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The InfoSec Blog
The InfoSec Blog

U.S. Defense Secretary Carter emphasizes culture change needed to

Posted by Anton Aylward


Yes the government needs a culture change if it is to address its own and the national issues pertaining to security, technological, in general, internet related and more. But not like this.

A real culture change would involve hiring the likes of people such as Marcus Ranum, Gene Spafford, Becky Herrold., and more significantly the very vocal Bruce Schneier AND PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY SAY AND CARRYING OUT THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS.  And please note: none of this is new or radical.

But a read of Bruce's articles blog and published articles will make it clear to any intelligent reader, even those outside the InfoSec community, that they won't. The culture change it would require would impact too many vested interests and long held beliefs, even though Bruce -- and others -- have long since shown them to be in the same class as The Emperor's New Clothes.

When the government talks of cyber-security experts it really doesn't want people who think in terms of policy and strategy. The fact that most government agencies could do better if they carried out the recommendations that have been made to them -- but consistently don't[1] -- tells you something about their innate culture. Just adopting the GAO recommendations would take a culture change. Adopting 'uber 133z h4x0r'-wannabes for job roles that are written as what amounts to jumped-up netadmin and sysadmin positions doesn't make for good security[2].

Yes, a culture change is needed. But the kind of changes that the 'insiders' -- and that goes for the media too -- envision don't really amount to a meaningful change.

[1] http://www.gao.gov/key_issues/cybersecurity/issue_summary#t=1



[2] The idiom "rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic" comes to mind
Or perhaps the Hindenburg.


Review: “Penetration with Perl” by Douglas Berdeaux

Posted by Anton Aylward

Penetration Testing with Perl

Douglas Berdeaux has written an excellent book, excellent from quite a number of points of view, some of which I will address. Packt Publishing have done a great service making this and other available at their web site. It is one of many technical books there that have extensive source code and are good 'instructors'.

Penetration Testing with Perl is available as both a PDF file and as an e-book in Mobi and epub formats.

It is one of over 2000 instructional books and videos available at the Packt web site.

I read a lot on my tablet but most of the ebooks I read are "linear text" (think: 'novels', 'news'). A book like this is heavily annotated by differentiating fonts and type and layout. How well your ebook reader renders that might vary. None of the ones I used were as satisfactory as the PDF. For all its failings, if you want a page that looks "just so" whatever it is read on, then PDF still wins out. For many, this won't matter since the source code can be downloaded in a separate ZIP file.

Of course you may be like me and prefer to learn by entering the code by hand so as to develop the learned physical habit which you can then carry forward. You may also prefer to have a hard copy version of the book rather than use a 'split screen' mode.

This is not a book about learning to code in Perl, or earning about the basics of TCP/IP. Berdeaux himself says in the introduction:

This book is written for people who are already familiar with
basic Perl programming and who have the desire to advance this
knowledge by applying it to information security and penetration
testing. With each chapter, I encourage you to branch off into
tangents, expanding upon the lessons and modifying the code to
pursue your own creative ideas.

I found this to be an excellent 'source book' for ideas and worked though many variations of the example code. This book is a beginning, not a end point.

Should all applicable controls be mentioned in documenting an ISMS?

Posted by Anton Aylward

In my very first job we were told, repeatedly told, to document everything and keep our personal journals up to date. Not just with what we did but the reasoning behind those decisions. This was so that if anything happened to use kn knowledge about the work, the project, what had been tried and thought about was lost, if, perhaps, we were 'hit by a bus on the way to work'.

At that point whoever was saying this looked toward a certain office or certain place in the parking lot. One of the Project managers drove a VW bus and was most definitely not a good driver!

So the phrase 'document everything in case you're hit by a bus' entered into the work culture, even after that individual had left.

And for the rest of us it entered into our person culture and practices.

Oh, and the WHY is very important. How often have you looked at something that seems strange and worried about changing it in case there was some special reason for it being like that which you did no know of?
Unless things get documented .... Heck a well meaning 'kid' might 'clean it out' ignorant of the special reason it was like that!

So here we have what appear to be undocumented controls.
Perhaps they are just controls that were added and someone forgot to mention; perhaps the paperwork for these 'exceptions' is filed somewhere else[1] or is referred to by the easily overlooked footnote or mentioned in the missing appendix.

It has been pointed out to me that having to document everything, including the reasons for taking one decision rather than another, "slows down work". Well that's been said of security, too, hasn't it? I've had this requirement referred to in various unsavoury terms and had those terms associated with me personally for insisting on them. I've had people 'caught out', doing one thing and saying another.
But I've also had the documentation saving mistakes and rework.

These days with electronic tools, smartphones, tablets, networking, and things like wikis as shared searchable resources, its a lot easier.[2]

Sadly I still find places where key documents such as the Policy Manuals and more are really still "3-ring binder" state of the art, PDF files in some obscure[1] location that don't have any mechanism for commenting or feedback or ways they can be updated.

Up to date and accurate documentation is always a good practice!

[2] And what surpises me is that when I've implemented those I get a 'deer in the headlight' reaction from staff an managers much younger than myself. Don't believe what you read about 'millennials' being better able to deal with e-tools than us Greybeards.

This is not the IoT you want.

Posted by Anton Aylward


If I plug in an IDE drive or a SATA drive or a USB drive or device my mobo or system recognizes what it is. The connection protocol tell the mobo or system.

My digital camera uses exif to convey a vast amount of contextual information and imprint it on each photo: date, time, the camera, shutter, aperture, flash. I have GPS in the camera so it can tell the location, elevation. The exif protocol also allows for vendor specific information and is extensible and customizable.

Unless and until we have an 'exif' for IoT its going to be lame and useless.

What is plugged in to that socket? A fan, a PC, a refrigerator, a charger for your cell phone? What's the rating of the device? How is it used? What functions other than on/off can be controlled?

Lame lame lame lame.

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14 antivirus apps found to have security problems

Posted by Anton Aylward


Let us pass over the "All A are B" illogic in this and consider what we've known all along. AV doesn't really work; it never did.
Signature based AV, the whole "I'm better than you cos I have more signatures in my database" approach to AV and AV marketing that so bedazzled the journalists ("Metrics? You want metrics? We can give you metrics! How many you want? One million? Two million!) is a loosing game. Skip over polymorphism and others.  The boundary between what actually works and what works for marketing blurs.

So then we have the attacks on the 'human firewall' or whatever the buzz-word is that appears in this month's geek-Vogue magazines, whatever the latest fashion is. What's that? Oh right, the malware writers are migrating to Android the industry commentators say. Well they've tried convincing us that Linux and MacOS were under attack and vulnerable, despite the evidence. Perhaps those same vendor driven - yes vendors try convincing Linux and Apple users to buy AV products, just because Linux and MacOS ran on the same chip as Microsoft they were just as vulnerable as Microsoft, and gave up dunning the journalists and advertising when they found that the supposed market wasn't convinced and didn't buy.

That large software production is buggy surprises no-one. There are methods to producing high quality code as NASA has shown on its deep space projects, but they are incompatible with the attitudes that commercial software vendors have. They require an discipline that seems absent from the attitudes of many younger coders, the kind that so many commercial firms hire on the basis of cost and who are drive by 'lines of code per day' metrics, feature driven popularity and the 'first to market' imperatives.

So when I read about, for example, RSA getting hacked by means of social engineering, I'm not surprised. Neither am I surprised when I hear that so many point of sales terminals are, if not already infected, then vulnerable.

But then all too many organization take a 'risk-based' approach that just is not right. The resistance that US firms have had to implementing chi-n-pin credit card technology while the rest of the world had adopted it is an example in point. "It was too expensive" - until it was more expensive not to have implemented it.


OpenBSD forks, prunes, fixes OpenSSL

Posted by Anton Aylward


Interesting, eh?

At the very least, this will apply a 'many eyes' to some of the SSL code and so long as the ssh pruning isn't wholesale slash-and-burn that cutting it back may prove efficacious for two reasons.

Less code can be simpler code, with decreased likelihood of there being a bug due to complexity and interaction.

Getting rid of the special cases such as VMS and Windows also reduces the complexity.

Film or digital?

Posted by Anton Aylward

Do you recall Alan Cooper's book "The Inmates are running the Asylum"?

He makes the case that once you put a computer in something it stops being that something and becomes a computer.

Camera + computer => computer

What Applicants Should Ask When Interviewing For An InfoSecurity Position

Posted by Anton Aylward


Well what would you ask?

These seem to be the kind of questions that might be asked by someone with a strong technical bias. The CISSP cert is supposed to be more oriented towards security management than to the technical aspects, so what would you ask?

We should, I think, be asking about "The Tone At The Top", the organizations attitude towards security and, but what does that mean in terms of interview questions?

My thoughts tend towards Policy and Certification, but them many of my past clients have been financial, so regulatory compliance looms large for them. I'd certainly ask about Policy, how it is formulated, how it is communicated and how it is enforced. That's not as easy as it sounds: most people know what should be done but ask that tactlessly and other than being an opening ("Yes, I can work on that for you") all you've done is embarrassed the interviewer.

So we have a refinement that the article never touched on: this is an interview not an audit.


Data on a Train

Posted by Anton Aylward


The latest intelligence on Al-Qaeda, a high profile Child Protection
report and plans for policing the London 2012 Olympics; three very
different documents with two things in common: firstly, they all
contained highly confidential information and secondly, they were all
left on a train.

Or maybe "Strangers on a Train"

Our latest research reveals that two thirds of Europe’s office commuters
have no qualms about peering across to see what the person sitting next
to them is working on; and more than one in ten (14 per cent) has
spotted confidential or highly sensitive information.

Most CEOs clueless about cyberattacks

Posted by Anton Aylward

Perhaps that's cynical and pessimistic and a headline grabber, but then that's what makes news.

What I’m afraid of is that things like this set a low threshold of expectation, that people will thing they don't need to be better than the herd.

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Former Head Of Airport Security: ‘The TSA Couldn’t Save You From

Posted by Anton Aylward


Based on the demonstrated persistence of their enemies, I have a lot of respect for what Israeli security achieves.
Back to Verb vs Noun.

His point about baggage claim is interesting. It strikes me that this is the kind of location serious terrorists, that is the ones who worked
in Europe through the last century, might attack: not just dramatic, but shows how ineffectual airport security really is. And what will the TSA do about such an attack? Inconvenience passengers further.

Full article at

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Canada’s counter terrorism strategy

Posted by Anton Aylward


Here in Kanukistaniland, Vic Toews (remember him? Check back to February of last year to see an example of him being idiotic in his role as Minister of Pubic Safety) has published a "2013 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada"

You can read it at the above URL.
I ask you, would you buy a used Huawei router from someone who looks like that?

The map/infographic has, you will note, a large number of grey areas. There is no legend referring to that colour. Are we to take it that grey means 'zero'? In which case having Indonesia grey is very interesting. Of course China is grey, the authorities will not permit any terrorist activity since that would mean people are acting out grievances against the state. As opposed to, say, foreign cartels that are employing under-age workers, which is against Chinese law.

Do note that in Canada terrorist activity or affiliation is an offence under the CRIMINAL code. Unlike many InfoSec-bad-things.


Linux Archive file systems – ext3 vs reiser vs … ?

Posted by Anton Aylward

So what's the best file system to use for archiving and data storage rather than the normal usage?

Won't that depend on ...

a) the nature of the archive files

If this is simply to be a 'mirror' of the regular file system, a 1:1
file mapping then there is no need for some specific optimizations as there would be if, for example, each snapshot were to be a single large file, a TAR or CPIO image say. You then have to look at what you are archiving: small files, large files .... Archiving mail a mbox is going to be different from archiving as maildir. For example the later is going to consume a LOT of inodes and that affects how one would format a ext2, est3 r ext4 file system but not be relevant on a ReiserFS or BtrFS.

b) the demand for retrieval from the archive

This is actually a can of worms. You might not think so at first but I've seen businesses put out of service because their 'backup' indexing was inadequate when the time came to retrieve a specific archive file of a specific date, as oppose to restore the whole backup. You need to be driven by your business methods here and that in turn will determine your indexing and retrieval which will determine your storage format.

Its business drive, not technology driven. Why else would you be archiving?

Now while (b) is pretty much an 'absolute', (a) can end up being flexible. You HAVE to have a clear way of retrieval otherwise your
archive is just a 'junk room' into which your file system overflows.
That (a) can be flexible also means that the optimization curve is not clearly peaked. Why else would you be asking this question? What's the worst situation if you choose ReiserFS rather than extN? The size of the file system? The number of inodes?

But if your indexing broken or inadequate you've got a business problem.


On ‘paranoia’ – revisiting “Paid to be paraoid”

Posted by Anton Aylward

My fellow CISSP and author Walter Jon  Williams observed that

Paranoia is not a part of any mindset. It is an illness.

Ah, Walter the literalist!

Yes I agree with what you say but look at it this way

"We're paid to be paranoid" doesn't mean we're ill.
It's a job.

Now if your job is an obsession, one you take home with you and it interferes with your family life, that you can't let go, then its an illness whatever it is.

"We're paid to be paranoid"

Its a job. You don't pay us Information Security Professionals to be pollyannas, to have a relaxed attitude.

The Truth About Best Practices

Posted by Anton Aylward

An article on Linked entitled 'The Truth about Practices" started a discussion thread with some of my colleagues.

The most pertinent comment came from Alan Rocker:

I'm not sure whether to quote "Up the Organisation", ("If you must have a
policy manual, reprint the Ten Commandments"),  or "Catch-22" (about the
nice "tidy bomb pattern" that unfortunately failed to hit the target), in
support of the article.

Industry-wide metrics can nevertheless be useful, though it's fatal to
confuse a speedometer and a motor.

However not everyone in the group agreed with our skepticism and the observations of the author of the article.
One asked

And Anton aren't the controls you advocate so passionately best practices? >

NOT. Make that *N*O*T*!*!*!  Even allowing for the lowercase!

"Best practices" is an advertising line of self-aggrandization invented by the Big Name Accounting Firms when operating in Consulting Mode.Information Security SWOT Analysis

Confusion over Physical Assets, Information Assets – Part Two

Posted by Anton Aylward

So I need to compile a list of ALL assets, information or otherwise,

That leads to tables and chairs and powerbars.

OK so you can't work without those, but that's not what I meant.

InfoAssetsPhysical assets are only relevant in so far as they part of information processing. You should not start from those, you should start from the information and look at how the business processes make use of it.  Don't confuse you DR/BC plan with your core ISMS statements.  ISO Standard 22301 addresses that.

This is, ultimately, about the business processes.

Confusion over Physical Assets, Information Assets in ISO-27000

Posted by Anton Aylward

I often explain that Information Security focuses on Information Assets.

Some day, on the corporate balance sheet, there will be an entry
which reads, "Information"; for in most cases the information is
more valuable  than the hardware which processes it.
   -- Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, USN Ret.

Some people see this as a binary absolute - they think that there's no need to asses the risks to the physical assets or that somehow this is automatically considered when assessing the risk to information.

The thing is there are differing types of information and differing types of containers for them.

Does ISO 27001 compliance need a data leakage prevention policy?

Posted by Anton Aylward

On one of the ISO-27000 lists I subscribe to I commented that one should have a policy to determine the need for and the criteria for choosing a Data Loss Prevention mechanism.

The DLP Logo

I get criticised occasionally for long and detailed posts that some readers complain treat them like beginners, but sadly if I don't I get comments such as this in reply

  Data Loss is something you prevent; you enforce controls to prevent data
  leakage, DLP can be a programme, but , I find very difficult to support
  with a policy.

Does one have visions of chasing escaping data over the net with a three-ring binder labelled "Policy"?

Let me try again.

Fly Away

Policy comes first.
Without policy giving direction, purpose and justification, supplying the basis for measurement, quality and applicability (never mind issues such as configuration) then you are working on an ad-hoc basis.

What is the goal behind calculating assets in ISO-27000?

Posted by Anton Aylward

My friend and colleague Gary Hinson said about asset valuation in ISO-27000

So, for instance, it’s hard to say exactly how much the HR database
is worth, but it’s a fair bet that it is less valuable to the
organization than the Sales and Marketing database containing
commercial details on customers and prospects. Therefore, it
probably makes commercial sense to put more effort and resources into
securing the S&M database against disclosure incidents, than for the
HR database.

While Gary is 'classically' right, there's a hidden gotcha in all that.

It is *YOU* that are assigning value, it is the value to YOU.
As Donn Parker points out, this may be quite different from the the value system of the attackers. You don't know their values, motivations, tools etc etc etc.

“Paid to be paranoid”

Posted by Anton Aylward

Read the first four paragraphs of this:


Forget the rest, forget that its about 'creative writing', just answer that question.

Bruce Schneier among other, myself included, have asked questions like that. Are you 'paranoid' enough to be in the security business?

Robert Slade

One of my colleagues, Rob Slade  yes *that* Rob Slade when he is teaching in Toronto, usually asks me to come along to talk for an hour to his students about "The CISSP Experience".
The first thing I ask the class is if there are any active or ex-military or law enforcement people present. To date there never have been, and to be honest it leaves me with a bit of a "Bah Humbug!" feeling when the class is really a company stuffing its IT department through the course and exam "for the numbers". Rob has some cynical comments to add but don't forget for him it's a days work and a days pay.

I'm also hit on for a variety of reasons by kids (even postgraduates) who "want to break into" -- yes that's the words they use, ironic isn't it? -- the security business. I suppose because the press makes it look more glamorous than just being a programmer or sysadmin. I keep telling them that its experience that counts, not certifications; too many, especially those from Asia, seem to think that a certification is badge that gets you work. Not so. Mind you, locally the recruiters cant seem to tell what makes InfoSec different from IT.  But that's a subject for another time.

And hence the opening lines to Holly's blog.
No, Holly, you're not alone; many true security professionals, be it Infosec, military or law enforcement, think like that.

  • What is the 'attack surface'?
  • What are the potential threats? How to rate them?
  • How can I position myself to minimise the effect of an attack?
  • What is the 'recovery mode' (aka: line of retreat)?

If you can't do this, then you shouldn't be in "Security".