The InfoSec Blog

The 11 tiniest, most powerful computers your money can buy

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.geek.com/chips/the-11-tiniest-most-powerful-computers-your-money-can-buy-1627324/

I have my doubts about many things and the arguments here and in the comments section loom large.

Yes, I can see that business sees no need for an 'arms race' escalation of desktops once the basics are there. A few people, gamers, developers, might want personal workstations that they can load up with memory and high performance graphics engines, but for the rest of us, its ho-hum. That Intel and AMD are producing chips with more cores, more cache, integrated graphics and more, well Moore's Law applies to transistor density, doesn't it, and they have to do something to soak up all those extra transistors on the chips.

As for smaller packaging, what do these people think smart phones and tablets and watches are?

Gimme a brake!
My phone has more computing power than was used by the Manhattan project to develop the first nuclear bomb.

These are interesting, but the real application of chip density is going to have to be doing other things serving the desktop. its going to be

1. IoT
2. Servers
3. backbone/communications

And for #1 & #3 Windows will become if not an impediment, then irrelevant.
Its possible a very stripped down Linux can serve for #1 & #3, but somewhere along the line I suspect people might wake up and adopt a proper RTOS such as QNX much in the same way that Linux has come to dominate #2. It is, however, possible, the Microsoft will, not that Gates and Balmer are out of the scene, adopt something Linux like or
work with Linux so as to stay relevant in new markets. The Windows tablet isn't the success they hoped for and the buyout of Nokia seemed more to take Nokia out of the market than become an asset for Microsoft to enter the phone market and compete with Apple and Samsung. many big forms that do have lots of Windows workstations are turning to running
SAMBA on Big Iron because (a) its cheaper than a huge array of Windows Servers that present reliability and administrative overhead, and (b) its scalable. Linux isn't the 'rough beast' that Balmer made out and Microsoft's 'center cannot hold' the way it has in the past.

14 antivirus apps found to have security problems

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/07/29/antivirus_blood_splattered_as_biz_warned_audit_or_die

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.

 

Another Java bug: Disable the java setting in your browser

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.kb.cert.org/vuls/id/625617

Java 7 Update 10 and earlier contain an unspecified vulnerability
that can allow a remote, unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary
code on a vulnerable system.
By convincing a user to visit a specially crafted HTML document,
a remote attacker may be able to execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable
system.

Well, yes .... but.

Image representing XMind as depicted in CrunchBase

Are we fighting a loosing battle?
The New York Times is saying out loud what many of us (see Vmyths.com and Rob Rosenberger have known in our hearts for a long time. AV products don't work.

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.

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.

Orwell: a quarter of a century late

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://hdguru.com/is-your-new-hdtv-watching-you/7643/

well 28 years actually ...

So, the two-way tv sets of Orwell's novel have arrived, over a quarter of a century late!

George Orwell in Hampstead On the corner of Po...

George Orwell in Hampstead On the corner of Pond Street and South End Road, opposite the Royal Free Hospital. The bookshop has long gone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It just goes to show. Science fiction things like the Star Trek communicator (Motorola flip phones) or the tricorder (some of the enhanced versions of the Newton) or the data Pad (the real world version has an extra 'i') we do pretty quickly, but if its a mainstream novel, the kind of thing that my old Eng Lit teacher would approve of (he snivelled at SF and cringed at its mention) then it seems three isn't the same enthusiasm about replicating its technology.

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The Death of Antivirus Software

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.infosecisland.com/blogview/19386-The-Death-of-Antivirus-Software.html

The real issue here isn't Ubuntu, or any other form of Linux.
Its that AV software doesn't work.
PERIOD.

There are over 50,000 new piece of malware developed and released daily. The very nature of the AV software models that John McAfee foisted on the industry simply can't cope.

This isn't news. Signature-based (and hence subscription based and hence that whole business model) AV is a wrong headed approach. As Rob Rosenberger points out at Vmyths.Com, we are addicted to the update cycle model and its business premise is very like that of drug pushers.

What's that you say? Other types of AV? Like what?

Well, you could have a front-end engine that checks all downloads and all email and all email attachments and all URL responses by emulating what would happen when they run on any PC or in any browser or any other piece of software such as any of the PDF readers you use, or any of the graphical display software you use or any of the word processors you use
or any of the spreadsheet programs you use or any music players you use ... and so on.

Many people in the industry - myself included - have proposed an alternative whereby each machine has a unique cryptographic ID and the legally and properly installed libraries are all signed with that ID, and the program loader/kernel will only load and execute correctly signed code.

Yes, Microsoft tried something similar with ActiveX, but that was signed by the vendor - which can be a good thing, and used PKI, which can also be a good thing. But both can be a problem as well: go google for details. A local signature had advantages and its own problems.

The local signature makes things unique to each machine so there is no "master key" out there. If your private key is compromised then do what you'd do with PGP - cancel the old one, generate a new one and sign all your software with the new one.

The real problem, though, is not in having the key compromised but is the problem that has always existed - its the user. Right now, we have many remote code execution blockers. Your browser might be able to block the execution of Java or JavaScript, but does it? Most people either don't bother setting their defaults to "no execution" or just say "yes" to the pop-up asking them to permit execution.

No technical measure can overcome human frailty in this regard.

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The Decline of the Physical Desktop

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/IT-Management/As-Foretold-by-Desktop-Managment-Tools-588370/

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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IAM – Basics – Policy

Posted by Anton Aylward

If there's one thing that upsets me when I see articles and posting to forums about policy, its mention of a "Password Policy". I have to step away from the keyboard, go outside and take some deep breaths to calm down.

I get upset because policy is important and developing -- and more importantly communicating -- policy has been an important part of my career and the professional service I offer. Policies need to be easy to understand and follow and need to be based on business needs.

If you begin with a list of policies, you end up adapting the the reality of your business - the operations - to the list. You are creating a false sense of security. You need to address what you need to control, and that is Identity and Access.

Lets face it, passwords, as Rick Smith points out in his book "Authentication", are not only awkward, they are passée - even Microsoft thinks so. More to the point, using passwords can be bad for your financial health.

They should be used with care and not as a default.

And they should most certainly NOT be entombed in a corporate policy statement.

Google Phasing out Windows

Posted by Anton Aylward

http://www.h-online.com/security/news/item/Report-Google-phasing-out-internal-use-of-Microsoft-Windows-1012679.html

"According to a report in the Financial Times, Google are phasing
out the use of Microsoft's Windows within the company because of
security concerns. Citing several Google employees, the FT report
reports that new hires are offered the option of using Apple Mac
systems or PCs running Linux. The move is believed to be related to a
directive issued after Google's Chinese operations were attacked in
January. In that attack, Chinese hackers took advantage of
vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer on a Windows PC used by a Google
employee and from there gained deeper access to Google's single sign
on service.

Security as a business decision?
Don't make me laugh!
Look at what precedence they've shown!
Look at Microsoft's attitude and approach to security (no matter how flawed the end result) and compare it with the public stance Google has taken.

No, this is about Business Politics.
Microsoft has been 'staggering' this last decade and now Apple is on the ascendency and the real battle will no longer be in the PC world but in the consumer world with embedded systems.
On the surface this will be Android vs Apple, but since embedded Linux goes so much further, embedded in TVs, GPS units, traffic light controllers, and perhaps it will even replace UNIX in telephone
exchanges (ha-ha-ha!) there's more potential.
(Freudian slip: I just wrote portential.)

Yes, Microsoft hasn't been asleep in the embedded market, or the phone/PDA market, but compared to Linux its a resource hog. To top that, its also proprietary, so vendors rely on Microsoft for the porting to new processor/hardware and for support. Linux/Android doesn't have that limitation. And there are plenty of 'kiddies' eager to play with Android (source) on a new toy.

No, this isn't a security issue, its a business and political issue.
If Google is pushing its range of Android products then it doesn't want to have people - journalists, investors, bloggers - saying "yes, but you USE Windows even though you preach Linux".

Or perhaps you though Google was taking the "High Moral Ground"?
No, I think they are taking the advice of Sun T'Zu and applying it to business

"For them to perceive the advantage of defeating the enemy, they must
also have their rewards."

Betcha Google will be supplying Android phones/slates/pads to its workers.

"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious."

Look at that ZDNet article and think about the timing of Google's announcement.

"It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct
espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them
instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used."

Think about that one.

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized."

And look how Android is spreading.
Balmer said Linux was a virus - yes a "meme".

"Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy."

Indeed. Microsoft has proclaimed a commitment to "security". Bill Gates said so. That is their "strategy". But Google is working on the fact that Microsoft products still have security flaws. Regardless of the reality, that is "voice" of this announcement. They are saying that Microsoft's strategy isn't working. They are attacking it in the minds of the consumers.

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The FBI risk equation

Posted by Anton Aylward

It seems that to make better cybersecurity-related decisions a senior FBI official recommends considering a simple algebraic equation:

risk = threat x vulnerability x consequence

rather than solely focusing on threat vectors and actors.

To be honest, I sometimes wonder why people obsess about threat vectors in the first place.  There seems to be a beleive that the more threats you face, the higher your risk, regardless of your controls and regardless of the classification of the threats.

Look at it this way: what do you have control over?

Why do you think that people like auditors refer to the protective and detective mechanisms as "controls"?

Yes, if you're a 600,000 lb gorilla like Microsoft you can take down one - insignificant - botnet, but the rest of us don't have control over the  threat vectors and threat actors.

What do we have control over?

Vulnerabilities, to some extent. We can patch; we can choose to run alternative software; we can mask off access by the threats to the vulnerabilities. We can do things to reduce the the "vulnerability surface" such as partitioning our networks, restricting access, not exposing more than is absolutely necessary to the Internet (why oh why is your SqlServer visible to the net, why isn't it behind the web server, which in turn is behind a firewall).

Asset to a large extent. Document them. Identify who should be using them and implement IAM.

And very import: we have control over RESPONSE.

Did the FBI equation mention response? I suppose you could say that 'awareness' is a part of a response package. Personally I think that response is a very, very important part of this equation, and its the one you have MOST control over.

And response is - or should be - totally independent of the threats
since it focuses on preserving and recovering the assets.

I think they have it very, very confused and this isn't the most productive, most effective way of going about it.  But then the FBI's view of policing is to go after the criminals, and if you consider the criminals to be the threat then that makes sense.

But lest face it, most corporations and are not in the business of policing.  neither are home users.

Which is why I focus on the issue of "what you have control over".

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Benchmarked: Ubuntu vs Vista vs Windows 7

Posted by Anton Aylward

Use of Operating Sistem at November 2009
Image via Wikipedia

http://www.tuxradar.com/content/benchmarked-ubuntu-vs-vista-vs-windows-7

Interestingly, even if not that relevant.

And, of course, there's the most important proviso of all: it is very, very likely that a few tweaks to any of these operating systems could have made a big difference to these results, but we're not too
interested in that - these results reflect what you get you install a plain vanilla OS, like most users do.

That's Nonsense! Everyone Tweaks.
All the OS are set up to make tweaking easy!
Temptingly so.

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