Commentary

General ideas about the world of security

Risk management and security theatre

Bruce Schneier is often outrageous, these days, but generally worth reading.  In a piece for Forbes in late August, he made the point that, due to fear and the extra trouble casued by TSA regulations, more people were driving rather than flying, and, thus, more people were dying.

“The inconvenience of extra passenger screening and added costs at airports after 9/11 cause many short-haul passengers to drive to their destination instead, and, since airline travel is far safer than car travel, this has led to an increase of 500 U.S. traffic fatalities per year.”

So, by six years after the event, the TSA had killed more US citizens than had the terrorists.  And continues to kill them.

Given the recent NSA revelations, I suppose this will sound like more US-bashing, but I don’t see it that way.  It’s another example of the importance of *real* risk management, taking all factors into account.

“Poor” decisions in management?

I started reading this article just for the social significance.  You’ve probably seen reports of it: it’s been much in the media.

However, I wasn’t very far in before I came across a statement that seems to have a direct implication to all business management, and, in particular, the CISSP:

“The authors gathered evidence … and found that just contemplating a projected financial decision impacted performance on … reasoning tests.”

As soon as I read that, I flashed on the huge stress we place on cost/benefit analysis in the CISSP exam.  And, of course, that extends to all business decisions: everything is based on “the bottom line.”  Which would seem to imply that hugely important corporate and public policy decisions are made on the worst possible basis and in the worst possible situation.

(That *would* explain a lot about modern business, policy, and economics.  And maybe the recent insanity in the US Congress.)

Other results seem to temper that statement, and, unfortunately, seem to support wage inequality and the practice of paying obscene wages to CEOs and directors: “… low-income people asked to ponder an expensive car repair did worse on cognitive-function tests than low-income people asked to consider cheaper repairs or than higher-income people faced with either scenario.”

But it does make you think …

Google’s “Shared Endorsements”

A lot of people are concerned about Google’s new “Shared Endorsements” scheme.

However, one should give credit where credit is due.  This is not one of Facebook’s functions, where, regardless of what you’ve set or unset in the past, every time they add a new feature it defaults to “wide open.”  If you have been careful with your Google account in the past, you will probably find yourself still protected.  I’m pretty paranoid, but when I checked the Shared Endorsements setting page on my accounts, and the “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads” box is unchecked on all of them.  I can only assume that it is because I’ve been circumspect in my settings in the past.

“Identity Theft” of time

I really should know better.

Last night, hoping that, in two hours, Hollywood might provide *some* information on an important topic, even if limited, I watched “Identity Thief,” a movie put out by Universal in 2013, starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.

It is important to point out to people that, if someone phones you up and offers you a free service to protect you from identity theft, it is probably not a good idea to give them your name, date of birth, social security/insurance number, credit card and bank account numbers, and basically everything else about you.  This tip is provided in the first thirty seconds of the film.  After that (except for the point that the help law enforcement might be able to give you is limited) it’s all downhill.  The plot is ridiculous (even for a comedy), the characters somewhat uneven, the situations crude, the relationship unlikely, the language profane, and the legalities extremely questionable.

(The best line in the entire movie is: Sandy – “Do you know what a sociopath is?” Diane – “Do they like ribs?”  I know this may not seem funny, but trust me: it gives you a very good idea of how humorous this movie really is.)

The Common Vulnerability Scoring System

Introduction

This article presents the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) Version 2.0, an open framework for scoring IT vulnerabilities. It introduces metric groups, describes base metrics, vector, and scoring. Finally, an example is provided to understand how it works in practice. For a more in depth look into scoring vulnerabilities, check out the ethical hacking course offered by the InfoSec Institute.

Metric groups

There are three metric groups:

I. Base (used to describe the fundamental information about the vulnerability—its exploitability and impact).
II. Temporal (time is taken into account when severity of the vulnerability is assessed; for example, the severity decreases when the official patch is available).
III. Environmental (environmental issues are taken into account when severity of the vulnerability is assessed; for example, the more systems affected by the vulnerability, the higher severity).

This article is focused on base metrics. Please read A Complete Guide to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2.0 if you are interested in temporal and environmental metrics.

Base metrics

There are exploitability and impact metrics:

I. Exploitability

a) Access Vector (AV) describes how the vulnerability is exploited:
– Local (L)—exploited only locally
– Adjacent Network (A)—adjacent network access is required to exploit the vulnerability
– Network (N)—remotely exploitable

The more remote the attack, the more severe the vulnerability.

b) Access Complexity (AC) describes how complex the attack is:
– High (H)—a series of steps needed to exploit the vulnerability
– Medium (M)—neither complicated nor easily exploitable
– Low (L)—easily exploitable

The lower the access complexity, the more severe the vulnerability.

c) Authentication (Au) describes the authentication needed to exploit the vulnerability:
– Multiple (M)—the attacker needs to authenticate at least two times
– Single (S)—one-time authentication
– None (N)—no authentication

The lower the number of authentication instances, the more severe the vulnerability.

II. Impact

a) Confidentiality (C) describes the impact of the vulnerability on the confidentiality of the system:
– None (N)—no impact
– Partial (P)—data can be partially read
– Complete (C)—all data can be read

The more affected the confidentiality of the system is, the more severe the vulnerability.

+b) Integrity (I) describes an impact of the vulnerability on integrity of the system:
– None (N)—no impact
– Partial (P)—data can be partially modified
– Complete (C)—all data can be modified

The more affected the integrity of the system is, the more severe the vulnerability.

c) Availability (A) describes an impact of the vulnerability on availability of the system:
– None (N)—no impact
– Partial (P)—interruptions in system’s availability or reduced performance
– Complete (C)—system is completely unavailable

The more affected availability of the system is, the more severe the vulnerability.

Please note the abbreviated metric names and values in parentheses. They are used in base vector description of the vulnerability (explained in the next section).

Base vector

Let’s discuss the base vector. It is presented in the following form:

AV:[L,A,N]/AC:[H,M,L]/Au:[M,S,N]/C:[N,P,C]/I:[N,P,C]/A:[N,P,C]

This is an abbreviated description of the vulnerability that brings information about its base metrics together with metric values. The brackets include possible metric values for given base metrics. The evaluator chooses one metric value for every base metric.

Scoring

The formulas for base score, exploitability, and impact subscores are given in A complete Guide to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2.0 [1]. However, there in no need to do the calculations manually. There is a Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2 Calculator available. The only thing the evaluator has to do is assign metric values to metric names.

Severity level

The base score is dependent on exploitability and impact subscores; it ranges from 0 to 10, where 10 means the highest severity. However, CVSS v2 doesn’t transform the score into a severity level. One can use, for example, the FortiGuard severity level to obtain this information:

FortiGuard severity level CVSS v2 score
Critical 9 – 10
High 7 – 8.9
Medium 4 – 6.9
Low 0.1 – 3.9
Info 0

Putting the pieces together

An exemplary vulnerability in web application is provided to better understand how Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2.0 works in practice. Please keep in mind that this framework is not limited to web application vulnerabilities.

Cross-site request forgery in admin panel allows adding a new user and deleting an existing user or all users.

Let’s analyze first the base metrics together with the resulting base vector:

Access Vector (AV): Network (N)
Access Complexity (AC): Medium (M)
Authentication (Au): None (N)

Confidentiality (C): None (N)
Integrity (I): Partial (P)
Availability (A): Complete (C)

Base vector: (AV:N/AC:M/Au:N/C:N/I:P/A:C)

Explanation: The admin has to visit the attacker’s website for the vulnerability to be exploited. That’s why the access complexity is medium. The website of the attacker is somewhere on the Internet. Thus the access vector is network. No authentication is required to exploit this vulnerability (the admin only has to visit the attacker’s website). The attacker can delete all users, making the system unavailable for them. That’s why the impact of the vulnerability on the system’s availability is complete. Deleting all users doesn’t delete all data in the system. Thus the impact on integrity is partial. Finally, there is no impact on the confidentiality of the system provided that added user doesn’t have read permissions on default.

Let’s use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2 Calculator to obtain the subscores (exploitability and impact) and base score:

Exploitability subscore: 8.6
Impact subscore: 7.8
Base score: 7.8

Let’s transform the score into a severity level according to FortiGuard severity levels:

FortiGuard severity level: High

Summary

This article described an open framework for scoring IT vulnerabilities—Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) Version 2.0. Base metrics, vector and scoring were presented. An exemplary way of transforming CVSS v2 scores into severity levels was described (FortiGuard severity levels). Finally, an example was discussed to see how all these pieces work in practice.

Dawid Czagan is a security researcher for the InfoSec Institute and the Head of Security Consulting at Future Processing.

Bank of Montreal online banking insecurity

I’ve had an account with the Bank of Montreal for almost 50 years.

I’m thinking that I may have to give it up.

BMO’s online banking is horrendously insecure.  The password is restricted to six characters.  It is tied to telephone banking, which means that the password is actually the telephone pad numeric equivalent of your password.  You can use that numeric equivalent or any password you like that fits the same numeric equivalent.  (Case is, of course, completely irrelevant.)

My online access to the accounts has suddenly stopped working.  At various times, over the years, I have had problems with the access and had to go to the bank to find out why.  The reasons have always been weird, and the process of getting access again convoluted.  At present I am using, for access, the number of a bank debit card that I never use as a debit card.  (Or even an ATM card.)  The card remains in the file with the printed account statements.

Today when I called about the latest problem, I had to run through the usual series of inane questions.  Yes, I knew how long my password had to be.  Yes, I knew my password.  Yes, it was working until recently.  No, it didn’t work on online banking.  No, it didn’t work on telephone banking.

The agent (no, sorry, “service manager,” these days) was careful to point out that he was *not* going to ask me for my password.  Then he set up a conference call with the online banking system, and had me key in my password over the phone.

(OK, it’s unlikely that even a trained musician could catch all six digits from the DTMF tones on one try.  But a machine could do it easily.)

After all that, the apparent reason for the online banking not working is that the government has mandated that all bank cards now be chipped.  So, without informing me, and without sending me a new card, the bank has cancelled my access.  ( I suppose that is secure.  If you are not counting on availability, or access to audit information.)

(I also wonder, if that was the reason, why the “service manager” couldn’t just look up the card number and determine that the access had been cancelled, rather than having me try to sign in.)

I’ll probably go and close my account this afternoon.

YASCCL (Yet Another Stupid Computer Crime Law)

Over the years I have seen numerous attempts at addressing the serious problems in computer crime with new laws.  Well-intentioned, I know, but all too many of these attempts are flawed.  The latest is from Nova Scotia:

Bill 61
Commentary

“The definition of cyberbullying, in this particular bill, includes “any electronic communication” that ”ought reasonably be expected” to “humiliate” another person, or harm their “emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.””

Well, all I can say is that everyone in this forum better be really careful what they say about anybody else.

(Oh, $#!+.  Did I just impugn the reputation of the Nova Scotia legislature?)

Outsourcing, and rebranding, (national) security

I was thinking about the recent trend, in the US, for “outsourcing” and “privatization” of security functions, in order to reduce (government) costs.  For example, we know, from the Snowden debacle, that material he, ummm, “obtained,” was accessed while he was working for a contractor that was working for the NSA.  The debacle also figured in my thinking, particularly the PR fall-out and disaster.

Considering both these trends; outsourcing and PR, I see an opportunity here.  The government needs to reduce costs (or increase revenue).  At the same time, there needs to be a rebranding effort, in order to restore tarnished images.

Sports teams looking for revenue (or cost offsets) have been allowing corporate sponsors to rename, or “rebrand,” arenas.  Why not allow corporations to sponsor national security programs, and rebrand them?

For example: PRISM has become a catch-phrase for all that is wrong with surveillance of the general public.  Why not allow someone like, say, DeBeers to step in.  For a price (which would offset the millions being paid to various tech companies for “compliance”) it could be rebranded as DIAMOND, possibly with a new slogan like “A database is forever!”

(DeBeers is an obvious sponsor, given the activities of NSA personnel in regard to love interests.)

I think the possibilities are endless, and should be explored.