Mar 31 2014

Network Security Podcast, Episode 330

Published by under Podcast

It only took 4+ weeks, but Martin and Zach are back on the air. Rich is back to his “(Inter)National Man of Mystery” routine, so he missed out on the somewhat lively discussion about drones, “secure” browsers, PCI, and, of course, the NSA.

Network Security Podcast, Episode 330
Time: 37:27

Show Notes:


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Mar 23 2014

NSPMicrocast – RSAC2014 – DoSArrest

Published by under Podcast

Most of the time my competitors are afraid to talk to me on the podcast.  I’m a nice guy to the people I interview, so I don’t know why they’d be afraid.  And this year at RSAC, Jag Bains the CTO at DoSArrest took a chance and talked to me.  While I did bring up that we’re competitors, I let Jag explain to me how his company works and what they protect their customers from DDoS.  I still think we do it better, but it’s good to hear what other people in the same field are doing.

NSPMicrocast – RSAC2014 – DoSArrest


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Mar 23 2014

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – BeyondTrust

Published by under Podcast

I had a chance to sit down with BeyondTrust CTO, Marc Maiffret.  I’ve had conversations with Marc before, but I haven’t seen him since he has been at BeyondTrust, so I took this time to find out what they do and how it would be used by the average enterprise.  As with all my interviews at RSAC, I asked Marc how he felt the spying revelations of the last year have affected the security landscape, his company and him personally.

NSPMicrocast-RSAC2014-BeyondTrust


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Mar 20 2014

European InfoSec Blogger Awards

Next month is Infosecurity Europe here in London, taking place from 29 April until 1 May, as well as BSides London on 29 April.  I’ve never had the chance to go to either event and I’m really looking forward to my first time.  Another event that’s happening alongside both of these is the European Security Bloggers Meetup at the Teck Pub (appropriately named place for our group).  Many people may not know it, but I’ve been one of the people organizing the RSA Security Bloggers Meetup from the very start and I’ve been the MC for almost every single one.  So I’m very excited to see how the event translates to London and the European community.  I know it won’t be the same event, which is why I want to go.  Brian Honan is hosting with a little help from Jack Daniel and Tenable Security, which pretty much guaruntees this will be a most interesting shindig.

One of the aspects of the Meetup since the second or third year has been the recognition of bloggers and podcasters by the security community, the Security Bloggers Awards.  As one of the organizers of the Security Bloggers Meetup, I’ve always held my blog and my podcast as being out of the running for any recognition in the RSA version of these awards. I didn’t want there to be any potential conflict of interest with the awards, so it was easier to opt out of the competition all together.  Some people might say it’s because I feared folks like the Security Weekly Podcast and Exotic Liability taking the awards even with my competition, but I’m going to stick with my story of conflict of interests.  

But a funny thing happened last year; I moved my family to London.  Which means I’m now a European blogger and podcaster.  And since I have absolutely nothing to do with the European Security Bloggers Meetup or the European Information Security Bloggers Awards, I feel free to compete and do my best as a transplant to take whatever awards I can wrest away from the natives!  It also helps that the only ‘competition’ here in the UK that I know of are the Eurotrash Security Podcast and Finux Tech Weekly. And I’m pretty sure you have to have actually posted within the last year and you can’t have any pictures of WickedClownUK in spandex.  Not just can’t have them on your site, you can’t even be in possession of them.  Since the ‘rules’ of this competition are … well, non-existant, if I can convince voters of these requirements, it helps my efforts.

So go vote for Rich, Zach and me as the hosts of the Network Security Podcasts for Best European Security Podcast of 2014!  Sure, I’m the only one of the three of us that actually lives in Europe.  Yes, I’m not really European, I’m an American transplant.  But none of that is nearly as important as not letting Chris John Riley win the award!  So vote early, vote often, and just vote for the Network Security Podcast!  Or at least go vote, since I’m not really all that attached to winning an award, truth be told.

Hmmm, vote for the Network Security Blog as the Best Personal Security Blog too while you’re there.  Maybe I do care about awards after all.

 

 


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Mar 20 2014

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – Denim Group

Published by under Podcast,Risk

I caught up with John Dickson and Dan Cornell from the Denim Group to talk about creating secure coding environments within companies, the importance of having trainers who are themselves coders and, of course, a little bit about spying.  Which turned into a lot of bit about spying.  I should have asked them where the name ‘Denim Group’ comes from.

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – Denim Group


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Mar 18 2014

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – Utimaco

I spent a few minutes with the CEO of Utimaco, Malte Pollman at RSAC this year.  Malte explains why Hardware Security Modules are important to the web of trust of the Internet, why lawful interception is a not in conflict with that web of trust.  As with all my interviews at RSAC, I asked Malte how the last year’s worth of spying revelations have affected his company and him personally.  Also, I have a problem pronouncing the company name, which for the record is you-tee-make-oh.

NSPMicrocast-RSAC2014-Utimaco


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Mar 15 2014

NSP Microcast – BSidesSF with Trey Ford

I caught Trey Ford right after his talk at the BSides Conference in San Francisco last month to talk about the efforts he’s making on behalf of Rapid7 and the security community.  It may be a sign that we’re a maturing industry when we’ve got folks like Trey traveling to Washington, DC in order to talk to lawmakers about how what they’re doing affects our lives.  And, as with all my interviews this year, I ask Trey how revelations about our government has affected his personal as well as professional life.  Check out his site at Password123.org.

NSPMicrocast – BSidesSF – Trey Ford


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Mar 09 2014

Mt. Gox Doxed

I’ve never owned a bitcoin, I’ve never mined a bitcoin, in fact I’ve never really talked to anyone who’s used them extensively.  I have kept half an eye on the larger bitcoin stories though, and the recent disclosures that bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox was victim of hackers who stole the entire of the content in their vault, worth hundreds of millions of dollars (or pounds) have kept my interest.  I know I’m not the only one who’s smelled something more than a little off about the whole story and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Apparently a hacker, or hackers, who also felt something wasn’t right on the mountain decided to do something about it: they doxed* Mt. Gox and it’s CEO, Mark Karpeles.

We don’t know yet if the files that hackers exposed to the internet were actually legitimate files from Mt. Gox and Mr. Karpeles yet, but this isn’t the only disclosure the company is potentially facing.  Another hacker has claimed to have about 20Gigs of information about the company, their users and plenty of interesting documents.  Between the two, if even a little of the data is valid, it’ll spell out a lot of trouble for Mt. Gox and it’s users.  If I were a prosecutor who had any remote possiblity of being involved in this case, I’d be collecting every piece of information and disclosed file I could, with big plans for using them in court at a later date.  

In any case, I occasionally read articles that say the Mt. Gox experience shows that bitcoins are an unusable and ultimately doomed form of currency because they’re a digital only medium and that they’ll always be open to fraud and theft because of it.  I laugh at those people.  Have they looked at our modern banking system and realized that 99% of the money in the world now only exists in digital format somewhere, sometimes with hard copy, but generally not?  Yes, we’ve had more time to figure out how to secure the banking systems, but they’re still mostly digital.  And eventually someone will do the same to a bank as was done to Mt. Gox.

*Doxed:  to have your personal information discovered or stolen and published on the Internet.


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Mar 07 2014

You have been identified as a latent criminal!

This afternoon, while I ate lunch, I watched a new-to-me anime called Pscho-Pass.  The TL:DR summary of the show is a future where everyone is chipped and constantly monitored.  If their Criminal Coefficient becomes to high, they are arrested for the good of society.  It doesn’t matter whether they’ve commited a crime or not, if the potential that they will commit a crime exceeds the threshold set by the computer, they’re arrested, or killed if they resist arrest. Like many anime, it sounds like a dystopian future that could never happen.  Except when I got back to my desk, I saw Bruce Schneier’s post, Surveillance by Algorithm.  And once again what I thought was an impossible dystopian future seems like a probable dystopian present.  

As Bruce points out, we already have Google and Amazon suggesting search results and purchases based on our prior behaviours online.  With every search I make online, they build up a more detailed and accurate profile of what I like, what I’ll buy and, by extension, what sort of person I am.  They aren’t using people to do this, there’s an extensive and thoroughly thought out algorithm that measures my every action to create a statistically accurate profile of my likes and dislikes in order to offer up what I might like to buy next based on their experience of what I’ve purchased in the past.  Or there would be if I didn’t purposefully share and account with my wife in order to confuse the profiling software Amazon uses.

Google is a lot harder to fool and they have access to a lot more of the data that reveals the true nature of who I am, what I’ve done and what I’m planning to do.  They have every personal email, my calendar, my searches, in fact, about 90% of what I do online is either directly through Google or indexed by Google in some way or shape.  Even my own family and friends probably don’t have as accurate an indicator of who I really am behind the mask as Google does, if they choose to create a psychological profile of me.  You can cloud the judgement of people, since they’re applying their own filters that interfere with a valid assessment of others, but a well written computer algorithm takes the biases of numerous coders and tries to even them out to create an evaluation that’s closer to reality than that of most people.

It wouldn’t take much for a government, the US, the UK or any other government, to start pushing to have an algorithm that evaluates the mental health and criminal index of every user on the planet and alerts the authorities when something bad is being planned.  Another point Bruce makes is that this isn’t considered ‘collection’ by the NSA, since they wouldn’t necessarilly have any of the data until an alert had been raised and a human began to review the data.  It would begin as something seemingly innoccuous, probably similar to the logical fallacies that governments already use to create ‘protection mechanisms’: “We just want to catch the peodophiles and terrorists; if you’re not a peodophile or terrorist, you have nothing to fear.”  After all, these are the exact phrases that have been used numerous times to create any number of organizations and mechanisms, including the TSA and the NSA itself.  And they’re all that much more powerful because there is a strong core of truth to them.

But what they don’t address is a few of the fatal flaws to any such system based on a behavioural algorithm.  First of all, inclination, or even intent, doesn’t equal action.  Our society has long ago established that the thought of doing something isn’t the same as doing the action, whether it’s well-intentioned or malign.  If I mean to call my mother back in the US every Sunday, the thought doesn’t count unless I actually follow through and do so.  And if I want to run over a cyclist who’s slowing down traffic, it really doesn’t matter unless I nudge the steering wheel to the left and hit them.  Intent to commit a crime is not the same as the crime itself, until I start taking the steps necessary to perform the crime, such as purchasing explosives or writing a plan to blow something up.  If we were ever to start allowing the use of algoritms to denote who ‘s a potential criminal and treat them as such before they’ve commited a crime, we’ll have lost something essential to the human condition.

A second problem is that the algorithms are going to be created by people.  People who are fallable and biased.  Even if the individual biases are compensated for, the biases of the cultures are going to be evident in any tool that’s used to detect thought crimes.  This might not seem like much of a problem if you’re an American who agrees with the mainstream American values, but what if you’re not?  What if you’re GLBT?  What if you have an open relationship?  Or like pain?  What if there’s some aspect of your life that falls outside what is considered acceptable by the mainstream of our society?  Almost everyone has some aspect of their life they keep private because it doesn’t meet with societal norms on some level.  It’s a natural part of being human and fallable.  Additionally, actions and thoughts that are perfectly innocuous in the US can become serious crimes if you travel to the Middle East, Asia or Africa and the other way as well.  Back to the issue of sexual orientation, we only have to look at the recent Olympics and how several laws were passed in Russia to make non-heterosexual orientation a crime.  We have numerous examples of laws that have passed in the US only later to be thought to be unfair by more modern standards, with Prohibition being one of the most prominent examples.  Using computer algorithms to uncover people’s hidden inclinations would have a disastrous effect on both individuals and society as a whole.

Finally, there’s the twin ideas of false positives and false negatives.  If you’ve ever run an IDS, WAF or any other type of detection and blocking mechanism, you’re intimately familiar with the concepts.  A false positive is an alert that erroneously tags something as being malicious when it’s not.  It might be that a coder used a string that you’ve written into your detection algorithms and it’s caught by your IDS as an attack.  Or it might be a horror writer looking up some horrible technique that the bad guy in his latest novel is going to use to kill his victims.  In either case, it’s relatively easy to identify a false positive, though a false positive by the a behavioural algorithm has the potential to ruin a persons life before everything is said and done. 

Much more pernicous are false negatives.  This is when your detection mechanism has failed to catch an indicator and therefore not alerted you.  It’s much harder to find and understand false negatives because you don’t know if you’re failing to detect a legitimate attack or if there are simply no malicous attacks to catch.  It’s hard enough when dealing with network traffic to understand and detect false negatives, but when you’re dealing with people who are consciously trying to avoid displaying any of the triggers that would raise alerts, false negatives become much harder to detect and the consequences become much greater.  A large part of spycraft is to avoid any behaviour that will alert other spies to what you are; the same ideas apply to terrorists or criminals of any stripe who have a certain level of intelligence.  The most successful criminals are the ones who make every attempt to blend into society and appear to be just like every other successful businessman around them.  The consequences of believing your computer algorithms have identified every potential terrorist are that you stop looking for the people that might be off the grid for whatever reasons.  You learn to rely to heavily on the algorithm to the exclusion of everything else, a consequence we’ve already seen.

So much of what goes on society is a pendulum that swings back and forth as we adjust to the changes in our reality.  Currently, we have a massive change in technologies that allow for surveillance that far exceeds anything that’s ever been available in the past.  The thought that it might swing to the point of having chips in every persons head that tells the authorities when we start thinking thoughts that are a little too nasty is a far fetched scenario, I’ll admit.  But the thought that the NSA might have a secret data center in the desert that runs a complex algorithm on every packet and phone call that is made in the US and the world to detect potential terrorists or criminal isn’t.  However well intentioned the idea might be, the failings of the technology, the failings of the people implementing the technology and the impacts of this technology on basic human rights and freedoms are something that not only should be considered, they’re all issues that are facing us right now and must be discussed.  I, for one, don’t want to live in a world of “thought police” and “Minority Report“, but that is where this slippery slope leads.  Rather than our Oracle being a group of psychics, it might be a computer program written by … wait for it … Oracle.  And if you’ve ever used Oracle software, that should scare you as much as anything else I’ve written.

 


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Mar 05 2014

DDoS becoming a bigger pain in the …

Published by under Cloud,General,Hacking,Risk

I’m in the middle of writing the DDoS section of the 2013 State of the Internet Report, which is something that makes me spend a lot of time thinking about how DDoS is affecting the Internet (Wouldn’t be all that valuable if I didn’t put some thought into it, now would it?).  Plus I just got back from RSA where I intereviewed DOSarrest’s Jag Bains and talked to our competitors at the show. Akamai finally closed the deal on Prolexic about three weeks ago, so my new co-workers are starting to get more involved and being more available.  All of which means that there’s a ton of DDoS information available at my fingertips right now and the story it tells doesn’t look good.  From what I’m seeing, things are only going to get worse as 2014 progresses.

This Reuters story captures the majority of my concerns with DDoS.  As a tool, it’s becoming cheaper and easier to use almost daily.  The recent NTP reflection attacks show that the sheer volume of traffic is becoming a major issue.  And even if volumetric attacks weren’t growing, the attack surface for application layer attacks grows daily, since more applications come on line every day and there’s no evidence anywhere I’ve ever looked that developers are becoming at securing them (yes, a small subset of developers are, but they’re the exception).  Meetup.com is only the latest victim of a DDoS extortion scam, and while they didn’t pay, I’m sure there are plenty of other companies who’ve paid simply to make the problem go away without a fuss.  After all, $300 is almost nothing compared to the cost of a sustained DDoS on your infrastructure, not to mention the reputational cost when you’re offline.

I’d hate to say anything like “2014 is the Year of DDoS!”  I’ll leave that sort of hyperbole to the marketing departments, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.  But we’ve seen a definite trend that the number of attacks are growing year over year at an alarming rate.  And it’s not only the number of attacks that are growing, it’s the size of the volumetric attacks and the complexity of the application layer attacks.  Sure, the majority of them are still relatively small and simple, but the outliers are getting better and better at attacking, Those of us building out infrastructure to defend against these attacks are also getting better, but the majority of companies still have little or no defense against such attacks and they’re not the sort of defenses you can put in quickly or easily without a lot of help.

I need to get back to other writing, but I am concerned about this trend.  My data agrees with most of my competitors; DDoS is going to continue to be a growing problem.  Yes, that’s good for business, but as a security professional, I don’t like to see trends like this.  I think the biggest reason this will continue to grow is that it’s an incredibly difficult crime to track back to the source; law enforcement generally doesn’t have the time or skills needed to find the attackers and no business I know of has the authority or inclination to do the same.  Which means the attackers can continue to DDoS with impunity.  At least the one’s who’re smart enough to not attack directly from their own home network, that is.


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