SSL Certificate High-Level Best Practices

SSL certificates are an essential part of online security. They protect websites against hackers who try to steal information such as credit card numbers and passwords. In addition, they ensure that customers trust the site and its content.

Almost 50% of the top one million websites use HTTPS by default (they redirect inquiries of HTTP pages to URLs with HTTPS). ( such, even pages that don’t deal with confidential data are being deployed using SSL. The underlying certificates to power the encryption are available from a variety of commercial providers, and even the pro-bono resource No matter where you get your certificate from, here are a few resources for high-level best practices.

Trust Your Certificate Provider

Since certificates provide the basis for the cryptography for your site, their source is important. You can find a trustworthy list of providers for certificates here. Beware of commercial providers not found on this list, as some of them may be sketchy at best, or dangerous at worst. Remember, the Let’s Encrypt project above is also highly trusted, even though they are not a commercial firm.

Manage Versions and Algorithms

Make sure you disable SSL and TLS 1.0 on the server. That version has known vulnerabilities. If possible, and there are no impacts on your users, consider removing 1.1 and 1.2 as well. 1.3 fixes a lot of the known issues with the protocol and supports only the known secure algorithms.

In cryptography, cipher suites play an important part in securing connections by enabling encryption at different levels. You shouldn’t be using an old version of a cryptographic protocol if there’s a newer one available; otherwise, you may put your site’s security at risk. Using secure cipher suites that support 128-bit (or more) encryption is crucial for securing sensitive client communications.

Diffie Hellman Key Exchange has been shown to be vulnerable when used for weaker keys; however, there is no known attack against stronger keys such as 2048-bits. Make sure you use the strongest settings possible for your server.

Manage and Maintain Certificate Expiration

As of Sept. 1, 2020, Apple’s Safari browser will no longer trust certificates with validity periods longer than 398 days, and other browsers are likely to follow suit. Reducing validity periods reduces the time period in which compromised or bogus certificates can be exploited. As such, any certificates using retired encryption algorithms or protocols will need to be replaced sooner. (

Maintain a spreadsheet or database of your certificate expiration dates for each relevant site. Make sure to check it frequently for expiring certificates to avoid user issues and browser error messages. Even better is to use an application or certificate management platform that alerts you in plenty of time to upcoming certificate expirations – thus, you can plan accordingly. Best of all, if possible, embrace tools and frameworks for automating certificate management and rotation – that makes sure that you are less likely to have expiration issues. Most popular web frameworks now have tools and plugins available to perform this for you.

Protect Your Certificates and Private Keys

Remember that your certificate is not only a basis for cryptography, but is also a source of identification and reputation. As such, you need to make sure that all certificates are stored properly, securely and in trusted locations. Make sure that web users can’t access the private certificate files, and that you have adequate back up and restore processes in place.

Make sure that you also protect the private keys used in certificate generation. Generate them offline, if possible, protect them with strong passwords and store them in a secure location. Generate a new private key for each certificate and each renewal cycle.

Revoke your certificate or keys as quickly as possible if you believe they have been compromised.

Following these best practices will go a long way to making your SSL certificate processes safer and more effective. Doing so protects your users, your reputation and your web sites. Make sure you check back with your certificate provider often, and follow any additional practices they suggest.





A vCISO Interview With Dave Rose

I had the pleasure to interview, Dave Rose, who does a lot of our virtual CISO engagements at MSI. I think you might enjoy some of his insights.

Q) In a few sentences, introduce yourself and describe your background that makes you a valuable virtual CISO. What are the keys to your success?

A) So my name is Dave Rose and I have been a CTO and in Technology for 25+ years. I started working daily with Risk as an Internal IT Auditor with the State of Ohio and expanded exponentially my knowledge and skills with JP Morgan Chase where I had day to day Risk responsibility for their Branch, ATM, Branch Innovation, Enterprise and Chase wealth Management applications. (548 to be exact!) What makes me a valuable CISO? In technology I have been audited by the best of them, SEC OCC,FINRA,Internal Audit, and been responsible for PCI and Basil compliance. I have had to review, implement and modify controls from NIST, ISO,SOX, GLBA, OWASP and CIS. In the financial industry I have worked with Agribusiness, Commercial Real Estate, Retail Banking, Investment Banking, Mutual Funds, Wealth Management, Credit Unions and 401K plans. As an IT/Operations manager/leader I have been responsible for Network Management, Finance, HR, Contract and Vendor Management, Help Desk, Development staff, Investment Operations, Sales, Cyber Engineers and Project Management, which I started my career performing. 

With the diversity that I listed above, there is a pretty good chance my past experience can help you to solve your current problems, now. A modicum of common sense, perseverance and a passion to do what right for the business while being responsible to the controls that make you successful has made me successful. 

Q) Speaking as a virtual CISO, what are some of the toughest challenges that your clients are facing this year?

A) I think that one of the biggest challenge that our clients are facing this year is Technology Deficit. I dont think this is anything new but with the deprecation of Win 7 and the threat of Ransomware, holding onto old technology with critical vulnerabilities is no longer an option. Whether is is hardware, software or code updates, companies cannot continue to mortgage technology debt to the future. Hate to be cliche but the time is now. 

Q) If you met with a board and they wanted to know what percentage of revenue they should be spending on information security, how would you answer that question?

A) I hate this question because it really does not have a good answer. A board asked me once “How much money would it cost me to get to a 3.5 on the NIST scale?” Money is only one facet of solving risk, there is culture, leadership, technology and business vision. Know and set the roadmap for all of those items for the next 5 years and your dollar investment will come naturally. So 6-7% (Rolls eyes)

Q) In terms of the NIST model, can you walk us through how you would prioritize the domains? If you came into a new organization, where would you start in the NIST model to bring the most value and what would the first 100 days look like?

A) There are two areas of the NIST model I would focus on, identify and protect. I would take a good hard look at access administration and all the components that make that up. Next I would look at log analysis and aggregation. I would spend the first hundred days doing a Risk Assessment of the entire environment but would also create a roadmap based on evaluation of current state for both Access Administration and Log Governance. Based on your results and determination of Risk and Reward (80/20 rule) map out the next 1-3 years. 

Q) If folks wanted to learn more about your insights or discuss having you work with them as a virtual CISO or security oversight manager, how can they reach you?

A) If you would like to talk further about these question, insights or would like to hear more about the MSI vCISO service, you can reach me at 614 372–6769, twitter @dmr0120 or e-mail at!

Prepping for Incident Response

Prepping? Who wants to prep for incident response?

This particular bit of writing came from a question that I was asked during a speaking engagement recently – paraphrased a bit.

How can a client help the incident team when they’re investigating an incident, or even suspicious activity? 

So, I circulated this to the team, and we tossed around some ideas.

Continue reading

Ask The Experts: Why Do Security Testing of Internal Computer Networks?

Most organizations have realized the need to have vulnerability assessments of their internet-facing (external) computer networks performed periodically. Maybe they are alarmed by all the data compromises they hear about on the news or perhaps they are subject to regulatory guidance and are required to have vulnerability assessments done. But many organizations draw the line there and never have the security of their internal networks tested. This is a mistake! At least it’s a mistake if your goal is actually to protect your computer systems and the private information they store and process.

It is true that the most attacks against information systems come from external attackers, but that does not mean the internal threat is negligible. About one sixth of data compromises are due to employees and privileged insiders such as service providers and contractors. But there are many other reasons for testing the security of your internal networks besides the internal threat. For one thing, once cyber-criminals find a hole in your external defenses they are suddenly “insiders” too. And if your internal systems are not configured correctly, hardened and monitored, it becomes trivial for these attackers to own your systems and compromise all the private information you have.

The type of testing that gives you the most bang for the buck is internal vulnerability assessment. Doing this type of testing regularly has many benefits. One benefit that people usually don’t associate with internal vulnerability assessment is that it can be used to make maps and inventories of the network. These are essentials of information security. After all, if you don’t know what you have on your network and where it is, how can you protect it? Another benefit is that it allows you to view your internal network with perspective. In other words, it lets you see it the way an attacker would. It will reveal:

  • Access control issues such as default and blank passwords mistakenly left on the network during administration, open files shares or anonymous FTP sites that may contain private data or user accounts that are suspicious or inappropriate.
  • Systems that are missing security patches or that are running out of date software or operating systems that are no longer supported by the vendors.
  • Systems that have been misconfigured or that reveal too much information to unauthorized users.
  • Ports that are inappropriately left open or dangerous services such as Telnet or Terminal Services present on the network.
  • Poor network architecture that fails to properly segment and enclave information assets so that only those with a business need can access them.
  • How well third party systems present on your network are patched, updated and secured.

Also, from a business perspective, performing regular internal vulnerability assessments shows your customers that you are serious about information security; a factor that could influence them to choose your organization over others.

In addition to vulnerability testing, it is also more than just desirable to have penetration testing of the internal network performed occasionally. While vulnerability assessment shows you what flaws are available for attackers to exploit (the width of your security exposure), penetration testing shows you what attackers can actually do with those flaws to compromise your systems and data (the depth of your security exposure). Internal penetration testing can:

  • Reveal how attackers can exploit combinations of seemingly low risk vulnerabilities to compromise whole systems or networks (cascading failures).
  • Show you if the custom software applications you are using are safe from compromise.
  • Show you not only what is bad about your network security measures, but what is working well (this can really save you money and effort by helping you chose only the most effective security controls).

One other type of penetration testing that is well worth the time and expense is social engineering testing. As network perimeters become increasingly secure, social engineering techniques such as Phishing emails or bogus phone calls are being used more and more by attackers to gain a foothold on the internal network. We at MSI are very aware of just how often these techniques work. How well do you think your employees would resist such attacks?

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

Ask The Experts: Favorite HoneyPoint Component

This time around, we got a question from a client where HoneyPoint was being demoed for the experts.

Q: “What is your favorite component of HoneyPoint and why? How have you used it to catch the bad guys?”

Jim Klun started off with:

My favorite component is the simplest: HoneyPoint Agent. 

It’s ease of deployment and the simple fact that all alerts from an agent are of note – someone really did touch an internal service on a box where no such service legitimately exists – makes it attractive. 
No one will argue with you about meaning. 

I have recently seen it detect a new MSSQL worm (TCP 1433) within a large enterprise – information obtained from my own laptop. The Agent I had deployed on the laptop had a 1433 listener. It captured the payload from an attacking desktop box located in an office in another US state. 

The HoneyPoint Agent info was relayed to a corporate team that managed a global IPS. They confirmed the event and immediately updated their IPS that was – ideally – protecting several hundred thousand internal machines from attack. 

Honeypoint Agent: It’s simple, it works.

Adam Hostetler added his view:

I’m a simple, no frills guy, so I just like the regular old TCP listener component built into Agent. We have stood these up on many engagements and onsite visits and picked up unexpected traffic. Sometimes malware, sometimes a misconfiguration, or sometimes something innocuous (inventory management). I also find it useful for research by exposing it to the Internet.

John Davis closed with a different view:

My favorite HoneyPoint is Wasp. Watching how skilled attackers actually compromise whole networks by initially compromising one user machine gives me the shivers! Especially since most networks we see aren’t properly enclaved and monitored. If I were a CISO, knowing what is on my network at all times would be of primary importance; including what is going on on the client side! Wasp gets you that visibility and without all the traditional overhead and complexity of other end-point monitoring and white listing tools.

Have a question about HoneyPoint? Want to talk about your favorite component or use case scenario? Hit us on Twitter (@lbhuston or @microsolved). We can’t wait to hear from you. Feel free to send us your question for the experts. Readers whose questions we pick for the blog get a little surprise for their contribution. As always, thanks for reading and stay safe out there! 

Ask The Experts: New Device Check Lists

This time around on Ask The Experts, we have a question from a reader and it got some great responses from the team:


Q: “I need a quick 10 item or less checklist that I can apply to new devices when my company wants to put them on our network. What kinds of things should I do before they get deployed and are in use around the company?”


Bill Hagestad started us off with:

The Top 10 checklist items a CISO/or equivalent authority should effectively manage before installing, configuring and managing new devices on a network includes the following;


1)Organize your staff and prepare them for the overall task of documenting and diagramming your network infrastructure – give them your commander’s network management intent;

2)Create a physical and logical network map – encourage feedback from your team regarding placement of new hardware and software;

3)Use industry standards for your network including physical and logical security, take a good look at NIST Special Publication SP 800-XX Series;

4)Make certain that you and your team are aware of the requisite compliance standards for your business and industry, it will help to ensure you are within legal guidelines before installing new devices or perhaps you may discover the hardware or software you are considering isn’t necessary after all;

5)Ensure that after you have created the necessary network maps for your infrastructure in Step 2) above, conduct a through inventory of all infrastructure which is both critical and important to your business, then document this baseline;

6)Create a hardware/software configuration change procedure; or if you already have his inlace, have your team review it for accuracy; make certain everyone on the team knows to document all changes/moves/additions on the network;

7)Focus not only on the correlation of newly implemented devices on the internal networks but also look at the dependencies and effects on external infrastructure such as voice/data networks – nothing worse than making an internal change to your network and having your Internet go down unnecessarily;

8)Ensure that new network devices being considered integrate gracefully into your existing logging and alerting mechanisms; no need to install something new only to have to recreate the proverbial wheel in order to monitor it;

9)Consider the second & third order effects of newly installed devices on the infrastructure and their potential impact on remote workers and mobile devices used on the network;

10)Install HoneyPoint Security Server (HPSS) to agentlessly & seamlessly monitor external and potential internal threats to your newly configured network….


Of course a very authoritative guide is published by the national Security Agency called appropriately “Manageable Network Plan” and available for download @:

Jim Klun added:

1. Make sure the device is necessary and not just a whim on the part of management.   Explain that each new device increases risk. 

2. If the device’s function can be performed by an existing internal service, use that service instead. 

3. Inventory new devices by name, IP addresses, function and – most importantly – owners.  There should be a device owner and a business owner who can verify continued need for the device.  Email those owners regularly,   querying them about continued need. Make sure that these folks have an acknowledged role to support the application running on the devices and are accountable for its security. 

4. Research the device and the application(s) its support.  Have no black boxes in your datacenter.  Include an abstract of this in the inventory. 

5. Make sure a maintenance program is in place – hold the app and device owner accountable. 

6. Do a security audit of the device wehn fully configured. Hit it with vulnerability scanners and make sure that this happens at least quarterly. 

7. Make sure monitoring is in place and make very sure all support staff are aware of the device and any alerts it may generate. Do not blind-side the operations staff. 

8. If the device can log its activities ( system and application ) to a central log repository, ensure that happens as part of deployment. 

9. Make sure the device is properly placed in your network architecture. Internet-exposed systems should be isolated in an Internet DMZ.  Systems holding sensitive data should similarly be isolated. 

10. Restrict access to the device as narrowly as possible. 


Finally.. if you can, for every device in your environment, log its network traffic and create a summary of what is “normal” for that device.  

Your first indication of a compromise is often a change in the way a system “talks”. 


Adam Hostetler chimed in with: 

Will vary a lot depending on device, but here are some suggestions


1. Ensure any default values are changed. Passwords, SNMP strings, wireless settings etc.

2. Disable any unnecessary services

3. Ensure it’s running the latest firmware/OS/software

4. Add the device to your inventory/map, catalog MAC address, owner/admin, etc.

5. Perform a small risk assessment on the device. What kind of risk does it introduce to your environment? Is it worth it?

6. Test and update the device in a separate dev segment, if you have one.

7. Make sure the device fits in with corporate usage policies

8. Perform a vulnerability assessment against the device. 

9. Search the internet for any known issues, vulnerabilities or exploits that might effect the device.

  1. Configure the device to send logs to your logging server or SEIM, if you have one.


And John Davis got the last word by adding: 

From a risk management perspective, the most important thing a CISO needs to ensure is in place before new devices are implemented on the network is a formal, documented Systems Development Life Cycle or Change Management program. Having such a program in place means that all changes to the system are planned and documented, that security requirements and risk have been assessed before devices have purchased and installed, that system configuration and maintenance issues have been addressed, that the new devices are included in business continuity planning, that proper testing of devices (before and after implementation on the network) is undertaken and more. If a good SDLC/Change Management program is not in place, CISOs should ensure that development and implementation of the program is given a high priority among the tasks they wish to accomplish.


Whew, that was a great question and there is some amazing advice here from the experts! Thanks for reading, and until next time, stay safe out there! 


Got a question for the experts? Give us a shout on Twitter (@microsolved or @lbhuston) and we’ll base a column on your questions!

Ask The Experts: Too Much Data

Q: “I have massive amounts of log files I have to dig through every day. I have tried a full blown SEIM, but can’t get it to work right or my management to support it with budget. Right now I have Windows logs, firewall logs and AV logs going to a syslog server. That gives me a huge set of text files every day. How can I make sense of all that text? What tools and processes do you suggest? What should I be looking for? HELP!!!!”


Adam Hostetler answered with:


I would say give OSSEC a try. It’s a free log analyzer/SEIM. It doesn’t

have a GUI with100 different dashboards and graphs, it’s all cli and

e-mail based (though there is a simple web interface for it also). It is

easy to write rules for, and it has default rules for many things,

except for your AV. You can write simple rules for that, especially if

you are just looking for items AV caught. It does take some tuning, as

with all analysis tools, but isn’t difficult after learning how OSSEC

works. If you want to step it up a bit, you can feed OSSEC alerts into

Splunk where you can trend alerts, or create other rules and reports in it.


Bill Hagestad added:


First things first – don’t be or feel overwhelmed – log files are what they are much disparate data from a variety of resources that need reviewing sooner rather than later.


Rather than looking at another new set to tools or the latest software gizmo the trade rags might suggest based on the flair of the month, try a much different and more effective approach to the potential threat surface to your network and enterprise information network.


First take a look at what resources need to be protected in order of importance to your business. Once you have prioritized these assets then begin to  determine what is the minimum level of acceptable risk you can assign to each resource you have just prioritized.


Next, make two columns on a either a piece of paper or a white board. In one column list your resources in order of protection requirements, i.e.; servers with customer data, servers with intellectual property, so and so forth. In a column to the right of the first assets list plug in your varying assigned levels of risk. Soon you will see what areas/assets within your organization/enterprise you should pay the most attention to in terms of threat mitigation.


After you have taken the steps to determine your own self- assessment of risk contact MicroSolved for both a vulnerability assessment and penetration test to provide additional objective perspective on threats to your IT infrastructure and commercial enterprise. 


Finally, Jim Klun weighed in with: 


You are way ahead of the game by just having a central log repository.  You can go to one server and look back in time to the point where you expect a security incident.


And what you have – Windows logs, firewall logs, and AV – is fantastic.  Make sure all your apps are logging as well ( logon success, logon failure).

Too often I have seen apps attacked and all I had in syslog was OS events that showed nothing.


Adam’s suggestion, OSSEC, is the way to go to keep cost down… but don’t just install and hope for the best.

You will have to tweak the OSSEC rules and come up with what works.


Here’s the rub: there is no substitute for knowing your logs – in their raw format, not pre-digested by a commercial SIEM or OSSEC.


That can seem overwhelming. And to that, some Unix commands and regular expressions are your friend.




zcat auth.log | grep ssh | egrep -i ‘failed|accepted’




Jul  4 16:32:16 dmz-server01 sshd[8786]: Failed password for user02 from port 38143 ssh2

Jul  4 16:33:53 dmz-server01 sshd[8786]: Accepted password for user01 from port 38143 ssh2

Jul  4 16:36:05 dmz-server01 sshd[9010]: Accepted password for user01 from port 38315 ssh2

Jul  5 01:04:00 dmz-server01 sshd[9308]: Accepted password for user01 from port 60351 ssh2

Jul  5 08:21:58 dmz-server01 sshd[9802]: Accepted password for user01 from port 51436 ssh2

Jul  6 10:21:52 dmz-server01 sshd[21912]: Accepted password for user01 from port 36486 ssh2

Jul  6 13:43:10 dmz-server01 sshd[31701]: Accepted password for user01 from port 34703 ssh2

Jun 26 11:21:02 dmz-server01 sshd[31950]: Accepted password for user01 from port 37209 ssh2



Instead of miles of gibberish the log gets reduced to passed/fail authentication attempts.


You can spend an hour with each log source ( firewall, AV, etc) and quickly pare them down to whats interesting.


Then make SURE your OSSEC  rules cover what you want to see.

If that does not work – cron a script to parse the logs of interest using your regular expression expertise and have an email sent to you when something goes awry.


Revisist the logs manually periodically – they will change. New stuff will happen.  Only a human can catch that.


Take a look at:


The site lists a number of tools that may be useful


John Davis added:


You voice one of the biggest problems we see in information security programs: monitoring! People tell us that they don’t have the proper tools and, especially, they don’t have the manpower to perform effective logging and monitoring. And what they are saying is true, but unfortunately doesn’t let them out from having to do it. If you have peoples financial data, health data (HIPAA) or credit card information (PCI) you are bound by regulation or mandate to properly monitor your environment – and that means management processes, equipment, vulnerabilities and software as well as logs and tool outputs. The basic problem here is that most organizations don’t have any dedicated information security personnel at all, or the team they have isn’t adequate for the work load. Money is tight and employees are expensive so it is very difficult for senior management to justify the expenditure – paying a third party to monitor firewall logs is cheaper. But for real security there is no substitute for actual humans in the security loop – they simply cannot be replaced by technology. Unfortunately, I feel the only answer to your problem is for government and industry to realize this truth and mandate dedicated security personnel in organizations that process protected data.


As always, thanks for reading and if you have a question for the experts, either leave it in the comments, email us or drop us a line on Twitter at (@lbhuston). 

Ask The Experts: Daily Tasks

This time around, we get a great question from a reader:

Q: “I’m a one man infosec team at a small financial company, and as such, I stay overtasked. Can you give me a few examples of some key tasks I should make sure I am doing daily/weekly/monthly to make sure I am hitting them all and to help me better structure my schedule?”

Bill Hagestad answered with:

Daily Tasks: 

– Keep self and staff educated about latest cyber threats to your business – read the MSI Blog @ State of Security;
– Review what Federal Law Enforcement considers top cyber threats are base on current cases:
– Compromise of account holder credentials leading to legitimate account compromise;
-Via  phasing attack vectors; unauthorized ACH transfers; 
– Compromise of Third Party Payment Processors;
Source: FBI Threat To Financial Sector
-Insider attacks – perhaps the largest threat to any commercial enterprise – especially given the recent NSA dilemma via a US contractor
– Have staff follow all account verification standing operating procedures – covering all types of customer interaction, including but not limited to; phone, Internet, and in-person account interactions;
– Information Security/Assurance infrastructure configuration changes should be reviewed daily and approved/counter-approved internally to eliminate potential administrative abuses;
– Hold weekly Information Security/Assurance infrastructure team meetings – invite MicroSolved to participate as a credible resource for staff to ask questions of and make sound recommendations.
Weekly Tasks:
– Stay ahead of international financial sector threat intelligence – read the MSI Blog @ State of Security;
– Ensure account access lists are secure and validated both for external customers (most importantly) and also internal employee need to access/right to access customer account information;
Monthly Tasks:
– Participate in professional cyber/information assurance mailing lists – if not sure who or what these are contact MSI Cyber Threat Intelligence;
– Be certain to review the US Government Hearing Notes: Cybersecurity: Threats to the Financial Sector downloadable @
– Review or create a cyber threat identification strategy involving key staff and MicroSolved – install HoneyPoint Security Server to capture knowledge about who truly is probing your network, eliminate the proverbial network noise and focus on specific threat actors – e.g.; Russian Cyber Crimianls, Chinese entities using government cyber espionage tools for crime purposes
Adam Hostetler added:
It’s hard to answer exactly what you should be doing on a timely basis
without reviewing your current requirements, tools, processes, and
infrastructure. However, If you go to and look at
our 80/20 white paper, you can use that as a guideline to give you some
ideas to help build out your security program.

Examples of some things you could/should be doing.

Log reviews. Not necessary for all logs, but if you have
IDS/IPS/Honeypots etc, they should be reviewed and investigated if needed
Spend a bit of time following up on the latest security news/threats.
That includes things like new vulnerabilities or exploits, and then
following up if it would affect you.

Check and verify backups and processes

Update software/OS patches.

Finally, Jim Klun weighed in with: 
1. Make sure your subscribed to security news-feeds/alerting services that apply to your environment. Review those daily.

2. Make sure you are reviewing your logs daily.  You should know every day about successful and unsuccessful logins. You should also be paying attention to your firewall logs for inbound activity and outbound activity.

3 If you have a local help desk, talk to them at least monthly. They are often in a position to see things that are in fact security problems.

4. Automate your patching program if that is not true already, then review patch reports monthly.

5. If you have Internet exposures, check them monthly. Make absolutely sure at the end of each month you are absolutely sure of what services your organization offers to the Internet – and why.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have a question for the experts, either leave it in the comments, email us or drop us a line on Twitter at (@lbhuston). 

Ask The Security Experts: Holiday Coverage

This time around on Ask The Security Experts, we have a question about holiday coverage for the security team:

Q: “With the upcoming summer holidays and heavy vacation schedules, what are some things I need to pay attention to in order to make sure attackers don’t catch us off guard while we are short on staff?”

Jim Klun weighed in with:

1. Make sure all staff have been reminded of the reality of phishing attacks and what they need to watch out for.
   Use real-world examples like this one: ( courtesy of Adam Hostetler )
   Its important that staff understand the potential severity of a successful phishing attack.
   Such attacks are more likely over holiday periods when attackers can rely on short-staffing.

2. Make sure all systems( both network/OS/application ) are logging and that you are reviewing those logs for anomalies
   Make it a particular point to review those logs after the holidays.
   Log review can be automated but should not be reduced to a formality.  Staff with familiarity with what is normal should be reviewing daily log reports and periodically
   examining the raw logs themselves.

3. Consider internal alerting systems such as Microsolved’s “Honeypoint” solution.  They can act as tripwires in your network, alerting you to the presence of an intruder.

Bill Hagestad added:

To prevent surprise cyber attacks the number one focus should be proactive cyber threat intelligence specifically related to your company based upon the following Essential Elements of Information (EEI):

– What are your priorities for intelligence?
– Competitor’s needs/focuses?
– External vendors interests on behalf of competitor?
– Foreign economic interests
– Commercial cyber espionage
– Foreign cyber espionage?
– Potential insider threats?

Once you have prioritized what you consider the information security threats are to your organization MicroSolved can help develop a information a security/assurance strategy.
First step determine a quick list of cyber intelligence targeting baed upon the EEI above;
Second – from the priorities determine your internal High Value Targets that the prioritized list of adversaries might focus on;
Third – install or fine tune your HoneyPoint Security Server to capture attacker and threat vector information; and,
Fourth – focus holiday staffing levels and efforts to mitigate list of potential cyber threats based upon both the EEI and steps 1 -3 above.

John Davis stated:

One of the things to pay particular attention to during vacation season is the security of returning portable devices. Employees will probably be traveling all over the place on their vacations, include foreign countries. And while traveling, people like to let their hair down and take it easy. They also like to keep abreast of their emails or surf the Internet looking for restaurants and places of interest.
Hotel networks and public hot spots are usually open networks and liable to sniffing by enterprising cyber criminals. Because of this, it is relatively easy for these attackers to implant Malware on laptops or other portable devices used by traveling employees. And, as we know, lots of enterprises these days have bring your own device policies in place or tolerate the casual use of company laptops for non-business purposes. To protect the network from this scenario, run anti-virus and other Malware detecting software on these devices, and/or boot them up in a stand alone test environment and look for problems before allowing them onto the production network.

There’s a LOT of good advice here. Hopefully, some of it helps you. Until next time, thanks for reading and have a safe holiday!

Ask the Experts: Travel Abroad with Electronics

This time around, a reader wrote in with a very common question:

Q: “A member of my management team is about to go on a business trip to a country with known cyber-spying capabilities. She wants to take her phone, tablet and laptop so she can be productive on the road. What can I do to make this safer for her and our organization without restricting her work capability on the road in an unreasonable manner?”

Adam Hostetler opened with: 

The standard here is don’t bring anything electronic, if you can help it. In most cases, that’s not probable so don’t bring your normal personal phones or laptops, no smartphone at all is advisable. Bring loaner devices that have only exactly what they need and can be burned when they get back. Only connect through a VPN, and have that account monitored on the other end. Don’t leave phone or laptop in a hotel room, even in the safe, and don’t talk business there either.

Jim Klun added:

There is likely no way to do this without restricting – or at least significantly changing – the way she works. 

It has to be assumed that any information on her personal devices will be compromised. 
It also can be assumed that any information flowing between her devices and the outside world will be compromised. 

I would recommend two things:

1. Take only what you can afford to lose. Communicate only what you can afford to lose. 

        So – take a small number of devices (e.g. phone, laptop) minimally configured with only that information absolutely required for this trip. 
        Better to have corporate staff respond to email requests from her rather than to allow access to critical corporate resources from suspect location. 
        If internal connectivity to corporate resources must be allowed ( e.g VPN) it should be ideally require 2-factor auth of some sort, use strong encryption, and grant access only to a limited subset of resources. 
        All credentials can be assumed to be lost – hence the utility of two-factor.  All of the employees credentials should be changed on return. 

        All devices brought back should be assumed to be compromised and will need complete re-imaging. 

2.  Consider creating “go-kits” and well-defined repeatable processes for employees who travel to such locations. 

     A special set of devices ( laptop, phone, etc) that are minimally configured and can be wiped on return.  No personally owned devices should be allowed. 
     Connectivity for those devices – if absolutely needed – that allows access only to a tightly restricted and monitored subset of internal corporate resources. 
     Most importantly – training for employees who make these trips.  The employee must understand the special risks being incurred and be aware of their responsibility to protect the company and the companies existing customers.   
      As above – all of the employees credentials should be changed on return.

Bill Hagestad summed it up with this: 

This one is near and dear to my heart…I call these rules of counter cyber espionage the  李侃如的中國旅遊規則 (Lieberthal’s China Travel Rules)

Cellphone and laptop @ home brings “loaner” devices, erased before he leaves home country & wiped clean immediately upon returns;

In China, disable Bluetooth & Wi-Fi, phone never out of his sight;

In meetings, not only turn off his phone but also remove battery, microphone could be turned on remotely;

Connect to the Internet only via encrypted, password-protected channel, copies & pastes his password from a USB thumb drive;

Never type in a password directly, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”

The article can be found @

Brent Huston closed with:

Any electronic items they do take on the road with them should be current on patches, AV signatures and detection capabilities. All data, drives, systems, etc. should be strongly encrypted when possible to do so (Pay special attention to export restrictions on crypto depending on where they are going.) Also, turn and burn EVERYTHING when they come back. Treat all media and data obtained during the travel as suspicious or malicious in nature. Trojans of data and documents are common (and usually they scan as clean with common tools). This is especially true for high value targets and critical infrastructure clients. Trust us! Safe travels! 


(Lieberthal’s China Travel Rules)

ØCellphone and laptop home brings “loaner” devices, erased before he leaves home country & wiped clean immediately upon returns;
ØIn China, disable Bluetooth Wi-Fi, phone never out of his sight;
ØIn meetings, not only turn off his phone but also remove batterymicrophone could be turned on remotely;
ØConnect to the Internet only via encrypted, password-protected channel, copies & pastes his password from a USB thumb drive;
ØNever types in a password directly, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”