mindset? This isn’t security related, but interesting enough to mention. There has been a ton of research on growth vs. set mindsets. Psychology Today has a quick article covering the research highlights. People with set mindsets are good with the status quo, and don’t think intelligence changes. Those with growth mindsets believe they can grow intelligence as they push out of their comfort zones and try new things. If you tend toward ‘set’, can you ‘grow’? Or are these fixed aspects of your personality that aren’t easy to change? The article makes it sound like you just decide to grow. Is it that easy? Maybe it should be, but I have my doubts about whether folks can fundamentally change their mindsets. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SIEM Kung Fu: Fundamentals [New Series]

By Mike Rothman

Another SIEM blog series? Really? Why are we still talking about SIEM? Isn’t that old technology? Hasn’t it been subsumed by new and shiny security analytics products and services? Be honest – those thoughts crossed your mind, especially because we have published a lot of SIEM related research over the past few years. We previously worked through the basics of the technology and how to choose the right SIEM for your needs. A bit over a year ago we looked into how to monitor hybrid cloud environments.

The fact is SIEM has become somewhat of a dirty word, but that’s ridiculous. Security monitoring needs to be a core, fundamental, aspect of every security program. SIEM – in various flavors, using different technologies and deployment architectures – is how you do security monitoring. So it’s not about getting rid of the technology – it’s more about how to get the most out of your existing investment, and ensuring you can handle the advanced threats facing organizations today.

But we understand how SIEM got its bad name. Early versions of the technology were hard to use, and required significant integration just to get up and running. You needed to know what attacks you were looking for, and unfortunately most adversaries don’t send attack playbooks ahead of time. Operating an early SIEM required a ninja DBA, and even then queries could take hours (or days for full reports) to complete. Adding a new use case with additional searches and correlations required an act of Congress and a truckload of consultants. It’s not surprising organizations lost their patience with SIEM. So the technology was relegated to generating compliance reports and some very simple alerts, while other tools were used to do ‘real’ security monitoring.

But as with most other areas of security technology, SIEM has evolved. Security monitoring platforms now support a bunch of additional data types, including network packets. The architectures have evolved to scale more efficiently and have integrated fancy new ‘Big Data’ analytics engines to improve detection accuracy, even for attacks you haven’t seen before. Threat intelligence is integrated into the SIEM directly, so you can look for attacks on other organizations before they are launched at you.

So our new SIEM Kung Fu series will streamline our research to focus on what you need to know to get the most out of your SIEM, and solve the problems you face today by increasing your capabilities (the promised Kung Fu). But first let’s revisit the key use cases for SIEM and what is typically available out of the box with SIEM tools.

kung fu

Alerting

The original use case for SIEM was security alert reduction. IDS and firewall devices were pumping out too many alerts, and you needed a way to figure out which of them required attention. That worked for a little while, but then adversaries got a lot better and learned to evade many of the simple correlations available with first-generation SIEM. Getting actionable alerts from your SIEM is the most important use case for the technology.

Many different techniques are used to detect these attacks. You can hunt for anomalies that kinda-sorta look like they could be an attack or you can do very sophisticated analytics on a wide variety of data sources to detect known attack patterns. What you cannot do any more is depend on simple file-based detection, because modern attacks are far more complicated. You need to analyze inbound network traffic (to find reconnaissance), device activity (for signs of compromise), and outbound network traffic (for command and control / botnet communications) as well. And that’s a simplified view of how a multi-faceted attack works. Sophisticated attacks require sophisticated analysis to detect and verify.

Out of the box a SIEM offer a number of different patterns to detect attacks. These run the gamut from simple privilege escalation to more sophisticated botnet activity and lateral movement. Of course these built-in detections are generic and need to be tuned to your specific environment, but they can give you a head start for finding malicious activity in your environment. This provides the quick win which has historically eluding many SIEM projects, and builds momentum for continued investment in SIEM technology.

SIEM technology has advanced to the point where it can find many attacks without a lot of integration and customization. But to detect advanced and targeted attacks by sophisticated adversaries, a tool can only get you so far. You need to evolve how you use security monitoring tools. You cannot just put a shiny new tool in place and expect advanced adversaries to go away. That will be our area of focus for the later posts in this series.

Forensics

Once you have determined an attack is under way – or more accurately, once you have detected one of the many attacks happening in your environment – you need to investigate the attack and figure out the extent of the damage. We have documented the incident response process, especially within the context of integrating threat intelligence, and SIEM is a critical tool to aggregate data and provide a platform for search and investigation.

Out of the box a SIEM will enable responders to search through aggregated security data. Some tools offer visualizations to help users see anomalous activity, and figure out where certain events happened in the timeline. But you will still need a talented responder to really dig into an attack and figure out what’s happening. No tool can take an incident response from cradle to grave. So the SIEM is not going to be the only tool your incident responders use. But in terms of efficiently figuring out what’s been compromised, the extent of the damage, and an initial damage assessment, the SIEM should be a keystone of your process. Especially given the ability of a SIEM to capture and analyze network packets, providing more granularity and the ability to build a timeline of what really happened during the attack.

Compliance

Finally, the SIEM remains instrumental for generating compliance reports, which are still a necessary evil to substantiate the controls you have in place. This distinctly unsexy requirement seems old hat, but you don’t want to go back to the days of preparing for your assessments by wading through reams of log printouts and assembling data in Excel, do you? So SIEM tools ship with dozens of reports to show the controls in place and map them to compliance requirements, so you don’t need to do this manually.

Another reason the compliance use case is still important is the skills gap every security team struggles with. If you have valuable and scarce security talent generating reports to make an auditor go away, they aren’t verifying and triaging alerts, tuning detections to find new attacks, or investigating incidents. So automating as much of the compliance process as possible remains an important SIEM use case.

As we have mentioned in earlier SIEM research, a lot of these basic use cases can (and should) be implemented during a PoC process. That way you can have the vendor’s sales engineers help kickstart your efforts and get you up and running with the out-of-box capabilities. But a sophisticated attacker targeting your organization will not be detected by basic SIEM correlation. Through the rest of this series we will dig into more complicated use cases, including advanced threat detection and user behavior analysis, which require pushing the boundaries of what SIEM does and how you use it.

—Mike Rothman

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Incite 1/6/2016 — Recharging

By Mike Rothman

The last time I took 2 weeks off was probably 20 years ago. As I write that down, it makes me sad. I’ve been been running pretty hard for a long time. Even when I had some forced vacations (okay, when I got fired), I took maybe a couple days off before I started focusing on the next thing. Whether it was a new business or a job, I got consumed by what was next almost immediately. I didn’t give myself any time to recharge and heal from the road rash that accumulated from one crappy job after another.

Even when things are great, like the past 6 years working with Rich and Adrian, I didn’t take a block of time off. I was engaged and focused and I couldn’t wait to jump into the next thing. So I would. I spent day after day during the winter holidays as the only person banging away at their laptop at the coffee shop while everyone else was enjoying catching up with friends over Peppermint Mocha lattes.

recharge

I rationalized that I could be more productive because my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook and I wasn’t getting my normal flow of email. There wasn’t much news being announced and my buddies weren’t blogging at all. So I could just bang away at the projects I didn’t have time for during the year. Turns out that was nonsense. I was largely unproductive during winter break. I read a lot, spent time thinking, and it was fine. But it didn’t give me a chance to recharge because there was no separation.

The truth is I didn’t know how to relax. Maybe I was worried I wouldn’t be able to start back up again if I took that much time away. It turns out the projects that didn’t get done during the year didn’t get done over break because I didn’t want to do them. So they predictably dragged on through winter break and then into the next year.

That changed this year. I’m just back from two weeks pretty much off the grid. I took a week away with my kids. We went to Florida and checked out a Falcons game in Jacksonville, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, and Universal Studios in Orlando. We were able to work in some family time in South Florida for Xmas before heading back to Atlanta. I stayed on top of email, but only to respond to the most urgent requests. All two of them. I didn’t bring my laptop, so if I couldn’t take care of it on my iPad, it wasn’t getting done.

Then I took a week of adult R&R on the beach in Belize. I’m too cheap to pay for international cellular roaming, so my connectivity was restricted to when I could connect to crappy WiFi service. It was hard to check email or hang out in our Slack room during a snorkeling trip or an excursion down the Monkey River. So I didn’t. And the world didn’t end. The projects that dragged through the year didn’t get done. But they weren’t going to get done anyway and it was a hell of a lot more fun to be in Belize than a crappy coffee shop pretending to work.

I came back from the time off recharged and ready to dive into 2016. We’ve got a lot of strategic decisions to make as the technology business evolves towards cloud-everything and we have to adapt with it. I don’t spend a lot of time looking backwards and refuse to judge myself for not unplugging for all those years. But I’ll tell you, there will be more than one period of time where I’ll be totally unplugged in 2016. And I’ll be a hell of a lot more focused and productive when I return.

–Mike

Photo credit: “Recharging Danbo Power” from Takashi Hososhima


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. Cloud vs. on-prem. Idiotic discussions continue: Do me a favor and don’t read this article trying to get to the bottom of whether the public cloud or on-prem is more secure. It’s an idiotic comparison because it depends on way too many factors to make a crass generalization. Period. You can architect a public cloud environment that is more secure than an environment built on-prem. But for a different use case you could make a case for the converse. It’s not about the environment an application and technology stack is built and run in, it’s about how it’s architected and how it takes advantage of the native capabilities of each option. We believe (and are making pretty significant corporate bets) that a public-cloud environment can be more secure than something built on-prem. But it depends, and we cannot wait until everyone is doing their innovative work in the cloud, and then discuss how to make the public cloud as secure as possible, instead of whether it’s more secure than something else. – MR

  2. In front of our eyes: Volkswagen was discovered to have modified diesel vehicles engine management software to reduce emissions temporarily, during the emissions testing process. Think about it for a minute: millions of vehicles were tested each year, by trained techs with tools and software designed to audit vehicle emissions, and yet software designed to circumvent the audits went undetected for years. While that story has nothing to do with security per se, the ‘attack’ used to bypass the test (and therefore the certification process), and the third-party discovery, is a story we see played out over and over with IT breaches. When you have a sophisticated and motivated adversary, they will be aware of (and work around) your defenses and assessment techniques. A single static test with an unquestioned binary response does not cut it. Think about that the next time you are looking to catch fraud or look for compromised systems in a complicated environment. – AL

  3. The invisible malware: With all of the innovation happening around malware detection, it’s getting easier to detect attacks, right? Yeah, not so much. Turns out it’s getting harder. As Dark Reading described, the newly discovered Latentbot uses so much obfuscation it’s largely invisible to current-generation detection tools. It’s a good thing China isn’t hacking so much (according to FireEye’s last earnings call anyway) because that gives researchers plenty of time to find cool botnets. And it’s interesting to learn how this new malware injects code multiple times, never stays installed for too long, and exploits device at multiple levels to ensure persistent access and control over them. Yeah, it is clear you can’t stop attacks like this, so focusing on detecting lateral movement and exfiltration are your best options for finding pwned devices. – MR

  4. Banking on irrelevance: SSL and (to a lesser extent) TLS 1.0 have a handful of known vulnerabilities and weaknesses, depending on how they are deployed. The PCI Council previously required firms to update before the end of 2015, but recently the Council pushed its mandatatory migration date from SSL to TLS out to June 2018. Because, well, the big retailers pulling the PCI-DSS strings couldn’t get there in time. Attackers have bags full of tricks for attacking these older protocols and accessing the network sessions they were designed to protect. It’s not clear how the Council decided pushing back the date two and a half years made any sense, but since they don’t mandate end-to-end encryption and pass card data in clear text, you are probably thinking “What is the point?” And from a PCI assessment perspective, if Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and the like continue to gain acceptance, in three years payment tokens will likely make most of current PCI compliance irrelevant. But sometimes compliance drives needed change, and migrating to TLS 1.2 will be beneficial to data security. At some point, if it ever happens. – AL

  5. The few, the proud, the cyber: It’s good to see the military continuing to invest in cyber capabilities. The Army National Guard is standing up new cyber units to help do surveillance and recon for the nation’s adversaries. Ho hum, right? Actually it’s interesting because the National Guard may be able to get access to security professionals otherwise gainfully employed by commercial entities. It’s a big sacrifice to do security for military pay, when commercial organizations have totally different pay scales. But being able to help out (via the National Guard) could be a good alternative for patriotic folks who want commercial jobs. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Incite 12/15/2015: Looking Forward

By Mike Rothman

In last week’s Incite I looked backwards at 2015. As we close out this year (this will be the last Incite in 2015), let me take a look forward at what’s in store for 2016.

Basically I don’t have any clue.

I could lie to you and say I’ve got it all figured out, but I don’t. I fly by the seat of my pants pretty much every day of my life. And any time I think I have things figured out, I get a reminder (usually pretty harsh) that I don’t know squat. One thing I’m comfortable predicting is that things will be changing. Because they always do. Some years the change is very significant, like in 2015. Other years less so. But all the same, change is constant in my world.

looking forward

We’re going to do some different things at Securosis next year. We are very pleased with how we have focused our research toward cloud security, and plan to double down on that in 2016. We’ll roll out some new offerings, though I’m not exactly sure when or what they’ll be. We have a ton of ideas, and now we have to figure out which of them make the most sense, because we have more ideas than time or resources. Rich, Adrian, and I will get together in January and make those decisions – and it will involve beer.

Personally, I’ll continue my path of growth because well, growth. That includes trying new things, traveling to new places, and making new friends. I’m not going to set any goals besides that I want to wake up every morning, maintain my physical health, and continue my meditation and spiritual practices. My kids are at an age where they need my presence and guidance, even though they will likely not listen, because teenagers know everything. Which basically means I’ll also need to be there to pick them up when they screw things up (and they will), and try to not say I told you so too many times.

I’ll also tell my story of transformation through the year. I’m not ready to do that yet, but I will because it’s an interesting story and I think it will resonate with some of you. It also ensures that I will remember as time marches on. I spent some time earlier in the year reading through old Incites and it was a great reminder of my journey.

Overall I’m very excited about 2016 and continuing to live with a view toward potential and not limitations. I’m focused on making sure those I love know they are special every single day. I’m committed to being happy where I am, grateful for how I got here, and excited for what is to come. I’ll ring in the New Year in a tropical paradise, and play the rest by ear.

All of us at Securosis are grateful for your support, and we wish you a healthy and happy 2016.

–Mike

Photo credit: “looking forward to” from Elizabeth M


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. Good deed for the holidays: You too can help make software security better! OWASP, the Open Web Application Security Project, is developing a new set of secure coding guidelines for software developers. This document will be a great aid to developers who want to get up to speed on secure coding. It offers a succinct set of code examples – in most of the widely used programming languages – which address the top ten security coding flaws. And what developer doesn’t love easy to understand code examples? But wait, there’s more! This effort is truly open, so you get to participate in building the guidelines: the document I referenced is open for public comments and direct editing! So if you think the document is missing something, or there are better examples to be offered, or you think something is wrong, you can improve it. Do a good deed for the holidays and contribute. – AL

  2. Happy Holidays. Let’s make some crap up… It’s the holiday season. So obviously we will be subjected to everyone’s predictions of what’s in store for 2016. As you can tell from our last FireStarter of the year, we don’t buy into predictions. But the IDC folks don’t have any issue making things up. Their cousins at NetworkWorld (both have the same corporate parent IDG) have some bait posted about an upcoming IDC predictions webcast, and one of their predictions is that by 2020 data breaches will affect 25% of the world’s population. What does that even mean? How could you tell if it’s right? And who cares anyway? How will that prediction do anything to change what you are doing on a daily basis? Right, it won’t, because odds are you have already been affected by a data breach. So this is the worst kind of prediction. It can’t be proven or disproven, and it’s not relevant to your daily activity. Bravo IDC. I hope the others are a little better, but I won’t know, because I have better stuff to do than listen to nonsense. – MR

  3. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Liability Tuesday: As I have been out and about a lot this month, showing relatives around Arizona, my credit cards have gotten a lot of use. Restaurants, gift shops, museums, pet stores, big box retail, national parks, and even a place called “The Hippie Emporium” (don’t ask). And you know what I have seen? Outside Target, not a single merchant had adopted EMV. EMV-ready PoS devices are in place, but the EMV functionality is not operational. Got that? All that hype about merchant liability and almost zero adoption. A couple weeks back Branden Williams asked (paraphrasing) will sucky and slow EMV chip readers will cause people stay home and shop at Amazon or other online retailers. To which I respond ‘No’: they are not in wide enough use to have a detrimental effect. Amazon is getting a ton of new traffic this year, and I hear so are Etsy and even the ecommerce sites of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. It’s not because of EMV readers – it’s just getting easier to shop online, and more people are comfortable with it. But it does mean we are going to see the effects of the liability shift soon – ‘tis the season for credit card scams and fraud, and we will see some merchants get hammered. – AL

  4. Step by step malvertising: I enjoy blow-by-blow descriptions of recent attacks, so thanks to the Malwarebytes folks, who posted a detailed analysis of a recent malvertising campaign targeting Xfinity. What’s interesting is how this attack combines malvertising, an exploit kit, phishing (to collect personal data), and then a tech support scam. Now that’s leverage. Of course there are clues it’s a scam, including a different domain for the first linked site. Malwarebytes also posted a set of indicators so you can be ready for this kind of attack if your employees or family tend to click. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Building a TI Program: Success and Sharing

By Mike Rothman

To wrap up our series on Building a Threat Intelligence Program (Introduction; Gathering TI; Using TI), we need to jump back to the beginning for a bit. How do you define success of the program? More importantly, how can you kickstart the program with a fairly high-profile success to show the value of integrating external data into your defenses, and improve your security posture? That involves getting a quick win and then publicizing it.

Quick Win

The lowest-hanging fruit in threat intel is using it to find an adversary already in your environment who you didn’t know about. Of course it would be better if you didn’t have an active adversary within your defenses, but that is frankly an unlikely scenario. The reality is that some devices in your environment are already compromised – it’s a question of whether you know about them.

You are already doing security monitoring (you can thank compliance for that), so it’s just a matter of searching your existing repository of security data for indicators from your threat feeds. Any log aggregation or SIEM platform will perform a search like this. Of course it’s a manual process, and that’s fine for right now – you’re just looking for a quick win.

Once you complete the search one of two things happens. Perhaps you found an active adversary you didn’t know about. You can drop the proverbial mic at this point – you have proven the value of external threat intel clearly. But before you spend a lot of time congratulating yourself, you have an incident response to get moving. Obviously you’ll document it, and be able to tell a compelling story of how TI was instrumental in identifying the attack earlier than you would have discovered it otherwise.

If you don’t find a smoking gun you’ll need to be a little more creative. We suggest loading up a list of known bad IP addresses into your egress firewall and looking for the inevitable traffic to those sites, which may indicate C&C nodes or other malicious activity. The value isn’t as pronounced as finding an active adversary, but it illustrates your new ability to find malicious traffic sooner using a TI feed.

Keep in mind that the Quick Win is just that. It’s shows short-term value for an investment in threat intel. This can (and should) take place within any proof of concept you run with TI vendors during procurement. If you aren’t getting immediate value, either you are using the wrong data source and/or tool, or you already had a strong security posture and will likely get better short-term value from another project.

Sustained Success

We didn’t call this series “Getting a Quick Win with TI”, so we need to expand our aperture a bit and focus on turning the quick win into sustainable success. Of course you accomplish this by examining your process from a process-centric perspective. There are three main aspects of building out the program from the success of a quick win:

  1. Operationalizing TI: We covered this in depth in our last post on Using TI. We suggest starting by integrating the TI into your security monitoring environment. Once that is operational you can add additional use cases, such as integrating into your perimeter gateways and egress filters for proactive blocking, as well as leveraging the data within your incident response process.
  2. Evaluating TI Sources: This is a key aspect of optimizing your program. You cannot just assume the data source(s) you selected now will provide the same impact over time. Things change, including adversaries and TI providers. You are under constant scrutiny for how your security program is performing, so your TI vendors (actually all your vendors) will be under similar scrutiny. You should be able to close the loop by tracking TI, to alerts, to blocked or identified attacks, by instrumenting your security environment to track this data. Some commercial TI platforms offer this information directly, but alternately you could build it into your SIEM or other controls.
  3. Selling the Value: Senior executives, including your CIO, have a lot of things to deal with every day. You cannot count on them remembering much beyond the latest fire to appear in the inbox today. So you need to systematically produce reports that show the value of TI. This should be straightforward, usings your instrumentation for evaluating TI sources. This is another topic to cover in your periodic meetings with senior management. Especially when the renewal is coming up and you need to keep the funding.

Executing on a successful security program requires significant planning and consistent execution. You cannot afford to focus only on the latest attack or incident (although you also need to do some of that), but must also also think and act strategically; here a programmatic approach offers huge dividends. If you really want to magnify your impact, you’ll need to move beyond tactical day-to-day security battles, and implement a program for both TI and security activities in general.

Sharing

The success of threat intelligence hinges upon organizations sharing information about adversaries and tactics, so everyone can benefit from surviving attacks. For years this information sharing seemed like an unnatural act to enterprises. A number of threat intelligence vendors emerged to fill the gap, gathering data from a variety of open and proprietary sources. But we see a gradual growth in willingness of organizations to share information with other organizations of similar size or within an industry. Of course threat information can be sensitive, so sharing with care and diligence are critical aspects of a threat intelligence program.

The first decision point for sharing is to define the constituency to share information with. This can be a variety of organizations, including:

  1. ISAC: Many the larger industries are standing up their own Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISAC), either as part of an industry association or funded by the larger companies in the industry. These ISACs are objective and exist to provide a safe place to collect and share industry threat information, and also offer value-added data analysis. If there is an ISAC for your industry, we recommend you participate.
  2. Commercial vendors: We increasingly see vendors of threat detection products and services asking customers to share information about what they see, which makes their service more accurate and appealing. This is usually opt-in (though you should ask if it is not specifically mentioned) and we see very little risk in sharing data with vendors. Not because we actually enjoy the idea of a vendor monetizing your data without compensation, but it helps make their product or service better, and you benefit from others doing the same.
  3. Trading partners: If your industry doesn’t have a formal ISAC, or you cannot afford to participate, you will likely need some kind of semi-formal means of sharing information. This can be challenging due to both the technology platform requirements (threat information must be shared securely) and legal agreements required to establish a sharing partnership (lawyers are fun!). That doesn’t mean you won’t do it, but understand that it’s not easy and requires a 1:1 set of agreements between all your trading partners.
  4. Informal contacts: (water cooler TI) Many security practitioners share information informally with friends and colleagues. If you are plugged into your local community, you probably send a note to a buddy when you find something interesting and vice-versa. It’s a bit like hanging out at the water cooler and sharing indicators with your pals. As long as there isn’t anything proprietary or possibly damaging to your organization, sharing with these contacts can provide excellent value on both sides. But this requires a lot more manual processing because you don’t get a machine-readable feed. Unless your pals talk STIX and TAXXI, and yes, that was a TI joke.

Sharing Securely

Once you figure out who you will share threat intelligence with, you need to figure out how you’ll do it securely. Each of the various types of TI can be useful when shared, so there are plenty of data types in play. You will likely want some kind of platform you can use to aggregate threat intel and provide secure access. Perhaps it will be handled through a secure web service that ensures only authorized partners have access. Or you might be able to host a subset of your threat intelligence where a trading partner can access it directly from your TI platform.

Either way there are a couple key aspects to this kind of sharing, and below are a few questions to answer before embarking on a sharing initiative. Yes, they do read like Security 101.

  1. Authentication: Who will access the system? How will you manage entitlements? Is this something you need to use your existing identity and access management systems to provide? Will you require multi-factor authentication? What about machine to machine sharing, via APIs and/or standard protocols? What is the process to deprovision a trading partner and remove access?
  2. Authorization: What types of data/TI sources can each partner access? How will you manage entitlements, including new partners and changes in authorization?
  3. Data protection: How is your data anonymized and/or protected? Is it encrypted so unauthenticated or unauthorized users cannot access it?
  4. Logging activity: How will you keep track of which partner looked at what information? You want to be able to track which partners contributed content to make sure you have some balance – especially in an informal situation.

As you see, sharing information securely between trading partners can be complicated, so make sure you ask the right questions before starting to share information. As with the rest of developing a TI program, it is critical to develop feedback loops and a mechanism for evaluating the value of the sharing partnerships. You should have objective criteria for deciding whether sharing threat intelligence makes sense for your organization over time, regardless of whether you are paying for it or not.

And with that we wrap up our Building a Threat Intelligence Program blog series. If you have comments or believe we missed something, please let us know in the comments below or via social media (@securosis on Twitter).

—Mike Rothman

Monday, December 14, 2015

Threat Detection Evolution [New Paper]

By Mike Rothman

Most organizations have realized that threat prevention has limitations, so we have seen renewed focus on threat detection. But like most other security markets, the term threat detection has been distorted to cover almost everything. So we figure it’s time to clarify what threat detection is and how it is evolving to deal with advanced attacks, sophisticated adversaries, and limited resources.

TDE Cover

From the paper:

Not to worry – we haven’t become the latest security Chicken Little, warning everyone that the sky is falling. Mostly because it fell a long time ago, and we have been picking up the pieces ever since. It can be exhausting to chase alert after alert, never really knowing which are false positives and which indicate real active adversaries in your environment. Something has to change. We need to advance the practice of detection, to provide better and more actionable alerts. This requires thinking more broadly about detection, and starting to integrate the various different security monitoring systems in use today.

Our Threat Detection Evolution paper starts by reviewing security data collection, including both internal and external data sources that can facilitate detection efforts. Next we discuss how to use that data ti reliably figure out what is an attack. We wrap up by going through th process, using a quick wins scenario to show the concepts in action.

We would like to thank AlienVault for licensing the content in this paper. Our unique Totally Transparent Research model allows us to do objective and useful research and still make ends meet, so you should thank them too.

The landing page for the paper is here. Direct download: Threat Detection Evolution (PDF)

—Mike Rothman

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Building Security Into DevOps [New Paper]

By Adrian Lane

We are pleased to announce the launch of our latest research paper, on Building Security Into DevOps. We expect DevOps to fundamentally change the practice of software development over the next decade, and with it how we handle application security.

From the report:

The following graphic reflects our conversations, with development and security practitioners, on where they are successfully deploying security testing tools in a DevOps framework. The callouts map the types of tests being conducted at specific phases of CI & CD. Keep in mind that it’s early days for DevOps and the orchestration of security tools – basically what works where – is far from settled. More importantly, many security tools were built before these concepts of rapid and automated deployment existed; older products are too slow, some could not focus their tests on new code, and still others did not offer API support. Which is another way of saying not all tools are created equal, so you’ll need to evaluate for both performance and API integration capabilities as well as code coverage capabilities.

Security Integration

A special thanks to Veracode for licensing this content. As usual everything was written completely independently, using our Totally Transparent Research process. It is only thanks to licenses that we are able to give this research away free.

You can download a free copy of the white paper in our research library, or grab a copy directly: Building Security Into DevOps (PDF).

—Adrian Lane

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Incite 12/9/2015: Looking Backwards

By Mike Rothman

As a guy who pretty much always looks forward, I still find it useful at the end of each calendar year to look backwards and evaluate where I am in life and what (if anything) I want to focus on in the coming year. 2015 has been a very interesting year, both personally and professionally. I’m at an age where transformation happens, and that has been a real focus for me. I’ve spent a long time evaluating every aspect of my life and making changes, some small and some very significant. Trying to navigate those changes gracefully requires focus and effort.

From a business perspective, it’s a pretty good time to be in the security industry. You have seen a slowdown in our blog activity over the past couple months because our business continues to evolve and we’ve been doing a lot more work out of the public eye. We’ve been called in to do a lot more strategic advisory, and we’re even starting to do security architecture work for some enterprise organizations, typically around cloud initiatives.

We’re also increasingly being called into diligence efforts for companies considering acquisitions, and investors considering putting large sums of money to work in this space. These are pretty intense gigs and that usually means more external projects lag a bit. We also aren’t sure how long the good times will continue to roll, so we usually jump on diligence projects.

Emu

Personally, suffice it to say things are substantially different for me, though I’m not going to go into detail at this point. Different is scary for most people, but I’ve always embraced change, so my challenge is more about having the patience to let the world around me adapt. My kids continue to amaze me with how they are growing into fantastic people, and this past year they’ve navigated new schools and additional workload with minimum drama and angst. You can’t entirely avoid drama and angst (not as a teenager anyway), but their Mom and I are proactive about making them aware of the drama.

Physically I’m still working my program, running two half marathons and continuing my yoga practice. I’m making many new friends who provide different perspectives on life, and I’ve been able to fulfill a need for social activity I didn’t even know I had. As I look back at 2015, I realize that the signs of significant disruption were there both personally and professionally. It has been a long road, and I finally feel that my world is opening up and I’m moving toward my potential, away from my self-imposed limitations.

I’m really excited for what’s next. All is see ahead is blue sky. As I wrap up the Incite next week, I’ll ruminate a little into what the path ahead looks like.

–Mike

Photo credit: “Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) looking backwards at Auckland Zoo” from Wikimedia Commons


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Building Security into DevOps

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. R marks the spot: NetworkWorld ran a great article examining how the Verizon Data Breach report folks use R to do the analysis and generate the charts in their widely read report. I personally haven’t played with statistical programs since I was in college, but there is an increasing need for math people (although we call them data scientists now) to perform the analysis to mine through all of that security data and figure out what’s going on. I tell many younger folks, who ask what they should focus on, to dust off their programming/scripting skills – security automation is coming. The other thing I now suggest is for the math-inclined to study a lot more statistics and get to know these kinds of tools. The future is here and it seems to require math (so says the writer). – MR

  2. Pre-owned: If you’re wondering how the credit card you just got two weeks ago already got popped, here is on possible answer. Samy Kamkar demonstrated that AmEx-based new card numbers are predictably generated from the previous numbers allowing crackers to guess the number of the next card they issue you. If you’re an application developer, this is why you need to be careful with sequence generators – they tend to leak information attackers can (and do) exploit. This attack does not compromise the CVV, and other protections are embedded in credit card magstripes, but there are enough cracks in the credit card ecosystem for attackers to trick terminals with bogus card-present transactions. And if history repeats itself, it will only take one phony transaction to trigger an AmEx card re-issue, so you’ll get to re-enter your next number at the dozen or so websites you use. Again. – AL

  3. Keep your enemies closer… Running a big business can be messy at times, and it seems it’s tough to scale ethics. I can’t say I’m surprised to hear that Walmart spies on the employees who advocate for change and agitate its workforce. I’m also not surprised they hired Lockheed to run their intelligence gathering program. I am a bit surprised they got FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force help, but I guess they made the case that they were worried about a terrorist strike against a store. And that’s how a lot of surveillance is justified. It’s about knowing before something bad happens. I don’t know that there is a clear answer, because most folks gladly will cede privacy for a perception of security. Of course, as we’ve seen all too frequently, any sense of personal security is a myth. And as we in the security industry know, computer security is a myth as well. I guess the only thing to accept is that Big Brothers are watching. And yes, that’s intentionally plural. – MR

  4. Payments for nothin’, chips for free: Speaking of cracks in the payment system: University College London researchers are reporting an uptick of card present fraud, specifically with Chip and PIN cards. It seems hackers are using stolen cards with embedded EMV chips, without their PIN codes. So to perpetrate the fraud the attacker forces the terminal into a “referral mode” where the merchant transmits the code from the PIN pad. But the attacker has possession of the terminal to enter their secret PIN while the alternative authorization occurs. To add insult to injury, it seems no one ever tested this procedure – because transactions are accepted even with bogus authorization codes. Security! It’s amazing that so many financial processes seem to lack any kind of threat modeling prior to rollout, as we also saw with the banks’ failure to vet cards in the so-called “Apple Pay Hack”, and Starbucks mobile account takeovers with automatic replenishment. This is threat modeling 101. This attack should be short-lived – whether prevented with payment terminal patches or mitigated through merchant employee training. – AL

  5. Attacks never go away either: We joke as security professionals that we can never get rid of a control – we just keep adding to the mix. Go into your telecom room and check out the link encryptors if you don’t believe me. It seems old attack kits never go away either. Peter Stephenson assembled information from a bunch of sources to show that NEK (Nuclear Exploit Kit) is back. This shouldn’t be a surprise – folks are inherently lazy. Unless you are doing something totally novel (like StuxNet), why wouldn’t you use stuff that already exists as a starting point. We do that in development now (just ask your developers to list the external and open source libraries they use in an app), we do it with monitoring (leveraging existing patterns), and we recycle pretty much everywhere. Why wouldn’t attackers do the same? Peter’s conclusions (use multiple AV products, LOL) are suspect, but if most attacks seem familiar it’s because they are. – MR

—Mike Rothman

2015 Wrap Up and 2016 Non-Predictions

By Rich

Rich, Mike, and Adrian highlight the big trends from the year and where our expectations were right and wrong. We teeter on the brink of predictions, but manage to pull ourselves back from falling into that chasm of idiocy. Mostly.

We cover a fair bit of ground, but the main trends are the weirdnesses on the investment and M&A side of the security industry, breaches, the faster than expected adoption of cloud computing, and the changing regulatory environment.

This is likely our last Firestarter for the year, and our posting volume will be lower as we all cram in those last few projects. We sincerely want to thank everyone watching and reading for your continued support. It lets us try out best to “do good work” while feeding our families. We are a very lucky band over here.

Watch or listen:


—Rich

Friday, December 04, 2015

Summary: Surviving the Holidays

By Adrian Lane

With the holidays upon us, and the weather in Phoenix at that optimal temperature of 50F warmer than wherever people come from, the migration has begun. The snowbirds are back in Phoenix. And all my relatives want to visit. All pretty much at the same time. As I write this I am recovering from 20 contiguous days of four different groups of friends and relatives staying at my home. Overlapping, I might add. And it was glorious – it was great to see each and every one of them – but I heaved a great sigh of relief when the last party got onto a plane and flew back home. I think I have baked, roasted, toasted, and barbecued every type of food I know how to cook. I’ve been a tour guide across the state – twice over – showing off every interesting place within a three-hour drive. Today’s summary is a toast to all of you who survived Thanksgiving – I am thankful for many things, and I am also thankful this holiday is only once a year.


Paul Ford has a thoughtful piece called I Dreamed of a Perfect Database. It nails down the evolutionary track of many of us, who have long straddled the database and software development worlds. As our needs changed there were grass-roots projects to make new types of databases – that did, well, whatever the heck we needed them to do. Cheaper and faster. More data, or maybe more types of data, or maybe a single specific type of data with functions optimized for it. There were some that performed analytics or cube analysis, and some that offered lightning fast in-memory lookups or graph data. We got self-healing, self-organizing, self-indexing clouds of data nodes, with whatever the heck we wanted sitting on top of them. When the Internet boom hit, Oracle was the database of choice. During this last cloudburst we got 250 flavors of NoSQL. But Paul’s dream is getting closer to reality. When you assemble Hadoop with a stack of add on modules, namely Apache Spark, you get pretty close. Want SQL? OK, you can have it. Or MapReduce. Deep analytics or memory-resident lookups. You want it, you can have it.

The point is that the demands on databases will always be in flux. Performance and scalability have always been core needs, but how we want to use data will continue to morph. The current generation of databases, typically based off Hadoop, are veritable Swiss Army knives, to be formed and customized as we need them. There has never been a better time to be a database developer!


If you run a bug bounty program you know there is a lot more to it than Most people consider when they start. Randy Westergren’s post on his experience with the United Airlines Bug Bounty Program offers some insight into what can happen. For example, when multiple researchers find the same critical flaw, the researchers who do not get paid can – and likely will – go public. Sure, this is bad behavior by the researcher. Your legal team can try to stop it, but you need to plan for this situation before it comes up. Second, it is amazing to me that what in-house developers consider a suitably fast release date for vulnerabilities; but it is often totally unacceptable to the research community. Both are developers by nature, but to one party three months is lightning fast. The other considers that criminally dangerous. You’ll need to set expectations going in. United Airlines was communicative, but in today’s world six months to patch is an eternity. Virtual patching techniques, API gateways, and Continuous Deployment techniques allow many organizations to deal with these issues far more quickly. A bug bounty program is a great way to leverage the community of experts to help you find flaws your in-house team might never discover, but you need to have this effort fully planned out before you start.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

—Adrian Lane

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Incite 12/2/2015: Grateful Habits

By Mike Rothman

A week ago most folks in the US were in food comas from the Thanksgiving feast. Of course this is a great time of year to be grateful for what you have. Whether it’s family, health, work, or anything else. This morning I got a great reminder that expressing gratitude is a habit, which requires daily work – especially for security people.

I was doing a speaking gig for a client in Atlanta, and I ran into an old friend who traveled in for the seminar. We were catching up and he mentioned how busy he was and that it was a bit overwhelming. I jumped right in because we at Securosis are pretty busy ourselves. But then I got a flash of awareness and decided I had to break the cycle. I specifically asked whether he remembered 10 years ago when no one cared about security?

I certainly do. A lot of you (like Rich, Adrian, and myself) did security before security was cool. You remember talking to blank stares when evangelizing the importance of security. You remember cleaning the same malware off the same person’s device, over and over again, because they just couldn’t understand why they can’t click ads on questionable sites. You also remember looking for a new job when the senior team needed a scapegoat after yet another breach, after they didn’t listen to what you said the first time.

It’s a different situation now. Many folks still don’t understand what they need to do, but they don’t really argue about the importance of security any more. Most of us have a bigger issue finding talent to fill open positions, rather than making the case for why any security people are needed. These are things to be grateful for.

It turns out that a little gratitude leads to a lot. So if you have any interest, don’t just think about being thankful around the holidays. Start the day by making a list of 2 or 3 things you are grateful for every day. It’s hard to get into the right mindset to get things done, when you wake up overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that needs to get done. So break that cycle too. Think about what’s working in your life. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just a little thing. Take a small step toward feeling gratitude every day.

I do this consistently, every day. It puts me in the right frame of mind. I’m thankful for so many things, but none more than the habits I have established over the past few years, which have made a huge difference in my life.

–Mike


The fine folks at the RSA Conference posted the talk Jennifer Minella and I did on mindfulness at the 2014 conference. You can check it out on YouTube. Take an hour. Your emails, alerts, and Twitter timeline will be there when you get back.


Securosis Firestarter

Have you checked out our new video podcast? Rich, Adrian, and Mike get into a Google Hangout and… hang out. We talk a bit about security as well. We try to keep these to 15 minutes or less, and usually fail.


Heavy Research

We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with our content in all its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too.

Building Security into DevOps

Building a Threat Intelligence Program

Network Security Gateway Evolution

Recently Published Papers


Incite 4 U

  1. Can security be fixed? Is it broken? I’ve gotta send a hat tip to my friend Don, who pointed out this article on TechCrunch explaining how Humility, Accountability And Creative Thinking Can Fix IT Security. Really? A lot of the security folks I know are pretty humble and creative. It’s not like they sit around and talk about how great they are while the city is burning. But aside from the clickbait title, there are some decent points in that post. I especially like the idea of killing silver bullet syndrome. There is no single answer for dealing with sophisticated adversaries. I also agree that security will need to evolve as the cloud and mobility continue to take root. Inflection anyone? The article also points out the need to share information, and that’s all about Threat Intelligence. But I still push back on the contention that security is broken. It’s not broken, because that supposes that it can be fixed. I posit that you don’t win security – you just survive to fight another day. – MR

  2. Student jobs: It appears the FBI is funding security vulnerability research; not for bug bounties, but to conduct surveillance. Recently they paid University students to hack Tor networks so they could inspect Tor traffic and de-anonymize Tor users. The FBI’s disclosed target could have been tracked financially, and Tor offers law enforcement other means to locate users, which implies (shockingly) their goal was something more than they disclosed. The problem is that they used the same techniques legitimate security researchers use to find flaws – efforts which the FBI is more known for prosecuting than for sponsoring. So we come back to the sad fact that some folks in law enforcement think the rules are importang, but don’t apply to them. – AL

  3. Volunteering to get started in security: Recently I highlighted a great article from Lesley Carhart about getting started in infosec. Given the skills gap, all the help we can offer interested parties who want to join us in security is welcome. So check out this interview with Ron Woerner on Michael Santarcangelo’s blog. Ron points out the Catch-22 that security jobs demand experience, but most entry-level folks have no way to get it. Ron suggests volunteering on open source projects or with local organizations, such as schools and religious organizations. Maybe even your doctor’s or dentist’s office. Ron also suggests reading. A lot. He’s right – there are so many talks and so much content out there free, that anyone can familiarize themselves with the practice. Of course nothing replaces the experience of screwing things up, so reading isn’t enough. But these are all good ways to get onto the path of security ‘bliss’. LOL. – MR

  4. Delusional: The claim that Snowden’s leaks contributed to the Paris bombings is so outrageous I thought at first I would not comment on it at all. But in our daily jobs, helping firms deploy encryption, I realize how few communications – email, voice, data, text messages. etc. – are actually encrypted even after we learned mass surveillance is a reality. I have used encryption on and off during my professional career for both personal and professional communications. Most of the time I have used encryption during the development phases of new encryption, key management, and PRNG modules to protect us from both eavesdropping and code tampering. But even most paranoids like myself don’t use it most of the time, because it is too hard to use except for the most sensitive communications. But after the Snowden revelations I am still surprised how little of our critical infrastructure is encrypted and private. But maybe I shouldn’t be. – AL

  5. Screwing up is part of the process: Fahmida posted a pretty entertaining article on 10 dumb security mistakes that sys admins make. It’s mostly simple stuff like using sudo and making changes as root. I mean, the list is the list, and dumb mistakes are made all day, every day. My point is that screwing up is an integral part of learning security. Those with a future in this practice mess things up all the time. They try stuff. They hack together solutions to problems no one has ever seen, and sometimes they work. But often they don’t. That’s part of the learning process, and as security folks we always need to be learning. So don’t stigmatize mistakes – embrace them. Just don’t make the same mistakes more than once. – MR

—Mike Rothman

Friday, November 20, 2015

Summary: Boy in the Bubble

By Rich

I’m going to write a fairly innocuous opening to this week’s Friday Summary, despite the gravity of current events. Because some things are best dealt with… not now, and not here.

It’s November 19th as I write this. A week until Thanksgiving, and less than a week until we take a family vacation (don’t worry, one of our relatives stays at our place when we are gone, the advantage of living near in-laws and having the fastest Internet connection in the family). I’m not really sure how that happened, since I’m fairly certain I just took our Christmas lights down a few weeks ago.

When we get back from the trip it will be exactly ten days until Star Wars comes out. At this point some of you are possibly a tad worried about my mental state (especially if the movie sucks) and the depth of my obsession. But based on the private emails, some of you put my to shame. I just happen to have a publishing platform.

Last week I actually engaged my filter bubble. I stopped reading certain news sites, fast forwarded through the commercials on television, and skipped the Japanese trailer with extra footage. That last official trailer was so perfect I don’t have any compelling need to see anything except the film itself. It set the tone, it built the trust, and now it all comes down to the final execution.

Filter bubbles are interesting anomalies. We most often see the term used in a negative way, as people create feedback loops to only reinforce their existing opinions. This isn’t merely a political manifestation, it’s one with profound professional effects, especially in risk and research related fields. It’s one of the first characteristics I look for in a security professional – is a person able to see things outside their existing frames of reference? Can they recognize contradictory information and mentally adjust their models?

For example, “cloud is less secure”. Start with that assumption and you fail to see the security advantages. Or “cloud is always more secure”, which also isn’t true. If you start on either side there is a preponderance of evidence to support your position, especially if you filter out the contradictory data. Or “the truth is somewhere in between”, which is probably true, but it’s rarely dead center, which people tend to assume.

Filter bubbles can be positive, used properly. One of the first things you learn as an emergency responder, at least if you are going to be halfway decent, is how to filter out the things that don’t matter. For example, the loudest patient is usually a low priority. You need a certain amount of energy to scream and it proves you have a good pulse and respirations. It’s the quiet ones you need to worry about.

Same for security. We all know how easy it is to become totally overwhelmed with the flood of data and priorities we face every day. The trick is to pick a place to start, iterate through, and adapt when needed. No, it certainly isn’t easy, but analysis paralysis is a real thing.

My Star Wars filter might not last until December 17th, but I’ll certainly make the effort. Besides, I’ll probably be too busy playing Star Wars: Battlefront on my Xbox to pay attention to pesky things like “the news”, “work”, or “eating”.

Although we’ve been writing more recently, with the holidays kicking in publishing will be more sporadic for a while due to vacations and end of year client work. Thanks, as always, for sticking with us.

On to the Summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences

Other Securosis Posts

Favorite Outside Posts

Research Reports and Presentations

Top News and Posts

Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment goes to Dewight, in response to Cloud Security Best Practice: Limit Blast Radius with Multiple Accounts.

Since one looses the ability to centrally manage the accounts with this practice, can you give an example of how to use automation? In particular for a highly decentralized organization that has a very large IT presents.

See the post’s comments for my reply…

—Rich

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cloud Security Best Practice: Limit Blast Radius with Multiple Accounts

By Rich

This is one of those ideas that I’m pretty sure I picked up on while either at a presentation or working with a client, but I honestly can’t remember where I first heard it. That said, it’s become one of my absolutely essential cloud security recommendations for years now. It’s also a great example of using the cloud for security advantage, rather than getting hung up on the differences.

I do know that I first heard the term blast radius from Shannon Lietz over at DevSecOps.org.

Here’s the concept:

  • Accounts at each cloud provider are completely segregated and isolated from each other. That is a core capability for multitenancy. It’s also the kind of thing a cloud provider can’t screw up if they want to stay in business.
  • There is nothing limiting you from buying multiple accounts from a cloud provider. Heck, that’s sometimes kind of the problem, since any old employee (especially those developers) can sign up with nothing more than an email address and a credit card.
  • Some cloud providers allow you to communicate across accounts. This is usually pretty restrictive, and both sides need to set it up, and only for very specific things. But these ‘things’ can include cross-connecting networks, migrating storage, or sharing other assets.
  • Super admin (root) accounts are distinct for each account, and can’t be bridged.
  • Thus you can use cloud provider accounts to segregate your environments! This seriously limits the blast radius of any security events, since there’s no way to bridge between accounts except those specific connections you allow.
    • Use of multiple accounts is often an operational best practice anyway.

I currently recommend multiple accounts per project for different environments (e.g. dev/test/prod/sec_monitoring). For me this started as a way to limit administrator activity. You can allow developers full admin access in their dev environment, but lock things down in test, and then lock them out completely in production. DevOps techniques can handle moving code and updates across environments.

But talking with admins who manage much larger environments than I do emphasized how powerful this is in limiting security incidents. Some companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts. If something bad happens, they blow the entire account away and build it from scratch. Clearly you need to be using automation and immutable infrastructure to pull this off.

But think about the advantages. Every project is isolated. Heck, every environment is isolated. It makes it nearly impossible for an attacker to move laterally. This makes network segregation look passe.

What’s the downside?

  • This is much harder to manage, since there is no centralization.
  • It absolutely relies on automation.
  • You need to be super careful with your automation, so that doesn’t become the single point of failure.
  • Not all cloud providers support it.

I don’t know any large-scale cloud operations that haven’t eventually ended up with this approach. Even most new cloud projects on a smaller scale start this way, purely for operational reasons, if they use any kind of continuous delivery/deployment (DevOps).

Think of accounts as disposable, because they are.

—Rich

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Blame Game

By Rich

Get hacked? Blame China. Miss a quarter? Blame China. Serve malware to everyone visiting your site? Don’t take responsibility, just blame your anti-ad-blocking vendor. Or China. Or both. Look, we really can’t keep track of these things, but in this episode Mike and Rich talk about the lack of accountability in our industry (and other industries). One warning… a particular analogy goes a little too far. Maybe we need the explicit tag on this one.

Watch or listen:


—Rich