State Of Security Podcast Episode 6

The 6th episode of the State Of Security podcast is now available. 

This time around, we get one of the most personal episodes yet – a behind the curtain look of what it is like to manage the incident response team in a highly publicized breach, under strict regulation, for 6+ months. The insights here and examinations of the personal and professional impacts are profound. We also close this episode with our new “shorts” segment – this time with an insight from @sempf. Thanks for listening, and as always, let us know what you think on Twitter – @microsolved or @lbhuston. Stay safe out there! 

You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or via Podbean. You can also listen below.

OPM Debacle: Today All Business & Government Leaders Should be Computer Security Savvy

If you want to be in direct command of a U.S. aircraft carrier you must be a pilot or navigator. There is a very good reason for this. Despite the fact that there are thousands of personnel on these ships, many with very responsible jobs indeed, what really counts are the aircraft and the pilots that man them – and the Navy knows it. They also know that if they want the mission to be carried out successfully they need an individual in charge with all the right knowledge and perspective to support these most valuable assets. Not a captain that made his rank by being a wiz at logistics!
Some of this same wisdom should be applied to leaders of government agencies and businesses that store and process private information. Do we really want people running our organizations who are not well versed in computers and information security? After all, these machines are not only vital components of our business practices; they hold the keys to the kingdom as well!
Take the recent Office of Personnel Management (OPM) debacle as an example. This agency had been warned repeatedly about the lack of security in their systems, but little or nothing was done about it. Result: four million personnel files compromised. That’s one out of every 80 people in the country! And the reason for this failure seems to be simple ignorance and inexperience on the part of staff.
One lesson that has become brutally apparent from my risk assessment experience is that if upper-level management isn’t behind the effort, the risk assessment is doomed to fail. I’m sure this is true of general information security programs as well; if upper-level management isn’t knowledgeable and interested then the information security program is doomed to fail – and the bigger and more entrenched the bureaucracy the more this is true.
Now, I’m not saying that I think all CEOs should be recruited from the ranks of IT security. What do most of us know about running a big organization? What I am saying is that I think a certain level of expertise in matters computer and security should be a requirement of any job that oversees the processing and storage of our private information. Especially since computer systems are going to become increasingly vital parts of our everyday lives as time goes on.

Are you hacking!? There’s no hacking in baseball!

My Dad called me earlier this week to ask if I heard about the FBI’s investigation of the St. Louis Cardinals. My initial reaction was that the investigation must be related to some sort of steroid scandal or gambling allegations. I was wrong. The Cardinals are being investigated for allegedly hacking into the network of a rival team to steal confidential information. Could the same team that my Grandparents took me to see play as a kid really be responsible for this crime?

After I had time to read a few articles about the alleged hack, I called my Dad back. He immediately asked me if the Astros could have prevented it. From what I have read, this issue could have been prevented (or at least detected) by implementing a few basic information security controls around the Astros’ proprietary application. Unfortunately, it appears the attack was not discovered until confidential information was leaked onto a pastebin site.

The aforementioned controls include but are not limited to:

  1. Change passwords on a regular basis – It has been alleged that Astros system was accessed by using the same password that was used when a similar system was deployed within the St. Louis Cardinals’ network. Passwords should be changed on a regular basis.
  2. Do not share passwords between individuals – Despite the fact that creating separate usernames and passwords for each individual with access to a system can be inconvenient, it reduces a lot of risk associated with deploying an application. For example, if each member of the Astros front office was required to have a separate password to their proprietary application, the Cardinals staff would not have been able to successfully use the legacy password from when the application was deployed in St. Louis. The Astros would also have gained the ability to log and track each individual user’s actions within the application.
  3. Review logs for anomalies on a regular basis – Most likely, the Astros were not reviewing any kind of security logs surrounding this application. If they were, they might have noticed failed login attempts into the application prior to the Cardinals’ alleged successful attempt. They also might have noticed that the application was accessed by an unknown or suspicious IP address.
  4. Leverage the use of honeypot technology – By implementing HoneyPot technology, the Astros could have deployed a fake version of this application. This could have allowed them to detect suspicious activity from within their network prior to the attackers gaining access to their confidential information. This strategy could have included leveraging MSI’s HoneyPoint Security Server to stand up a fake version of their proprietary application along with deploying a variety of fake documents within the Astros’ network. If an attacker accessed the fake application or document, the Astros would have been provided with actionable intelligence which could have allowed them to prevent the breach of one of their critical systems.
  5. Do not expose unnecessary applications or services to the internet – At this point, I do not know whether or not the Astros deployed this system within their internal network or exposed it to the internet. Either way, it’s always important to consider whether or not it is necessary to expose a system or service to the internet. Something as simple as requiring a VPN to access an application can go a long way to securing the confidential data.
  6. Leverage the use of network segmentation or IP address filtering – If the application was deployed from within the Astros internal network, was it necessary that all internal systems had access to the application? It’s always worthwhile to limit network access to a particular system or network segment as much as possible.

Honestly, I hope these allegations aren’t true. I have fond memories of watching the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006 and 2011. I would really hate to see those victories tarnished by the actions of a few individuals. However, it’s important that we all learn a lesson from this..whether it’s your email or favorite team’s playbook…don’t overlook the basic steps when attempting to secure confidential information.

Join Our Family: MSI Seeks Modern Sales Champion

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Do you love social media, blogging, podcasts and digital conversations? Are you an engaging story teller with a talent for clear and concise communication? Can you think on your feet, quickly build rapport and possess a huge sense of curiosity? Do you want to work with friends, in a self-managing, largely autonomous role where you can do come very cool stuff while being treated like a responsible adult? If you answered “YES!” to ALL of these questions, then you just might be the person we are looking for…

MSI is seeking a powerful new client Champion to help us grow. This person will be responsible for using content marketing, digital media and modern sales techniques to help us reach new customers. They will also spend part of their time helping our existing clients identify new opportunities to work with MSI or new problems that MSI can work together with them to solve. Our clients are amazing people with very interesting businesses around the world, so we need a truly incredible person to assist them. If you are interested in building incredible relationships that last decades, then MSI might just be the place for you.

We are seeking local, Central Ohio team members for this position. Some of the day to day focus will be the local market, so we are looking for local candidates with easy access to Columbus.

Want to learn more about the opportunity to join us? Drop us a line at info@microsolved.com or via Twitter (@lbhuston) and let us know what makes you a Champion!

A Reminder About the IoT Future…

This article has been making the rounds about a researcher who has developed a tool set that can turn a Mattel toy into a “magic” garage door opener for most garage doors. The uses of opening someone else’s garage doors seem pretty obvious, so we will leave that to the reader….

But, this is an excellent moment to pause and discuss what happens when so many things in and around our lives become Internet connected, remotely managed or “smart”. Today, it seems everything from door locks, to watches and from refrigerators to toilets are getting embedded digital intelligence. That’s a lot of hackable stuff in your life. 

I have been doing some research on beacon technology recently, and how they are being used to track consumer behaviors. I have been working with some clients that use TigerTrax™ to track consumer data and some of that work is simply amazing. As vendor knowledge seeps into your home and everyday life, even more impacts, privacy issues (and lets face it…) cool features will emerge. The problem with all of these things is that they are a double edged sword. Attackers can use them too. They can be manipulated, mis-used, invasive, infected and some can be outright dangerous (consider refrigerator malware….). 

Once again, technology is becoming ubiquitous. It offers both benefits and some things to consider. My point here is just to consider both sides of that coin the next time you face a buying decision. The world, and you, could benefit from more privacy consideration at the point of purchase… :) 

The Mixed Up World of Hola VPN

Have you heard about, or maybe you use, the “free” services of Hola VPN?

This is, of course, a VPN, in that it routes your traffic over a “protected” network, provides some level of privacy to users and can be used to skirt IP address focused restrictions, such as those imposed by streaming media systems and television suppliers. There are a ton of these out there, but Hola is interesting for another reason.

That other reason is that it turns the client machine into “exit nodes” for a paid service offering by the company:

In May 2015, Hola came under criticism from 8chan founder Frederick Brennan after the site was reportedly attacked by exploiting the Hola network, as confirmed by Hola founder Ofer Vilenski. After Brennan emailed the company, Hola modified its FAQ to include a notice that its users are acting as exit nodes for paid users of Hola’s sister service Luminati. “Adios, Hola!”, a website created by nine security researchers and promoted across 8chan, states: “Hola is harmful to the internet as a whole, and to its users in particular. You might know it as a free VPN or “unblocker”, but in reality it operates like a poorly secured botnet – with serious consequences.”[23]

In this case, you may be getting a whole lot more than you bargained for when you grab and use this “free” VPN client. As always, your paranoia should vary and you should carefully monitor any new software or tools you download – since they may not play nice, be what you thought, or be outright malicious. 

I point this whole debacle out, just to remind you, “free” does not always mean without a cost. If you don’t see a product, you are likely THE PRODUCT… Just something to keep in mind as you wander the web… 

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Artificial Intelligence – Let’s Let Our Computers Guard Our Privacy For Us!

More and more computer devices are designed to act like they are people, not machines. We as consumers demand this of them. We don’t want to have to read and type; we want our computers to talk to us and we want to talk to them. On top of that, we don’t want to have to instruct our computers in every little detail; we want them to anticipate our needs for us. Although this part doesn’t really exist yet, we would pay through the nose to have it. That’s the real driver behind the push to achieve artificial intelligence. 

Think for a minute about the effect AI will have on information security and privacy. One of the reasons that computer systems are so insecure now is because nobody wants to put in the time and drudgery to fully monitor their systems. But an AI could not only monitor every miniscule input and output, it could do it 24 X 7 X 365 without getting tired. Once it detected something it could act to correct the problem itself. Not only that, a true intelligence would be able monitor trends and conditions and anticipate problems before they even had a chance to occur. Indeed, once computers have fully matured they should be able to guard themselves more completely than we ever could.

And besides privacy, think of the drudgery and consternation an AI could save you. In a future world created by a great science fiction author, Charles Sheffield, everyone had a number of “facs” protecting their time and privacy. A “facs” is a facsimile of you produced by your AI. These facs would answer the phone for you, sort your messages, schedule your appointments and perform a thousand and one other tasks that use up your time and try your patience. When they run across situations that they can’t handle, they simply bring you into the loop to make the decisions. Makes me wish this world was real and already with us. Hurry up AI! We really need you!

State of Security Podcast Episode 5 Available

This is one of my favorite episodes so far! I spend about 45 minutes with Josh Anderson, who riffs on IT and ICS/SCADA security threats, career advice, how he compares his life to characters on TV’s “24” and a whole lot more. Very relaxed, generous in time and content, this interview with one of America’s Premier ICS Security Gurus (I just gave him that title…) is fun and lively. 

Special shout out to Kent King for his mentorship in this episode, as well. 
 
Let us know what you think Twitter. Thanks for listening! 

Should MAD Make its Way Into the National Cyber-Security Strategy?

Arguably, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has kept us safe from nuclear holocaust for more than half a century. Although we have been on the brink of nuclear war more than once and the Doomsday clock currently has us at three minutes ‘til midnight, nobody ever seems ready to actually push the button – and there have been some shaky fingers indeed on those buttons! 

Today, the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads isn’t just the threat of nuclear annihilation; now we have to include the very real threat of cyber Armageddon. Imagine hundreds of coordinated cyber-attackers using dozens of zero-day exploits and other attack mechanisms all at once. The consequences could be staggering! GPS systems failing, power outages popping up, banking software failing, ICS systems going haywire, distributed denial of service attacks on hundreds of web sites, contradictory commands everywhere, bogus information popping up and web-based communications failures could be just a handful of the likely consequences. The populous would be hysterical! 

So, keeping these factors in mind, shouldn’t we be working diligently on developing a cyber-MAD capability to protect ourselves from this very real threat vector? It has a proven track record and we already have decades of experience in running, controlling and protecting such a system. That would ease the public’s very justifiable fear of creating a Frankenstein that may be misused to destroy ourselves.

Plus think of the security implications of developing cyber-MAD. So far in America there are no national cyber-security laws, and the current security mechanisms used in the country are varied and less than effective at best. Creating cyber-war capabilities would teach us lessons we can learn no other way. To the extent we become the masters of subverting and destroying cyber-systems, we would reciprocally become the masters of protecting them. When it comes right down to it, I guess I truly believe in the old adage “the best defense is a good offense”.

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

Involved in M&A Activity? MSI has a full M&A Practice

 

MSI’s specialized offerings around Mergers & Acquisitions are designed to augment other business practices that are common in this phase of business. In addition to general security consulting and intelligence about a company from a “hacker’s eye view”, we also offer deeply integrated, methodology-driven processes around:

  1. Pre-negotiation intelligence
    1. This offering is designed to help the purchasing organization do recon on their prospect for purchase. Leveraging techniques like passive assessment, restricted individual tracing, supply chain analysis, key stakeholder profiling and history of compromise research, the potential purchasing company can get deep insights into the security posture and intellectual property integrity of the company they are considering for acquisition. All of this can be done passively and prior to a purchasing approach or offer. Insights from this service can be a useful tool in assessing approach and potential valuation. 
  2. Pre-integration assessments 
    1. Once the ink on the paperwork is dry, the organizations have to learn to live and work together. One of the most critical links, is the joining of the two IT infrastructures. In this service, our experts can perform assessments to analyze the new company’s security posture against the baseline standards of the purchasing organization. A gap analysis and road map for compliance can be provided, and if desired, MSI can serve as oversight for ensuring that the mitigations are completed as a condition for network interconnection and integration. Our team has performed these services across a variety of M&A completions, including multi-national and global Fortune 500 organizations.
  3. Post-purchase threat intelligence 
    1. MSI can also create mechanisms post-purchase to identify and respond to potential threats from inside the newly acquired organization. Our counter-intelligence and operational security techniques can help organizations identify potential internal bad actors or disgruntled new employees that could be seeking to damage the acquirer. We have created these solutions across a myriad of verticals and are quite capable of working in international and other highly complex environments. 

To learn more about these specific offerings, click on the links above. To discuss these offerings in more detail, please contact your account executive for a free consultation.

Plus, we also just added some new capabilities for asset discovery, network mapping and traffic baselining. Check this out for some amazing new ways we can help you!