Ask The Experts: Getting Started with Web App Security

Question from a  reader: What should I be paying attention to the most with regards to web applications? My organization has a number of Internet facing web applications, but I don’t even know where to start to understand what the risks and exposures might be.

Adam Hostetler responds:

The first thing I would do is to identify what the applications are. Are they in house developed applications, or are they something like WordPress or another framework? What kind of information do they store (email addresses, PII, etc)? If they are in house or vendor applications, have they been assessed before? With a little knowledge of the applications, you can start building an understanding of what the risks might be. A great resource for web application risks is the OWASP project.

Phil Grimes adds:

When it comes to web applications, I always promote a philosophy that I was raised on and continue to pound into my kid’s heads today: Trust but verify. When an organization launches an internet facing application there is an immediate loss of control on some level. The organization doesn’t know that the users accessing the application are who they say they are, or that their intentions are “normal”. Sure, most people who encounter the app will either use it as intended or if they access the app inadvertently, they may just mosey on about their merry way. But when a user starts poking around the application, we have to rely on the development team to have secured the application. Making sure identity management is handled properly will help us ensure our users are who they say they are, and validating all data that a user might pass to the application becomes an integral part of security to ensure possible attacks are recognized and thwarted.

John Davis comments:

I would say that the most important thing is to ensure that your Internet facing web applications are coded securely. For some time now, exploiting coding weaknesses in web applications has been one of the leading attack vectors exploited by cyber criminals to compromise computer networks. For example, poor coding can allow attackers to perform code injection and cross site scripting attacks against your applications. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), which is accessible on the Internet, is a good place to learn more about secure web application coding techniques. Their website contains lots of free tools and information that will help your organization in this process. There are also professional information security organizations (such as MicroSolved) that can also provide your organization with comprehensive application security assessments.

As always, thanks for reading and let us know if you have questions for the experts.

Ask The Security Experts: Mobile Policy

This time around, the experts offer insights on this question:

Q: “Dear Experts, what are the key things I need to keep in mind when I write my company’s mobile security policy?” — MK

John Davis starts us off with:

I would say the most important thing is to actually write your own policy; don’t just copy a generic mobile security policy from the Internet and adopt it as your own. For a mobile security policy to be effective, it needs to be tailored to meet your organizations particular information security requirements and also needs to reflect the reality of mobile device use at your organization. It won’t do you much good to forbid using mobile devices for business purposes if you have no mechanisms in place to prevent or detect such uses. Effective information security policy, like effective statute law, is both practical and enforceable.

Adam Hostetler added:

Keep in mind what kind of current security policies you have, and try to apply that to the mobile sphere. Users need to understand that they are connecting an additional computer to the network, and not just a “phone”. Keep in mind also what kind of deployment you are using. Is it bring your own device, or is it company provided? There will be different policies and procedures for each method and possible user backlash depending on how you are doing this.

As always, thanks to the experts for weighing in, and to the readers for the questions. Keep them coming!

Ask The Experts: Insights on Facebook Friends

This time around, the experts tackle this question:

Q: “Hey Security Experts, should I be friends with everyone that asks on Facebook? What’s the risk of friending people I don’t really know? Can we be friends on Facebook?” –Scott918

Adam Hostetler weighed in with:

I wouldn’t recommend accepting friends request for anyone on Facebook, unless you actually know them. This especially goes for somebody that claims they work at the same company as you, as it really could be somebody building a network of targets to social engineer.

Take advantage of Facebook privacy settings also. Don’t make your information public, and only make it viewable by friends. I would even recommend against putting too much personal information on there, even if it is only among friends. There have been security issues in the past that allow people to get around privacy controls, and Facebook really doesn’t need a lot of information from you anyway.

John Davis added:

The short answer is NO! I’m a big believer in the tenet the you DON’T want the whole world to know everything about you. Posting lots of personal facts, even to your known friends on Facebook, is akin to the ripples you get from tossing a pebble into still water – tidbits of info about you radiate out from your friends like waves. You never know who may access it and you can never get it back! There are lots of different people out there that you really don’t want as your friend – I’m talking about everything from annoying marketers to thieves to child molesters. People like that are trying to find out information about you all the time. Why make it easy for them?

Finally, Phil Grimes chimed in:

Facebook is a ripe playground for attackers. This is something I speak about regularly and the short answer is NO, absolutely not. If you don’t know someone, what is the benefit of “friending” them? There is no benefit. On the contrary, this opens a can of worms few of us are prepared to handle. By having friends who aren’t really friends one risks being attacked directly, in the case of the unknown friend sending malicious links or the like. There is also the risk of indirect attack. If an attacker is stalking Facebook pages, there is a lot of information that can be viewed, even if you think your privacy settings are properly set. Stranger danger applies even more on the Internet.

So, while they may not be your friends on Facebook, you can follow the Experts on Twitter (@microsolved) or keep an eye on the blog at Until next time, stay safe out there! 

Ask The Experts: Advice to New InfoSec Folks

This time our question came from a follow up on our last advice article to new infosec folks (here). Readers might also want to roll back the clock and check out our historic post “So You Wanna Be in InfoSec” from a few years ago. 

Question: “I really want to know what advice the Experts would give to someone looking to get into the information security business. What should they do to get up to speed and what should they do to participate in the infosec community?”

Adam Hostetler replied:

To get up to speed, I think you should start with a good foundation of knowledge. Already working in IT will help, you should then already have a good idea of networking knowledge, protocols, and architecture, as well as good OS administrative skills. Having this knowledge already helped me a lot at the beginning. Then I would move into the infosec world, read and listen to everything you can related to infosec.  There’s much much more security related knowledge online than ever before, so use it to your advantage. You also now have the opportunity to take info sec programs in colleges, which weren’t really available 10 years ago. Social Networking is very important too, and how you would likely land a job in infosec. Go to events, conferences or local infosec meetings. Some of the local infosec meetings here in Columbus are ISSA, OWASP, and Security MBA. Find some in your area, and attend something like Security B-Sides, if you can. Get to know people at these places, let them know you’re interested, and you might just end up with your dream job.

John Davis chimed in:

If you want to get into the risk management side of the information security business, first and above all I recommend that you read, read, read! Read the NIST 800 series,  ISO 27001 & 27002, the PCI DSS, CobiT, the CAG, information security books, magazine articles, and anything else you can find about information security. Risk assessment, ERM, business continuity planning, incident response and other risk management functions are the milieu of the generalist; the broader your knowledge base, the more effective you are going to be. To participate in the infosec community, there are several things you can do. Probably the best and quickest way to get started is to attend (and participate in) meetings of information security professional organizations such as ISSA, ISACA and OWASP. Talk to the attendees, ask questions, see if they know of any entry level positions or internships you might be able to get into. There are also infosec webinars, summits and conferences that you can participate in. Once you get your foot in the door someplace, stick with it! It takes time to get ahead in this business. For example, you need four years of professional infosec experience or three years experience and a pertinent college degree before you can even test for your CISSP certification.

As always, thanks for reading! Drop us line in the comments or tweet us (@lbhuston or @microsolved) with other questions for the Security Experts.

Ask The Experts: Online Banking

This time we asked the experts one of the most common questions we get when we are out speaking at consumer events:

Q: Hey Security Experts, do you do your banking online? If so, what do you do to make it safe for your family? If not, why not?

John Davis explained:

I’ve been banking online for many years now and have always loved the convenience and ability it gives you to monitor your accounts anywhere and any time. There are a few simple things I do to keep myself secure. I do all the usual stuff like keeping a well configured fire wall and anti-virus software package always running. I also ensure that my wireless network is as secure as possible. I make sure the signal is tuned so as to not leak much from the house, I use a long and strong password and ensure I’m using the strongest encryption protocol available. I also monitor my accounts often and take advantage of my banks free identity theft service. One final tip; instead of using your actual name as your login, why not use something different that is hard to guess and doesn’t reveal anything about your identity? It always pays to make it as tough on the cyber-criminals as possible!

Phil Grimes chimed in with:

I do almost all my banking online. This, however, can be a scary task to undertake and should always be done with caution on the forefront! In order to bank safely on line, the first thing I do is to have one machine that was built in my house for strictly that purpose. My wife doesn’t play facebook games on it. My kids don’t even touch it or know it exists. This machine comes online only to get updated and to handle the “sensitive” family business functions like bill payment or banking.  The next thing I’ve done to protect this surface was to use a strong password. I used a password generator and created a super long password with every combination of alpha, numeric, and special characters included to reduce the risk of a successful brute force attack. This password is set to expire every 30 days and I change it religiously! Then finally, using Firefox, I install the NoScript plugin to help defend against client side attacks.

Adam Hostetler added:

Yes, I do my banking online. I also pay all of my bills online and shop online. I think the biggest thing that you can do for safety is just to be aware of things like phishing emails, and other methods that fraudsters use to try to compromise your credentials. I also always use dual factor authentication when possible, or out of band authentication, most banks and credit unions support one of these methods these days. Checking all of my accounts for suspicious activity is also a regular occurrence. 

There are also the malware threats. These are mostly mitigated by having up to date software (all software, not just the OS), up to date anti-virus software, and treating social networking sites like a dark alley. Be wary of clicking on any links on social networks, especially ones that are apps that claim they will do something fun for you. Social networks are probably the largest growing vector of malware currently, and a lot of times people install it willingly!

If you’re really paranoid, just have a dedicated PC or virtual machine for online banking.

Got a question for the Experts? Send it to us in the comments, or drop us a line on Twitter (@microsolved or @lbhuston). Thanks for reading! 

Ask The Experts: Important SCADA Security Tips

This time the question comes from an online forum where we were approached about the MSI Expert’s Opinions on an interesting topic. Without further ado, here it is:

Question: In your opinion, what is the single most important question that security teams should be discussing with SCADA asset owners?

Adam Hostetler (@adamhos) replies:

Do your SCADA managers and IT have a culture of security? It’s still found that many SCADA industries still have a weak culture. This needs to be changed through ongoing education and training (like the DHS training). This will help engineers and IT develop and deploy stronger network architectures and technologies to combat increasing SCADA risks in the future.

John Davis also weighed in: 

I would say the most important question to discuss with SCADA asset owners is this: do you have short term, mid term and long term plans in place for integrating cyber-security and high technology equipment into your industrial control systems? Industrial concerns and utilities have been computerizing and networking their SCADA systems for years now. This has allowed them to save money, time and manpower and has increased their situational awareness and control flexibility. However, industrial control systems are usually not very robust and also very ‘dumb’. They often don’t have the bandwidth or processing power built into them for mechanisms like anti-virus software, IPS and event logging to work, and these systems are usually made to last for decades. This makes most industrial control systems extremely vulnerable to cyber-attack. And with these systems, availability is key. They need to work correctly and without interruption or the consequences vary from loss of revenue to personal injury or death. So, it behooves those in charge of these systems to ensure that they are adequately protected from cyber-attack now and in the future. They are going to have to start by employing alternate security measures, such as monitoring, to secure systems in the short term. Concerns should then work closely with their SCADA equipment manufacturers, IT specialists, sister concerns and information security professionals to develop mid term and long term plans for smoothly and securely transitioning their industrial control systems into the cyber-world. Failure to do this planning will mean a chaotic future for manufacturers and utilities and higher costs and inconveniences for us all.

What do you think? Let us know on Twitter (@microsolved) or drop us a line in the comments below.

Ask The Experts Series – Workstation Malware

This time around we had a question from a reader (thanks for the question!):

“My organization is very concerned about malware on desktop machines. We run anti-virus on all user systems but have difficulty keeping them clean and are still having outbreaks. What else can we do to keep infected machines from hurting us? –LW”

Phil Grimes (@grap3_ap3) responds:

In this day and age, preventing infection on desktop workstations is a losing battle. While Anti-virus and other measures can help protect the machine to some extent, the user is still the single greatest point of entry an attacker can leverage. Sadly, traditional means for prevention don’t apply to this attack vector, as tricking a user into clicking on the “dancing gnome” often launches attacks at levels our prevention solutions just can’t touch.

Realizing this is the first, and biggest step to success here.

Once we’ve embraced the fact that we need better detection and response mechanisms, we start to see how honeypots can help us but also how creating better awareness within our users can be the greatest investment an organization might make in detection. Teach your people what “normal” looks like. Get them in the habit of looking for things that go against that norm. Then, get them to want to tell someone when they see these anomalies! A well trained user base is more efficient, effective, and reliable detection mechanism an organization can have. After that, learn how to respond when something goes wrong.

John Davis added: 

Some of the best things you can do to combat this problem is to implement good, restrictive egress filtering and ensure that users have only those local administration rights to their workstations that they absolutely need.

There are different ways to implement egress filtering, but a big part of the most secure implementation is whitelisting. Whitelisting means that you start by a default deny of all outbound connections from your network, then only allow those things outbound that are specifically needed for business purposes. One of the ways that malware can infect user systems is by Internet surfing. By strictly limiting the sites that users can visit, you can come close to eliminating this infection vector (although you are liable to get plenty of blowback from users – especially if you cut visiting social networking sites).

Another malware infection vector is from users downloading infected software applications to their machines on disks or plugging in infected portable devices such as USB keys and smart phones to their work stations. This can be entirely accidental on the part of the user, or may be done intentionally by hostile insiders like employees or third party service providers with access to facilities. So by physically or logically disabling users local administration rights to their machines, you can cut this infection vector to almost nil.

You still have to worry about email, though. Everybody needs to use email and antivirus software can’t stop some malware such as zero day exploits. So, for this vector (and for those users who still need Internet access and local admin rights to do their jobs), specific security training and incentive programs for good security practices can go a long way. After all, a motivated human is twice as likely to notice a security issue than any automated security solution.

Adam Hostetler also commented:

Ensure a policy for incident response exists, and that it meets NIST guidelines for handling malware infections. Take the stand that once hosts are infected they are to rebuilt and not “cleaned”. This will help prevent reinfection from hidden/uncleaned malware. Finally, work towards implementing full egress controls. This will help prevent malware from establishing command and control channels as well as combat data leakage.

Got a question for the experts? If so, leave us a comment or drop us a line on Twitter (@microsolved). Until next time, stay safe out there! 

Ask the Security Experts: Facebook Security For Teenagers

We’re starting a new series: “Ask the Security Experts.” We’ll pose an information security question and our panel of experts will do their best to answer.


Our panel:

  • Adam Hostetler, Network Engineer, Security Analyst
  • Phil Grimes, Security Analyst
  • John Davis, Risk Management Engineer

Our Question

What should I tell my teenage children about privacy and security on Facebook?

Adam Hostetler:

Teach them how to use Facebook privacy settings. Go into the settings
and explain how it works, and that they should only post updates and
photos to their friends and not in public. Also, how to set their
account so they can only be found by friends of friends. As for apps, be
very careful about what Facebook apps they use, and pay attention to the
permissions they request. For their account, always use a strong
password. Do not give out account information to anyone (except
parents). Lastly, they should always log out of the account when they
are done. Never close the browser with the account still logged in.

Phil Grimes:

I fight this battle daily. I constantly remind my kids that what goes online now stays online forever. I have discussed privacy settings with them and give them little reminders that help them think about security and privacy online — at least in terms of posting info and pictures. It never hurts to remind them who I am and what I do for a living, they tend to always think twice before posting.

As for the games, however, this is something that is almost impossible to combat in my house. I think I am the only person who does NOT play Facebook games. The keys here are simple. Accept the machines that play these games as lost assets. I image the disks so I can restore them quickly and easily, then cordon them off on their own network segment so WHEN they get popped, I can “turn and burn” to get them back online. This really works well for me, but another important factor is to NOT do anything sensitive from these machines. Luckily, my kids don’t do any online banking or anything like that. I have my wife conduct sensitive tasks through another machine.

John Davis:

I would say to watch the scams and traps that are strewn like land mines throughout the site. Watch the free give-aways, be wary of clicking on pictures and videos and look carefully at any messages that contain links or suggest web sites to visit. Also, be VERY careful about ‘friends’ of friends and other strangers that want to friend you or communicate with you. You very well may not be communicating with who you think you are. Finally, if you’re on Facebook frequently and have not been wary, chances are you have malware on your computer that hides itself and runs in the background where you are not aware of it. So be careful when using the site and scan your system frequently.

Ask The Information Security Experts: Management and Rational Decisions About Security

We’re starting a new series: “Ask the Security Experts.” We’ll pose an information security question and our panel of experts will do their best to answer.


Our panel:

  • Adam Hostetler, Network Engineer, Security Analyst
  • Phil Grimes, Security Analyst
  • John Davis, Risk Management Engineer

Our Question

How can organizations (whose management may be concerned about hyped-up zero day exploits) make rational decisions about what and how to protect their assets? 

John Davis:

I think you should start to bring management perspective by reiterating to them that there is no such thing as 100% security. You cannot be entirely sure of your network or information protection mechanisms. Tell them yes, zero day exploits are probably going to get past traditional AV, IDS and IPS. But emphasize that there are security measures that are effective in zero day situations. These include such controls as anomaly based detection mechanisms, system user security training, and incident response programs. If you can detect these attacks early and respond to them quickly and correctly, you can effectively limit the damage from zero day attacks.

Phil Grimes:

Read the available data in the 2012 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. This will help to show that zero day fears are mostly unwarranted. While the threat exists, statistics show that most events occur because of “low hanging fruit”, or issues attackers leverage that don’t need super elite skills and can often be mitigated easily on the victim’s side. The best things to do in this regard are to focus on being fundamentally secure (do the basics), and realize that detection and response are going to be the best tools to help recover from a zero day attack scenario. 

Adam Hostetler:

With the data we have (Verizon report, etc), it shows that zero day threats are not as dangerous as one might think. Explain to them that the threat exists, but is somewhat exaggerated due to some high profile cases. And if they have controls that could help combat any zero day threats, it would likely ease management’s fears.

“Ask the Information Security Experts” Series

We’re starting a new series: “Ask the Security Experts.” We’ll pose an information security question and our panel of experts will do their best to answer.


Our panel:

  • Adam Hostetler, Network Engineer, Security Analyst
  • Phil Grimes, Security Analyst

Our question:

There’s been a lot of attention lately about the leaking of passwords from sites like LinkedIn, Yahoo,, and others. What is the ONE THING that users of a site should do when these kinds of leaks happen? Each of you has such a wide variety of skills and focus, so what would you tell your Mom to do if she asked about this?

Figure out which sites you are using the same password on. Go to these sites and change them, use a unique password for each site. Keep these passwords in a password vault, such as KeePass or LastPass, with a strong master password.

Well, since NONE of our users should be reusing passwords, they should use their password vault tool to generate a new, strong password for the site(s) in question, change the password in their password manager, then change the password in the site itself. Also, take advantage of the password aging features of the password vault to remind you to change passwords on a regular basis. But changing the password of the affected site is the most critical thing, closely followed by NOT reusing passwords on multiple sites. 

There you have it! The bad guys will always try to find ways to cause trouble. Don’t make it easy for them. Use the tools mentioned and keep your data safe!