PHP RFI: Old Attack, Common #FAIL

I just completed the slides for my new presentation on application security. It is focused on understanding Remote File Include attacks against PHP implementations.

The preso covers what they are, how common they are, metrics, signatures, code examples and guidance for finding and mitigating them.

If there is interest, I will try and either record audio or video of the presentation and post that separately. If you would like to see/hear that in the near future, leave a comment below.

This research and the resulting project were made possible by two facets of MicroSolved, Inc. that we don’t talk a lot about, so here is some info on the power behind this project.

The first, is our application security assessments. We have really been focusing on these projects recently and my team has been working hard to complete assessments for clients, as well as a variety of open source/community tools. As a part of our deep lab capability here and our relationship with Syhunt, in Brazil, we have been working together to test and improve their Sandcat4PHP and Sandcat Pro products (which we distribute/resell for them in the US). Essentially, this gives us a very deep capability to “grey box” test PHP applications. For those unfamiliar with grey box testing, that means that the tools and engineers have both access to the source code (white box) and a useable testing version implementation (black box). Combined, this testing methodology creates a very robust, accurate and thorough capability to exercise and examine an application. Manual and automated assessments intertwine to achieve maximum width and depth of assessment.

The second facet that powered this project was the HoneyPoint Internet Threat Monitoring Environment (HITME). This is a rapidly-growing network* of HoneyPoint deployments donated to MSI for the purpose of gathering attack data. The HoneyPoint agents are deployed in a variety of international locations to give us a real-time, global view of attacker sources, frequency and tactics for our research projects. The HITME is a unique capability to MSI and brings us data that most other security organizations can only dream of. In turn, we take the gathered knowledge and give it back to the security community in presentations and projects like this and the @honeypoint/#HITME feeds on Twitter and use it to protect our clients against an ever-growing arsenal of threats.

Combined, these capabilities have helped us identify hundreds of new PHP RFI attack signatures (which we plan to release shortly), find privately released PERL and PHP attack code/bot-net infectors (shared with the AV & IDS/IPS vendors) and build this presentation for the security community.

It also opened our eyes to just how popular PHP has become and how large the footprint is in corporate organizations and businesses around the world. In a recent survey, about 50% of the polled population stated that they did not have PHP in their enterprise, but did indicate that they use some combination of WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Moodle, etc. All of these technologies are written in and utilize PHP! To the MSI team, this represents another area where the underlying technology is not understood in our corporate networks. This is another “unknown” for the attacker to leverage.

I hope you enjoy the presentation slides and I look forward to presenting this in public. If you would like to discuss more about our application security capabilities or the HITME, please let me know.

* Organizations and individuals can donate the operation of an Internet facing HoneyPoint Agent to MSI. Depending on the situation, they may receive a free license for HoneyPoint or the HoneyPoint Managed Service for their organization or home network. If you think you might be interested, please let me know and we can discuss how we might be able to work together.

Why I No Longer Have a Login at

After much conversation with the folks who manage the site and quite a bit of frustration trying to reach the people responsible for the site within ISACA, I had a good discussion with them last night and they have removed my login credentials by my request. While I have been and continue to be a supporter and member of ISACA, I disagree with them over this particular issue.

The problem is that the password reset mechanism sends your password in clear text to your registered email address. An attacker, or anyone, only needs to know or guess a user name to cause the system to send the password. If an attacker initiates this process and can gain access to the email system or the email itself in transit, then they gain access to a live, user generated password.

The threat model for this is obvious and commonly exploited. Users, even security folks, often re-use the same passwords around the Internet for a variety of sites. If the attacker can gain the password by exploiting this mechanism, then it becomes easy to try and leverage those credentials on a myriad of sites and accounts. Similar attacks have been quite popular lately and have proven effective for high level compromises on social media, e-commerce and other popular sites.

When I explained the problem to the web manager, he did not disagree with either the risk or the attack vectors. He only explained that they had known of the problem for a year or so and that their mitigation was to launch a new web site. He assured me the new site would be ready within a few months. He explained that the new site, in accordance with current best-practices, would include a new reset mechanism for passwords that used a token URL link or the like instead of a plain text password. I suggested that they remove the current mechanism from use until then and he said they would explore that as an option.

My main point on this issue is that I expect more from ISACA. I expect that since they are teaching the world to audit systems and processes for security, that they themselves would have secure processes. I especially have a hard time accepting that they knew of this problem for a year and chose to accept the risk without any additional controls being implemented, thereby placing the residual risk squarely on the shoulders of their members. To make matters worse, they transferred this risk to the membership without so much as a reminder or disclosure statement on their site about the problem. I understand that they may have resource constraints around managing the site, as he explained,   but these are the same issues that all organizations face, including the very organizations their training teaches people not to accept this explanation from.

While the discussion was amiable and professional, I am left with my disappointment. I got no assurances that anything would be done differently until the new site is launched and I got no sense for how that new site will be peer tested, reviewed or the like. Thus, I asked them to remove my account until that time. This is also the reason I am making this post. I want all ISACA members to be aware of the risk and that their credentials could potentially be exposed. Hopefully, none of the membership reuses their password around the web, but that seems unlikely. At least now, if they read this blog post, they will be aware.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on this issue by leaving a comment below. You can also contact ISACA by phone. Their numbers are listed in the contact us portion of their website.

Lastly, I want to say that I continue to support ISACA and their membership. I think their mission is critical and that their training is a strong positive for the security community and the world at large. As always, thanks for reading!

Interesting Bot News

In the last couple of days, there have been a couple of interesting pieces of bot-net news.

This one, discusses how a bot-net software war is brewing over control of your PC. Some bots are now including kill code for other bots. In this case, the new kid on the block is killing zeus code to make sure it has sole control over your fraud.
Then there was this one about ms10-015 where the bot authors have fixed their rootkit code to make the BSOD go away. They did this not as a favor to MS or anything, but to restore use of the PCs and their chain of fraud. They also wanted to cover up their own code to keep users from cleaning it.
Interesting stuff around the bot threat landscape….

Twitter Annoys Me #marketing #security

I just deleted 172 twitter users who I was following but for varied reasons, were not following me back. Here is the irony: 90% of them followed me first.

I have initiated “the follow” with only a handful of people. Most of the people on my follow list happened because they followed me first and I reciprocated. (Emulating the Twitter powerhouse @GuyKawasaki, and all) However, as I went down my list of those who were not following me, I laughed as I saw @YourBoyfriend, @CharlotteWeather, and others who I remember specifically following me first.

Those who join Twitter realize eventually that those they originally follow may not be as interesting as they thought they’d be. Or maybe they’re not “tweeting” as often. For me, tweeting is part of my job and I do enjoy letting others know about our innovative products and services. So I follow a lot of tech news sites. But for those of us using Twitter for business, we understand the point of Twitter is to start conversations. So it wasn’t painful to let go of @JohnCleese, who most likely won’t be purchasing a vulnerability assessment from us anytime soon but yet was slightly so with @RobertScoble, who I specifically remembered following me back because I mentioned it to my boss. But I kept @THErealDVORAK because I adore the “Cranky Geek” for his technological, humourous insights, even though he most likely will never respond to me.

It’s tempting to use Twitter as a bullhorn. It’s so simple to tap out those 140 characters and hit send. But if I try to start a conversation with you three times and you never respond, then it doesn’t seem to be beneficial for either of us. I admit I get annoyed when people don’t respond to a tweet directed to them when, say, they only have 4,572 followers. They way I look at it is this: If Guy Kawasaki (who has 234,732 followers) and Seth Godin (who isn’t on Twitter but yeah, he’s a big deal) can both respond to me personally, they guess what? So can you.

I admit I can do better with Twitter. I usually respond to everyone who sends me a tweet, whether it’s public or private. I enjoy helping others connect with someone who can help them. However, starting conversations around information security is sometimes tricky because I’m not a techie but yet an evangelist for our incredibly helpful products (like our HoneyPoint family, which is crazy-helpful for organizations). So although I may not be able to discuss in depth the pros and cons of cloud computing, I can point you to those in our organization who can.

The point is that Twitter is a powerful tool, but only when used by two people. It’s a tennis game, not a triathlon. Because when you drill down to the take-away for business, it’s all about the conversation and how you can help someone reach their goal. I still like the “win-win” phrase and hope that in 2010, I’ll have more of those types of conversations on Twitter.

How To Create a Social Media #Security Policy

Facebook now claims 300 million active users. And Twitter, has 6 million monthly unique visitors. As more employees use mobile devices and their desktops to access social media sites, it poses an increasing security risk both for user and organizations.

And according to a survey recently conducted by IANS, a Boston-based research company that focuses on information security issues, more companies are starting to address concerns by creating a social media policy.

Because social media will not likely disappear (In fact, more are more likely to develop.), an organization needs to create guidelines to help protect their confidential data. Here are a few things to consider when crafting your own policy:

  1. Communicate with employees and emphasize current policy. If it’s not acceptable to discuss new business at a live networking event, then it’s not acceptable to post it on Twitter or Facebook. The social media platform may change, but the principle remains the same. “Loose lips sink ships” isn’t just a quote for the military. You may already have a policy in place regarding sharing information. Include it in a social media policy.
  2. Use social media policies as an additional tool for your employee awareness program. When you develop a policy, and emphasize it with training classes, email reminders, or media – employees remember how important it is to protect the company’s intellectual property. As you explain to employees that social media just gave them a megaphone to broadcast; and with that comes responsibility, more of them will think twice before sharing something that they’ll know is inappropriate.
  3. Work with both the human resource and marketing department. To put a positive spin on usage, it’s good for employees to realize what they can post on their accounts. In fact, your employees can become an in-house public relations firm as they share with their followers the great things about their workplace. Allowing employees to have influence in an organization’s message will give them a sense of ownership in its success.
  4. Have a password vault available for each employee. One of the most common ways a hacker gains access to accounts is by discovering a password and then reusing that password to gain access to a person’s other social media accounts. KeePass is a great, open- source version to help secure passwords. Encourage employees to change passwords often.

Keep policies current to match new developments within the social media industry. Be as specific as possible and have ongoing awareness sessions to ensure everyone is on board. By planning ahead and communicating expectations clearly, a company can significantly decrease their level of vulnerability by an employee’s misuse of social media.

Broken Window Economics and Being “Type B”

I am actually quite glad that this article was written. I agree with its premise and I am very glad that MicroSolved is a “type B” security vendor. I am OK with that. It fits my world view. I am OK with not being a member of the “PCI in crowd” or doing infosec “just like all of the other vendors.” In fact, I STRIVE for MSI to do it differently. I PUSH my organization to serve our clients at a higher level. I STRAIN to help them achieve leverage. I think being “type B” makes MicroSolved INVALUABLE as a security partner.

That, in my book, is worth far more than being popular, one of the crowd or getting industry trophies and certificates. Those things might be nice for some, but helping OUR CLIENTS serve their customers in a safer way is just more our focus at MSI.

New Emerging Web Scans from the HITME

We started picking up a few very low intensity scans last night. The pace of them are increasing. They appear to be aimed at cataloging users of the ANT tool. You can find a list of the scanning targets and a link to BrainWebScan here, if you would like to check for them yourself.

If you are a MicroSolved Managed Assessment (GuardDog) client, your systems will be tested during your next scheduled assessment.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about our ongoing assessment services, threat management or application security testing, feel free to email us at info [at] microsolved [dot] C O M or give us a shout at 1-877-351-1237. We would love to discuss it with you!

Social Media and Reputational Risk: 3 Ways to Keep It Real – And Safe

You have employees who are addicted to social media, updating their status, sharing everything from discovering a helpful business link to where they went for lunch. However, they also may be broadcasting information not intended for public consumption.

One of the most difficult tasks for an organization is conveying the importance of discretion for employees who use social media. Not only are organizations at risk from having their networks attacked, but they must protect their reputation and proprietary ideas. What makes these two areas difficult to protect is their mobile nature. Ideas are invisible and have a habit of popping into conversations – and not always with the people who should be hearing them. They can get lost or stolen without anyone knowing they’re even gone. Suddenly, you find your competitor releasing a great product to your market that you thought was yours alone.

If you want to decrease such liabilities, you have a few options. Initiate some guidelines for employees. Send friendly reminders from newsworthy “social-media-gone-bad” stories. The more employees know where an organization stands in regard to safe social media use, the more they can be smart about using it. Here are three basic rules to help them interact safely:

1. Don’t announce interviews, raises, new jobs, or new projects.
Talking about any of these sensitive topics on social networking sites can be damaging. If an employee suddenly announces to the world that they’re working on a new project with XYZ Company, there’s a good chance the news will be seen by a competitor. You may see them in the waiting room of your client on your next visit. One caveat: If you’re hiring, it’s a good thing. Your organization will be seen as successful and growing. However, those types of updates are usually best left to the HR department.

2. Don’t badmouth current or previous employers.
It’s good to remember what mom used to say, “If you don’t have anything positive to say, then say nothing at all.” The Internet never forgets. When an employee rants about either their past employer, or worse – their current one, it can poison a customer’s view of the organization. Nothing can kill the possibility of a new sale than hearing an employee broadcast sour grapes. If this is a common occurrence, it can give the image of a badly managed company. This isn’t the message to send to either customers or future employees.

3. Stay professional. Represent the organization’s values well.
Employees are often tempted to mix their personal and work information together when using social media. Although many times, such information can be benign, you don’t want to hear about an employee’s wild night at the local strip club. There are mixed opinions among experts whether an employee should establish a personal account, separate from their work life.

Emphasize your organization’s values and mission. Ask employees to TBP (Think Before Posting). Social media can be a good experience as long as its done responsibly.