The Flu Season is Upon Us Again!

Officially, the flu season begins on the first of October and runs until spring. Even though the CDC says that this year’s flu is starting out a little bit milder than the two previous years, I know several people that are suffering through a nasty type of flu already this year. This stuff starts out with the usual fever and aches, and then turns into “cold” symptoms that hang on for weeks! We all know how nasty this is on a personal level, but a virulent long lasting flu like this can also really stress your business as well. So, let’s take a look at how the flu really works and what we can do about it.

First off, there are few real defenses against the flu if you are going to interact with other people. “Flu’s” are viruses that can infect you in several different ways and that mutate often and rapidly. The flu vaccine that is produced every year is really only devised to have some effect on the top three dominant flu strains of the year. The amount of effect they really have also depends on just how and how much each virus strain has mutated by the time you get the flu shot. So, although it is liable to help, don’t put too much faith in the flu vaccine.

So how can flu infect you? The most insidious way for the flu virus to spread is through the air in the form of “droplets”. When persons with the flu cough or sneeze into the air, large and very small droplets of liquid filled with virus travel through the air and can easily make their way into lungs or onto hands. Large droplets generally do not travel more than six feet but small “micro-droplets” can float through the air for some time and travel greater distances. Flu virus can also enter your body through your digestive system or eyes. If there is flu virus on your hands or food and you put them in your mouth, you can get the flu. If you have flu virus on your hands and you rub your eyes or nose, you can get the flu. So, what can you do to protect yourself from getting the flu or giving it to others?

The best thing you can do, even though it is a pain, is wash your hands. I mean wash your hands each time before you touch anything and put it in your mouth, or before you rub your eyes. Also, I wouldn’t eat food that has been sitting uncovered around where people have been coughing or sneezing.

There are also a number of different things that can kill microorganisms like flu viruses. Ultra violet radiation, such as direct sunlight, kills microorganisms almost instantly. Also, Microorganisms die quickly when they come in contact with hard, smooth, dry surfaces. And, microorganisms can be killed or removed by the use of soaps and other chemical cleaners such as hand sanitizing lotions or disinfectant sprays.

So how do you protect your business from the flu? When the flu is rampant in the community, protect yourself when you are in close public areas such as grocery stores, automobiles, airplanes or malls. Have your workers do any work remotely that they can. If they can VPN into the network securely and work from home, have them do so. If you are a financial institution, consider closing or restricting access to the lobby and doing as much business as possible via the drive up windows. Insist that employees that have the flu stay home. And finally, make sure that your business has good written operating procedures in place, and that your employees cross train with each other on a regular basis. This will be a real help in times of great absenteeism. Expect the best, but plan for the worst – the height of the flu season is just two or three months away!

Web Application Targeting on the Rise

Recently, attacks on web applications have been on the rise, and there is good evidence that exploitation through SQL injection of web applications has brought about the tremendous surge in botnet infected machines. The focus of such attacks should result in us asking ourselves if we are at risk. If you have a web application it is quite possible that you are, and could likely be a target.

One of the fundamental best practices for being sure you don’t get compromised through a web application is to have strict input validation. What do I mean by “strict input validation?” Essentially, this means filtering the input to ensure the data presented by the user to the page does not contain characters that the application could mistake for code to be executed. Using input validation protects your site from executing arbitrary and malicious code that compromises your system.

Another big thing to consider is error control, often times SQL errors are displayed out in the open, or a directory listing is shown. A simple Google search for these error codes represent low-hanging fruit for a malicious attacker, allowing them to identify your website as a target. I would encourage everyone to take a close look at your web applications and make sure you are protected against this increased attacker focus.

MS08-067 Gone To Worm

A worm has been spotted in the wild that is exploiting the MS08-067 vulnerability for which Microsoft released an out-of-band update for yesterday. We urge you to update as soon as possible as there is now working code in the wild. All servers should be patched, especially external ones. If for some reason you have RPC exposed to the world, a very close look should be given to those systems as they may have already been compromised. Internal systems should be patched as soon as possible since this is now a worm, a worm that could be brought in through laptops or other means of access.
A little info on the worm itself, it has been dubbed Gimmiv.A. When the worm executes it will drop three files, winbase.dll, basesvc.dll and syicon.dll into the %System%\Wbem\basesvc.dll. It will then install a service named BaseSvc which will then force svchost.exe to load the trojan dlls. The trojan will collect data from the machine, including passwords, and send them to a remote machine.

Critical Windows Update

Today Microsoft is rolling out an unscheduled update. This vulnerability is critical and there are reports that it has been exploited by malware for the last few weeks. The most vulnerable systems are Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 2003. On these systems it is possible exploit the system without authentication. On Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, the exploit requires authentiation to run, it would likely also lead to a Denial of Service condition due to the use of DEP and ASLR in these versions of Windows.

This is the first vulnerability that can be easily wormable in the past few years. It is very important that this update be tested and rolled out by your organization as soon as possible to prevent exploitation. The Security Bulletin can be found here.

HoneyPoint Personal Edition Key Change in Upcoming Versions

Please be aware that new versions of HPPE in the works will be using a new key mechanism. The current key mechanism appears to have fallen prey to piracy and a key has been identified in several “WAREZ” distribution sites. It appears that the current key that was leaked was made public after the software was awarded as a prize at a local public IT event. We have received several reports of web sites hosting the current version of the software with the leaked key and of several torrents floating about the Internet.

Thanks to those who reported the issue and who alerted us to the presence of the leaked key. We urge any illicit users to register their software and purchase a valid copy from our site here. Your continued support of the product will allow us to continue to improve the product.

While software piracy is regrettable, we of all people, know that essentially any type of software license can be defeated. We have and will continue to make our software licenses as convenient for our customers as possible. In our opinion, ease of use is key!

Please note that HPSS keys are unaffected as the product is licensed using an entirely different mechanism that is host specific. HPPE licenses depend solely on a custom generated numeric key sequence.

Have an Application or a Device on the Market — We Will Test Its Security Posture

Just a reminder about our lab services for those organizations that may be interested. Part of what has made MSI famous over the years is the extensive work we have done around application and device security. Our lab has tested everything from traditional software to ultra-modern web applications and all kinds of hardware from appliance firewall and server loads to bio-metric systems, check scanners and, of course, the voting systems!

In the past we have served as security testing labs for operating systems, appliance applications, consumer electronics, various financial products and a ton of consumer-facing software tools. Many vendors have chosen us as partners for application/device-based risk assessments, product testing, vulnerability management and penetration testing. We have even done some heavy testing of data destruction systems in conjunction with another lab who was testing data recovery capabilities.

Our lab has also been used by Information Security and ITWorld magazines for reviews, technology analysis and vendor evaluations. We have extensive experience in reviewing products for client companies, performing/managing vendor product bake-offs and leveraging our publicly acclaimed processes for proactive threat modeling to help companies spend their IT and infosec budget dollars as wisely as possible.

Our team loves to learn about, play with and exploit new technologies and products. They are continually involved in analysis of various products and projects. We are now accepting a few new projects for lab review and testing for the 4th quarter, so if you or your company are interested in establishing security as a differentiator for your product or having your new web-application branded with our labs SecureAssure logo, get in touch with an account executive as soon as possible. We only accept a few new products every quarter due to our schedule and the intensity of our process and those slots usually fill up very very quickly.

E-Voting Follow Up

I think the presentation at TechColumbus went well. The crowd seemed into it and their questions, comments and feedback were good. Sorry to the person I had to shutdown during the talk – but we had a time limit and such for the presentation and we had to keep from getting on a tangent.

Overall the e-voting summary was that yes, the systems are broken. Yes, they have vulnerabilities. But, we know what many of them are and we know what many of the exploits look like when performed. The Secretary of State has implemented process controls and new techniques for monitoring and detection of many of the attacks that EVEREST identified. Even though the system might be less than perfect – YOU SHOULD STILL GET OUT AND VOTE.

Thanks to Terry Dick, the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, TechColumbus, Platform Labs, Mike Krippendorf and David Garcia for the help with the presentation. Special thanks to the rest of the EVEREST team, without everyone’s dedication to the cause, it would not have been as successful as it was. Extra special thanks to those who attended, without you guys, we are just strangers talking to ourselves in a dark room!

Here’s hoping everyone has a nice weekend.

Microsoft Patches Now Have an Exploitability Rating

Microsoft patches now include a new exploitability index. This new rating attempts to quantify when/if an exploit is likely to become available for a given vulnerability. The rating also attempts to take into consideration how stable a given exploit is likely to be.

Personally, I think this is a good idea, especially if they keep their methods for rating issues consistent and transparent. Already, a number of vendors have said that they will be adding support for the new index value in their tools and software. As might be expected, reaction has been mixed from the community, though, I have yet to see any response that included how such information could be truly harmful.

You can read Microsoft’s published information here.

I hope more vendors embrace this seemingly small detail. I think it is helpful for more than a few organizations overwhelmed by patch cycles. It may not be the “holy grail of patch risk”, but it is likely better than what we have now.

How does your organization plan to use this new information, if at all? Drop us a comment and let us know!

Why Replacing Internal NIDS with HoneyPoint is Critical to Your Organization

We are in a new age of information security. The primary threats to our critical data assets are well within the firewalls and layered architectures of the degenerative “perimeter”. Attackers can and will leap your firewalls, tunnel through your DMZs and trick your users into being the gateway to attack. The idea of the walled castle as a form of defense is destroyed and no longer serves anyone well.

With 55% of all attacks that cause financial damages to organizations originating internally, it makes sense that organizations change their focus to internal prevention, detection and response. But using a “false positive generator” like Snort!, Proventia or other NIDS approach is just madness. These mechanisms are so fraught with bad data when focused on the typical internal network that applying any attention to them at all is a huge waste of resources. Of course, the vendors will respond with their magic phrases – “tuning” and “managed service” both of which are just marketing speak for “spend more time and resources that you already don’t have on making our tool actually useful”. Don’t believe me, just ask them about applying their tool to a complex internal environment. Our polls, interviews and questions to users of these technology showed immense amounts of time, money and human resources being applied to keeping signatures up to date, tweaking filters and rules to eliminate false positives and spending HUGE amounts of security team time to chase ghosts and sort out useful events from the noise.

Our initial metrics, as we discussed previously showed that we could cut those resource requirements by 60-90% using a different approach. By leveraging the power of HoneyPoints, their deploy and forget architecture and their lack of false positives your organization can reap the reward of better security with less time, money and work. By combining HoneyPoint Security Server and an appropriate log monitoring tool (like OSSEC), organizations have been able to greatly simplify their deployments, reduce their costs and increase their abilities to focus on the security events that matter. Many have relegated their NIDS deployments at the perimeters to being another source of forensic data to be used along with syslog server data, file system analysis and other data sources compiled to provide evidence when a true incident occurs. NIDS at the perimeters have their value here and being a part of solution as a forensic tool makes them effective when needed, but prevents the “attention overload” that they require when used as a data source on a daily basis.

Detection of attackers in your environment IS CRITICAL. But the way you go about it has to make sense from both a security and manageability standpoint. NIDS has proven to be an ineffective solution in terms of allowing organizations with average resources to succeed. There is a way forward. That way is to change the way we think about information security. HoneyPoint Security Server and MicroSolved can help your organization do just that!

Check out for more information, or give us a call and we will be happy to explain how it works!

Please note: Snort! and Proventia are trademarks of their respective companies. They are great tools when applied to appropriate problems, but in the case of internal network security – we just have a better way! 🙂

3 Reasons Why Internet Voting is a Bad Idea

One of the questions I get asked the most when I speak on electronic voting is why voting is not done over the Internet. While I can clearly understand the idea of online voting being easy and efficient, I wanted to take a moment and give you the three biggest reasons why I think it is a bad idea, at least currently.

1. End Point Security. Voting online would mean that we would allow users to come into an online portal and cast their respective votes. The problem is that we have zero control over the security of the PC doing the voting. Your machine could be under the control of an attacker who could perform any myriad of attacks against you or the voting system. It would be trivial for an attacker who has gained control of your machine to both know how you voted and to modify your vote in real time. Everything from the simple to the sophisticated is within the realm of likely threats against home machines, for proof just look at the number and rates of bot-net infections. Imagine the chaos that could result from voting on compromised systems on a wide scale. The number of variables in this part of the equation alone is enough to give you nightmares.

2. Anonymity. The very processes that would be required to secure and authenticate the voter to the online voting system would also greatly impact their ability to remain anonymous. In order to verify the online identity of the voter, ensure that they only vote once and secure the voting session would require the system to correctly identify the voter against a database and then allow the voter to vote online. Such identification would involve a plethora of logged events and data records. Each of those log entries and data records could be compiled to help an attacker, especially an insider, identify particular voters and perhaps even isolate their vote cast. This has shown to be true with time stamps of paper trails in the current e-voting systems and would be only easier to accomplish with purely digital data.

3. Denial of Service Attacks. This is a severe issue. DoS attacks are trivial to perform these days, even against large scale systems and those with advanced capabilities. The prevalence and ease of bot-net attacks reduce the complexity of shutting down a site to the trivial level. If entire nation’s networks can be knocked off the net, then what chance would a voting portal have? Given the sensitivity, time requirements and public confidence that is needed in the electoral process, any successful denial of service attack against the voting system would be likely to cause chaos. In worst case scenarios, the entire electoral process could be disrupted or forced back to the alternative measures anyway.

In addition to these 3 reasons, many others exist. Sure, there are solutions for some of the problems – but they each range in scale from small to immense. While some countries have worked on or even adopted online voting, it continues to be a bad idea, in my opinion for the United States. The added complexity, cost and security issues certainly raise the idea well beyond the level of current workability. Cost alone is a killer given our current state of the economy, in my opinion.

So, the bottom line is that our current e-voting processes are not perfect. They do leave a lot to be desired, but work is being done in this area. Online voting, however, faces significant issues before it could even be considered as a relatively workable idea.

If you are interested in hearing more about e-voting, I will be presenting this Friday at TechColumbus on the issue, along with another member of the EVEREST team from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. You can learn more and sign up at: