Insider Threat

The FBI says 70% of attackers originate from inside the organization (or is it 80%). So why do we all talk about hackers and Internet-bound attacks?

REVIEW – “The Florentine Deception”, Carey Nachenberg

BKFLODEC.RVW   20150609

“The Florentine Deception”, Carey Nachenberg, 2015, 978-1-5040-0924-9,
%A   Carey Nachenberg
%C   345 Hudson Street, New York, NY   10014
%D   2015
%G   978-1-5040-0924-9 150400924X
%I   Open Road Distribution
%O   U$13.49/C$18.91
%O   Audience n+ Tech 3 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   321 p.
%T   “The Florentine Deception”

It gets depressing, after a while.  When you review a bunch of books on the basis of the quality of the technical information, books of fiction are disappointing.  No author seems interested in making sure that the technology is in any way realistic.  For every John Camp, who pays attention to the facts, there are a dozen Dan Browns who just make it up as they go along.  For every Toni Dwiggins, who knows what she is talking about, there are a hundred who don’t.

So, when someone like Carey Nachenberg, who actually works in malware research, decides to write a story using malicious software as a major plot device, you have to be interested.  (And besides, both Mikko Hypponen and Eugene Spafford, who know what they are talking about, say it is technically accurate.)

I will definitely grant that the overall “attack” is technically sound.  The forensics and anti-forensics makes sense.  I can even see young geeks with more dollars than sense continuing to play “Nancy Drew” in the face of mounting odds and attackers.  That a vulnerability can continue to go undetected for more than a decade would ordinarily raise a red flag, but Nachenberg’s premise is realistic (especially since I know of a vulnerability at that very company that went unfixed for seven years after they had been warned about it).  That a geek goes rock-climbing with a supermodel we can put down to poetic licence (although it may increase the licence rates).  I can’t find any flaws in the denouement.

But.  I *cannot* believe that, in this day and age, *anyone* with a background in malware research would knowingly stick a thumb/jump/flash/USB drive labelled “Florentine Controller” into his, her, or its computer.  (This really isn’t an objection: it would only take a couple of pages to have someone run up a test to make sure the thing was safe, but …)

Other than that, it’s a joy to read.  It’s a decent thriller, with some breaks to make it relaxing rather than exhausting (too much “one damn thing after another” gets tiring), good dialogue, and sympathetic characters.  The fact that you can trust the technology aids in the “willing suspension of disbelief.”

While it doesn’t make any difference to the quality of the book, I should mention that Carey is donating all author profits from sales of the book to charity:

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2015   BKFLODEC.RVW   20150609

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CyberSec Tips: Follow the rules – and advice

A recent story (actually based on one from several years ago) has pointed out that, for years, the launch codes for nuclear missiles were all set to 00000000.  (Not quite true: a safety lock was set that way.)

Besides the thrill value of the headline, there is an important point buried in the story.  Security policies, rules, and procedures are usually developed for a reason.  In this case, given the importance of nuclear weapons, there is a very real risk from a disgruntled insider, or even simple error.  The safety lock was added to the system in order to reduce that risk.  And immediately circumvented by people who didn’t think it necessary.

I used to get asked, a lot, for help with malware infestations, by friends and family.  I don’t get asked much anymore.  I’ve given them simple advice on how to reduce the risk.  Some have taken that advice, and don;t get hit.  A large number of others don’t ask because they know I will ask if they’ve followed the advice, and they haven’t.

Security rules are usually developed for a reason, after a fair amount of thought.  This means you don’t have to know about security, you just have to follow the rules.  You may not know the reason, but the rules are actually there to keep you safe.  It’s a good idea to follow them.


(There is a second point to make here, addressed not to the general public but to the professional security crowd.  Put the thought in when you make the rules.  Don’t make stupid rules just for the sake of rules.  That encourages people to break the stupid rules.  And the necessity of breaking the stupid rules encourages people to break all the rules …)

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Western society is WEIRD [1]

(We have the OT indicator to say that something is off topic.  This isn’t, because ethics and sociology is part of our profession, but it is a fairly narrow area of interest for most.  We don’t have a subject-line indicator for that  :-)

This article, and the associated paper, are extremely interesting in many respects.  The challenge to whole fields of social factors (which are vital to proper management of security) has to be addressed.  We are undoubtedly designing systems based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the one constant factor in our systems: people.

(I suppose that, as long as the only people we interact with are WEIRD [1] westerners, we are OK.  Maybe this is why we are flipping out at the thought of China?)

(I was particularly interested in the effects of culture on actual physical perception, which we have been taught is hard wired.)

[1] – WEIRD, in the context of the paper, stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies

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Using Skype Manager? no? Expect incoming fraud

I have been using Skype ever since it came out, so I know my stuff.

I know how to write strong passwords, how to use smart security questions and how to – most importantly – avoid Phishing attempts on my Skype account.

But all that didn’t help me avoid a Skype mishap (or more bluntly as a friend said – Skype f*ckup).

It all started Saturday late at night (about 2am GMT), when I started receiving emails in Mandarin from Skype, my immediate thought was fraud, a phishing attempt, so I ignored it. But then I noticed I got also emails from Paypal with charges from Skype for 100$ 200$ 300$, and I was worried, was my account hacked?

I immediately went to PayPal and disconnected my authorization to Skype, called in Transaction Dispute on PayPal and then went on to look at my Skype account.

I looked into the recent logons to my account – nothing.

I looked into email changes, or passwords – nothing.

I couldn’t figure out how the thing got to where it was, and then I noticed, I have become a Skype Manager – wow I was promoted and I didn’t even send in my CV.

Yeah, joke aside, Skype Manager, is a service Skype gives to businesses to allow one person to buy Skype Credit and other people to use that Credit to make calls. A great idea, but the execution is poor.

The service appears to have been launched in 2012, and a few weeks after that, fraud started popping up. The how is very simple and so stupid it shameful for Skype to not have fixed this, since it was first reported (which I found) on the 21st of Jan 2012 on the Skype forum.

Apparently having this very common combinations of:
1) Auto-charge PayPal
2) Never used Skype Manager
3) Never setup a Work email for Skype

Makes it possible for someone to:
1) Setup you as a Skype Manager
2) Setup a new work email on some obscure service (mailinator was used in my case), and have all Skype emails for confirmations sent there

Yes, they don’t need to know anything BESIDE the Skype Call name of your account – which is easy to get using Skype Search.

Once you have become a Skype Manager, “you” can add users to the group you are managing – they don’t need to logon as all they need to do is use the (email) link you get to the newly assigned Work Email, yes, it doesn’t confirm the password – smart ha?

The users added to your Skype Manager can now take the Credit (its not money, it just call credits) and call anywhere they want.

Why this bug / feature not been fixed/addressed since the first time it was made public on the Skype Forum (probably was exploited before then), is anyone’s guess, talking to the Fraud department of Skype – he mainly stated that I should:
1) Change my password for Skype – yes, that would have helped nothing in this case
2) Make sure I authorize Skype only on trustworthy devices

The bottom line, Skype users, make sure:
1) You have configured your Skype Manager – if you are using Auto-Charge feature – I have disabled my Auto-Charge and PayPal authorization since then, and don’t plan on enabling it anytime (ever)
2) You have configured your Skype Work email – yes, if its unset, anyone can change it – without needing to know your current password – is this company a PCI authorized company? 😀

If you have more insight on the matter, let me know

– Noam

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REVIEW: “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive”, Bruce Schneier

BKLRSOTL.RVW   20120104

“Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive”,
Bruce Schneier, 2012, 978-1-118-14330-8, U$24.95/C$29.95
%A   Bruce Schneier
%C   5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON   M9B 6H8
%D   2012
%G   978-1-118-14330-8 1-118-14330-2
%I   John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
%O   U$24.95/C$29.95 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448
%O   Audience n+ Tech 2 Writing 3 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   365 p.
%T   “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to

Chapter one is what would ordinarily constitute an introduction or preface to the book.  Schneier states that the book is about trust: the trust that we need to operate as a society.  In these terms, trust is the confidence we can have that other people will reliably behave in certain ways, and not in others.  In any group, there is a desire in having people cooperate and act in the interest of all the members of the group.  In all individuals, there is a possibility that they will defect and act against the interests of the group, either for their own competing interest, or simply in opposition to the group.  (The author notes that defection is not always negative: positive social change is generally driven by defectors.)  Actually, the text may be more about social engineering, because Schneier does a very comprehensive job of exploring how confident we can be about trust, and they ways we can increase (and sometimes inadvertantly decrease) that reliability.

Part I explores the background of trust, in both the hard and soft sciences.  Chapter two looks at biology and game theory for the basics.  Chapter three will be familiar to those who have studied sociobiology, or other evolutionary perspectives on behaviour.  A historical view of sociology and scaling makes up chapter four.  Chapter five returns to game theory to examine conflict and societal dilemmas.

Schneier says that part II develops a model of trust.  This may not be evident at a cursory reading: the model consists of moral pressures, reputational pressures, institutional pressures, and security systems, and the author is very careful to explain each part in chapters seven through ten: so careful that it is sometimes hard to follow the structure of the arguments.

Part III applies the model to the real world, examining competing interests, organizations, corporations, and institutions.  The relative utility of the four parts of the model is analyzed in respect to different scales (sizes and complexities) of society.  The author also notes, in a number of places, that distrust, and therefore excessive institutional pressures or security systems, is very expensive for individuals and society as a whole.

Part IV reviews the ways societal pressures fail, with particular emphasis on technology, and information technology.  Schneier discusses situations where carelessly chosen institutional pressures can create the opposite of the effect intended.

The author lists, and proposes, a number of additional models.  There are Ostrom’s rules for managing commons (a model for self-regulating societies), Dunbar’s numbers, and other existing structures.  But Schneier has also created a categorization of reasons for defection, a new set of security control types, a set of principles for designing effective societal pressures, and an array of the relation between these control types and his trust model.  Not all of them are perfect.  His list of control types has gaps and ambiguities (but then, so does the existing military/governmental catalogue).  In his figure of the feedback loops in societal pressures, it is difficult to find a distinction between “side effects” and “unintended consequences.”  However, despite minor problems, all of these paradigms can be useful in reviewing both the human factors in security systems, and in public policy.

Schneier writes as well as he always does, and his research is extensive.  In part one, possibly too extensive.  A great many studies and results are mentioned, but few are examined in any depth.  This does not help the central thrust of the book.  After all, eventually Schneier wants to talk about the technology of trust, what works, and what doesn’t.  In laying the basic foundation, the question of the far historical origin of altruism may be of academic philosophical interest, but that does not necessarily translate into an
understanding of current moral mechanisms.  It may be that God intended us to be altruistic, and therefore gave us an ethical code to shape our behaviour.  Or, it may be that random mutation produced entities that acted altruistically and more of them survived than did others, so the population created expectations and laws to encourage that behaviour, and God to explain and enforce it.  But trying to explore which of those (and many other variant) options might be right only muddies the understanding of what options actually help us form a secure society today.

Schneier has, as with “Beyond Fear” (cf. BKBYNDFR.RVW) and “Secrets and Lies” (cf. BKSECLIE.RVW), not only made a useful addition to the security literature, but created something of value to those involved with public policy, and a fascinating philosophical tome for the general public.  Security professionals can use a number of the models to assess controls in security systems, with a view to what will work, what won’t (and what areas are just too expensive to protect).  Public policy will benefit from examination of which formal structures are likely to have a desired effect.  (As I am finishing this review the debate over SOPA and PIPA is going on: measures unlikely to protect intellectual property in any meaningful way, and guaranteed to have enormous adverse effects.)  And Schneier has brought together a wealth of ideas and research in the fields of trust and society, with his usual clarity and readability.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2011     BKLRSOTL.RVW   20120104

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Verizon data breach report

Interesting report by Verizon. Highlights:

  • External attacks are up 22% and are now responsible for 92% of losses.
  • Insider attack is down 31%. (Finally implementing internal security measures and not just focusing on the perimeter?)
  • Victims were not ‘chosen’ because they were large, important or had financial data. They were simply the easiest targets.
  • 92% of loss resulted from simple, known vulnerabilities

The conclusions sound a lot like the Gartner report:

“Every year that we study threat actions leading to data breaches, the story is the same; most victims aren’t overpowered by unknowable and unstoppable attacks. For the most part, we know them well enough and we also know how to stop them.”

And here’s the same thing in different wording:

“The latest round of evidence leads us to the same conclusion as before: your security woes are not caused by the lack of something new. They almost surely have more to do with not using, under using, or misusing something old.”

And of course, I like this one because it highlights Automated Vulnerability Assessment:

“SQL injection attacks, cross-site scripting, authentication bypass, and exploitation of session variables contributed to nearly half of breaches attributed to hacking or network intrusion. It is no secret that attackers are moving up the stack and targeting the application layer. Why don’t our defenses follow suit? As with everything else, put out the fires first: even lightweight web application scanning and testing would have found many of the problems that led to major breaches in the past year.”

Basically, your organization already has the security solution that it needs; you’re just not using it.

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If you don’t want people to know, then shut up.

The CIA is complaining that news media and other entities are giving away information about it’s agents and operations.

Trouble is, the information being analysed has been provided by the CIA.

If the CIA is being too eager to promote themselves, or careless in censoring the material they do provide, is that the fault of the media?

In doing the CISSP seminars, I use lots of security war stories.  Some of them are from my own work.  Some of them I’ve collected from the attendees over the years.  It’s not hard to use the story to make a point, but leave absolutely no clues as to the company involved, let alone individuals.

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Gartner on Vulnerability Assessment

For years, Gartner has been recommending VA/VM as the effective way to prevent successful attacks, only they’ve been a bit too low key about it in my opinion. Of course as a VA vendor I’m not even going to pretend to be objective here, but I always wondered if the fact most leading vendors are relatively small made Gartner pay less attention to the field.

Whatever the reason was, Gartner just came out with Strategies for Dealing with the Increase in Advanced Targeted Threats.
Here are some nice quotes; I especially liked the one about 0-days. I’m in complete agreement with all of them:

Quotes from this article (emphasize is mine):

Enterprises need to focus on reducing vulnerabilities

” There are existing security technologies that can greatly reduce vulnerability to targeted attacks.”

” … the real issue [is] focusing on the vulnerabilities that the attackers are exploiting. “

The reality is that the most important issues are the vulnerabilities and the techniques used to exploit them, not the country that appears to be the source of the attack”

Own the vulnerability; don’t blame the threat: There are no unstoppable forces in cyber attacks” (this one should be printed on T-shirts).

“If IT leaders close the vulnerability, then they stop the curious teenager, the experimental hacker, the cybercriminal and the information warrior”

“Many attacks that include zero-day exploits often use well-known vulnerabilities as part of the overall attacks.”

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