The InfoSec Blog

Purpose unclear. Why are the FBI *really* trying to subvert encryption?

Posted by Anton Aylward

Tim cook says Apple will fight a federal order to help the FBI hack an iPhone.  

An earlier version of this page has a paragraph which seems to have been deleted later;

It was not immediately clear what investigators believed they might find on Farook's work phone or why the information would not be available from third-party service providers, such as Google or Facebook, though investigators think the device may hold clues about whom the couple communicated with and where they might have travelled.

Is that "Whom" grammatically correct?

This does raise a 'why' in my mind.
Cant the other service providers (who would it be, AT&T, Verizon?) supply the 'traffic analysis of who they communicated with? Isn't this the sort of "metadata" that the government spies are supposed to be collecting?

Opening the phone won't give the content of the messages past, they are gone like the snows of yesteryear[1]. Dead as the author of that famous quote.

So what are the FBI looking for? The address book? I'm not sure how helpful that will be and its likely to cast suspicion on innocent parties.

Tracking kids via microchip ‘can’t be far off,’ says expert

Posted by Anton Aylward

Dickerson said she though one day, "I microchip my dog, why couldn't I
microchip my son?"

I think there's something despicable about treating a human being the same way you would treat a dog or your keys.

Its one thing to chip your keys or have one of those devices that when you whistle the keyring goes bleep-bleep to help you find it. I can imagine extending that to people who let their dogs (or cats) roam and need/want to have them in at night. Domesticated pets might not be able to cope with even urban predators such as badgers and grizzly raccoons.
If, that is, the animals aren't smart though to come in when you call them.

But treating a human as you would a dog?

Cyber general: US satellite networks hit by ‘millions’

Posted by antonaylward

I wonder what they consider to be a hack? The wording in the in the article is loose enough to mean that if someone pinged one of their servers it would be considered a hack. Perhaps they even they count Google spider indexing as a probe into their network. It makes me wonder how many 'real' hack attempts are made and how many succeed. All in it, it sounds like a funding bid!

Marcus Ranum once commented about firewall logging that an umbrella that notified you about every raindrop it repulsed would soon get annoying.I suspect the same thing is going on here. Are these 'repulsed' probes really 'need to know'? Are they worth the rotating rust it takes to store that they happened?

Oh, right, Big Data.

Oh, right, "precursor probes".

Can we live without this?

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.

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

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.

Information Gathering and Risk Assessment

Posted by Anton Aylward

On the ISO2700 forum one user gave a long description of his information gathering process but expressed frustration over what to do with it all all, the assets, the threats and so forth, and trying to make it into a risk assessment.

It was easy for the more experienced of us to see what he was missing.

He was missing something very important -- a RISK MODEL
The model determines what you look for and how it is relevant.

How much Risk Assessment is needed?

Posted by Anton Aylward

In many of the InfoSec forums I subscribe to people regularly as  the "How long is a piece of string" question:

How extensive a risk assessment is required?

It's a perfectly valid question we all have faced, along with the "where do I begin" class of questions.

The ISO-27001 standard lays down some necessities, such as your asset register, but it doesn't tell you the detail necessary. You can choose to say "desktop PCs" as a class without addressing each one, or even addressing the different model. You can say "data centre" without having to enumerate every single component therein.

At first.

An “11th Domain” book.

Posted by Anton Aylward

Gary Hinson makes the point here that Rebecca Herrold makes elsewhere:   Rebecca Herold
Awareness training is important.

I go slightly further and think that a key part of a security practitioners professional knowledge should be about human psychology and sociology, how behaviour is influenced. I believe we need to know this from two aspects:

First, we need to understand how our principals are influenced by non-technical and non-business matters, the behavioural persuasive techniques used on them (and us) by vendor salesmen and the media. many workers complain that their managers, their executives seem t go off at a tangent, ignore "the facts". We speak of decisions drive by articles
in "glossy airline magazines" and by often distorted cultural myths.  "What Would the Captain Do?", or Hans Solo or Rambo might figure more than "What Would Warren Buffett Do" or "What Does Peter Drucker Say About A Situation Like This?". We can only be thankful that most of the time most managers and executive are more rational than this, but even so ...

Tight budgets no excuse for SMBs’ poor security readiness

Posted by Anton Aylward

From the left hand doesn't know what the right hands is doing department:

Ngair Teow Hin, CEO of SecureAge, noted that smaller companies
tend to be "hard-pressed" to invest or focus on IT-related resources
such as security tools due to the lack of capital. This financial
situation is further worsened by the tightening global and local
economic climates, which has forced SMBs to focus on surviving
above everything else, he added.

Well, lets leave the vested interests of security sales aside for a moment.

Security Operations Center

I read recently an article about the "IT Doesn't matter" thread that basically said part of that case was that staying at the bleeding edge of IT did not give enough of a competitive advantage. Considering that most small (and many large) companies don't fully utilise their resources, don't fully understand the capabilities of the technology they have, don't follow good practices (never mind good security), this is all a moot point.

Help on ISO-27000 SoA

Posted by Anton Aylward

This kind of question keeps coming up, many people are unclear about the Statement of Applicability on ISO-27000.
The  SoA should outline the measures to be taken in order to reduce risks such as those mentioned in Annex A of the standard. These are based on 'Controls'.

But if you are using closed-source products such as those from Microsoft, are you giving up control?  Things like validation checks and integrity controls are are 'internal'.

Well, its a bit of a word-play.

  • SoA contains exclusions on controls that are not applicable because the organization doesn't deal with these problems (ie ecommerce)
  •  SoA contains exclusions on controls that pose a threat (and risks arise) but cannot be helped (ie A.12.2 Correct processing in applications) and no measures can be taken to reduce these risks.

With this, a record must be present in risk assessments, stating that the risk (even if it is above minimum accepted risk level) is accepted

IBM CIO Report: Key Findings

The key to the SOA is SCOPE.

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.

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.

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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