In this episode of the MSI podcast, we discuss recent issues involving AWS misconfigurations that led to incidents, common problems, the importance of proper configurations to avoid these issues and how we can help you identify them in your environment.
I recently saw an article targeted at non-profits that was a bit frightening. The statement was that small non-profits, and by extension many businesses, could benefit from the ease of deployment of cloud services. The writers presented AWS, Dropbox, DocuSign, et. al. as a great way to increase your infrastructure with very little staff.
While the writers were not wrong….they were not entirely correct, either. It’s incredibly easy and can be cost effective to use a cloud based infrastructure. However, when things go wrong, they can go REALLY wrong. In February of 2018, Fedex had a misconfigured S3 bucket that exposed a preponderance of customer data. That’s simply the first of many notable breaches that have occurred so far in 2018, and the list grows as you travel back in time. Accenture, Time Warner and Uber are a few of the big names with AWS security issues in 2017.
So, if the big guys who have a staff can’t get it right, what can you do? A few things to consider:
- What, specifically, are you deploying to the cloud? A static website carries less business risk than an application that contains or transfers client data.
- What are the risks associated with the cloud deployment? Type of data, does it contain PII, etc.? What is the business impact if this data were to be compromised?
- Are there any regulatory guidelines for your industry that could affect cloud deployment of data?
- Have you done your due diligence on cloud security in general? The Cloud Security Alliance has a lot of good resources available for best practices. Adam from MSI wrote a good article on some of the permissions issues recently, as well.
- What resources do you have or can you leverage to make sure that your deployment is secure? If you don’t have internal resources, consider leveraging an external resource like MSI to assist.
Remember – just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. But cloud infrastructure can be a great resource if you handle it properly.
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.
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.
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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellie_Mae
A quick google of “site:mortgage-application.net” 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. mywebsite.com) 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:
www.iwantporn.net is an alias for iwantporn.net.
iwantporn.net has address 126.96.36.199
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 www.iwantporn.com.
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 188.8.131.52 .
The implication is that some site hosted at 184.108.40.206 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: http://venom.crowdstrike.com/
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.
Hey there! I hope your week is off to a great start.
Here is Episode 13 of the State of Security Podcast. This new “tidbit” format comes in under 35 minutes and features some pointers on unusual security questions you should be asking cloud service providers.
I also provide a spring update about my research, where it is going and what I have been up to over the winter.
Check it out and let me know what you think via Twitter.
I’ve lost track of how many useful cloud-based services I have signed up for within the last few years. I can’t picture my life without products like Uber, FancyHands and Gmail. It often surprises people to find out that these products are free or very inexpensive. If they’re giving the service away for free or at a very low cost, how can the companies make money?
Typically, a service provider is able to gain a substantial profit based on the fact that they are able to harvest your data. Imagine what an advertiser could gain just by learning information about your latest Uber ride. When using a service provider, it’s important to ask yourself, is the convenience worth the sacrifice of your privacy? While it’s possible that not all of these service providers are harvesting or selling your data, it’s worthwhile to at least consider your loss of control.
Personally, I have found that there are circumstances in which I am willing to sacrifice my privacy for a cheaper and more effective product. I feel that the convenience of being able to order a cab with the touch of a button on my phone is worth the risk of another corporation learning details about my trip. Another circumstance in which I am willing to forgo a bit of my privacy to gain a convenience would be my use of a “savings card” at my local grocery store. I have no doubt that they are tracking and analyzing my purchases. However, I have always felt that it is worthwhile to share my purchase history with the grocery store due to the discounts that they provide for using the “savings card”.
Despite the fact that I am often willing to forgo my privacy in an attempt to gain access to a service offering, there are products that I do not feel that the offered convenience warrants the loss of control over my personal information. For example, I recently looked into leveraging a service that could automatically unsubscribe me from a number of subscription emails. As annoying as those emails can be, I didn’t feel that the convenience of this service was worth letting a 3rd party parse through all of my emails.
Each time my personally identifiable information (PII) is exposed to attackers as a part of a data breach, I become more likely to voluntarily share my personal information with a 3rd party in an effort to gain a convenience. Next time you prepare to sign up for a free or discounted service, be sure to take a few extra moments to decide whether or not you are willing to expose your private information to gain access to the service. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
It’s great now days, isn’t it?
You carry around devices with you that can do just about anything! You can get on the Internet and check your email, do your banking, find out what is new on Facebook, send a Tweet or a million other things. You can also take a picture, record a conversation, make a movie or store your work papers – and the storage space is virtually unlimited! And all this is just great as long as you understand what kind of risks this freedom poses to your privacy.
Remember that much of this stuff is getting stored on the cloud, and the only thing that separates your stuff from the general public is a user name, password and sometimes a security question. Just recently, a number of celebrities have complained that their photos (some of them explicit) have been stolen by hackers. These photos were stored in iCloud digital vaults, and were really very well defended by Apple security measures. But Apple wasn’t at fault here – it turns out that the celebrities themselves revealed the means to access their private stuff.
It’s called Phishing, and there are a million types of bait being used out there to fool or entice you. By clicking on a link in an innocent-looking email or answering a few simple questions, you can give away the keys to the kingdom. And even if you realize your mistake a couple of hours later, it is probably already too late to do anything about it. That naughty movie you made with your spouse during your romantic visit to Niagara Falls is already available from Peking to Panama!
Apple announced that they will soon start sending people alerts when attempts are made to change passwords, restore iCloud data to new devices or when someone logs in for the first time from new Apple devices. These are valuable controls, but really are only detective in nature and won’t actually prevent many data losses. That is why we recommend giving yourselves some real protection.
First, you should ensure that you educate yourself and your family about the dangers hackers and social engineers pose, and the techniques they use to get at your stuff. Second, it is really a lot better to store important or sensitive data on local devices if possible. But, if you must store your private data in the cloud, be sure it is well encrypted. Best of all, use some sort of good multi-part authentication technique to protect your stuff from being accessed easily by hackers. By that I mean something like a digital certificate or an RSA hard token – something you have or something you are, not just something you know.
If you do these things, then it’s a good bet your “special moments” won’t end up in your Momma’s inbox!
Thanks to John Davis for this post.
Cloud computing has become a buzzword over the past few years. Some organizations wonder if it would benefit them or not. What are some of the questions an organization should be asking? In this episode of MSI Strategy & Tactics, Adam Hostetler and Phil Grimes discuss the various aspects of “the cloud” and how it can affect an organization. If you are considering transitioning your data to the cloud, you’ll want to listen! Discussion questions include:
- How can you determine which cloud computing model is right for you?
- What are some of the security issues with cloud deployment?
- How can moving data to the cloud help an organization’s overall efficiency?
Click the embedded player to listen. Or click this link to access downloads. Stay safe!
One of the government’s major initiatives is to promote the efficient use of information technology, including the federal use of cloud computing. So good, bad or indifferent, the government is now moving into the wild, world of cloud computing – despite the fact that it is a new way of doing business that still has many unaddressed problems with security and the general form that it is going to take.
At the Cloud Computing Summit in April 29 2009, it was announced that the government is going to use cloud for email, portals, remote hosting and other apps that will grow in complexity as they learn about security in the cloud. They are going to use a tiered approach to cloud computing.
All businesses, both large and small, are now investing resources in cloud computing. Here are seven problematic areas for which solutions need to be found:
- Vendor lock-in – Most service providers use proprietary software, so an app built for one cloud cannot be ported to another. Once people are locked into the infrastructure, what is to keep providers from upping the price?
- Lack of standards – National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is getting involved and is still in development. This feeds the vendor lock-in problem since every provider uses a proprietary set of access protocols and programming interfaces for their cloud services. Think of the effect on security!
- Security and compliance – Limited security offerings for data at rest and in motion have not agreed on compliance methods for provider certification. (i.e., FISMA) or common criteria. Data must be protected while at rest, while in motion, while being processed and while awaiting or during disposal.
- Trust – Cloud providers offer limited visibility of their methods, which limits the opportunity to build trust. Complete transparency is needed, especially for government.
- Service Level Agreements – Enterprise class SLAs will be needed (99.99% availability). How is the data encrypted? What level of account access is present and how is access controlled?
- Personnel – Many of these companies span the globe – how can we trust sensitive data to those in other countries? There are legal concerns such as a limited ability to audit or prosecute.
- Integration – Much work is needed on integrating the cloud provider’s services with enterprise services and make them work together.
Opportunities abound for those who desire to guide cloud computing. Those concerned with keeping cloud computing an open system drafted an Open Cloud Manifesto, asking that a straightforward conversation needs to occur in order to avoid potential pitfalls. Keep alert as the standards develop and contribute, if possible.
We hear a lot of questions about how organizations should handle the increasing consumer use of IT services based on the cloud. Services like Dropbox, Google Apps, Github and many others offer unique and powerful tools for users that they have come to depend on in their personal lives, and thus, some of those tools “leak” into their work lives as well. Often this means that data that was once considered corporate in nature is increasingly in play in these largely consumer-focused services. In fact, with the coming iCloud integration from Apple on the horizon into all iOS devices, some organizations are in a down right panic about how to manage these new services in their user populations.
We want to offer up three suggestions for organizations facing these issues (most of us):
- Accept that these changes are coming and that they are impactful. If your security focus is still on the “perimeter”, this should be the last of the warning bells. That ship is sinking and FAST. Today, organizations need data-centric controls that allow for flexibility in data usage and protection. Users are in a rapidly dynamic set of locations and using data in a very dynamic set of ways. Your IT architectures and controls need to allow for those changes or face increasing levels of danger and obsolesce. You can not stop consumer cloud services from leaking into your enterprise. Accept it and figure out how to adapt or you will be left behind by competition and brain power.
- Create a dialog between users and technology teams to discuss how consumer cloud services are being used today and how they could be leveraged tomorrow. The greater the dialog, the better the insight your team will have into exactly how data is REALLY flowing in and out of your enterprise and how users are getting their work done in the real world. These discussions require trust and ongoing relationships, so begin to foster them in your organization.
- Understand your threats and controls. In this new cloud-focused world, especially when consumer-grade tools are all the rage, organizations MUST begin to switch their thinking away from “do the minimum” attitudes and tunnel vision on compliance. Instead, they must create effective security initiatives that focus on the specific data they must protect, the controls they have in place that they have to manage and monitor and the threats that data face when in play. If they build proper security programs around these ideas, not only will their risk decrease, but their compliance problems will likely be automatically ensured as well. At the very least, they will find that the resources needed to comply with regulation x or guideline y has been largely reduced to academic exercises, since they will have data properly mapped, segmented and controlled.
We know these three suggestions have a “soft skills” feel. Maybe you expected a suggestion for more firewalls, detection tools or crypto? But, the real story here is, we need not only better tactical approaches and toolkits to solve the coming security issues we face, but we need a holistic strategy to do it effectively as well. That said, before you invest in another round of cloud-based detection thingees or a new quantum cryptography system with geo-spacial locations for keys, how about we all take a moment, sit down, discuss how users are really working now and what they want for the future? Maybe if we think this next huge step forward through a bit more and take a more strategic approach, we can figure out how to make users happy AND secure their data. Hey, I can dream, can’t I? 🙂