Podcast Episode 8 is Out

This time around we riff on Ashley Madison (minus the morals of the site), online privacy, OPSec and the younger generation with @AdamJLuck. Following that, is a short with John Davis. Check it out and let us know your thoughts via Twitter – @lbhuston. Thanks for listening! 

You can listen below:

State Of Security Podcast Episode 4

We are proud to announce the release of State Of Security, the podcast, Episode 4. This time around I am hosting John Davis, who riffs on policy development for modern users, crowdsourcing policy and process management, rational risk assessment and a bit of history.

Give it a listen and let us know what you think!

Thanks for supporting the podcast!

How to Use Risk Assessment to Secure Your Own Home

Risk assessment and treatment is something we all do, consciously or unconsciously, every day. For example, when you look out the window in the morning before you leave for work, see the sky is gray and decide to take your umbrella with you, you have just assessed and treated the risk of getting wet in the rain. In effect, you have identified a threat (rain) and a vulnerability (you are subject to getting wet), you have analyzed the possibility of occurrence (likely) and the impact of threat realization (having to sit soggy at your desk), and you have decided to treat that risk (taking your umbrella) risk assessment.

However, this kind of risk assessment is what is called ad hoc. All of the analysis and decision making you just made was informal and done on the fly. Pertinent information wasnt gathered and factored in, other consequences such as the bother of carrying the umbrella around wasnt properly considered, other treatment options werent considered, etc. What business concerns and government agencies have learned from long experience is that if you investigate, write down and consider such factors rationally and holistically, you end up with a more realistic idea of what you are really letting yourself in for, and therefore you are making better risk decisions formal risk assessment.

So why not apply this more formal risk assessment technique to important matters in your own life such as securing your home? Its not really difficult, but you do have to know how to go about it. Here are the steps:

1. System characterization: For home security, the system you are considering is your house, its contents, the people who live there, the activities that take place there, etc. Although, you know these things intimately it never hurts to write them down. Something about viewing information on the written page helps clarify it in our minds.

  1. Threat identification: In this step you imagine all the things that could threaten the security of your home and family. These would be such things as fire, bad weather, intruders, broken pipes, etc. For this (and other steps in the process), you can go beyond your own experience and see what threats other people have identified (i.e. google inquiries, insurance publications).

  2. Vulnerability identification: This is where you pair up the threats you have just identified with weaknesses in your home and its use. For example, perhaps your house is located on low ground that is subject to flooding, or you live in a neighborhood where burglaries may occur, or you have old ungrounded electrical wiring that may short and cause a fire. These are all vulnerabilities.

  3. Controls analysis: Controls analysis is simply listing the security mechanisms you already have in place. For example, security controls used around your home would be such things as locks on the doors and windows, alarm systems, motion-detecting lighting, etc.

  4. Likelihood determination: In this step you decide how likely it is that the threat/vulnerability will actually occur. There are really two ways you can make this determination. One is to make your best guess based on knowledge and experience (qualitative judgement). The second is to do some research and calculation and try to come up with actual percentage numbers (quantitative judgement). For home purposes I definitely recommend qualitative judgement. You can simply rate the likelihood of occurrence as high, medium or low risk.

  5. Impact analysis: In this step you decide what the consequences of threat/vulnerability realization will be. As with likelihood determination, this can be judged quantitatively or qualitatively, but for home purposes I recommend looking at worst-case scenarios. For example, if someone broke into your home, it could result in something as low impact as minor theft or vandalism, or it could result in very high impact such as serious injury or death. You should keep these more dire extremes in mind when you decide how you are going to treat the risks you find.

  1. Risk determination: Risk is determined by factoring in how likely threat/vulnerability realizations is with the magnitude of the impact that could occur and the effectiveness of the controls you already have in place. For example you could rate the possibility of home invasion occurring as low, and the impact of the occurrence as high. This would make your initial risk rating a medium. Then you factor in the fact that you have an alarm system and un- pickable door locks in place, which would lower your final risk rating to low. That final rating is known as residual risk.

  2. Risk treatment: Thats it! Once you have determined the level of residual risk, it is time to decide how to proceed from there. Is the risk of home invasion low enough that you think you dont need to apply any other controls? That is called accepting risk. Is the risk high enough that you feel you need to add more security controls to bring it down? That is called risk limitation or remediation. Do you think that the overall risk of home invasion is just so great that you have to move away? That is called risk avoidance. Do you not want to treat the risk yourself at all, and so you get extra insurance and hire a security company? That is called risk transference.

So, next time you have to make a serious decision in your life such as changing jobs or buying a new house, why not apply the risk assessment process? It will allow you to make a more rational and informed decision, and you will have the comfort of knowing you did your best in making the decision. 

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

Incident Response: Are You Ready?

All of us suffer from complacency to one extent or another. We know intellectually that bad things can happen to us, but when days, months and years go by with no serious adverse incidents arising, we tend to lose all visceral fear of harm. We may even become contemptuous of danger and resentful of all the resources and worry we expend in aid of problems that never seem to manifest themselves. But this is a dangerous attitude to fall into. When serious problems strike the complacent and unprepared, the result is inevitably shock followed by panic. And hindsight teaches us that decisions made during such agitated states are almost always the wrong ones. This is true on the institutional level as well.

During my years in the information security industry, I have seen a number of organizations founder when struck by their first serious information security incident. I’ve seen them react slowly, I’ve seen them throw money and resources into the wrong solutions, and I’ve seen them suffer regulatory and legal sanctions that they didn’t have to incur. And after the incident has been resolved, I’ve also seen them all put their incident response programs in order; they never want to have it happen again! So why not take a lesson from the stricken and put your program in order before it happens to your organization too? Preparing your organization for an information security incident isn’t really very taxing. It only takes two things: planning and practice.

When undertaking incident response planning, the first thing to do is to examine the threat picture. Join user groups and consult with other similar organizations to see what kinds of information security incidents they have experienced. Take advantage of free resources such as the Verizon Data Breach Reports and US-CERT. The important thing is to limit your serious preparations to the top several most credible incident types you are likely to encounter. This streamlines the process, lessens the amount of resources you need to put into it and makes it more palatable to the personnel that have to implement it. 

Once you have determined which threats are most likely to affect your organization, the next step is to fully document your incident response plan. Now this appears to be a daunting task, but in reality there are many resources available on the Internet that can help guide you through the process. Example incident response plans, procedures and guidance are available from SANS, FFIEC, NIST and many other reputable organizations free of charge. I have found that the best way to proceed is to read through a number of these resources and to adapt the parts that seem to fit your particular organization the best. Remember, your incident response plan is a living document and needs to reflect the needs of your organization as well as possible. It won’t do to simply adopt the first boiler plate you come across and hope that it will work.

Also, be sure that your plan and procedures contain the proper level of detail. You need to spell out things such as who will be on the incident response team, their individual duties during incidents, where the team will meet and where evidence will be stored, who should be contacted and when, how to properly react to different incidents and many other details. 

The next, and possibly the most important step in effective incident response is to practice the plan. You can have the most elegantly written security incident response plan in the world, and it is still doomed to fail during an actual incident if the plan is not practiced regularly. In all my years of helping organizations conduct their table top incident response practice sessions, I have never failed to see the process reveal holes in the plan and provide valuable lessons for the team members who participate. The important thing here is to pick real-world incident scenarios and to conduct the practice as close to the way it would actually occur as possible. We like to only inform a minimum number of response personnel in advance, and surprise the bulk of responders with the event just as it would happen if it were real. Of course there is much more to proper incident response planning and practice than I have included here. But this should start your organization along the right path. For more complete information and help with the process, don’t hesitate to contact your MSI representative. 

Thanks to John Davis for writing this post.

How Risky is the Endpoint?

I found this article quite interesting, as it gives you a heads up about the state of endpoint security, at least according to Ponemon. For those who want to skim, here is a quick summary:

“Maintaining endpoint security is tougher than ever, security professionals say, thanks largely to the huge influx of mobile devices.

According to the annual State of the Endpoint study, conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Lumension, 71 percent of security professionals believe that endpoint security threats have become more difficult to stop or mitigate over the past two years.

…More than 75 percent said mobile devices pose the biggest threat in 2014, up from just 9 percent in 2010, according to Ponemon. Some 68 percent say their mobile devices have been targeted by malware in the past 12 months, yet 46 percent of respondents say they do not manage employee-owned mobile devices.

…And unfortunately, 46 percent of our respondents report no efforts are in place to secure them.”

…While 40 percent report they were a victim of a targeted attack in the past year, another 25 percent say they aren’t sure if they have been, which suggests that many organizations don’t have security mechanisms in place to detect such an attack, the study says. For those that have experienced such an attack, spear-phishing emails sent to employees were identified as the No. 1 attack entry point.

…The survey found that 41 percent say they experience more than 50 malware attacks a month, up 15 percent from those that reported that amount three years ago. And malware attacks are costly, with 50 percent saying their operating expenses are increasing and 67 percent saying malware attacks significantly contributed to that rising expense.

…While 65 percent say they prioritize endpoint security, just 29 percent say their budgets have increased in the past 24 months.” — Dark Reading

There are a couple of things I take away from this:

  • Organizations are still struggling with secure architectures and enclaving, and since that is true, BYOD and visiblility/prevention efforts on end-points are a growing area of frustration.
    • Organizations that focus on secure architectures and enclaving will have quicker wins
    • Organizations with the ability to do nuance detection for enclaved systems will have quicker wins
  • Organizations are still focusing on prevention as a primary control, many of them are seriously neglecting detection and response as control families
    • Organizations that embrace a balance of prevention/detection/response control families will have quicker wins
  • Organizations are still struggling in communicating to management and the user population why end-point security is critical to long term success
    • Many organizations continue to struggle with creating marketing-based messaging for socialization of their security mission
If you would like to discuss some or all of these ideas, feel free to ping me on Twitter (@lbhuston) or drop me an email. MSI is working with a variety of companies on solutions to these problems and we can certainly share what we have learned with your organization as well. 

How Cloud Computing Will Leak Into Your Enterprise

“Consumer use of the cloud”; in a phrase, is how the cloud will leak into your enterprise, whether you like it or not. Already, IT is struggling with how to manage the consumer use of devices and services in the enterprise. Skype/VoIP and WIFI were the warning shots, but the BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad and other consumer devices are the death nail for centralized IT (and IS) control.

Consumer electronics, backed by a wide array of free or low cost cloud services, are a new frontier for your organization. Services like MobileMe, DropBox, various file sharing tools and remote access services like GoToMyPC, et al. have arrived. Likely, they are in use in your environment today. Consumers use and leverage these services as a part of their increasingly de-centralized online life. Even with sites like Twitter and FaceBook growing in capability and attention, consumers grow their use, both personally and professionally of services “in the cloud”. Make no mistake, despite your controls at the corporate firewalls, consumers are using their mobile and pocket devices and a variety of these services. Unless you are searching them at the door and blocking cell phone use in your business, they are there.

This might not be “the cloud” that your server admins are worrying about. It might not represent all of the off-site system, database and other hosting tools they are focused on right now, but make no mistake, this consumer version of the cloud has all, if not more, of the same issues and concerns. Questions about your data is managed, secured and maintained all abound.

Given the “gadget posture” of most organizations and their user communities, this is not likely to be something that technical controls can adequately respond to. The consumer cloud services are too dynamic and widespread for black listing approaches to contain them. Plus, they obviously lack centralized choke points like in the old days of “network perimeter security”. The new solution, however, is familiar. Organizations must embrace policies and processes to cover these technologies and their issues. They also have to embrace education and awareness training around these topics with their user base. Those who think that denial and black listing can solve this problem are gravely mistaken. The backdoor cloud consumer movement into your organization is already present, strong and embedded. Teaching users to be focused on safe use of these services will hopefully reduce your risk, and theirs.

Choosing Your OS is NOT a Security Control

Just a quick note on the recent Google announcement about dumping Windows for desktops in favor of Linux and Mac OS X. As you can see from the linked article, there is a lot of hype about this move in the press.

Unfortunately, dumping Windows as a risk reducer is just plain silly. It’s not which OS your users use, but how safely they use it. If a user is going to make the same “bad computing hygiene” choices, they are going to get p0wned, regardless of their OS. Malware, Trojans and a variety of attacks exist for most every, if not every, platform. Many similar brower-based attacks exist across Windows, Linux and OS X. These are the attack patterns of today, not the Slammer and Code Red worm attack patterns of days gone by.

I fail to see how changing OS will have any serious impact on organizational risk. Perhaps it will decrease, a very small amount, the costs associated with old-school spyware and worms, but this, in my opinion is likely to be a decreasing return. Over time, attackers are getting better at cross platform exploitation and users are likely to quickly feel a false sense of security from their OS choice and make even more bad decisions. Combine these, and then multiply the costs of additional support calls to the help desk as users get comfortable and have configuration issues in the enterprise, and it seems to me to be a losing gambit.

Time will tell, but I think this was a pretty silly move and one that should be studied carefully before being mirrored by other firms.

MSI Launches New Threat Modeling Offering & Process

Yesterday, we were proud to announce a new service offering and process from MSI. This is a new approach to threat modeling that allows organizations to proactively model their threat exposures and the changes in their risk posture, before an infrastructure change is made, a new business operation is launched, a new application is deployed or other IT risk impacts occur.

Using our HoneyPoint technology, organizations can effectively model new business processes, applications or infrastructure changes and then deploy the emulated services in their real world risk environments. Now, for the first time ever, organizations can establish real-world threat models and risk conditions BEFORE they invest in application development, new products or make changes to their firewalls and other security tools.

Even more impressive is that the process generates real-world risk metrics that include frequency of interaction with services, frequency of interaction with various controls, frequency of interaction with emulated vulnerabilities, human attackers versus automated tools, insight into attacker capabilities, focus and intent! No longer will organizations be forced to guess at their threat models, now they can establish them with defendable, real world values!

Much of the data created by this process can be plugged directly into existing risk management systems, risk assessment tools and methodologies. Real-world values can be established for many of the variables and other metrics, that in the past have been decided by “estimation”.

Truly, if RISK = THREAT X VULNERABILITY, then this new process can establish that THREAT variable for you, even before typical security tools like scanners, code reviews and penetration testing have a rough implementation to work against to measure VULNERABILITY. Our new process can be used to model threats, even before a single line of real code has been written – while the project is still in the decision or concept phases!

We presented this material at the local ISSA chapter meeting yesterday. The slides are available here:

Threat Modeling Slides

Give us a call and schedule a time to discuss this new capability with an engineer. If your organization is ready to add some maturity and true insight into its risk management and risk assessment processes, then this just might be what you have been waiting for.