A Desperate Call For More Effective Information Security Accreditation

CISSP has to be the most covered topic in the world of infosec. Why is that? The discussions are mostly of course aimed at self-promotion (both by folk condemning the accreditation and then the same in the defensive responses) and justifying getting the accreditation. How many petabytes are there covering this subject? If you think about it, the sheer volume of the commentary on CISSP is proportional to the level of insecurity felt by infosec peeps. It’s a symptom of a sector that is really very ill indeed, and the sheer volume of the commentary is a symptom of how ineffective CISSP is in accreditation, and also the frustration felt by people who know we can do better.

We need _something_. We do need some kind of accreditation. Right now CISSP is the only recognised accreditation. But if you design an accreditation that attempts to cover the whole of infosec in one exam, what did you think the result would be? And there is no room for any argument or discussion on this. Its time to cut the defensiveness and come clean and honest.

The first stage of solving a problem is acknowledgment of its existence. And we’re not there yet. There are still 1000s in this field who cling onto CISSP like a lifebuoy out on the open ocean. There is a direct correlation between the buoy-clingers and the claim that “security is not about IT” …stop that!! You’re not fooling anybody. Nobody believes it! All it does is make the whole sector look even more like a circus to our customers than it already does. The lack of courage to admit the truth here is having a negative impact on society in general.

Seems to me that the “mandatory” label for CISSP in job qualifications is now rare to see. But CISSP is still alive and is better than nothing. Just stop pretending that it’s anything other than an inch thick and a mile wide.

Really we need an entry-level accreditation that tests a baseline level of technical skills and the possession of an attack mindset. We can’t attack or defend, or make calls on risk without an attack mindset. GRC is a thing in security and its a relevant thing – but it doesn’t take up much intellectual space so therefore it needs to be a small part of the requirements. Level 2 SOC Analysts need to understand risk and the importance of application availability, and the value of electronic information to the business, but this doesn’t require them to go and get a dedicated accreditation. Information Security Manage-ment is really an area for Manage-ers – the clue is in the name.

What are the two biggest challenges in terms of intellectual capital investment? They’re still operating systems (and ill-advised PaaS and SaaS initiatives haven’t changed this) and applications. So let’s focus on these two as the biggest chunks of stuff that an infosec team has to cover, and test entry-level skills in these areas.

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Musang – Oracle DB Security Testing – v1.8

Musang is a Docker-supplied Python/Django project for authenticated security testing scans for Oracle Database, for on-premise, or cloud SaaS, PaaS or IaaS stacks.

The last update of Musang (1.4) was in 2013! So this latest update (1.8) brings Musang into the modern age of old software by introducing support for 12c databases – after all i’m sure there are lots who upgraded from 9g. Right?

No but seriously, Oracle Database 12c introduces the concept of Containers and Pluggable Databases (PDB). It also stores password hashes in a dramatically different way (The mighty Pete Finnegan explains about these hashes so I don’t have to). The user doesn’t have to lose sleep worrying about such things – Musang auto-detects Database versions and selects the corresponding library of tests. However the connection string passed to the Database has to use the right SID of course – do you want to connect to a container or PDB?

Other major changes centred around Python 2.x going EOL – and with it the shift to Django 2.x.

An account privileges dump (for non-SYS, SYSTEM users) has been added also, and the output links each account to the account status (locked, expired, open, etc) – see below …

A rundown of the major changes…

  • Now covers 12c.
  • For the connection test, when Musang detects 12c it dumps the configuration of containers and pluggable databases – if you connect to the container instance, you see a very different output in some tests – notably the password hashes.
  • To get hashes for SYS and SYSTEM you need to connect to the container, with SYS and “as SYSDBA”. Musang now has as the classic “as SYSDBA” option.
  • Added a privileges dump for non SYS and SYSTEM DBAs – see above screen dump.
  • Phased out django-dajaxice and replaced those calls with native AJAX – basically Dajaxice is terrible and was not maintained for years.
  • Few other changes related to 12c and lots related to the above upgrades.
  • Celery is now 4.2.1.
  • Multiple other changes related to stability and 12c intricacies

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Infosec in APAC – A Very Summarised View

I spent a total of 16 years working in infosec in APAC – across the region as a whole except for India and mainland China. I was based initially in a pen test/research lab in Thailand with regional customers, and then later spent some time with big-4 in Thailand, before moving base to Jakarta for what will probably be my final stint in the region. As well as the aforementioned places i spent lots of time in Singapore, Taiwan, and HK. Less so in Malaysia, and i never worked in either of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, or the Philippines.

I was in APAC for most of the period between 1999 and 2013. My time with the consultancy which was based in Bangkok (although there was only one client account in Thailand) made up the formative, simulated-attack experience of my career – not a bad place to start. There were some brief spells away in the UK and Czech Republic (the best blue team experience one can hope to find). Overall i was lucky with the places I worked in, and especially the people I worked with – some of whom quit infosec not long after the Great Early Noughties Infosec Brain Drain. 

Appetite for risk is high in APAC – just look at the stats for insurance sales in the region. What results in infosec, even in banking and finance though, is exactly the same as the west – base compliance only. The difference is something like this: western CEOs showed interest and worried about cyber at some point in time, but when they went looking for answers they didn’t find any, other than buzzwords from CISSPs – result: base compliance – aka lets just get thru the audit. In Asia the CEOs didn’t go looking for answers – its just base compliance, do not pass go. But before you pass judgment on this statement – read on.

Where APAC countries were better was the lack of any pretence around GRC. You will never hear anything along the lines “security is not about IT” – i.e. there is no community of self-serving non-technical GRC folk spouting acronyms. Western countries blow billions down the dunny on this nonsense.

So both regions have poor security. Both face a significant threat. But if you measure security performance in terms of how much is spent, versus the results – there’s a clear winner, and that is APAC. Both have poor security, but one spends more for poor security than the other.

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#WannaCry and The Rise and Fall of the Firewall

The now infamous WannaCry Ransomware outbreak was the most widespread malware outbreak since the early 2000s. There was a very long gap between the early 2000s “worm” outbreaks (think Sasser, Blaster, etc) and this latest 2017 WannaCry outbreak. The usage of the phrase “worm” was itself widespread, especially as it was included in CISSP exam syllabuses, but then it died out. Now its seeing a resurgence, that started last weekend – but why? Why is the worm turning for the worm (I know – it’s bad – but it had to go in here somewhere)?

As far as WannaCry goes, there has been some interesting developments over the past few days – contrary to popular belief, it did not affect Windows XP, the most commonly affected was Windows 7, and according to some experts, the leading suspect in the case is the Lazarus group with ties to North Korea.

But this post is not about WannaCry. I’m going to say it: I used WannaCry to get attention (and with this statement i’m already more honest than the numerous others who jumped on the WannaCry bandwagon, including our beloved $VENDOR). But I have been meaning to cover the rise and fall of the firewall for some time now, and this instance of a widespread and damaging worm, that spreads by exploiting poor firewall configurations, brought this forward by a few months.

A worm is malware that “uses a computer network to spread itself, relying on security failures on the target computer”. If we think of malware delivery and propagation as two different things – lots of malware since 2004 used email (think Phishing) as a delivery mechanism but spread using an exploit once inside a private network. Worms use network propagation to both deliver and spread. And that is the key difference. WannaCry is without doubt a Worm. There is no evidence to suggest WannaCry was delivered on the back of successful Phishing attacks – as illustrated by the lack of WannaCry home user victims (who sit behind the protection of NAT’ing home routers). Most of the early WannaCry posts were covering Phishing, mostly because of the lack of belief that Server Message Block ports would never be exposed to the public Internet.

The Infosec sector is really only 20 years old in terms of the widespread adoption of security controls in larger organisations. So we have only just started to have a usable, relatable history in infosec. Firewalls are still, in 2017, the security control that delivers most value for investment, and they’ve been around since day one. But in the past 20 years I have seen firewall configurations go thru a spectacular rise in the early 2000s, to a spectacular fall a decade later.

Late 90s Firewall

If we’re talking late 90s, even with some regional APAC banks, you would see huge swaths of open ports in port scan results. Indeed, a firewall to many late 90s organisations was as in the image to the left.

However – you can ask a firewall what it is, even a “Next Gen” firewall, and it will answer “I’m a firewall, i make decisions on accepting or rejecting packets based on source and destination addresses and services”. Next Gen firewall vendors tout the ability of firewalls to do layer 7 DPI stuff such as IDS, WAF, etc, but from what I am hearing, many organisations don’t use these features for one reason or another. Firewalls are quite a simple control to understand and organisations got the whole firewall thing nailed quite early on in the game.

When we got to 2002 or so, you would scan a perimeter subnet and only see VPN and HTTP ports. Mind you, egress controls were still quite poor back then, and continue to be lacking to the present day, as is also the case with internal firewalls other than a DMZ (if there are any). 2002 was also the year when application security testing (OWASP type vulnerability testing) took off, and I doubt it would ever have evolved into a specialised area if organisations had not improved their firewalls. Ultimately organisations could improve their firewalls but they still had to expose web services to the planet. As Marcus Ranum said, when discussing the “ultimate firewall”, “You’ll notice there is a large hole sort of in the centre [of the ultimate firewall]. That represents TCP Port 80. Most firewalls have a big hole right about there, and so does mine.”

During testing engagements for the next decade, it was the case that perimeter firewalls would be well configured in the majority of cases. But then we entered an “interesting” period. It started for me around 2012. I was conducting a vulnerability scan of a major private infrastructure facility in the UK…and “what the…”! RDP and SMB vulnerabilities! So the target organisation served a vital function in national infrastructure and they expose databases, SMB, and terminal services ports to the planet. In case there’s any doubt – that’s bad. And since 2012, firewall configs have fallen by the wayside.

WannaCry is delivered and spreads using a SMB vulnerability, as did Blaster and Sasser all those years ago. If we look at Shodan results for Internet exposure of SMB we find 1.5 million cases. That’s a lot.

So how did we get here? Well there are no answers born out of questionnaires and research but i have my suspicions:

  • All the talk of “Next Generation” firewalls and layer 7 has led to organisations taking their eye off the ball when it comes to layer 3 and 4.
  • All the talk of magic $VENDOR snake oil silver bullets in general has led organisations away from the basics. Think APT-Buster ™.
  • All the talk of outsourcing has led some organisations, as Dr Anton Chuvakin said, to outsource thinking.
  • Talk of “distortion” of the perimeter (as in “in this age of mobile workforces, where is our perimeter now?”). Well the perimeter is still the perimeter – the clue is in the name. The difference is now there are several perimeters. But WannaCry has reminded us that the old perimeter is still…yes – a perimeter.
  • There are even some who advocated losing the firewall as a control, but one of the rare success stories for infosec was the subsequent flaming of such opinions. BTW when was that post published? Yes – it was 2012.

So general guidelines:

  • The Internet is an ugly place with lots of BOTs and humans with bad intentions, along with those who don’t intend to be bad but just are (I bet there are lots of private org firewall logs which show connection attempts of WannaCry from other organisations).
  • Block incoming for all ports other than those needed as a strict business requirement. Default-deny is the easiest way to achieve this.
  • Workstations and mobile devices can happily block all incoming connections in most cases.
  • Egress is important – also discussed very eloquently by Dave Piscitello. Its not all about ingress.
  • Other pitfalls with firewalls involve poor usage of NAT and those pesky network dudes who like to bypass inner DMZ firewalls with dual homing.
  • Watch out for connections from any internal subnet from which human-used devices derive to critical infrastructure such as databases. Those can be blocked in most cases.
  • Don’t focus on WannaCry. Don’t focus on Ransomware. Don’t focus on malware. Focus on Vulnerability Management.

So then perimeter firewall configurations, it seems, go through the same cycles that economies and seasonal temperature variations go through. When will the winter pass for firewall configurations?

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Clouds and Vulnerability Management

In the world of Clouds and Vulnerability Management, based on observations, it seems like a critical issue has slipped under the radar: if you’re running with PaaS and SaaS VMs, you cannot deliver anything close to a respectable level of vulnerability management with these platforms. This is because to do effective vulnerability management, the first part of that process – the vulnerability assessment – needs to be performed with administrative access (over SSH/SMB), and with PaaS and SaaS, you do not, as a customer, have such access (this is part of your agreement with the cloud provider). The rest of this article explains this issue in more detail.

The main reason for the clouding (sorry) of this issue, is what is still, after 20+ years, a fairly widespread lack of awareness of the ineffectiveness of unauthenticated vulnerability scanning. More and more security managers are becoming aware that credentialed scans are the only way to go. However, with a lack of objective survey data available, I can only draw on my own experiences. See – i’m one of those disgraceful contracting/consultant types, been doing security for almost 20 years, and been intimate with a good number of large organisations, and with each year that passes I can say that more organisations are waking up to the limitations of unauthenticated scanning. But there are also still lots more who don’t clearly see the limitations of unauthenticated scanning.

The original Nessus from the late 90s, now with Tenable, is a great product in terms of doing what it was intended to do. But false negatives were never a concern in with the design of Nessus. OpenVAS is still open source and available and it is also a great tool from the point of view of doing what it was intended to do. But if these tools are your sole source of vulnerability data, you are effectively running blind.

By the way Tenable do offer a product that covers credentialed scans for enterprises, but i have not had any hands-on experience with this tool. I do have hands on experience with the other market leaders’ products. By in large they all fall some way short but that’s a subject for another day.

Unauthenticated scanners all do the same thing:

  • port scan to find open ports
  • grab service banners – this is the equivalent of nmap -sV, and in fact as most of these tools use nmap libraries, is it _exactly_ that
  • lets say our tool finds Apache HTTP 14.x, it looks in its database of public disclosed vulnerability with that version of Apache, and spews out everything it finds. The tools generally do little in the way of actually probing with HTTP Methods for example, and they certainly were not designed to try, for example, a buffer overflow exploit attempt. They report lots of ‘noise’ in the way of false positives, but false negatives are the real concern.

So really the tools are doing a port scan, and then telling you you’re running old warez. Conficker is still very widespread and is the ultimate player in the ‘Pee’ arena (the ‘Pee’ in APT). An unauthenticated scanner doesn’t have enough visibility ‘under the hood’ to tell you if you are going to be the next Conficker victim, or the next ransomware victim. Some of the Linux vulnerabilities reported in the past few years – e.g. Heartbleed, Ghost, DirtyCOW – very few can be detected with an unauthenticated scanner, and none of these 3 examples can be detected with an unauthenticated scanner.

Credentialed scanning really is the only way to go. Credentialed based scanners are configured with root/administrative access to targets and are therefore in a position to ‘see’ everything.

The Connection With PaaS and SaaS

So how does this all relate to Cloud? Well, there two of the three cloud types where a lack of access to the operating system command shell becomes a problem – and from this description its fairly clear these are PaaS and SaaS.

 There are two common delusions abound in this area:

  • [Cloud maker] handles platform configuration and therefore vulnerability for me, so that’s ok, no need to worry:
    • Cloud makers like AWS and Azure will deal with patches, but concerns in security are much wider and operating systems are big and complex. No patches exist for 0days, and in space, nobody can hear you scream.
    • Many vulnerabilities arise from OS configuration aspects that cannot be removed with a patch – e.g. Conficker was mentioned above: some Conficker versions (yes its managed very professionally) use ‘at’ job scheduling to remain present even after MS08-067 is patched. If for example you use Azure, Microsoft manage your PaaS and SaaS but they don’t know if you want to use ‘at’ or not. Its safer for them to assume that you do want to use it, so they leave it enabled (when you sign up for PaaS or SaaS you are removed from the decision making here). Same applies to many other local services and file system permissions that are very popular with the dark side.
  • ‘Unauthenticated scanning gets me some of the way, its good enough’ – how much of the way does it get you? Less than half way? its more like 5% really. Remember its little more than a port scan, and you shouldn’t need a scanner to tell you you’re running old software. Certainly for critical cloud VMs, this is a problem.

With PaaS and SaaS, you are handing over the management of large and complex operating systems to cloud providers, who are perfectly justified, and also in many cases perfectly wise, in leaving open large security holes in your platforms, and as part of your agreement with them, there’s not a thing you can do about it (other than switch to IaaS or on-premise).

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Information Security And A Pale Blue Dot

This article is about the place of ego and pride in information security.

Earth From 6 Billion Miles - Thanks To Voyager 1 - Courtesy Of NASA

Earth From 6 Billion Miles – Thanks To Voyager 1 – Courtesy Of NASA

At the request of the late Carl Sagan, as the Voyager 1 space probe was leaving the solar system, at a record distance of approx 6 billion miles from Earth, NASA instructed Voyager 1 to turn its camera back toward Earth.

Yes – the circled pixel sized dot in the image on the right – this is Earth.

But that dot – that is also a good representation of what you know about security, compared to the whole. Its even more than what I know about security, compared with what there is to know.

One thing i have been right about – security, in theory at least, is a fantastic world to be a part of. I left IBM in the late 90s because i had heard about a world that covered all bases in the IT world. And i wasn’t wrong about this. Things did get ugly in the early 2000s – basically IT folk and engineers weren’t welcome any more. This is why we’re in the mess we’re in now. But security, relative to other fields in IT, is still by far the best place to be, at least from where i’m standing.

Security is such a vast field, and whichever turn you take, you find another world within a world, and within that world, the more you discover, the more you realise what there is left to discover. So in other words – the more you know about security – the more you know you don’t know.

So given all this – does ego and pride have a place in this field? And how do you assess your knowledge compared to others? If you think about it in the context of the image above, if you show excessive ego, hold grudges, or get into regular arguments with others in the field – what this really demonstrates in itself is a lack of awareness of security and how vast it is. Given the vastness of the field, if you’re taking a mocking attitude (99% of the time this will not be communicated to the target of the mockery), i hope you can see now how ludicrous is that attitude? Its diabolical actually. If an Analyst comes from a different background, spent all their time in a certain part of the universe, why on earth (pardon the pun) would you be critical or judgmental of them if they don’t know your neighbourhood as well as you do?

Many believe that excessive pride is mainly in the territory of hacking conference speakers, and its here where things get out of control, because of the attention one can get just from doing something as simple as a wifi “evil twin” attack. But no, not based on what i’ve seen. There are security folk from all walks of the sector, and not just the self-proclaimed ‘evangelists’, whose level of self-importance goes as far as taking patronage over the whole sector.

From the outside looking in, we in security are viewed in a fairly dim light in many cases. While working in a small consultancy here in the UK, I’ve heard it said while management was assessing a candidate’s suitability for a Consultant role: “is he weird enough?”. Security seniors in that firm regularly used to get in to impassioned exchanges with C-levels, because of the issue as I mentioned of taking patronage over security. Disagreements would spiral out of control.

C-levels really just want to have the same understandable conversations, and see the same reporting, from security folk as they do from others. The whole security show does seem like a circus to outsiders, especially to folk in other IT departments. And yet many in this field blame the board (“they’re clueless”) when security is pushed further away from the board, rather than looking at themselves.

And as long we do not have a trustworthy means of proving our ability or experience in this field, there will be lots of issues. Many try to compensate for the aforementioned with self-proclaimed titles, and other little nuances. Many develop a whole persona around trying to show the world how great they are.

We’re renown for being different, and we are, but we can be more careful about how we show our uniqueness. It should be enough to just keep a lower profile and do our jobs. If we have confidently given our advice, got it in black and white somewhere, that’s all we can do. If after that, others still don’t agree with us, leave it at that.

Having an out-of-control ego also prevents us from being team players. We need to be open minded to the idea that others can learn from us and benefit us in return – we will always be stronger as a team rather than as an individual, and no one acting as a lone gun slinger ever helped an organisation to improve its stance in information risk management.

Here’s what the Dalai Lama said about ego: “The foundation of the Buddha’s teachings lies in compassion, and the reason for practicing the teachings is to wipe out the persistence of ego, the number-one enemy of compassion.”

Certainly – at least between ourselves, remember how vast a field is security, and don’t lose perspective.

As i mentioned above: the more you know about security, the more you know you don’t know. So try not to demonstrate a lack of knowledge by attempting to demonstrate lots of knowledge.

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The Art Of The Security Delta: NetDelta

In this article we’ll be answering the following questions:

  • What is NetDelta?
  • Why should i be monitoring for changes in my network(s)?
  • Challenges we faced along the way
  • Other ways of detecting deltas in networks
  • About NetDelta

What Is NetDelta?

NetDelta allows users to configure groups of IP addresses (by department, subnet, etc) and perform one-off or periodic port scans against the configured group, and have NetDelta send alerts when a change is detected.

There’s lot of shiny new stuff out there. APT-buster ™, Silver Bullet ™, etc. Its almost as though someone sits in a room and literally looks for combinations of words that haven’t been used yet and uses this as the driver for a new VC sponsored effort. “Ok ‘threat’ is the most commonly used buzzword currently. Has ‘threat’ been combined with ‘cyber’ and ‘buster’ yet?”, “No”, [hellllooow Benjamin]. The most positive spin we can place on this is that we got so excited about the future while ignoring the present.

These new products are seen as serving the modern day needs of information security, as though the old challenges, going back to day 0 in this sector, or “1998”, have been nailed. Well, how about the old stalwart of Vulnerability Management? The products do not “Manage” anything, they produce lists of vulnerability – this is “assessment”, not “management”. And the lists they produce are riddled with noise (false positives), and what’s worse is there’s a much bigger false negatives problem in that the tools do not cover whole swaths of corporate estates. Doesn’t sound like this is an area that is well served by open source or commercial offerings.

Why Do I Need To Monitor My Networks For Changes?

On the same theme of new products in infosec – how about firewalls (that’s almost as old as it gets)? Well we now have “next-gen” firewalls, but does that mean that old-gen firewalls were phased out, we solved the Network Access Control problem, and then moved on?

How about this: if there is a change in listening services, say in, for example – your perimeter DMZ (!), and you didn’t authorise it, that cannot be a good thing. Its one of either:

  • Hacker/malware activity, e.g. hacker’s connection service (e.g. root shell), or
  • Unauthorised change, e.g. networks ops changed firewall or DMZ host configuration outside of change control
  • You imagined it – perhaps lack of sleep or too much caffeine

Neither of these can be good. They can only be bad. And do we have a way to detect such issues currently?

How does NetDelta help us solve these problems?

Users can configure scans either on a one-off basis, or to be run periodically. So for example, as a user i can tell NetDelta to scan my DMZ perimeter every night at 2 AM and alert me by email if something changed from the previous night’s scan:

  • Previously unseen host comes online in a subnet, either as an unauthorised addition to the group, or unauthorised (rogue) firewall change or new host deployment (maybe an unsanctioned wifi access point or webcam, for example) – these concerns are becoming more valid in the age of Internet of Things (IoT) where devices are shipped with open telnets and so on.
  • Host goes offline – this could be something of interest from a service availability/DoS point of view, as well as the dreaded ‘unauthorised change’.
  • Change in the available services – e.g. hacker’s exploit is successful and manages to locally open a shell on an unfiltered higher port, or new service turned on outside of change control. NetDelta will alert if services are added or removed on a target host.

Host ‘state’ is maintained by NetDelta for as long as the retention period allows, and overall 10 status codes reflect the state of a host over successive periodic scans.

Challenges We Faced With NetDelta

The biggest and only major obstacle is the output of ‘noise’ that results from scan timeouts. With some of the earlier tests scans we noticed that sporadic scan time-outs would occur frequently. This presented a problem (its sort of a false positive) in that a delta is alerted on, but really there hasn’t been a change in listening services or hosts. We increased  the timeout options with nmap but it didn’t help much and only added masses of time on the scans.

The aforementioned issue is one of the issues holding back the nmap ndiff shell script wrapper option, and also ndiff works with XML text files (messy). Shell scripts can work in corporate situations sometimes, but there are problems around the longevity and reliability of the solution. NetDelta is a web-based database (currently MySQL but NoSQL is planned) driven solution with reports and statistics readily available, but the biggest problem with the ndiff option is the scan timeout issues mentioned in the previous paragraph.

NetDelta records host “up” and “down” states and allows the user to configure a number for the number of scans before being considered really down. So if the user chooses 3 as an option, if a target host is down for 3 consecutive scans, it is considered actually down, and a delta is flagged.

Overall the ‘state’ of a host is recorded in the backend database, and the state is a code that reflects a change in the availability or existence of a host. NetDelta has a total of 10 status codes.

Are There Other Ways To Detect NetDeltas?

Remember that we’re covering network services here, i.e. the ‘visibility’ of network services, as they appear to hackers and your customers alike. This is not the same as local host configuration. I can run a netstat command locally to get a list of listening services, but this doesn’t tell me how well my firewall(s) protect me.

  • The ndiff option was covered already
  • Firewall management suites. At least one of these can flag changes in firewall rules, but it still doesn’t give the user the actual “real” view of services. Firewalls can be misconfigured, and they can do unexpected things under certain conditions. The port scanner view of a network is the holy grail effectively – its the absolute/real view that leaves no further room for interpretation and does not require further processing
  • IDS – neither HIDS (host based intrusion detection) nor NIDS (network based intrusion detection) can give a good representation of the view.
  • SIEM – these systems take in logs from other sources so partly by extrapolating from the previous comments, and also with the capability of SIEM itself, it would seem to be a challenge to ask a SIEM to do acrobatics in this area. First of all SIEM is not a cheap solution, but of course this conversation only applies to a case where the organisation already owns a SIEM and can afford the added log storage space, and management overhead, and…of the SIEMs i know, none of them are sufficiently flexible to:
    • take in logs from a port scanning source – theoretically its possible if you could get nmap to speak rsyslogish though, and i’m sure there’s some other acrobatics that are feasible
    • perform delta analysis on those logs and raise an alert

About NetDelta

NetDelta is a Python/Django based project with a MySQL backend (we will migrate to MongoDB – watch this space). Currently at v 1.0, you are most welcome to take part in a trial. We stand on the shoulders of giants:

  • nmap (https://nmap.org/)
  • Python (https://www.python.org/)
  • Django (https://www.djangoproject.com/)
  • Celery (http://www.celeryproject.org/)
  • RabbitMQ (https://www.rabbitmq.com/)
  • libnmap – a Python framework for nmap – (https://github.com/savon-noir/python-libnmap)

Contact us for more info!

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How To Break Into Information Security

I’ve been asked a few times recently, usually by operations folk, to give some advice about how to break into the security sector, so under much pain I decided to commit my thoughts on the subject to this web log post. I’ve commented on this subject before and more extensively in chapter 6 of Security De-engineering, but this version is more in line with the times (up to 2012 I was advising a wide pass-by trajectory of planet infosec) and it will be shorter – you have my word(s).

blog-image

First I’d just be wary about trying to get into security just because of financial reasons (David Froud has an excellent blog and one of his posts covered this point well). At the time of writing it is possible to get into the field just by having an IT background and a CISSP. But don’t do that unless you have what’s REALLY required (do not judge what is REALLY required for the field based on job descriptions – at the time of writing, there are still plenty of mistakes being made by organisations). Summarising this in a very brief way:

  • You feel like you have grown out of pure IT-based roles and sort of excelled in whatever IT field you were involved in. You’re the IT professional who doesn’t just clear their problem tickets and switch off. You are, for example, looking for ways to automate things, and self-teach around the subject.
  • Don’t think about getting into security straight from higher education. Whereas it is possible, don’t do it. Just…don’t. Operational Security (or opsec/devopssec) is an option but have some awareness of what this is (scroll down to the end for an explanation).
  • Flexibility: can jump freely from a Cisco switch to an Oracle Database on any Operating System. Taking an example: some IT folk are religious about Unix and experience a mental block when it comes to Windows – this doesn’t work for security. Others have some kind of aversion to Cloud, whereas a better mindset for the field is one that embraces the challenge. Security pros in the “engineer” box should be enthusiastic about the new opportunities for learning offered by extended use of YAML, choosing the ideal federated identity management solution, Puppet, Azure Powershell, and so on. [In theory] projects where on-premise applications are being migrated to Cloud are not [in theory] such a bad place to be in security [in theory].
  • You like coding. Maybe you did some Python or some other scripting. What i’ve noticed is that coding skills are more frequently being seen as requirements. In fact I heard that one organisation went as far as putting candidates through a programming test for a security role. Python, Ruby, Shell ([Li,U]nix) and Powershell are common requirements these days. But even if role descriptions don’t mention coding as a requirement – having these skills demonstrates the kind of flexibility and enthusiasm that go well with infosec. “Regex” comes up a lot but if you’ve done lots of Python/Ruby and/or Unix sed/awk you will be more than familiar with regular expressions.

There is a non-tech element to security (sometimes referred to as “GRC”) but this is something you can get into later. Being aware of international standards and checking to see what’s in a typical corporate security policy is a good idea, but don’t be under the impression that you need to be able to recite verses from these. Generally speaking “writing stuff” and communication is more of a requirement in security than other fields, but you don’t need to be polished at day zero. There are some who see the progression path as Security Analyst –> Security Consultant (Analyst who can communicate effectively).

Another common motivator is hacker conferences or Mr Robot. Infosec isn’t like that. Even the dark side – you see Elliott with a hoody writing code with electronic techno-beats in the background, but hackers don’t write code to compromise networks to any huge degree, if at all. All the code is written for them by others mostly. And as with the femtocell and Raspberry Pi incidents, they usually have to assume a physical presence on the inside, or they are an internal employee themselves, or they dupe someone on the inside of the organisation under attack. Even if you’re in a testing role on the light side, the tests are vastly restricted and there’s a very canned approach to the whole thing with performance KPIs based on reports or something else that doesn’t link to actual intellectual value. Its far from glamorous. There’s an awful lot of misunderstanding out there. What is spoken about at hacker confz is interesting but its not usually stuff that is required to prove the existence of vulnerability in a commercial penetration test – most networks are not particularly well defended, and very little attention is given to results, more so because in most cases the only concern is getting ticks in boxes for an audit – and the auditors are often 12 years old and have never seen a command shell. Quality is rarely a concern.

Its a good practice to build up a list of the more influential bloggers and build up a decent Twitter feed and check what’s happening daily, but also, here are the books that I found most useful in terms of starting out in the field:

  • TCP/IP Illustrated – there are 3 volumes. 1 and 2 are the most useful. Then…
  • Building Internet Firewalls – really a very good way to understand some of the bigger picture ideas behind network architecture design and data flows. I hear rolling of eyes from some sectors, but the same principles apply to Cloud and other “modern” ideas that are from the 90s. With Cloud you have less control over network aspects but network access control and trust relationships are still very much a concern.
  • Network Security Assessment – the earlier versions are also still pertinent unless you will never see a Secure Shell or SMB port (hint: you will).
  • Security Engineering – there’s a very good chapter on Cryptography and Key Management.
  • The Art of Software Security Assessment – whether or not you will be doing appsec for a living you should look at OWASP‘s site and check out Webgoat. They are reportedly looking to bolster their API security coverage, which is nice (a lot of APIs are full of the same holes that were plugged in public apps by the same orgs some years ago). But if you are planning on network penetration testing or application security as a day job, then read this book, its priceless and still very applicable today.
  • The Phoenix Project – a good background illustrative for gaining a better understanding of the landscape in devops.

Also – take a look at perhaps a Windows security standard from the range of CIS benchmarks.

Finally – as i alluded earlier – opsec is not security. Why do i say this? Because i did come across many who believe they made it as a security pro once they joined a SOC/NOC team and then switched off. Security is a holistic function that covers the entire organisation – not just its IT estate, but its people, management, availability and resilience concerns, and processes. As an example – you could be part of a SOC team analysing the alerts generated by a SIEM (BTW some of the best SIEM material online is that written by Dr Anton Chuvakin). This is a very product centric role. So what knowledge is required to architect a SIEM and design its correlation rules? This is security. The same applies to IDS. Responding to alerts and working with the product is opsec. Security is designing the rulebase on an internal node that feeds off a strategically placed network tap. You need to know how hackers work among other areas (see above). Security is a holistic function. A further example: opsec takes the alerts generated by vulnerability management enterprise suites and maybe does some base false positives testing. But how does the organisation respond effectively to a discovered vulnerability? This is security.

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Addressing The Information Security Skills Gap

We are told there is a skills gap in information security. I agree – there is, but recent suggestions to address the gap take us to dangerous places that are great for recruitment agencies, but not so great for the business world.

I want to steer away from use of the phrase ‘skills’ in this article because its too micro and the phrase has been violated by modern hiring practices. We are not looking for ‘Websense’, ‘DLP’ skills or as i saw recently ‘HSM’ skills. These requirements are silly unless it is the plan for organisations to spend 10 to 50 times more than they need on human resource, and have a security team of 300. Its healthier for organisations to look at ‘habits’ or ‘backgrounds’, and along those lines, in information security we’re looking for the following:

  • At least 5 years in an IT discipline: sys admin, DBA, devops bod, programmer for example
  • Evidence of having excelled in those positions and sort of grown out of them
  • Flexibility: for example, the crusty Radagast BSD-derivative disciple who has no fundamentalist views of other operating systems (think ‘Windows’) and not only can happily work with something like Active Directory, but they actually love working with Active Directory
  • A good-to-have-but-not-critical is past evidence of breaking or making things, but this should seen as a nice bonus. In its own right, it is insufficient – recruiting from hacker confz is far from guaranteed to work – too much to cover here

So really it should be seen that a career in infosec is a sort of ‘graduation’ on from other IT vocations. There should be an entrance exam based on core technologies and penetration testing. The career progression path goes something like: Analyst (5 years) –> Consultant -> Architect/Manager. Managers and architects cannot be effective if they do not have a solid IT background. An architect who doesn’t know her way around a Cisco router, implement a new SIEM correlation rule, or who cannot run or interpret the output from a packet sniffer is not an architect.

Analysts and Consultants should be skilled with the core building blocks to the level of being confidently handed administrative access to production systems. As it is, security pros find it hard to even get read-only access to firewall management suites. And having fast access to information on firewall rules – it can be critical.

Some may believe that individuals fitting the above profile are hard to find, and they’d be right. However, with the aforementioned model, the workforce will change from lots of people with micro-skills or product-based pseudo skills, to fewer people who are just fast learners and whose core areas complement each other. If you consider that a team of 300 could be reduced to 6 – the game has changed beyond recognition.

Quoting a recent article: “The most in demand cyber security certifications were Security+, Ethical Hacking, Network+, CISSP, and A+. The most in demand skills were Ethical Hacking, Computer Forensics, CISSP, Malware Analysis, and Advanced Penetration Testing”. There are more problems with this to describe in a reasonable time frame but none of these should ever be called ‘skills’. Of these, Penetration Testing (leave out the ‘ethics’ qualifier because it adds a distasteful layer of judgment on top of the law) is the only one that should be called a specification in its own right.

And yes, Governance, Risk and Control (GRC) is an area that needs addressing, but this must be the role of the Information Security Manager. There is a connection between Information Security Manage-ment and Information Security Manage-er.  Some organisations have separate GRC functions, the UK public sector usually has dedicated “assurance” functions, and as i’ve seen with some law firms, they are separated from the rest of security and IT.  Decision making on risk acceptance or mitigation, and areas such as Information Classification, MUST have an IT input and this is the role of the Information Security Manager. There must be one holistic security team consisting of a few individuals and one Information Security Manager.

In security we should not be leaving the impression that one can leave higher education, take a course in forensics, get accreditation, and then go and get a job in forensics. This is not bridging the security skills gap – its adding security costs with scant return. If you know something about forensics (usually this will be seen as ‘Encase‘ by the uninitiated) but don’t even have the IT background, let alone the security background, you will not know where to look in an investigation, or have a picture of risk. You will not have an inkling of how systems are compromised or the macro-techniques used by malware authors. So you may know how to use Encase and take an integral disk image for example, but that will be the limit of your contribution. Doesn’t sound like a particularly rewarding way to spend 200 business days per year? You’d be right.

Sticking with the forensics theme: an Analyst with the right mindset can contribute effectively in an incident investigation from day one. There are some brief aspects of incident response for them to consider, but it is not advisable to view forensics/incident response as a deep area. We can call it a specification, just as an involuntary action such as breathing is a specification, but if we do, we are saying that it takes more than one person to change a light bulb.

Incident response from the organisational / Incident Response Plan (IRP) formation point of view is a one-day training course or a few hours of reading. The tech aspects are 99% not distinct from the core areas of IT and network security. This is not a specialisation.

Other areas such as DLP, Threat Intelligence, SIEM, Cryptography and Key Management – these can be easily adopted by the right security minds. And with regard security products – it should be seen that security professionals are picking up new tools on-the-fly and don’t need 2 week training courses that cost $4000. Some of the tools in the VM and proxy space are GUIs for older open source efforts such as Nessus, OpenVAS, and Squid with which they will be well-versed, and if they’re not, it will take an hour to pick up the essentials.

There’s been a lot of talk of Operating Systems (OS) thus far. Operating Systems are not ‘a thing from 1998’. Take an old idea that has been labelled ‘modern’ as an example: ok, lets go with ‘Cloud’. Clouds have operating systems. VMs deployed to clouds have operating systems. When we deploy a critical service to a cloud, we cannot ignore the OS even if its a PaaS deployment. So in security we need people who can view an OS in the same way that a hacker views an OS – we need to think about Kill Chains and local privilege elevations. The Threat and Vulnerability Management (TVM) challenge does not disappear just because you have PaaS’d everything. Moreover if you have PaaS’d everything, you have immediately lost the TVM battle. As Beaker famously said in his cloud presentation – “Platforms Bitches”. Popular OS like Windows, *nix, Linux, and popular applications such as Oracle Database are going to be around for some time yet and its the OS where the front-lines are drawn.

Also what is a common misconception and does not work: a secops/network engineer going straight into security with no evidence of interest in other areas. ‘Secops’ is not good preparation for a security career, mainly because secops is sort of purgatory. Just as “there is no Dana, only Zool“, so “there is no secops, only ops”. There is only a security element to these roles because the role covers operational processes with security products. That is anti-security.

All Analyst roles should have an element of penetration testing and appsec, and when I say penetration testing, i do mean unrestricted testing as in an actual simulation. That means no restrictions on exploit usage or source address – because attackers do not have such restrictions. Why spend on this type of testing if its not an actual simulation?

Usage of Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) offers a good example of how a lack of penetration testing experience can impede a security team. If security is being done even marginally professionally in an organisation, there will exist a security standard for Cisco network devices that mandates the disabling of CDP.  But once asked to disable CDP, network ops teams will want justification. Any experienced penetration tester knows the value of intelligence in expediting the attack effort and CDP is a relative gold mine of intelligence that is blasted multicast around networks. It can, and often does, reveal the identity and IP address of a core switch. But without the testing experience or knowledge of how attacks actually go down, the point will be lost, and the confidence missing from the advisory.

The points i’ve just covered are not actually ground-breaking at all. Analysts with a good core background of IT and network security can easily move into any new area that marketeers can dream up.

There is an intuition that Information Security has a connection with Information Technology, if only for the common word in them both (that was ‘Information’ by the way, in case you didn’t get it). However, as Upton Sinclair said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.

And please don’t create specialisations for Big Data or Internet of Things…woops, too late.

So, consider a small team of enthusiastic, flexible, fast learners, rather than a large team of people who can be trained at a high cost to understand the UI of an application that was designed in the international language and to be intuitive and easy to learn.

Consider using one person to change a light bulb, and don’t be the butt of future jokes.

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Ghost – Buffer Overflow in glibc Library

In the early hours of 28th January GMT+0 2015, news started to go mainstream about vulnerability in the open source glibc library. The issue has been given the vulnerability marketing term “Ghost” (the name derives from the fact that the vulnerability arises because of an exploitable bug in the gethostbyname() function).

The buffer overflow vulnerability has been given the CVE reference CVE-2015-0235.

glibc is not a program as such. It’s a library that is shared among one or more programs. It is most commonly found on systems running some form of Linux as an operating system.

Redhat mention on their site that DNS resolution uses the gethostbyname() function and this condition has supposedly been shown to be vulnerable. This makes the Ghost issue much more critical than many are claiming.

As with most things in security, the answer to the question “is it dangerous for me” is “it depends” – sorry – there is no simple binary yes or no here. Non-vulnerable versions of glibc have been available for some time now, so if the installation of the patch (read the last section on “Mitigation” for details) is non-disruptive, then just upgrade.

Most advisories are recommending the immediate installation of a patch, but read on…

Impact

glibc is a core component of Linux. The vulnerability impacts most Linux distributions released circa 2000 to mid-2013. This means that, similar to Heartbleed, it affects a wide range of applications that happen to call the vulnerable function.

Giving credit to the open source dev team, the bug was fixed in 2013 but some vendors continued to use older branches of glibc.

If the issue is successfully exploited, unauthorised commands can be executed locally or remotely.

To be clear: this bug is remotely exploitable. So far at least one attack vector has been identified and tested successfully. Exim mail server uses the glibc library and it was found to be remotely exploitable thru a listening SMTP service. But again – its not as simple as “I run Exim therefore I am vulnerable”. The default configuration of Exim is not vulnerable.

Just as with Shellshock, a handful of attack vectors were identified immediately and more began to surface over the following weeks. The number of “channels”, or “attack vectors” by which the vulnerability may be exploited determines the likelihood that an attack may be attempted against an organisation.

Also, just as with Shellshock, it cannot be said with any decisiveness whether or not the exploit of the issue gains immediate root access. It is not chiselled in stone that mail servers need to run with root privileges, but if the mail server process is running as root, then root will be gained by a successful exploit. It is safer to assume that immediate root access would be gained.

More recent versions of Exim mail server on Ubuntu 14 run under the privileges of the “Debian-exim” user, which is not associated with a command shell, but also default Ubuntu installations will be easy for moderately skilled attackers to compromise completely.

So there is a possibility that remote, unauthenticated access can be gained with root privileges.

Just as with Shellshock, we can expect there to be automated BOT – initiated scanners that look for signs of exploitable services on the public Internet and attempt to gain local access if a suitable candidate is found.

At the time of writing, Rapid 7 have said they are working on a Metasploit test for the condition, which as well as allowing organisations to test for their vulnerability to Ghost, also of course permits lower skilled attackers to exploit the issue.

Another example of an exploitable channel is Rapid 7’s own tool Nexpose, which if running on an Ubuntu 12 appliance, will be vulnerable. However this will not be remotely exploitable.

Redhat mention on their site that DNS resolution also uses the gethostbyname() function and “to exploit this vulnerability, an attacker must trigger a buffer overflow by supplying an invalid hostname argument to an application that performs a DNS resolution”. If this is true, then the seriousness of Ghost increases exponentially because DNS is a commonly “exposed” service thru Internet-facing firewalls.

A lot of software on Linux systems uses glibc. From this point of view, its likely there could be a lot more attack vectors appearing with Ghost as compared with Shellshock. Shellshock was a BASH vulnerability and BASH is present on most Linux systems. However, the accessibility of BASH from a remote viewpoint is likely to be less than that of Ghost.

Risk Evaluation

There is “how can it be fixed?” but first there is “what should we do about it?” – a factor that depends on business risk.

When the information security community declares the existence of new vulnerability, the risks to organisations cannot categorically be given even base indicators of “high”, “medium”, or “low”, mainly because different organisations, even in the same industry sector, can have radically differing exposure to the vulnerability. Factors such as network segmentation can have mitigating effects on vulnerability, whereas the commonplace DMZ plus flat RFC 1918 private space usually vastly increases the potential financial impact of an attack.

Take a situation where a vulnerable Exim mail service listens exposed to the public Internet, and exists in a DMZ with a flat, un-segmented architecture, the risk here is considerable. Generally with most networks, one host falls on a network, and then others can fall rapidly after this.

Each organisation will be different in terms of risk. We cannot even draw similarities between organisations in the same industry sector. Take a bank for example: if a bank exposes a vulnerable service to the Internet, and has a flat network as described above, it can be a matter of minutes before a critical database is compromised.

As always the cost of patching should be evaluated against the cost of not patching. In the case of Ghost, the former will be a lot cheaper in many cases. Remember that increasing numbers of attack vectors will become apparent with time. A lot of software uses glibc!! Try uninstalling glibc on a Linux system using a package manager such as Aptitude, and this fact becomes immediately apparent.

Mitigation

Ubuntu versions newer than 12.04 have already been upgraded to a non-vulnerable glibc library. Older Ubuntu versions (as well other Linux distributions) are still using older versions of glibc and are either waiting on a patch or a patch is already available.

Note that several services may be using glibc so patching should not take place until all dependencies are known and impacts evaluated.

The machine will need a reboot after the upgrade of glibc.

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