Who is responsible?

Galina Pildush ended her LTE presentation with a very good question:”Who is responsible for LTE security?  Is it the users? UE (User Equipment, handsets and devices) manufacturers and vendors?  Network providers, operators and telcos?”

It’s a great question, and one that needs to be applied to every area of security.

In the SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) and personal sphere, it has long been assumed that it’s the user who is responsible.  Long assumed, but possibly changing.  Apple, particularly with the iOS/iPhone/iPad lines, has moved toward a model where the vendor (Apple) locks down the device, and only allows you certain options for software and services.  Not all of them are produced or provided by Apple, but Apple gets vetting responsibilities and rights.

The original “user” responsibility model has not worked particularly well.  Most people don’t know how to protect themselves in regard to information security.  Malware and botnets are rampant.  In the “each man for himself” situation, many users do not protect themselves, with significant consequences for the computing environment as a whole.  (For years I have been telling corporations that they should support free, public security awareness training.  Not as advertising or for goodwill, but as a matter of self defence.  Reducing the number of infected users out there will reduce the level of risk in computing and communication as a whole.)

The “vendor” model, in Apple’s case (and Microsoft seems to be trying to move in that direction) has generated a reputation, at least, for better security.  Certainly infection and botnet membership rates appear to be lower in Macs than in Windows machines, and lower still in the iOS world.  (This, of course, does nothing to protect the user from phishing and other forms of fraud.  In fact, it would be interesting to see if users in a “walled garden” world were slightly more susceptible to fraud, since they were protected from other threats and had less need to be paranoid.)  The model also has significant advantages as a business model, where you can lock in users (and providers, as well), so it is obviously going to be popular with the vendors.

Of course, there are drawbacks, for the vendors, in this model.  As has been amply demonstrated in current mobile network situations, providers are very late in rolling out security patches.  This is because of the perception that the entire responsibility rests with the provider, and they want to test every patch to death before releasing it.  If that role falls to the vendors, they too will have to take more care, probably much more care, to ensure software is secure.  And that will delay both patch cycles and version cycles.

Which, of course, brings us to the providers.  As noted, there is already a problem here with patch releases.  But, after all, most attacks these days are network based.  Proper filtering would not only deal with intrusions and malware, but also issues like spam and fraud.  After all, if the phishing message never reaches the user, the user can’t be defrauded.

So, in theory, we can make a good case that the provider would be the most effective locus for responsibility for security.  They have the ability to address the broadest range of security issues.  In reality, of course, it wouldn’t work.

In the first place, all kinds of users wouldn’t stand for it.  Absent a monopoly market, any provider who tried to provide total security protection, would a) incur prohibitively heavy costs (putting pressure on their competitive rates), and b) lose a bunch of users who would resent restrictions and limitations.  (At present, of course, me know that many providers can get away with being pretty cavalier about security.)  The providers would also, as now, have to deal with a large range of devices.  And, if responsibility is lifted from the vendors, the situation will only get worse: vendors will be able to role out new releases and take even less care with testing than they do now.

In practical terms, we probably can’t, and shouldn’t decide this question.  All parties should take some responsibility, and all parties should take more than they do currently.  That way, everybody will be better off.  But, as Bruce Schneier notes, there are always going to be those who try and shirk their responsibility, relying on the fact that others will not.

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LTE Cloud Security

LTE.  Even the name is complex: Long-Term Evolution of Evolved Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network

All LTE phones (UE, User Equipment) are running servers.  Multiple servers.  (And almost all are unsecured at the moment.)

Because of the proliferation of protocols (GSM, GPRS, CDMA, additional 3 and 4G, and now LTE), the overall complexity of the mobile/cell cloud is growing.

LTE itself is fairly complex.  The Protocol Reference Model contains at least the GERAN User Plane, UTRAN User Plane, and E-UTRAN User Plane (all with multiple components) as well as the control plane.  A simplified model of a connection request involves at least nine messages involving six entities, with two more sitting on the sides.  The transport layer, SCTP, has a four-way, rather than two-way, handshake.  (Hence the need for all those servers.)  Basically, though, LTE is IP, but a fairly complex set of additional protocols, as opposed to the old PSTN.  The old public telephone network was a walled garden which few understood.  Just about all the active blackhats today understand IP, and it’s open.  It’s protected by Diameter, but even the Diameter implementation was loopholes.  It has a tunnelling protocol, GTP (GPRS Tunnelling Protocol), but, like very many tunnelling protocols, GTP does not provide confidentiality or integrity protection.

Everybody wants to the extra speed, functions, interconnection abilities, and apps.  But all the functionality means a much larger attack surface.  The total infrastructure involved in LTE is more complex.  Maybe nobody can know it all.  But they can know enough to start messing with it.  From a simple DoS to DDoS, false billing, disclosure of data, malware, botnets of the UEs, spam, SMS trojans, even run down batteries, you name it.

As with VoIP before it, we are rolling our known data vulnerabilities, and known voice/telco/PBX vulnerabilities, into one big insecurity.

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Probing mobile (cell) networks

Mobile networks have many disparate types of devices.  You can probably guess what some of them are, or even go to the provider’s store or kiosk and get a list.  But there are going to be more devices out there.  So why not scan the IP addresses on your subnet?

Well, the access points for mobile networks generally don’t allow promiscuous access.  So you may have to go to ARIN and other lists in order to start getting some ranges to check.  You can also check access logs of a Website to find visitors with mobile devices.  (Of course, there is always the NATting that the providers do, not to mention DHCP, and the fact that most mobile devices don’t run servers or services.)

Colin Mulliner, of the Berlin Institute of Technology, did manage to find a fair amount of interesting stuff.  Windows Mobile tended to be a useful source of open ports and services (usually open FTP services on mobile devices).  He also found and was able to identify a number of specialized devices that were identifiable from responses to probes.  Some of the most interesting were mobile access points: connecting to the mobile networks and then providing local wifi for computers.  Others were HTTP servers for surveillance cameras.  (Others were GPS tracking devices which, oddly, had no security against “guest” login  :-)  (Some were smart meters.  With smart meters rolling out here in BC, lets hope they are more secure …)

Possibly of concern was the large number of jailbroken iOS devices.  Many of them still had the default “alpine” password.  (If you hack your own device, you’d better be prepared to secure it.)  This could form the basis of a fair sized worm and/or botnet.  Then again, iOS users aren’t alone here.  An awful lot of people seem to think nothing of creating mobile devices and hooking them up to mobile networks with very little in the way of security.

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Smartphone vulnerabilities

Scott Kelly, platform architect at Netflix, gets to look at a lot of devices.  In depth.  He’s got some interesting things to say about smartphones.  (At CanSecWest.)

First of all, with a computer, you are the “tenant.”  You own the machine, and you can modify it any way you want.

On a smartphone, you are not the only tenant, and, in fact, you are the second tenant.  The provider is the first.  And where you may want to modify and customize it, the provider may not want you to.  They’d like to lock you in.  At the very least, they want to maintain some control because you are constantly on their network.

Now, you can root or jailbreak your phone.  Basically, that means hacking your phone.  Whether you do that or not, it does mean that your device is hackable.

(Incidentally, the system architectures for smartphones can be hugely complex.)

Sometimes you can simply replace the firmware.  Providers try to avoid doing that, sometimes looking at a secure boot system.  This is usually the same as the “trusted computing” (digital signatures that verify back to a key that is embedded in the hardware) or “trusted execution” (operation restriction) systems.  (Both types were used way back in AV days of old.)  Sometimes the providers ask manufacturers to lock the bootloader.  Attackers can get around this, sometimes letting a check succeed and then doing a swap, or attacking write protection, or messing with the verification process as it is occurring.  However, you can usually find easier implementation errors.  Sometimes providers/vendors use symmetric enryption: once a key is known, every device of that model is accessible.  You can also look at the attack surface, and with the complex architectures in smartphones the surface is enormous.

Vendors and providers are working towards trusted modules and trustzones in mobile devices.  Sometimes this is virtual, sometimes it actually involves hardware.  (Personally, I saw attempts at this in the history of malware.  Hardware tended to have inherent advantages, but every system I saw had some vulnerability somewhere.)

Patching has been a problem with mobile devices.  Again, the providers are going to be seen as responsible for ongoing operation.  Any problems are going to be seen as their fault.  Therefore, they really have to be sure that any patch they create is absolutely bulletproof.  It can’t create any problems.  So there is always going to be a long window for any exploit that is found.  And there are going to be vulnerabilities to exploit in a system this complex.  Providers and vendors are going to keep trying to lock systems.

(Again, personally, I suspect that hacks will keep on occurring, and that the locking systems will turn out to be less secure than the designers think.)

Scott is definitely a good speaker, and his slides and flow are decent.  However, most of the material he has presented is fairly generic.  CanSecWest audiences have come to expect revelations of real attacks.

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Net accesses …

So, I’m always excited about CanSecWest, and I was yesterday, as I got ready.  I went to do a last minute download of email.  (Yes, the conference provides wireless, and it usually works, after a few initial glitches.  But I like to avoid risks, and I like to have most of my stuff with me on my machine.)

I could pull the email off my main account.  (I have multiple email addresses with Shaw.)  But I couldn’t get any email off the subsidiary accounts.  In order to check if this was some setting gone wrong on my MUA I tried the Web interface.  Same result: I could get at my main account, but not the subsidiary accounts.

Later in the day, at the conference, I was able to access all the accounts.  But I found that, while my main account was still accessible though the original interface, suddenly all the others were using a new “Webmail 2.0.”

I thought this was kind of odd, so I reported this to Shaw through their “ShawHelp” account on Twitter.  You can’t explain a lot in 140 characters, so we passed a few “direct messages” back and forth.

I have previously mentioned that Shaw’s support is not the best, and their attitude to security could use some work.  (As a side result of this, a friend has provided me with an emergency proxy for outbound email.  I tried it this morning, and, unlike Shaw, which requires that you be on their network before you get access to your email, it works from CanSecWest.)  So I shouldn’t have been shocked when I got a message from ShawHelp saying … well, let me quote it:

“Not seeing issues with either of them. You can’t log into cissp? What is password so we can take a look? ^LL”

I had forgotten this.  In the old days, when I stilled tried to call Shaw support when I had a problem, I frequently got asked for my password.  Since I won’t give them my password (what do you think I am, a normal user?), that usually ended any attempt on their part to deal with the problem.

So, here we are, some years later, and Shaw is still asking their customers for passwords.  How many years have we been telling people, “customer support will never ask you for your password”?

On a very slightly positive note, I can say that, two months after they announced it, the Shaw Wifi AP in Lynn Valley is finally operating.

(I suppose I shouldn’t bash too hard on Shaw.  Their tech support and security is abysmal, but the service only goes down about once a quarter.  The other day I was at the barbershop.  They are putting in service through the other major provider in our area, Telus.  Telus’ initial installation had only given them partial access, so they called in Telus’ support.  The support tech managed to shut off access completely, and had been coming back, sporadically, for over a week, without success.)  (Yes, I did manage to get them partial access back …)

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Forcing your users to write down their passwords

This sums up everything that is wrong with the “password policy” theme. From the t-mobile web site:

T-Mobile Password Policy

There is no way any reasonable person can choose a password that fits this policy AND can be remembered (note how they are telling you that you CANNOT use special characters. So users now have to bend according to the lowest common denominator of their bad back-end database routine and their bad password policy).

I’m sure some high-paid consultant convinced the T-MO CSO that stricter password policy is the answer to all their security problems. Reminds me of a story about an air-force security chief that claimed 25% increase in security by making mandatory password length 10 characters instead of 8, but I digress.

Yes, I know my habitat. No security executive ever got fired for making the user’s experience more difficult. All in the name of security. Except it’s both bad security and bad usability (which, incidentally, correlate more often than not, despite what lazy security ‘experts’ might let you believe.

I’ve ranted about this before.

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2nd Annual Cyber Security China 2012

It seems like nowadays China is the immediate suspect when it comes to hacking attempts or cyber espionage. It’s therefore interesting to know that they are suffering from as much internal attacks as anyone else.

The ‘cyber security china 2012’ is organized with ISC2, which is typically a good indicator for interesting speakers and content (at least, that’s been my past experience in other countries). The description shows that the Chinese are worried about the same things we all are:

With support from Ministry of Public Security  of  China,  and  working  with  ISC2, ITU-IMPACT and  ISFS Hong kong, Cyber Security China 2011  is successfully organized in March 24-25 in Shanghai, China.  The  2011  event convened 130+ delegates from global and local cyber security authorities, government, law enforcement  agencies, users  and  security  vendors,  and  mainly  explored  the solutions  against  evolving cyber  threats  and  attacks,  and how to fight the  cyber crimes through public-private-partnership.

More information here.

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REVIEW: “Above the Clouds”, Kevin T. McDonald

BKABVCLD.RVW   20110323

“Above the Clouds”, Kevin T. McDonald, 2010, 978-1-84928-031-0,
%A   Kevin T. McDonald
%D   2010
%G   978-1-84928-031-0 1-84928-031-2
%I   IT Governance
%O   UK#39.95
%O   Audience n+ Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   169 p.
%T   “Above the Clouds: Managing Risk in the World of Cloud Computing”

The preface does a complicated job of defining cloud computing.  The introduction does provides a simpler description: cloud computing is the sharing of services, at the time you need them, paying for the services you need or use.  Different terms are listed based on what services are provided, and to whom.  We could call cloud computing time-sharing, and the providers service bureaus.  (Of course, if we did that, a number of people would think they’d walked into a forty-five year time-warp.)

The text is oddly structured: indeed, it is hard to find any organization in the material at all.  Chapter one states that the cloud allows you to do rapid prototyping because you can use patched operating systems.  I would agree that properly up-to-date operating systems are a good thing, but it isn’t made clear what this has to do with either prototyping or the cloud.  There is a definite (and repeated) assertion that “bigger is better,” but this idea is presented as an article of faith, rather than demonstrated.   There is mention of the difficulty of maintaining core competencies, but no discussion of how you would determine that a large entity has such competencies.  Some of the content is contradictory: there are many statements to the effect that the cloud allows instant access to services, but at least one warning that you cannot expect cloud services to be instantly accessible.  Various commercial products and services are noted in one section, but there is almost no description or detail in regard to actual services or availability.

Chapter two does admit that there can be some problems with using cloud services.  Despite this admission some of the material is strange.  We are told that you can eliminate capacity planning by using the cloud, but are immediately warned that we need to determine service levels (which is just a different form of capacity planning).  In terms of preparation and planning, chapter three does mention a number of issues to be addressed.  Even so, it tends to underplay the full range of factors that can determine the success or failure of a cloud project.  (Much content that has been provided previously is duplicated here.)  There is a very brief section on risk  management.  The process outline is fine, but the example given is rather flawed.  (The gap analysis fails to note that the vendor does not actually answer the question asked.)  SAS70 and similar reports are heavily emphasized, although the material fails to mention that many of the reasons that small businesses will be interested in the cloud will be for functions that are beyond the scope of these standards.  Chapter four appears to be about risk assessment, but then wanders into discussion of continuity planning, project management, testing, and a bewildering variety of only marginally related topics.  There is a very terse review of security fundamentals, in chapter five, but it is so brief as to be almost useless, and does not really address issues specifically related to the cloud.  The (very limited) examination of security in chapter six seems to imply that a good cloud provider will automatically provide additional security functions.  In certain areas, such as availability and backup, this may be true.  However, in areas such as access control and identity management, this will most probably involve additional charges/costs, and it is not likely that the service provider will be able to do a better job than you can, yourself.  A final chapter suggests that you analyze your own company to find functions that can be placed into the cloud.

Despite the random nature of the book, the breadth of topics means it can be used as an introduction to the factors which should be considered when attempting to use cloud computing.  The lack of detail would place a heavy burden of research and work on those charged with planning or implementing such activities.  In addition, the heavily promotional tone of the work may lead some readers to underestimate the magnitude of the task.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2011     BKABVCLD.RVW   20110323

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