Move over Intel – here comes AMD…

Following close behind Spectre, Meltdown, et al…CTS-Labs announced on Tuesday, March 13th that it’s researchers had discovered 13 new critical security vulnerabilities with AMD’s Ryzen and EPYC processors. The Israel based company presents the vulnerabilities as allowing attackers to not only access data stored on the processors, but would also allow them to install malware.

Of some note is the fact that it appears that CTS-Labs gave AMD less than 24 hours to respond to the vulnerabilities rather than the customary 90 day notice for standard vulnerability disclosure. As such, there is no readily available information from AMD.

Another item of note is that the domain name “” was registered February 22, 2018. Presumably this belongs to CTS-Labs or an associate.

Ryzen chips typically power desktop and laptop computers, while EPYC processors are generally found in servers. A quick rundown of the vulnerabilities as presented as of this writing:

RYZENFALL – four variants, affects the Ryzen family of processors: This vulnerability purports to allow malicious software to take full control of the AMD Secure Processor. The resulting Secure Processor privileges could allow read and write in protected memory areas, such as SMRAM and the Windows Credential Guard isolated memory. This could allow attackers to bypass controls such as Windows Credential Guard to compromise credentials, and potentially move laterally through the affected network.

Attackers could also theoretically use this vulnerability in conjunction with MasterKey to install persistent malware on the Secure Processor.

FALLOUT – three variants, affects the EPYC family of processors: This vulnerability purports to allow attackers to read from and write to protected memory areas, such as SMRAM and Windows Credential Guard isolated memory (VTL-1).

Attackers could theoretically leverage these vulnerabilities to steal network credentials protected by Windows Credential Guard, as well as to bypass BIOS flashing protections implemented in SMM.

CHIMERA – two variants, affects the Ryzen family of processors: This vulnerability purports to have discovered two sets of manufacturer backdoors: One implemented in firmware, the other in hardware (ASIC). The backdoors allow malicious code to be injected into the AMD Ryzen chipset.

The chipset links the CPU to USB, SATA, and PCI-E devices. Network, WiFi and Bluetooth traffic often flows through the chipset as well. The attack potential for this vector is significant, and malware could evade virtually all endpoint security solutions on the market.

Malware running on the chipset could leverage the latter’s Direct Memory Access (DMA) engine to attack the operating system. This kind of attack has been demonstrated.

MASTERKEY – three variants, affects both the Ryzen and EPUC families of processors:  Multiple vulnerabilities in AMD Secure Processor firmware allow attackers to infiltrate the Secure Processor.

This vulnerability purports to allow the deployments stealthy and persistent malware, resilient against virtually all security solutions on the market. It also appears to allow tampering with AMD’s firmware-based security features such as Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) and Firmware Trusted Platform Module (fTPM).

As in RyzenFall, this could allow attackers to bypass controls such as Windows Credential Guard to compromise credentials, and potentially move laterally through the affected network.

Another consideration is potential physical damage and bricking of hardware. It could also potentially be leveraged by attackers in hardware-based “ransomware” scenarios.

The full whitepaper is here.

Given the continued impact of the Intel patches on performance and stability, and conflicts with other vendor products – hardware and software – hang on, folks. We’re going to see some chaos in this space.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel the responsible disclosure path is to give manufacturers the customary 90 day window, or is immediate disclosure of risk preferable to you?

Let me know what you think. I can be reached at, or on Twitter as @TheTokenFemale

Enter the game master….disaster recovery tabletops!

I snagged this line from the most excellent Lesley Carhart the other day, and it’s been resonating every since.

“You put your important stuff in a fire safe, have fire drills, maintain fire insurance, and install smoke detectors even though your building doesn’t burn down every year.”

When’s the last time you got out your business continuity/disaster recovery plan, dusted it off, and actually READ it? You have one, so you can check that compliance box…but is it a living document?

It should be.

All of the box checking in the world isn’t going to help you if Step #2 of the plan says to notify Fred in Operations…and Fred retired in 2011. Step #3 is to contact Jason in Physical Security to discuss placement of security resources…and Jason has changed his cell phone number three times since your document was written.

I’ve also seen a disaster recovery plan, fairly recently, that discussed the retrieval and handling of some backup….floppy disks. That’s current and up-do-date?

Now, I am an active tabletop gamer. Once a week I get together with like-minded people to roll the dice and play various board games.

For checking the validity of your disaster recovery plan there is an excellent analog to the tabletop gaming world:

Tabletop DR exercises!

Get BACK here….I see you in the third row, trying to sneak out. I’ll admit, I LOVE doing tabletops. Hello? I get to play game master, throw in all kinds of random real life events, and help people in the process – that’s the trifecta of awesome, right there. If it’s a really good day, I get to use dice, as well!

The bare minimum requirements for an effective tabletop:

  • A copy of  your most recent DR/BC plan
  • Your staff – preferably cooperative. Buy ’em a pizza or three, will you? The good kind. Not the cheap ones.
  • An observer. This person’s job is to review your plan in advance, and observe the tabletop exercise while taking notes. They will note WHAT happens, and what actions your team takes during the exercise. This role is silent, but detail oriented.
  • And the game master. The game master will present the scenario to the team. They will interact with the team during the exercise, and will also be the one who generates the random events that may throw the plan off track. It’s always shocking to me how many people would rather be the observer….to me, game master is where the fun is.

Your scenario, and the random event happenings, should fit your business. I tend to collect these for fun….and class them accordingly. A random happening where all credit card processing is doubling due to an error in the point of sale process is perfect for a retail establishment…but an attorney’s office is going to look at me like I have three heads.

Once the exercise is over, the game master and observer should go over all notes, and generate a report. What did the team do well, what fell off track, what updates does the plan need, and what is missing from the plan entirely?

Get the team together again. Buy ’em donuts – again, the good ones. Good coffee. Or lunch. Never underestimate the power of decent food on technical resources.

Try to start on a high note, and end on a high note. Make plans, as you review – what are the action items, and who owns them? When and how will the updates be done? When will you reconvene to review the updates and make sure they’re clear and correct?

Do this, do it regularly, and do NOT punish for the outcome. It’s an exercise in improvement, always…not something that your staff should dread.

Have a great DR exercise story? Have a REALLY great random event for my collection? I’d love to hear it – reach out. I’m on Twitter @TheTokenFemale, or

Is your website in a “bad” neighborhood?

If, when you wake up in the morning, you look out outside and view something like the image below, you probably understand that you are not in the best of all possible worlds.

So, what “neighborhood” does your website see when it “wakes up”?

It could be just as disquieting.

It is not uncommon for MSI to do an an analysis of the Internet services offered by an organization and find that those services are being delivered from a “shared service” environment.

The nature of those shared services can vary.

VM Hosting:

Often they are simply the services of an virtual machine hosting provider such as Amazon AWS. Sometimes we find the entire computing infrastructure of a customer within such an environment.

The IP addressing is all private – the actual location is all “cloud”.

The provider in this case is running a “hypervisor” on it’s own hardware to host the many virtual machines used by its clients.

Application Hosting:

Another common occurrence is to find third-party “under the covers” core application services being linked to from a customer’s website. An example of such a service is that provided by commercial providers of mortgage loan origination software to much of the mortgage industry.

For example, see:

A quick google of “” will give you an idea of the extent to which the service is used by mortgage companies. The landing sites are branded to the customer, but they are all using common shared infrastructure and applications.

Web Site hosting:

Most often the shared service is simply that provided by a website hosting company. Typically many unique websites are hosted by such companies. Although each website will have a unique name (e.g. the underlying infrastructure is common. Often many websites will share a common IP address.

It is in this particular “shared service” space we most often see potential issues.

Often it’s simply a reputation concern. For instance:

host is an alias for has address

These are some of the sites that are (or have recently been) on that same IP address according to Microsoft’s Bing search engine:

My guess I some of the website owners would be uncomfortable knowing they are being hosted via the same IP address and same infrastructure as is

They might also be concerned about this:

Virustotal is reporting that a known malicious program was seen  communicating with a listening service running on some site with the IP address .

The implication is that some site hosted at had in the past been compromised and was being used for communications in what may have been a ransomware attack.

The IP address associated with such a compromised system can ultimately be blacklisted as a known suspicious site,

All websites hosted on the IP address can be affected.

Website traffic and the delivery of emails can all be affected as a result of the misfortune to share an IP address with a suspect site.


When such a compromise of the information space used by a client in a shared service occurs, all other users of that service can be at risk. Although the initial compromise may simply be the result of misuse of the website owner’s credentials (e.g. stolen login/password), the hosting provider needs to ensure that such a compromise of one site does not allow the attacker to compromise other websites hosted in the same environment – an attack pattern sometimes referred to as backplaning.

The term comes from electronics and refers to a common piece of electronics circuity (e.g a motherboard, an IO bus, etc. ) that separate “plugin” components use to access shared infrastructure.



The idea is that a compromised environment becomes the doorway into the “backplane” of underlying shared services.  (e.g. possibly shared database infrastructure).

If the provider has not taken adequate precautions such an attack can affect all hosted websites using the shared service.

Such things really can happen.

In 2015 a vulnerability in commonly used hypervisor software was announced. See:

An attacker who had already gained administrative rights on a hosted virtual machine could directly attack the hypervisor and – by extension – all other virtual machines hosted in the same environment. Maybe yours?

What to do?

Be aware of your hosted environment’s neighborhood. Use the techniques described above to find out who else is being hosted by your provider. If the neighborhood looks bad, consider a dedicated IP address to help isolate you from the poor administrative practices of other hosted sites.

Contact your vendor to and find out what steps they have in place to protect you from “backplane” attacks and what contractual protections you have if such an attack occurs.


Spend Your Infosec Dollars on the Things that Work Best First

If your organization is like most of the ones we deal with every day, you have a lot of information security controls that you are being pressed to implement, but you only have a limited budget to implement them with. How are you supposed to decide where those very scarce dollars go? I recommend implementing those controls that have proven their worth through time and trial first.

Just about nine years ago, early in the Obama administration, there was a big push to improve information cybersecurity across the board. Infosec experts from all disciplines shared ideas and information, debated strategies and mechanisms, and developed what was then called the Consensus Audit Guidelines. Around this same time Brent Huston and the MSI team developed our 80/20 Rule for Information Security. The goal of both of these endeavors was the same: rank infosec controls hierarchically according to necessity and effectiveness. This is, of course, an ongoing process subject to disagreement and periodic changes in thinking. But here are some of the primary controls that we champion.

Inventories of hardware and software assets. You can’t protect your network if you don’t know what is on it. Ensuring that your organization has mechanisms and processes in place to constantly monitor network inventories is well worth the cost. We also recommend that organizations leverage inventory processes to map data flows and trust relationships among network entities. This information can help you spot weak points in your security posture and is very useful in business continuity planning.

Configuration control and security maintenance. I can’t tell you how many network compromises that I have seen that were the result of systems that were misconfigured, or that were missing security updates. All network entities should be fully “hardened” and included in the security maintenance program. Configuration and security maintenance processes should be fully documented, maintained and overseen. Forgetting to change one default administrator password or to apply one security patch can mean the difference between security and compromise. Although these processes are labor-intensive, there are devices and applications available that can help your personnel to keep on top of them.

Vulnerability and security assessment processes. Humans are fallible. Even if you have good configuration and maintenance processes in place, you still need to check and make sure that nothing has fallen through the cracks. You also need to see if there are any access control problems, miscoding in applications or other vulnerabilities on your networks. This means regular vulnerability assessments of networks and applications. If your budget allows it, assessments such as penetration testing and social engineering exercises can also be very illuminating.

Privileged access control and monitoring. Attaining administrative-level access is the Holy Grail of cyber criminals. If you can achieve domain admin access privileges, you pretty much have the keys to the kingdom. So, ensure that privileged access is fully controlled and monitored on your network. Admins should use separate passwords for admin duties and simple network access, and adding/changing admin accounts or out-of-bounds admin activities should create alerts on the system. This is inexpensive to implement, and more than worth the effort.

Security monitoring and egress filtering. One of the processes that everyone seems to have trouble doing well is security monitoring. This is probably because it is at once a daunting and boring task. However, security monitoring is essential. It also demands a good deal of human participation. Although we strongly advocate using tools to help aggregate, parse and supply basic analysis of log data, only humans are fit to do the final analysis. One very effective part of this task is egress filtering. Egress filtering is the practice of monitoring and restricting the flow of information outbound from the network. This control is relatively easy to implement and can save the day by stopping large-scale exfiltration of data from your network in the event other security controls have been circumvented.

Security training and awareness mechanisms. It should always be remembered that information security is a human problem, not a technological problem. Because of this, your own personnel can either be your greatest security threat or your greatest security asset. Security training (accompanied by employee buy-in to the security program) can help assure that your employees are security assets. Security training should be provided to new hires and all employees on a recurrent basis. Awareness reminders should reflect real-world threats and should be provided on an as-needed basis. In addition, we recommend high-risk job titles such as system admins and code developers should be provided with security gap training to help ensure that they have all the skills needed to prevent and detect security incidents in your environment.

The controls mentioned above are certainly not all that are needed for a well-balanced information security program, but they do carry a lot of bang for the buck. So, make sure you have these primary controls in place before you waste your security dollar on flashier, but less effective mechanisms.

Because you know it’s all about them apps, ’bout them apps…

Know thyself – Socrates

I ran across this link last week, from SANS, and it’s one of the better basic checklists I’ve seen for application security. With all due respect to OWASP, their information is more technical, and useful for practitioners – their testing guide is here. For the CIO level crowd, I’d highly recommend a look at their top 10 for 2017. And a serious nod to Bill Sempf – if you haven’t heard his talk about care and feeding of developers in the security space, go find it!

Since this missive was designed to have pretty pictures and convince you to send your developers to the SANS courses listed, it’s a nice start for security practitioners that may need to work with developers, but aren’t 100% versed in application security. Some of this info is more basic than OWASP’s, as well – which does not diminish it’s importance. Let’s talk about what they list here, and why it’s important.

Error handling and logging:

Don’t display the specific error messages generated by your programs/architecture, and don’t allow unhandled exceptions – both of these items can display information about the underlying architecture of your application. Attackers can leverage this information and any associated vulnerabilities to compromise the application. If the user creates a condition that generates an error, offer them enough information to fix the problem – nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t allow specific framework errors…”the X program says you broke Y variable” – suppress them. Allowing these errors discloses potentially useful information about the framework and architecture to attackers.

Log all the things! Log authentication attempts – successful or not. Log privilege changes – successful or not. Log all administrative activity, or administrative attempts. Log any and all access and access attempts to sensitive information.

Log all the things….except when you don’t. Don’t log sensitive information. Log the admin attempts, but not admin passwords. Don’t log any information that falls under HIPAA, PCI, or other regulatory spheres.

Store logs securely. Plain text in an internet facing share? Not the world’s best idea. Encrypt, secure, and protect against data loss and tampering. If you have a data retention policy, make sure that logs are included and the policy is followed.

Data Protection:

Turn ON HTTPS, turn OFF HTTP. The same URL should not be accessible via HTTP. Get your HTTPS certificates from a respectable CA – no self-signed certificates. Accepting them is bad practice, and you run the risk of the impression that you haven’t done your due diligence, AND of conditioning your users to bypass this simple security measure.

Disable weak ciphers. Don’t wait for the 4,732 vulnerability, and don’t argue that these vulnerabilities are difficult to exploit. The NEXT one might not be. Get your SSL sanitization house in order.

Don’t allow auto-complete. Yes, some browsers will ignore things – their bad practices shouldn’t be used to justify your bad practices.

Avoid storing user info. Tokenize when possible. If you have to store password, encrypt, salt, spindle, mutilate and fold. There’s no such thing as TOO safely here.


Have a consistent, repeatable process for…application development, testing, change control. Include security requirements at the beginning of the design – don’t try to shoehorn them in after the fact.

Review, review, review. Code reviews. Design reviews. Security testing – as you go, not at the end. Harden the environment per best practices.

Train your developers on security! Work as partners, not as the guys who make stuff and those security guys that always say no.

Have an incident response plan. TEST your plan, evaluate your plan, use your plan. Do not wait til something DOES happen to discover the holes in your plan. Keep your plan updated, as staff contacts and responsibility changes. Do disaster recovery exercises.


Hard coded credentials. Don’t. Just don’t. But I need to because….no. You do not. There are safer ways to do this.

Have a strong password policy. Have a strong password reset – do not accidentally disclose things like the validity of an account via the password reset mechanism. Do have a password lockout policy – unlimited attempts is an invitation to a brute force attack.

Again, make sure your error messages aren’t handing valuable information to attackers.

Run applications and middleware with the least privilege required. Database passwords are gold – do not put them in code. Guard them. But I need to because…again, you do not. Do it right, don’t do it over.

Session management:

Put a logout button on every page. Every. Page. Then, invalidate the session once they’ve logged out – no back button resumption of the session.

Randomize your session tokens, so that they are not vulnerable to predictive attacks. Regenerate them as user permissions change. Unless the application requires multiple connections – and you have a legitimate need to DO this – destroy tokens in multiple sessions. Don’t leave yourself open to session cloning.

Cookies. And not the chocolate chip kind. Set the domain and path correctly. Use secure cookie attributes, and expire cookies as appropriate.

Log users out automatically on reasonable idle periods. Implement an absolute logout – there are few, if any, legitimate reasons to be logged in forever.

Input & Output handling:

Whitelist over blacklist. Only accept data that meets the criteria for your application.

Validate, validate, validate. Validate uploaded files – consider all uploads as suspect, and sandbox accordingly. Validate input sources.

Follow the OWASP recommendations, many detailed in the link above, for input, output, and safe transport.

Access control:

Apply access controls consistently. Use “gate keeper” technology, so that all requests are validated and verified, whether the user is logged in or not.

Don’t allow unvalidated forwards or redirects. This gives an attacker potential capability to access content without authentication.

Least privilege rules. Make access control mandatory, don’t elevate rights when you don’t absolutely need to. Don’t use direct object references to validate access.

There’s a lot more than I’ve include here….don’t understand these? Need more info? Talk to your developers. Buy ’em a burger. Buy ’em a beer. Become the guy who listens, and attempts to understand….not the jerk that always says no. If you make an honest effort to understand them, and to help them understand you, you’ll both be better for the attempt.

Got a development war story? Got a good development story? Please reach out – @TheTokenFemale on Twitter. Let’s keep the conversation going.