Book Review: Hardware Based Computer Security Techniques to Defeat Hackers


Hardware Based Computer Security Techniques to Defeat Hackers (Wiley) by Roger Dube, maps out solutions for hardware devices used by the Intelligence and Defense communities. Dube begins with an overview of the basic elements of computer security and then covers areas such as cryptography, bootstrap loading, and biometrics. 

   Chapter Twelve does a good job of covering “tokens,” such as a key card or photo ID. The computer security mantra, “something you have and something you know” is true with securing tokens. Issues such as cost, usability and lockout must be evaluated when considering the use of tokens as part of the user-authentication process.

   The book not only discusses the solutions but devotes a chapter at the end to explain how to implement them. A good investment for the CIO and IT Administrator. Available through Amazon for the sale price of $71.96. (retail $89.95)

MSI is Currently Seeking Resellers for Services and HoneyPoint

We are currently seeking resellers for our HoneyPoint line of products and our professional services. We are open to discussing this with any firms interested in creating a virtual security practice and helping us present our HoneyPoint products to their markets.

We have a strong interest in working with partners in South America, Europe and Asia.

If your firm is interested in joining a reseller program that has been performing well for more than a decade and has members from the Fortune 100 to regional specialists, then please read more about the program here and contact us to arrange a discussion.

Our recent expansion of technical staff has created a limited opportunity to bring on new partner relationships. Does your organization have the will and capability to be among the group that leverages our two decades of excellence?

On Vendors Offering Discounts on VA/PT Services “Due to Financial Crisis”

I have a bone to pick with the idea of vendors suddenly offering price drops on their assessments and such “in response to the financial crisis.” In my opinion, this is nothing more than a gimmick. A cheap come-on to win more business while the times are tough and the chips are down. If you can offer these discounts today without it impacting your margins at a serious level or making it tough on you to do business, then why couldn’t you do it last week, last month or last year? I’ll tell you why, because you were caught up in that extra margin and extra charge to your clients and in making that extra profit.

At MicroSolved, I have refused to play these games with our customers for 20 years. I strive every day to keep our prices as low as possible for the work we do, to pay our team fairly and to keep us in business. We contribute to the community, support the Credit Union movement, engage with companies and organizations all around the world that are dedicated to “doing the right thing.” We continually strive to focus on increasing our value to clients and keeping our costs as low as possible. Here are a few examples of some of the steps we have taken and are taking to do so:

Consultant presence. Years ago, our onsite presence for assessments and pen-testing was a high cost item for clients. Travel, lodging and per diem were and are high ticket items. Several years ago, in an effort to lessen the financial impact on our clients and staff, we began using VPN connectivity and shipping appliance computers instead of people. The cost of shipping this hardware remains expensive today, but nothing like airfare and hotels for a security team. In 2009, our team is moving to create and deploy stable, trustworthy virtual machine images that we can move over the Internet to bring these costs to near zero. Developing these tools and testing them takes time, resources and money, but we are dedicated to continuing to bring the most value to our clients for the least amount of dollars possible. This is just one more way we can work with clients to improve their security and reduce their cost to minimize risk.

Simplified reporting for VA/PT. Our clients tell us all of the time that our reports are the best they have seen and are provided in the most useable format they can imagine. We long ago (several years) stopped shipping HTML reports and the like. Today, our typical reporting is an easy to read executive summary with a one page dashboard for the engagement findings, a technical manager report that identifies and ranks root causes of the security issues we identify and a technical details report that is provided as a detailed Excel spreadsheet so you can change, sort, import or manage the data as you see fit. Our reports have received positive comments from auditors, regulators and clients from around the world. This year, we will again be undertaking a special project to continue to refine our reporting structures. For us, leading the industry is not enough, we want to establish even more value for our clients and help them manage the reporting data in ways that reduce their heavy lifting. As always, if you have ideas on this, let us know.

Real humans to talk to. We don’t have a web portal for your reports. We don’t have an automated system for requesting assessments or the like. We do have a technical project manager that is assigned to your account. They have access to the actual engineers doing your assessments and pen-testing, and so do you. We don’t believe that dealing with some complicated web application that also might have exposures to vulnerabilities and other issues makes our clients more productive OR more secure. MSI clients talk to real humans. We talk to clients routinely during their engagements and keep them up to date as they desire on the testing and work as it moves forward. You can communicate with your technical project manager on the phone, via email or via SMS if you like. You can have a call with the engineers to clarify issues or to get answers to technical questions about the engagement. We even support our engagements for one year, allowing you to ask questions, interact with the security team and get answers up to 12 months after the engagement!

Approaches like HoneyPoint. HoneyPoint is our leading-edge software for managing the insider threat. It was designed from the ground up with the idea of “deploy and forget” (SM) in mind. We created it so you could have security visibility around your environment in a powerful way that eliminates false positives, signature updates and tuning. Long before the current “financial crisis” we wanted to help organizations get better security with less resources, and we have. Today, organizations are using HoneyPoint along with tools like OSSEC to replace IDS/IPS systems and finding the total cost of ownership to be 1/2 and the total resource costs to manage the solutions to be 1/10 of their older, less evolved solutions. In fact, many small and home-based organizations have begun using our “scattersensing” approach with HoneyPoint Personal Edition to identify bot-net infections and malware breakouts, as well as suspicious insider activities for a total software cost of ~$30.00 US!

There you have it. I have “put my money where my mouth is”. At MSI, we know the financial stress is real. We know you have significant security AND budget challenges. We are striving to help you with both, BUT, NOT JUST TODAY and NOT JUST FOR A WIN FOR US. We can’t just knock arbitrary costs out of our prices because we spend EVERY DAY focused on keeping those prices low and our value high for our clients. That has been our focus for 20 years and as long as I am the CEO, it will continue to be our focus. We believe that our engineers, sales and marketing teams and other employees support our efforts. They have shown time and time again to be committed to VALUE for our clients. We may not always be the cheapest security vendor. I know our services cost more in some cases than the “scan and forget” vendors out there. I am OK with that. For 20 years I have enjoyed doing business with clients who appreciate honesty, trust, better communication and the MSI work ethic. Our clients love the work we do for them and many tell me repeatedly how much value we bring. That, in the end, I believe, is the measure of true success.

So, if you are looking for a security vendor to help you find the most value for your security budget, give us a call. We will be happy to talk to you about your needs and how MSI may be able to help. We will put together flexible payment plans, menus of services and subscriptions for engagements if you desire. We hope to talk to you soon about how we can help you be more secure with less time and money. That’s our commitment today and long after the current “financial crisis” has passed.

MicroSolved, Inc. (614) 351-1237 x206

info < at > microsolved <dot> com for more information via email

So, You Wanna Be in InfoSec?

One of the most common questions I get asked is “How can I become an information security professional?”. These days, it seems that a ton more people want to be in the “business” of information security. I get the question so often, I thought I would write this post as a quick and easy way to respond.

Are You Serious?

The first response is a “gut check”. Are you serious that you want to be an infosec person? Do you even know what you are asking? My suggestion is 2 steps. Number 1, read a basic information security guide (not Hacking Exposed or something on an aspect, but something more general like the ISO standards). Number 2, invest in your career option enough to buy a few coffees or beers and ask a couple of security folks you know of and trust to sit down, one on one with you for an hour chat. Talk about that person’s career, what day to day security work is like in their experience and what they think about your ideas for moving forward. If you can’t or won’t invest in these basic steps, then quit now and choose another career path. Security work is all about research, reading, guidance, networking and conversations with other humans. If you can’t do these toddler steps, then forget running with the big dogs and find another pack.

Get Serious, Quick!

Step 1: Knowledge boost: Start to read every single security book you can find. Listen to podcasts, read web sites, subscribe to mailing lists. Read RSS feeds.

Step 2: Find a way to contribute: Work on an open source security project. If you can’t code, then write the documentation or contribute to testing. Start a website/blog and start to aggregate or gather other security news. Wax poetic on what you think of certain topics. Think of this part as turning knowledge into wisdom. It is where the rubber meets the road and where you will encounter some pain, humiliation and grief, but it is another form of “gut check” to make sure you are ready to be in infosec.

Step 3: Build a lab & practice security skills: Build a lab. Make it out of old hardware, virtualization systems, Live CD’s, etc. Then hack stuff. Secure stuff. Apply settings, scenarios, access controls. Shop at eBay, garage sales, thrift stores or Walmart to cut the cost down. Be creative and pragmatic, both are essential security skills.

Step 4: Brand yourself: Once you have some wisdom and insight, then update your resume. Build a personal brand. Read books by Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki to learn to do this. Learn how to separate yourself from Joe Six-Pack and how to turn your security experiences with the above projects into valuable differentiators that open doors for you to get that job you wanted. Is it work? Yes. Is it hard work? Yes. Does it take time? Heck, yes. Is it worth it? If you get what you really want, heck yeah!!!!

It’s OK to Turn Back

If, at any point during the above steps, you decide you are not interested enough to continue, then don’t. Security is tedious, hard work. Most of it is COMPLETELY NOT SEXY and has nothing to do with Swordfish, Hackers or the Matrix, no matter how much you want to be Neo, Cereal Killer or Angelina Jolie. Security is mundane, boring, full of science, analysis and research. If you want to be great at it, you also need to understand business, marketing, math, human resources, education, more marketing, sales, basic programming, public speaking, more marketing and oh, yeah, more marketing. Why so much marketing? Because, believe it or not, people need to be sold on being secure. That is the largest irony of the job. You have to not just identify how to make them secure AND teach them how to be secure, BUT you ALSO have to SELL them on the idea that security is worth their investment of time, energy and resources. It’s not that they don’t want to be secure, it’s that humans are REALLY BAD AT MAKING RISK DECISIONS. Keep this in mind as your security career progresses. It is a handy meme.

Are there Shortcuts?

Maybe, if you wanna be average. More than likely not, if you wanna be truly GREAT at what you do. Everything in life has a price. The good, the bad and the security career. Paying that price is a part of the reward, you just might not know it yet. Pay the price. This is one system you really don’t wanna “hack” to get at the “easy way”, it makes for a lot of pain down the road when you look foolish.

What About Certifications?

I am not a believer in certs. I have never made any secret about my position. I DO NOT HAVE MY CISSP NOR AM I LOOKING TO EVER HAVE ONE. Certs are NOT a good measure of experience, work ethic or intelligence. They represent all that I hate about the security industry and the idea of doing the minimum. This is not to say that you should not pursue them or that they are not valuable, it is just my belief that the IT industry puts way too much stock in certs. They believe that most every CISSP is a real “security person” and knows their stuff. I have met plenty who do not. I have met plenty who I would not let manage my security. I have met some that I would, as well. The same goes for all certs (MCSE, CSA, etc.). Certs are just a BASIC qualification mechanism, no more, no less. Experience and what you have done in the past speak volumes more to me, and anyone I would want to work for or with, than a cert. Period.

I hope this answers those basic questions about how I think you should move toward being a security professional. I hope you do choose security as a career, if you are willing to invest in being great at it. The world needs more great security people, but we also need less inadequate security professionals. The industry has its charlatans and fakes, but it also has some of the best people on the planet. This industry has been good to me for almost two decades. I have met and made friends with some of the most talented, fascinating and warm people in the world. I am very blessed and very grateful. I hope you will be too. Buy me a cup of coffee if you want to talk more about it. I promise to try and help you figure out if this is the way you want to go, if you are willing to invest in yourself first BEFORE you seek my input. More than likely, you will find the same to be true for other security experts too. They just might like cheaper coffee than I do…. 🙂

DShield Launches Web Honeypot to Gather Attack Pattern Data

SANS and Dshield today announced the public availability of a new honeypot project for gathering web application attack patterns and trends. The tool is available at no charge and will feed into the ongoing DShield project data stream.

This is a great project and I am very happy to hear that more public attention will be on the use of honeypots to gather real metrics for attacks. This is something I have long stressed as a strength of our HoneyPoint products. I love the fact that they are doing it on a widely distributed basis. I know what kind of data we get from our HITME and I really hope they have much success in gathering that level of insight from a global view. I think the community as a whole will benefit.

Have we entered the age of the honeypot? Are we finally ready to accept the idea that “fake stuff can make us more secure”? I am not sure the public is there yet, but I think this another step closer. What do you think?

The Economics of Insecurity

Wanna be bad at information security? Can you afford it?

Various sources, metrics and industry studies put a variety of numbers to data loss, but the general range is around $200-$250 per compromised customer/client/credit card, etc.

How many pieces of identity data does you company protect? How many clients do you have? How many employees are in your payroll and HR systems?

Information security is expensive. Software, services, assessments, policies, awareness and a myriad of other things all cost money. But, the next time you are asking yourself or upper management about your security budget, remember that $250 number. It may just give you, or someone else, some perspective on just what it all means.

Twitter Smurfing or Amplified Twitter Spamming

Last night, @mubix pointed out a certain phrase that would result in a re-tweet of the attached content on Twitter. The interesting thing that got me going on this was that the folks in question had established an application to watch the Twitter stream and forward any content that mentioned the phrase to their followers.

Tweet-bots are not new, and I have written about code that could be adapted for this purpose in the past. Bots exist on Twitter for a variety of actions, but thus far, seem to have been relegated to auto-following folks or sending simple data streams to the service.

However, this new type of bot (which there may be others, some even older, of which I was unaware) opens Twitter and its users to a new type of spam. The obvious issue is that you could bait spam content with bot-friendly phrases and get your message sent to a MUCH BROADER coverage of followers than your own. Malicious and rowdy behavior could follow and lot of harassment and criminal activity could be shared by all. Sure, as @mubix said, “this is the open relay of Web 2.0”. I agree, it is just a matter of moments before this is a widely used abuse pattern made all the more powerful by the underlying architecture of trust that is Twitter.

But, while new forms of spam mildly interesting to me, what was interesting was that as I toyed with the bot, I would get MULTIPLE COPIES OF MY MESSAGE RETWEETED. That’s right, sometimes it would take my single message and retweet it multiple times. I could not determine if this was a bug in their implementation or a desired behavior, but it happened. That led me to the idea that you could use these bots as amplifiers. You could, essentially, identify a list of retweeting bots and cascade them to create the modern day version of the smurf attack!

Scanning the Twitter stream for these bots could be pretty easy. You could quickly script and API-enabled tool to tweet dictionary terms or brute force character groups into you found a catalog of retweet terms, then cascade them to cause a “retweet storm” of some sort. Some controls over the process are implicit due to the 140 character max for tweets, but it is likely an interesting experiment. Properly tuned, it might also be a denial of service style attack or a way to spread very small spam messages far and wide.

It should be noted that much of this is theoretical. I did not, nor do I intend, to engage in this type behavior. But, to me, it certainly seems possible. I can see it being used as a platform for spam and social engineering. I also don’t see a lot of controls that could be put in place to stop it.

Let me know your thoughts on this possibility and feel free to leave a comment and disagree or explain why I am wrong. I think there will be some interesting and dangerous times ahead for all social networks and I don’t think Twitter will be an exception.

Thanks to @mubix of Hak5 for the pointer and discussion!

“Scattersensing” on the Cheap for Insider Threats

I have been working with several clients to create a new process for combating insider threats. This new approach we have been calling “scattersensing”. Using this technique (or a variation of it), you can cheaply, effectively and efficiently identify overt insider threats that may be occurring around your organization’s network.

Scattersensing, when done with this method, costs less than $130 per scattersensor! Here’s what you need to do one scattersensing point of security visibility:

One older laptop or desktop system with a CDRom and a network card:

I use an old Gateway Solo like the ones found on this EBay page. None of the laptops on this page cost $100 and many are under $50. My scattersensor laptop that I use in the lab is a Pentium II 300 MHz with a small amount of RAM. The CD drive is built into the machine. The battery is long dead, but the rest of the hardware works. I bought the 100 Mbit PCMCIA card at a garage sale for $5, but they are also available on the cheap from EBay and a lot of other places. We don’t even really care about the hard disk, since we can run the entire system from a LiveCD if we need to, or if you have a working hard drive, you can do a hard disk install and make it even easier to use as you move it from place to place. You could also do this with just about any standard desktop, workstation or old PC you have laying around anywhere or can obtain at a garage sale or thrift store.

Now that you have the hardware, you need the operating system. For our approach, we suggest Puppy Linux. It has been tested to work as desired and can be easily hardened with a password change. You can read more about it and download the ISO image from here. Download it and burn it to a CD. You can then do the optional hard disk install if you like, simply follow the directions from the Puppy Linux site and/or from the included installer. (You may need to wipe the disk first if an NTFS partition is present). Cost of the operating system: FREE

Next, we need a copy of HoneyPoint Personal Edition from MicroSolved. You can get the zip file from here for Linux. To have the application run longer than 15 minutes at a time, you need to purchase a license for $29.95 from the online store here. Digital River will send you a license key via email. Use that license key when you first start HPPE and it will unlock the application for that system. You can use the license key over and over again on the same system if you are using a LiveCD (so keep it handy) or it will be maintained by HPPE if you did a hard disk install. Now, install, start, configure and license HPPE on your scattersensor.

Here is a picture of a scattersensor I use routinely in the lab and in the field for training/exercises. It is the Gateway Solo I referred to above.


OK, so now that you have a scattersensor built, what next? Next you deploy it. You place it in your network environment, using it to detect overt insider threats like scanning, malware probes, bot-net activity and anyone looking around the environment. Since the services that are being offered by the HPPE deployment aren’t real, there is absolutely NO REASON you should see any activity at all. Any activity you do see, should be treated as suspicious at best and malicious at worst. Investigate any activity you see, period. Many organizations find things like misconfigured software, holes in ACL’s or the like and of course, the variety of attacks previously described.

Using scattersensor(s), you can easily move them from network segment to network segment on a semi-random schedule. Move them to the DMZ for a week or so, then on to the server network segment, then to a partner network, then to workstation segments. Build more than one and cover a lot of areas easily. For small to mid-size organizations, a couple of scattersensors with HPPE may be more than enough to give you good security visibility and coverage. Many organizations have used the scattersensing approach for a while and then moved up to use the full blown HoneyPoint Security Server enterprise product.

There you go, a first light touch on the subject from Operation Anaconda. A way to easily (and incredibly cheaply!) get security visibility in a powerful and evolutionary way. Give it a try and let us know how you fair. You can report your updates and progress in the comments or via the #anaconda hash tag on Twitter. Good luck out there!

Operation Anaconda: Putting the Squeeze on the Insider Threat

Organizations today are facing increased pressure to combat the “insider threat”. More and more compromises are occurring from “inside the secure perimeter”. The financial crisis, exploding use of mobile technologies, surges in bot-net infections and capabilities plus a myriad of other conditions are only making the problem more urgent. This condition exists across market verticals and it doesn’t matter whether you are charged with protecting national secrets, bank account information, credit card data or whatever, the insider is still the most dangerous threat of all.

At MicroSolved, we know that this is the most serious issue facing organizations today. We know that the threat is real, that budgets are tightening and that all of us will have to do more with less. We also know that as the economy worsens, data thieves, bot-herders and industrial espionage attacks will become more common.

Today, we have begun a special project – called Operation Anaconda. The purpose of this project is to study the problem of insider threats, identify rational approaches to reducing the risk of insider attacks and develop additional products, services, knowledge-based documents, methodologies and public information to help all of us better protect our businesses, data and assets from threats that originate inside our organizations. We don’t claim to have all of the answers, and we know that the risk can never reach zero, but we dedicate ourselves to finding better solutions to the problem than those that are common today.

“Normally, these kinds of press releases and articles are done in conjunction with new products or service offerings,” said Brent Huston, Security Evangelist (and CEO) of MicroSolved, Inc. “but we wanted to let customers and organizations know that we have heard them when they told us what was hurting them. We heard them and we are committed to doing our part to making that pain go away!”

“Over the next several months, you will see a plethora of articles, tools, techniques, products, services and approaches targeted at solving this problem. Our company will lead the way in identifying what works, what doesn’t and how to reduce the insider risk AND the security budget at the same time. Solutions have to be out there, and together, we will find them.” vowed Huston.

MicroSolved is currently building a project plan and forming study groups around facets of the problem. If you or your team would like to participate in one of the public study groups or discussions, please feel free to contact us. We will make more logistics known as the groups firm up their agendas. Stay tuned to for more information and please feel free to comment on Operation Anaconda or responses to the insider threat. Thanks for reading and feel free to spread the word!