The InfoSec Blog

Social Engineering and sufficency of awareness training

Posted by Anton Aylward

Someone asked:

If you have a good information security awareness amongst
the employees then it should not a problem what kind of attempts
are made by the social engineers and to glean information from
your employees.

Security tokens from RSA Security designed as ...

Yes but as RSA demonstrated, it is a moving target.

You need to have it as a continuous process, educate new hires and educate on new techniques and variations that may be employed by the 'social engineers'. Fight psychology with psychology!

About ISO 27001 Risk Statement and Controls

Posted by Anton Aylward

On the ISO27000 Forum list, someone asked:

I'm looking for Risk statement for each ISO 27k control; meaning
"what is the risk of not implementing a control".

That's a very ingenious way of looking at it!

One way of formulating the risk statement is from the control
objective mentioned in the standard.
Is there any other way out ?

Ingenious aside, I'd be very careful with an approach like this.

Risks and controlsare not, should not, be 1:1.

Naval War College uses Russian software for iPad course material

Posted by Anton Aylward


The Navy's premier institution for developing senior strategic and
operational leaders started issuing students Apple iPad tablet
computers equipped with GoodReader software in August 2010,
unaware that the mobile app was developed and maintained by
a Russian company, Good.iWare, until Nextgov reported it in February.

OK so its not news and OK I've posted about this before, but ...

Last week I was reading another report about malware and it stated that most malware yamma yamma yamma had it origins in the USA. No doubt you've seen reports to that effect with different slants.

So the question here is: Why should software produced in the country where there are more evil-minded programmers be superior to software produced in Russia?

IT Pros Believe Data Breach Harm Assessment Is More Valuable Than Victim Notification

Posted by Anton Aylward

Valuable to whom?

If we can learn from the mistakes of others, if they will freely disclose that they have been breached, the how and why and openly discuss remediation and prevention, they yes, this would be of value to the community as a whole.

But does that mean we mus NOT notify those affected by the breach? I don't see why they have to be exclusive.

As to free and open disclosure: I suspect there may be issues of legal liability and shareholder/stock-price value to consider.

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Doubts about “Defense in Depth”

Posted by Anton Aylward

 So to have great (subjective) protection your layered protection and controls have to be "bubbled" as opposed to linear (to slow down or impede a  direct attack).

I have doubts about "defence in depth" analogies with the military that many people in InfoSec use.

Read what they are really talking about in those military examples: its "ablation": that means burning up resources, like land (the traditional defence the Russian Empire used) or manpower (the northern states used in the US civil war) and resources (the USA in WW2).  They try to slow down a direct and linear attack, hopefully to a standstill.

As the Blitzkrieg showed in dealing with the Maginot Line, if you "go around it" the defence isn't a lot of use.

Through the ages of war and politics and empire-hood and nation-hood and tribalism we've seen many threats and attacks and subversions used.

The reality is that many InfoSec defences are more like umbrellas, the assume that the attack in coming from a particular direction in a particular form.  What's needed is more like an all-enclosing "bubble" rather than something linear with the 'defence in depth' model.  But that gets back to the problem of the perimeter.

Many wifi enabled devices are really "spies inside the defensive perimeter".

There was a scare a while ago that various networking equipment was made by companies or fabricators in places that were or might be inimical or economic competitors and as such have subversive code hidden in them.  No doubt this will come around again when journalists have nothing better to write about or the State Department need to wave a big stick and scare the public -- its form of showing that "its doing something".

But how can we tell? The reality is that "security specialists" are finding errors - never mind deliberately malicious code - in all manner of devices: pacemakers, insulin pumps, automobile throttle controllers. Will they find "errors" that allow subversion in mainstream IT deceives like home wifi routers (aka the next generation of spambots), home PC software (that's a no-brainer isn't it!) never mind commercial databases.

I dedicate this to the memory of Ken Thompson

On the HP Printer Hack

Posted by antonaylward

The hack to make the HP printers burn was interesting, but lets face it, a printer today is a  special purpose computer and a computer almost always has a flaw which can be exploited.
In his book on UI design "The Inmates are Running the Asylum", Alan Cooper makes the point that just about everything these days, cameras, cars, phones, hearing aids, pacemakers, aircraft, traffic lights ... have computers  running them and so what we interface with is the computer not the natural mechanics of the device any more.

Applying this observation makes this a very scary world. More like Skynet in the Terminator movies now that cars have Navi*Star and that in some countries the SmartStreets traffic systems have the traffic lights telling each other about their traffic flow. Cameras already have wifi so they can upload to the 'Net-of-a-Thousand-Lies.

Some printers have many more functions; some being fax, repro, and scanning as well as printing a document.   And look at firewalls. Look at all the additional functions being
poured into them because of the "excess computing facility" - DNS, Squid-like caching, authentication ...

I recently bought a LinkSys for VoIP, and got the simplest one I could find. I saw models that were also wifi routers, printer servers and more all bundled onto the "gateway" with the "firewall" function. And the firewall was a lot less capable than in my old SMC Barricade-9 home router.

I'm dreading what the home market will have come IP6

I recall the Chinese curse: yes we live in "interesting security issue" times!

But in the long run of things the HP Printer Hack isn't that serious.   After all, how many printers are exposed to the Internet.    We have to ask "how likely is that?".
Too many places (and people) put undue emphasis on Risk Analysis and ask "show me the numbers" questions. As if everyone who has been hacked (a) even knows abut it and (b) is willing to admit to the details.

No, I agree with Donn Parker; there are many things we can do that are in the realm of "common sense" once you get to stop and think about it. Many protective controls are "umbrellas", that its about how you configure your already paid-for-and-installed (you did install it, didn't you, its not sitting in the box in the wiring closet) firewall; by spending the money you would have spent anyway for the model that has better control/protection -- you do this with your car: air-bags, ABS and so on so why not with IT equipment? The "Baseline" is more often about proper decisions and proper configuration than "throwing money at it" the way governments and government agencies do.

Which Risk Framework to Use: FAIR, FRAP, OCTAVE, SABSA …

Posted by Anton Aylward

What framework would you use to provide for quantitative or qualitative risk analysis at both the micro and macro level?  I'm asking about a true risk assessment framework not merely a checklist.

Yes, this is a bit of a META-Question. But then its Sunday, a day for contemplation.

When does something like these stop being a check-list and become a framework?

COBIT is very clearly a framework, but not for risk analysis and even the section on risk analysis fits in to a business model rather than a technology model.

ISO-27K is arguably more technology (or at least InfoSec) focused that COBIT, but again risk analysis is only part of what its about. ISO-27K calls itself a standard[1] but in reality its a framework.

The message that these two frameworks send about risk analysis is

Context is Everything

(You expected me to say that, didn't you?)

I'm not sure any RA method works at layer 8 or above. We all know that managers can read our reports and recommendations and ignore them. Or perhaps not read them, since being aware of the risk makes them liable.

Ah. Good point.
On LinkedIn there was a thread asking why banks seem to ignore risk analysis .. presumably because their doing so has brought us to the international financial crisis we're in (though I don't think its that simple).

The trouble is that RA is a bit of a 'hypothetical' exercise.

Warning – they are out to get you.

Posted by Anton Aylward

McAfee has released a new study on malware in cars:

Now you may think that this is scaremongering on the part of McAfee because their traditional market is drying up. Not so, this is actually a threat we have been aware of or nearly half a century:


Using ALE … inappropriately

Posted by Anton Aylward

Like many forms of presenting facts, not least of all about risk, reducing complex and multifaceted information to a single figure does a dis-service to those affected. The classical risk equation is another example of this;  summing, summing many hundreds of fluctuating variables to one figure.

Perhaps the saddest expression of this kind of approach to numerology is the stock market. We accept that the bulk of the economy is based on small companies but the stock exchanges have their "Top 100" or "Top 50" which are all large companies. Perhaps they do have an effect on the economy the same way that herd of elephants might, but the biomass of this planet is mostly made up, like our economy, of small things.

Treating big things like small things leads to another flaw in the ALE model.  (which is in turn  part of the fallacy of quantitative risk assessment)

The financial loss of internet fraud is non-trivial but not exactly bleeding us to death. Life goes on anyway and we work around it. But it adds up. Extrapolated over a couple of hundred years it would have the same financial value as a World Killer Asteroid Impact that wiped out all of human civilization. (And most of human life.)

A ridiculously dramatic example, yes, but this kind of reduction to a one-dimensional scale such as "dollar value" leads to such absurdities. Judges in court cases often put dollar values on human life. What value would you put on your child's ?

We know, based on past statistics, the probability that a US president will be assassinated. (Four in 200+ years; more if you allow for failed attempts). With that probability we can calculate the ALE and hence what the presidential guard cost should be capped at.

Right? NO!

The Decline of the Physical Desktop

Posted by Anton Aylward

What's interesting here is that this isn't preaching "The Cloud" and only mentions VDI in one paragraph (2 in the one-line expanded version).

Also interesting is the real message: "Microsoft has lost it".

Peter Drucker, the management guru, pointed out that the very last buggy-whip manufacturer in the age of automobiles was very efficient in its processes - it *HAD* to be to have survived that long. (One could say the same about sharks!)

"Keeping desktop systems in good working order is still a labour of Sysiphus .."

Indeed. But LinuxDesktop and Mac/OSX seem to be avoiding most of the problems that plague Microsoft.

A prediction, however.
The problem with DOS/Windows was that the end user was the admin and  could fiddle with everything, including download and install new code. We are moving that self-same problem onto smart-phones and tablets. Android may be based on Linux, but its the same 'end user in control' model that we had with Windows. Its going to be a malware circus.

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Would you buy a computer from a company like this?

Posted by Anton Aylward

  • Its not a camera, its computer that takes pictures
  • Its not a car, its a computer that gets you from place to place
  • Its not a watch, its a computer that tells you the time
  • Its not a radio, tv, hi-fi, phone .... its a computer

Would you buy a computer from a company like this?


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Mistaken Thinking – Risk not threats

Posted by Anton Aylward

Various mobile devices creating interoperability.

Image via Wikipedia

Via a LinkedIn posting in the Infosecurity magazine forum titled
"Internet Threats Posed By Mobile Devices: How Can We Prevent Them?"
I came to


The mobile devices don't pose threats.
The mobile devices represent risks.

Threats are external. They are not under your control.

The article title is clearly confusing THREATS with RISKS.

There are aspects of risks which ARE under your control.
You can control how EXPOSED you are to threats and how they will IMPACT you - or more specifically your assets. In this case the mobile devices.

You can't prevent threats, you can only mitigate their IMPACT.
You can instigate preventive measures.

Mobile devices and the data on them are ASSETS, not threats.

Correct terminology leads to correct thinking.
Eliminating misunderstanding and confusion leads to effective results.

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Economic Impact: Patent trolls chase app developers out of the U.S

Posted by Anton Aylward

The Debt ceiling crisis will pass; even if there is a crash, the USA can recover from it ...

IF its core economic worth, that is its industrial productivity, is unharmed.

There are a number of ways this can be harmed, poor credit rating among them, lack of availability for investments.

The Question of Residual Risk value

Posted by antonaylward

People keep asking questions like

If the risk equation I use is Impact * Probability, when it comes to
calculating the residual risk value do I still need to consider the
impact of Loss of confidentiality, integrity and availability of the
asset afterwards ?
My understanding us that the probability value may decrease
after applying some controls to mitigate the risk,  but how does
does the impact change?

English: ISMS activities and their relationshi...

Personally I don't like the use of the generalization "Impact".   It hides details and it hides seeing where the control is being applied.   Assets are often affected by more than one threat or more than one vulnerability.  You really need to recalculate the whole thing over again after the controls have been applied - don't try for short cuts.

I'd further suggest looking at

I discuss this kind of over-simplification at


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Risk Models that hide important information

Posted by Anton Aylward

Some people seem to be making life difficult for themselves with risk models such as "Impact * Probability" and as such have lead themselves into all manner of imponderable ... since this model hides essential details.

I discuss the CLASSICAL risk equation in my blog

There is a good reason for, no make that MANY good reasons, for separating out the threat and the vulnerability and asset rather that just using "impact".

Any asset is going to be affected by many

  • threats
  • vulnerabilities
  • controls

Any control will almost certainly address many assets and in all likelihood deal with many threats and vulnerabilities.

Any reasonable approach will try to optimise this: make the controls more effective and efficient by having them cover as many assets, threats or vulnerabilities as possible.

As such, the CLASSICAL risk equation can then be viewed as addressing residual risk - the probability AFTER applying the controls.

Compliance? What Compliance?

Posted by Anton Aylward

United States Securities and Exchange Commission

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I wonder why we bother ...

The Securities and Exchange Commission doesn't just enforce the rules
that govern Wall Street. When asked, it often grants individual
companies exemptions from the rules

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Sony backs U.S. ineffective cybersecurity legislation

Posted by Anton Aylward

Magic Link

Image via Wikipedia

"If nothing else, perhaps the frequency, audacity and harmfulness of
these attacks will help encourage Congress to enact new legislation to
make the Internet a safer place for everyone," the Sony executive said.

"By working together to enact meaningful cybersecurity legislation we
can limit the threat posed to U.S. all," he said.

To people like us, IT Audit and InfoSec types, 'control' come in 3 forms

  • preventative
  • detective
  • compensatory

It seems that this legislation focuses on the 3rd and not the first.
It might even be seen to discourage the second.

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A large scale failure of information security

Posted by Anton Aylward

Does LulzSec's nonstop hacking campaign, and apparent success at taking
down everyone from Sony to the U.S. Senate, point to fundamental flaws
in website security? "One of the assertions made by the recent run of
high profile attacks was that all networks are vulnerable, and the
groups behind these attacks either had or could have access to many more
systems if they wish," said the SANS Technology Institute's Johannes B.
Ullrich in a blog post. "I would like to question the conclusion that
recent attacks prove that all networks are vulnerable, as well as the
successful attacks [prove] a large scale failure of information security."

I think this so misses the point.
Everybody, every site, very business, every government *is* vulnerable to something, somewhere, sometime.

I'm reminded of the IRA's statement to Margaret Thatcher:

We only need to be lucky once.
You need to be lucky every time.

Times change. New exploits are uncovered. Every patch and upgrade may - will? - introduce a new vulnerability. Changes in staff; changes in configuration and facilities. Changes, changes, changes.

If you think you can secure your system once and be done then you are, at best, fooling yourself, and more realistically acting in a socially irresponsible manner. We are forever lagging behind, and the evidence is that we are lagging further and further behind.

The fact that so many sites are vulnerable, that even PCI:DSS "certified" sites get hacked, and more, *DOES* at least _demonstrate_ "a large scale failure of information security".

Filed under: Crime, Failures, Risk No Comments

In praise of OSSTMM

Posted by Anton Aylward

In case you're not aware, ISECOM (Institute for Security and Open Methodologies) has OSSTMM3 - The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual -

There's an interesting segue to this at

Skip over his ranting about the definition of "hackers"

This is the meat:

Wewrote the OSSTMM 3 to address these things. We knew that penetration



testing the way it continued to be marginalized would eventually hurt
security. Yes, the OSSTMM isn't practical for some because it doesn't
match the commercial industry security of today. But that's because the
security model today is crazy! And you don't test crazy with tests
designed to prove crazy. So any penetration testing standard, baseline,
framework, or methodology that focuses on finding and exploiting
vulnerabilities is only perpetuating the one-trick pony problem.
Furthermore it's also perpetuating security through patchity, a process
that's so labor intensive to assure homeostasis that nobody could
maintain it indefinitely which is the exact definition of a loser in the
cat and mouse game. So you can be sure it also doesn't scale at all with
complexity or size.

I've been outspoken against Pen Testing for many years, to my clients, at conferences and in my Blog. I'm sure I've upset many people but I do believe that the model plays up to the Hollywood idea of a Uberhacker,
produces a whack-a-mole attitude and is a an example of avoidance behaviour, avoiding proper testing and risk management such as incident response good facilities management.

I've seen to many "pen testers' and demos of pen testing that are just plain ... STUPID.  Unprofessional, unreasonable and pandering to the ignorance of managers.

In the long run the "drama-response" of the classical pen-test approach is unproductive. It teaches management the wrong thing - to respond to drama rather than to set up a good system of governance based on policy, professional staffing, adequate funding and operations based on accepted good principles such as change management.

And worse, it

  • shows how little faith your management have in the professional capabilities of their own staff, who are the people who should know the system best, and of the auditors who are trained not only in assessing the system but assessing the business impact of the risks associated with a vulnerability
  • has no guarantees about what collateral damage the outsider had to do to gain root
  • says nothing about things that are of more importance than any vulnerability, such as your Incident Response procedures
  • indicates that your management doesn't understand or make use of a proper development-test-deployment life-cycle

Yes, classical hacker-driven pen testing is more dramatic, in the same way that Hollywood movies are more dramatic. And about as realistic!

"Crazy" is a good description of that approach.

Requirements for conducting VA & PT – Take 2

Posted by Anton Aylward

Soe people ae under the mistaken impression that a Pen Test simulates a hacker's action.  We get ridiculous statements in RFPs such as:

The tests shall be conducted in a broader way like a hacker will do.

LOL! If a real hacker is doing it then its not a test 🙂

Seriously: what a hacker does might involve a lot more, a lot more background research, some social engineering and other things. It might involve "borrowing" the laptop or smartphone from one of your salesmen or executives.

Further, a real hacker is not going to be polite, is not going to care about what collateral damage he does while penetrating your system, what lives he may harm in any number of ways.

And a real hacker is not going to record the results and present them in a nicely formatted Powerpoint presentation to management along with recommendations for remediation.