The InfoSec Blog

Another reason to have a policy not to eat at your operations

Posted by antonaylward

I've worked in places where the policy was that you're not allowed to bring a camera in; that was before cell phones, I admit, but I imagine there are places where such is enforced today. My current cell phone doesn't have the resolution of a spy-era Minox, but there are better available, and a phone has a lot more storage and fair bit of image processing power.

“Paid to be paranoid”

Posted by Anton Aylward

Read the first four paragraphs of this:

http://hollylisle.com/shoes-and-handbags/

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".

Tight budgets no excuse for SMBs’ poor security readiness

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.zdnet.com/tight-budgets-no-excuse-for-smbs-poor-security-readiness-2062305005/

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.

How to decide on what DVD backup software to use

Posted by Anton Aylward

You do do backups don't you?  Backups to DVD is easy, but what software to use?

Backup and Restore

  • Do you want the DVD backup 'mountable'?
    If it is then you can see each file and selectively restore using the normal file management tools (cp, rsync etc)
    If you use some sort of 'dump' format (tar, cpio, zip or proprietary) then you will need the corresponding tool to access the backup
  • Why not simply k3b?But if it some down to it, there's a decision tree you can and should work though.

My choice, based upon both K.I.S.S. and bitter experience is to go with the mountable.

  • - How are you 'snapshoting' your files?
    If you are backing up a live system[1] then there is the risk that the backup is out of phase with itself as files get changed during the time it takes to make the backup.

My solution to this is to use the snapshot mechanism of LVM.

English: Linux Logical Volume Management (LVM)...

Logical Volume Management

  • - How are you managing the backup archives?
    Do you need a specific dated version of a file or directory?
    Would a VCS be more appropriate than a backup system?

Sometimes you need both. I maintain changes to config (mainly in /etc/) with a VCS - AND take periodic snapshots.

  • Ultimately its not about making backups, even if that seems to be the
    most of the work, but the ability to restore.

A client found it easier to take whole image backups but once when having to restore a single file there was a finger-slip and he restored the complete machine state of three years previously, loosing all that days work plus the next day when the machine was out of service being restored to the last (previous) backup. The moral here is that your RESTORE strategy, as determined by your normal business functions and NOT by the convenience of the IT department, should determine your backup strategy.

  • - How "automated" do you want this backup to be?
    Sometimes you'll find the automation tail wags the normal operation dog.

My use of K3B means I do disk-to-disk-to-DVD. (Using LVM's snapshots)
It also means I structure my file systems so that they can be imaged onto a DVD. It means I can retrieve single files or mount the DVD and use it in place of the file system. It also means that I can create arbitrary backups, cherry-picking the files and folders to backup.

I realise this is going to be inappropriate for many sites and business functions.

This is why I STRONGLY suggest that instead of simply asking for suggestions you work through what are the key, the critical and the nice-to-have features of your backup AND RESTORE functionality.

Any package you might choose is going to have constraints and assumptions about The Way Things Are. You need to be aware of those and need to consider if they fit in with The Way You Work. A backup system that works well for a data center of ISP might be totally inappropriate and troublesome for a SMB.

[1] Once upon a long time ago systems were shutdown or all jobs
suspended for the backup. This has disrupted projects for me a number
of times.

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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
http://cm.bell-labs.com/who/ken/trust.html

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.

What drives the RA? Need or Fashion?

Posted by Anton Aylward

A colleague in InfoSec made the following observation:

My point - RA is a nice to have, but it is superfluous. It looks nice
but does NOTHING without the bases being covered. what we need
is a baseline that everyone accepts as necessary (call it the house
odds if you like...)

Most of us in the profession have met the case where a Risk Analysis would be nice to have but is superfluous because the baseline controls that were needed were obvious and 'generally accepted', which makes me wonder why any of us support the fallacy or RA.

It gets back to the thing about the Hollywood effect that is Pen Testing. Quite apart from the many downsides it has from a business POV it is non-logical in the same way that RA is non-logical.

“Impact” is not a Metric

Posted by Anton Aylward

I never like to see the term 'impact'.
Its not a metric.

I discuss how length, temperature, weight, are metrics whereas speed, acceleration, entropy are derived values. In the same sense, 'impact' is a derived value - "the cost of the harm to an asset". The value of an asset can be treated as a primary metric, but how much it is "impacted" is a derived value.

This is the same kind of sloppy thinking, the same failure to identify tangible metrics as we see when people treating 'risk' as if it were something tangible, never mind a metric!