Interesting research from Stuart Schechter et.al. here.
They evaluated the effect that the removal or modification of online banking sites’ security features had on the users’ behavior (as for entering or withholding their passwords). Maybe for some of you not too surprising it turned out that the vast majority of users entered their passwords even if obviously alarming clues were present on the websites.
This, again, shows how important it is to understand how users behave, what their motives and incentives are and how to build environments that help them acting securely. This even more applies to corporate space. At times, bringing an industrial/organizational psychologist in might be a much better investment than writing yet-another-ignored-piece-of-policy.
Some days ago my old friend Pete Herzog from ISECOM posted a blog entry titled “Hackers May Be Giants with Sharp Teeth” here which – along with some quite insightful reflections on the way kids perceive “bad people” – contains his usual rant on (the uselessness of) risk assessment.
Given that this debate (whether taking a risk-based infosec approach is a wise thing or not) is a constant element of our – Pete’s and mine – long lasting relationship I somehow feel enticed to respond 😉
Pete writes about a 9-yr-old girl who – when asked about “bad people” – stated that those “look like everybody else” and, referring to risk assessment, he concludes “that you can’t predict the threat realibly and therefore you can’t determine it.”
I fully agree here. I mean, if you _could_ predict the threat realibly why perform risk assessment at all? Taking decisions would simply be following a path of math then. Unfortunately most infosec practitioners do neither dispose of a crystal ball – at least not a dependable one – nor of the future prediction capabilities this entity seems to have …
So… as long as we can’t “determine reliably” we have to use … risk assessments. “Risk” deals with uncertainty. Otherwise it would be called “matter of fact” 😉
Here’s how the “official vocabulary of risk management” (ISO Guide 73:2009) defines risk: “effect of uncertainty on objectives”.
Note that central term “uncertainty”? That’s what risk is about. And that’s, again, what risk assessments deal with. Deal with uncertainty. In situations where – despite that uncertainty – well-informed decisions have to be taken. Which is a quite common situation in an ISO’s professional life 😉
Effective risk assessment helps answering questions in scenarios characterized by some degree of uncertainty. Questions like “In which areas do we have to improve in the next 12 months?” in (risk assessment) inventory mode or “Regarding some technology change in our organization, which are the main risks in this context and how do they change?” in governance mode. [See this presentation for an initial discussion of these terms/RA modes].
So asking for “reliable threat prediction/determination” from risk assessments is just not the right anticipation. In contrast, structured RA can certainly be regarded as the best way to “take the right decisions in complex environments and thereby get the optimal [increase of] security posture, while being limited by time/resource/political constraints and, at the same time, facing some uncertainty”.
Btw: the definition from ISO 73:2009 – that is used by recently published ISO 31000 (Risk management — Principles and guidelines) too – nicely shows the transformation the term “risk” has undergone in the last decade. From “risk = combination of probability and consequence of an event [threat]” in ISO 73:2002 through ISO 27005:2008’s inclusion of a “vulnerability element” (called “ease of exploitation” or “level of vulnerability” in the appendix) to the one in ISO 73:2009 cited above (which, for the first time, does not only focus on negative outcomes of events, but considers positive outcomes as well. which in turn reflects the concept of “risk & reward” increasingly used in some advanced/innovative infosec circles and to be discussed in this blog at another occasion).
Most (mature) approaches used amongst infosec professionals currently follow the “risk = likelihood * vulnerability * impact” line. We, at ERNW, use this one as well.
Which brings me to the next inaccuracy in Pete’s blog entry. He writes: “Threats are not the same for everyone nor do they actually effect us all the same. So why do we put up with risk assessments?”.
Indeed (most) threats _are_ the same for everyone. Malware is around, hardware fails from time to time and humans make errors. Point is all this does _not_ affect everyone “the same way” (those with the right controls will not get hit hardly by malware, those with server clusters will survive failing hardware more easily, those with evolved change control processes might have a better posture when it comes to consequences from human error). And all this is reflected by the – context-specific – “vulnerability factor” in risk assessments (and, for that matter, sometimes by the “impact factor” as well). So while threats might be the same, the _associated risks_ might/will not be the same.
which, again, is the exact reason for performing risk assessments ;-))
If they _were_ the same one just would have to look up some table distributed by $SOME_INDUSTRY_ASSOCIATION.
So, overall, I’m not sure that I can follow Pete’s line of arguments here. Maybe we should have a panel discussion on this at next year’s Troopers 😉
Yesterday we made our way to Vienna to participate and contribute to NinjaCon (formerly known as PlumberCon, before Nintendo Inc. claimed their rights ;)).
After our arrival Oliver held a five hour workshop on Penetration Testing and did the finishing touches on his slides about ‘Attacking Cisco Enterprise WLANs‘, which he will deliver later today together with Daniel. And last but not least Daniel will be the Packet Master of PacketWars™ Vienna taking place in the evening.
As sponsor of this young and vibrant conference we’re proud to share our equipment and know-how to support the networks on site.
Talking about young and vibrant: Last week we held one of our beloved internal workshops at ERNW to discuss the latest in ITSec and teamwork – but also to chat with colleagues or listen to a rant on $some-broken-technology of Enno. When having dinner on Tuesday we went crazy on planning for TROOPERS11. I don’t like it too much to talk about ‘good energy in the room’, but there was something really enthusiastic and insanely creative about it – and whatever it was, we gonna use it to make it even more enjoyable, educating and unforgettable than this year.
As we’re progressing at Vienna I’m going to update this blog post. So stay tuned!
Cheers, Florian & the team
UPDATE: NinjaCon is over. Besides the usual small hiccups at such an event it was a really great conference for all of us. Excellent speakers, an exciting location and the overall perfect atmosphere to interact, chat and learn really made the deal here. Big applause to the host @astera and her team!
I’m happy to announce that the presentations and a majority of the videos from TROOPERS10 are finally available to you.
You’ll find the slides at the conference’s website troopers.de, more precisely here. Plenty of videos were uploaded and are now ready for streaming at viddler.com/TROOPERS. Enjoy!
Please excuse the long waiting time – this is a big point on our ‘improvements for upcoming events’ list. Talking about improvements: If you have any suggestions, criticism or even praise for past or upcoming events – let us know in the comment section.
PS: At the moment I’m doing the finishing touches to some really nice photos from TROOPERS10. To stay up-to-date please subscribe to our RSS feed or if you’re into twitter: Follow @WEareTROOPERS 😉
This is the first post of a – potential – series of rants on ubiquitous pieces of crap (security-wise), bothering pretty much every ISO I know.
And, yes, I can already hear all the yelling “But we absolutely need Flash on our corporate desktops.”. Maybe that’s really really the case. Maybe not. I’ve fought that fight in many environments, and usually lost it. Kind-of been there, done that. I’d just like to point out that – from a security point of view – this is a risky thing.
On a personal level I still do not get why Flash is needed. I can certainly be regarded as a “typical executive user”, being online most parts of the day and performing all sorts of (what I think) “typical actions” like travel booking, online financial services etc. All this can be done with my 64-bit browser that just has no associated Flash player. Seems my mileage as for “corporate browser use” still varies from the one in many of those – “we absolutely need Flash on our corporate desktops” – organizations…
And even if your company’s marketing dept is powerful enough to ask for large scale deployment of that fancy technology (some of you certainly know the “We have our own Youtube channel” argument) I still have to understand why it’s needed on the desktops in the engineering or R+D departments. But oh well…
Still, all this ranting is a bit outside the intended scope of this post. Actually the trigger for the post was this advisory titled “Security Advisory for Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Acrobat” and released by Adobe some days ago.
Here’s a little quote from the summary:
“A critical vulnerability exists in the current versions of Flash Player […] for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Solaris operating systems, and the authplay.dll component that ships with Adobe Reader and Acrobat v9.x for Windows, Macintosh and UNIX operating systems. This vulnerability […] could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system. There are reports that this vulnerability is being actively exploited in the wild via limited, targeted attacks against Adobe Reader v9 on Windows.”
Oops, sorry, in fact the quote above was from this advisory, initially released on july 22, 2009.
The current one (from 06/04/2010) goes like this (as for the summary):
“A critical vulnerability exists in Adobe Flash Player 10.0.45.2 and earlier versions for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Solaris operating systems, and the authplay.dll component that ships with Adobe Reader and Acrobat 9.x for Windows, Macintosh and UNIX operating systems. This vulnerability (CVE-2010-1297) could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system. There are reports that this vulnerability is being actively exploited in the wild against both Adobe Flash Player, and Adobe Reader and Acrobat.”
Note the difference?
There’s practically none: same products affected, same component to blame, same workaround [deactivating authplay.dll], same “Adobe’s quality assurance element” [discovery of the stuff being exploited in the wild] responsible for public statement.
In short: SSDD.
Given I try to be a responsible citizen [and, for that matter, responsible security practitioner too ;-)] I’d like to discuss potential approaches as for the efficient mitigation of the risk of being attacked “actively in the wild” due to (not only) this vulnerability.
At ERNW, for many years we’ve been using sth we called “The small catechism of IT security” which was essentially a set of simple fundamental rules as for securing complex systems. This piece included, amongst others, these ones:
Following these lines some approaches come to mind and I’ll discuss some of those.
a) Do not run Flash at all. Yes, we had this discussion already. And, no: I do not live in a ivory tower. And I mainly consult to very large organizations.
Sure, this might be one of the fights you (as an ISO) just can’t win. But, heck, I still dare to post this on our very personal and ranty blog: Running Flash on corporate desktops is simply asking for trouble. Asking for trouble loudly. Very loudly.
It should be noted that, according to this, removing Adobe Flash (e.g. in the way described here) will not remove the instances of Flash Player that is installed with Adobe Reader 9 or other Adobe products.
There is always a lot of trade-offs in managing complex IT environments. There are business requirements – and, as we security folks know: business pretty much always wins (and this is fully ok, as security is not the most important thing in corporate life) -, there’s “cost considerations”, all sorts of politics and in the end of the day there’s our mission of getting the best possible security stance given all these considerations and trade-offs. Running vulnerable software to provide some business functions (while at the same time inducing the risk of getting owned) obviously is such a trade-off, and it’s a common one.
As for Flash one should just be aware that – in most environments – there’s only little business value of running it, but – in all environments – there’s quite some associated risk.
b) Do not run Flash embedded in PDFs (by deactivating authplay.dll as described in the advisories).
I think this is – security-wise – a very feasible approach (following that good ole security principle called “minimal machine”). Only problem might be that the stuff gets re-deployed/re-enabled next time you patch Adobe Reader. So operational processes might have to be adjusted to ensure it does not re-appear.
And, of course, this is an ugly one (deleting a dll), which might not be “aligned with your sw management and deployment processes” 😉 This document mentions that deleting another dll as well avoids the crashes when invoking a file with SWF code in it. Haven’t tested this though.
Btw: this is a preventative control. Whereas patching is a reactive one. Most probably I don’t have to tell any reader of this blog that preventative controls tend to have a better cost-impact ratio than reactive ones, do I? 😉
c) Patching. Hmm, unfortunately there is no patch as of today. And the stuff is “exploited in the wild” (Adobe, thank you! for letting us know, once more. What about just adding a checkbox somewhere in “Preferences” that allows to disable playing embedded SWF stuff at all?).
Furthermore patch cycles for Adobe products are quite long in most environments (due to the number of integration aspects and side effects).
So, dear reader who’s still sympathetic to patching (as for Adobe stuff): do not pass go, do not collect $200, but maybe re-read the last sentences of the two former points.
d) Use of an alternate PDF reader, like Foxit Reader. Looking at this I’m not sure if this is really better (security-wise) and most probably it’s not an option for most corporate environments anyway (for reasons outside the security realm).
e) Security measures/approaches from the “Least privilege” space like “running Adobe stuff on a low integrity level” (on Windows systems disposing of integrity levels, that are Win Vista or Windows 7). While this can certainly help and can be regarded as a nice preventative control, it has the big disadvantage that taking the route of “least privilege” usually has, that is added complexity and high operational cost… (which is, btw, why it practically never works out to a satisfactory degree).
f) Gateway-based controls. In a number of environments there will be quite some praying that “our malicious content protection saves us”. This may happen. or not. Taking the “detective/reactive way” (which is what most anti-malware controls do) has well-known weaknesses…
Sanitizing Flash (like Blitzableiter does) could be a much better approach. Hopefully technologies like this will gain some deployment in the near future.
And hopefully in the upcoming world of HTML5 we won’t see that high risk software piece called Flash player anymore (alas, experience tells there will be other similarly awful stuff. but that’s another story…)
Today was an interesting day, for a number of reasons. Amongst those it stuck out that we were approached by two very large environments (both > 50K employees) to provide security review/advise, as they want to “virtualize their DMZs, by means of VMware ESX”.
[yes, more correctly I could/should have written: “virtualize some of their DMZ segments”. but this essentially means: “mostly all of their DMZs” in 6-12 months. and “their DMZ backend systems together with some internal servers” in 12-24 months. and “all of this” in 24-36 months. so it’s the same discussion anyway, just on a shifted timescale ;-)]
Out of some whim, I’d like to give a spontaneous response here (to the underlying question, which is: “is it a good idea to do this?”).
At first, for those of you who are working as ISOs, a word of warning. Some of you, dear readers, might recall the slide of my Day-Con3 keynote titled “Don’t go into fights you can’t win”.
[I’m just informed that those slides are not yet online. they will be soon… in the interim, to get an idea: the keynote’s title was “Tools of the Trade for Modern (C)ISOs” and it had a section “Communication & Tools” in it, with that mentioned slide].
This is one of the fights you (as an ISO) can’t win. Business/IT infrastructure/whoever_brought_this_on_the_table will. Get over it. The only thing you can do is “limit your losses” (more on this in second, or in another post).
Before, you are certainly eager to know: “now, what’s your answer to the question [good idea or not]?”.
I’m tempted to give a simple one here: “it’s all about risk [=> so perform risk analysis]”. This is the one we like to give in most situations (e.g. at conferences) when people expect a simple answer to a complex problem ;-).
However it’s not that easy here. In our daily practice, when calculating risk, we usually work with three parameters (each on a 1 [“very low”] to 5 [“very high” scale), that are: likelihood of some event (threat) occurring, vulnerability (environment disposes of, with regard to that event) and impact (if threat “successfully” happens).
Let’s assume the threat is “Compromise of [ESX] host, from attacker on guest”.
Looking at “our scenario” – that is “a number of DMZ systems is virtualized by means of VMware ESX” – the latter one (impact) might be the easiest one: let’s put in a “5” here. Under the assumption that at least one of the DMZ systems can get compromised by a skilled+motivated attacker at some point of time (if you would not expect this yourselves, why have you placed those systems in a DMZ then? 😉 … under that assumption, one might put in a “2” for the probability/likelihood. Furthermore _we_ think that, in the light of stuff like this and the horrible security history VMware has for mostly all of their main products, it is fair to go with a “3” for the vulnerability.
This, in turn, gives a “2 * 3 *5 = 30” for the risk associated with the threat “Compromise of [ESX] host, from attacker on guest” (for a virtualized DMZ scenario, that is running guests with a high exposure to attacks).
In practically all environments performing risk analysis similar to the one described above (in some other post we might sometimes explain our approach – used by many other risk assessment practitioners as well – in more detail), a risk score of “30” would require some “risk treatment” other than “risk retention” (see ISO 27005 9.3 for our understanding of this term).
Still following the risk treatment options outlined in ISO 27005, there are left:
a) risk avoidance (staying away from the risk-inducing action at all). Well, this is probably not what the above mentioned “project initiator” will like to hear 😉 … and, remember: this is a fight you can’t win.
b) risk transfer (hmm… handing your DMZ systems over to some 3rd party to run them virtualized might actually not really decrease the risk of the threat “Compromise of [ESX] host, from attacker on guest” 😉
c) risk reduction. But… so how? There’s not many options or additional/mitigating controls you can bring into this picture. The most important technical recommendation to be given here is the one of binding a dedicated NIC to every virtualized system (you already hear them yelling “why can’t we bring more than ~ 14 systems on a physical platform?”, don’t you? 😉 ). Some minor, additional advise will be provided in another post, as will some discussion on the management side/aspects of “DMZ virtualization”. (notice how we’re cleverly trapping you into coming back here? 😉
So, if you are sent back and asked to “provide some mitigating controls”… you simply can’t. there’s not much that can be done. You’re mostly thrown back to that well-known (but not widely accepted) “instrument of security governance”, that is: trust.
In the end of the day you have to trust VMware, or not.
We don’t. We – for us – do not think that VMware ESX is a platform suited for “high secure isolation” (at least not at the moment).
The jury is still out on that one… but presumably you all know the truth, at your very inner self 😉
For completeness’ sake, here’s the general advice we give when we only have 60 seconds to answer the question “What do you think about the security aspects of moving systems to VMware ESX”. It’s split into “MUST” or (“DO NOT”) parts and “SHOULD” parts. See RFC 2119 for more on their meaning. Here we go:
1.) Assuming that you have a data/system/network classification scheme with four levels (like “1 = public” to “4 = strictly confidential/high secure”) you SHOULD NOT virtualize “level 4”. And think twice before virtualizing SOX relevant systems 😉
2.) If you still do this (virtualizing 4s), you MUST NOT mix those with other levels on the same physical platform.
3.) If you mix the other levels, then you SHOULD only mix two levels next to each other (2 & 3 or 1 & 2).
4.) DMZ systems SHOULD NOT be virtualized (on VMware ESX as of the current security state).
5.) If you still do this (virtualizing DMZ systems), you MUST NOT mix those with Non-DMZ systems.
For those of you who have already violated advice no. 4 but – reading this – settle back mumbling “at least we’re following advice no. 5″… wait, my friends, the same people forcing you before will soon knock at your door … and tell you about all those “significant cost savings” again… and again…
A number of customers has approached us with questions like “Those new MiTM attacks against SSL/TLS, what’s their impact as for the security of our SSL VPNs with client certificates”?
In the following we give our estimation, based on the information publicly available as of today.
On 11/04/09 two security researchers (Marsh Ray and Steve Dispensa) published a paper describing some previously (presumably/hopefully) unknown MiTM attacks against SSL/TLS. CVE-2009-3555 was assigned to the underlying vulnerabilities within SSL/TLS.
The attacks described might potentially allow an attacker to hijack an authenticated user’s (SSL/TLS) session. In an IETF draft published 11/09/09 and describing a potential protocol extension intended to mitigate the attacks the following is stated:
“SSL and TLS renegotiation are vulnerable to an attack in which the attacker forms a TLS connection with the target server, injects content of his choice, and then splices in a new TLS connection from a client. The server treats the client’s initial TLS handshake as a renegotiation and thus believes that the initial data transmitted by the attacker is from the same entity as the subsequent client data.”
Obviously this _could_ have dramatic security impact on most SSL VPN deployments. Still, within the research community the impact on SSL VPNs seems unclear at the very moment.
On monday, Cisco issued a somewhat nebulous security advisory classifying the Cisco AnyConnect VPN Client as _not_ vulnerable (but quite some other products). OpenVPN disposes, for some time already, of a particular directive (tls-auth) which is regarded as an effective way to mitigate the vulnerabilities. Other vendors (e.g. Juniper) have not yet issued any statements or advisories at all (see also here for an overview of different vendors’ patch status).
This might be a good sign (“no problems there”), it might just be they’re still researching the pieces.
After discussing the problems with other researches we expect more concrete attack scenarios to emerge in the near future and we expect some of those future attacks to work against _some_ SSL VPN products as well. In case you have some SSL VPN technology in use pls contact your vendor _immediately_ asking for an official statement on this stuff.
Sorry for not having better advise for you right now. We do not want to spread FUD. On the other hand it might be a cautious approach to “expect the worst” in this case. There’s vast consensus amongst researchers that this _is a big thing_ that most people did not expect in this protocol. A first public break-in based on the vulnerabilities has already been reported.
… this would not have happened. At least this is what $SOME_DLP_VENDOR might tell you.
Maybe, maybe not. It wouldn’t have happened if they’d followed “common security best practices” either. Like “not to process sensitive data on (presumably) private laptops” or “not to run file sharing apps on organizational ones” or “not to connect to organizational VPNs and home networks simultanously”. yadda yadda yadda.
Don’t get us wrong here. We’re well aware that these practices are not consistently followed in most organizations anyway. That’s part of human (and corporate) reality. And part of our daily challenge as infosec practitioners.
This incident just proves once more that quite some security problems have their origins in “inappropriate processes” which in turn are the results of “business needs”.
(all of which, of course, is a well-known platitude to you, dear reader ;-).
Did you notice how quiet it has become around DLP, recently? Even Rich Mogull – whom we still regard as _the authority_ on the subject – seems not to blog extensively about it anymore.
Possibly (hopefully), we can observe the silent death of another overhyped, unneeded “security technology”…
Yesterday I took a long run (actually I did the full distance here) and usually such exercises are good opportunities to “reflect on the world in general and the infosec dimension of it in particular”… at least as long as your blood sugar is still on a level to support somewhat reasonable brain activity 😉
Anyhow, one of the outcomes of the number of strange mental stages I went through was the idea of a series of blogposts on architectural or technological approaches that are widely regarded as “good security practice” but may – when looked at with a bit more of scrutiny – turn out to be based on what I’d call “outdated threat models”.
This series is intended to be a quite provocative one but, hey, that’s what blogs are for: provide food for thought…
First part is a rant on “Multi-factor authentication”.
In practically all large organizations’ policies, sections mandating for MFA/2FA in different scenarios can be found (not always being formulated very precisely, but that’s another story). Common examples include “for remote access” – I’m going to tackle this one in a future post – or “for access to high value servers” [most organizations do not follow this one too consistently anyway, to say the least ;-)] or “for privileged access to infrastructure devices”.
Let’s think about the latter one for a second. What’s the rationale behind the mandate for 2FA here?
It’s, as so often, risk reduction. Remember that risk = likelihood * vulnerability * impact, and remember that quite frequently, for infosec professionals, the “vulnerability factor” is the one to touch (as likelihood and impact might not be modifiable too much, depending on the threat in question and the environment).
At the time most organizations’ initial “information security policy” documents were written (at least 5-7 years ago), in many companies there were mostly large flat networks, password schemes for network devices were not aligned with “other corporate password schemes” and management access to devices often was performed via Telnet.
As “simple password authentication” (very understandably) was not regarded sufficiently vulnerability-reducing then, people saw a need for “a second layer of control”… which happened to be “another layer of authentication”… leading to the aforementioned policy mandate.
So, in the end of the day, here the demand for 2-factor auth is essentially a demand for “2 layers of control”.
Now, if – in the interim – there’s other layers of controls like “encrypted connections” [eliminating the threat of eavesdropping, but not the one of password bruteforcing] or “ACLs restricting which endpoints can connect at all” [very common practice in many networks nowadays and heavily reducing the vulnerability to password bruteforcing attacks], using those, combined with single-auth, might achieve the same level of vulnerability-reduction, thus same level of overall risk.
Which in turn would then make the need for 2FA (in this specific scenario) obsolete. Which shows that some security controls needed at some point of time might no more be reasonable once threat models have changed (e.g. once the threat of “eavesdropping on unencrypted mgmt traffic from a network segment populated by desktop computers” has mostly disappeared).
Still, you might ask: what’s so bad about this? Why does this “additional layer of authentication” hurt? Simple answer: added complexity and operational cost. Why do you think that 2-factor auth for network devices can _rarely_ be found in large carrier/service provider networks? For exactly these reasons… and those organizations have a _large_ interest in protecting the integrity of their network devices. Think about it…
Welcome to insinuator.net, the semi-official blog of ERNW GmbH.
You may ask: Why yet another infosec blog? Aren’t there already just too many around? Well, possibly. But that opulence is part of blogging in general, isn’t it? 😉
Given we are trying to contribute to “public space & opinion” in a number of ways anyway [e.g. by our presentations or our newsletter] it seemed just too logical – and we’ve been asked by various people as well – to add another element to global blogosphere. Voilà, here we go!
What can you, dear reader, expect? Of course all kinds of shameless self-references, maybe occasionally a little bit of insight or even wisdom (yes, you’re right: modesty is not amongst our key virtues, at times) and – hopefully – some entertainment.