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Showing posts from 2009

Contactless Credit Card and ID Card Skimming

This news post was brought to my attention, showing a steel-woven wallet to keep RFID credit cards safe. To some this may sound a bit far fetched and to others nothing new or to worry about, but hear me out.

With new contactless credit cards you can make small purchases without resorting to the Chip-and-PIN transaction that is most common. Instead, you just 'touch' your card on the reader and away you go. The problem with this is that you cannot turn your card off. I can bring the reader to you; I just need proximity. These readers are small and pocketable, and I can read your card without you taking it out of your pocket. The more high-powered my reader, the further away from you I can be to read your card. Initially, the cards gave out the name on the card, the card number and the expiration date. After people showed that it was easy to skim this information off the card, most have removed the cardholder's name from this list. They have also introduced transaction IDs to…

Proposed Pseudo-Code for Hacking Process

It is quite common in Information Systems to use pseudo code to describe a process. I have often thought that the same principle can be applied to the process of hacking an organisation, which may help people understand the process and how to protect themselves. Below is my proposal for this pseduo-code for the hacking process. This is very much a work in progress. I would welcome feedback on it and I will update it as suggestions are made or as I feel it needs revising.

organisation = proposed target
organisation.footprint(value, effort, risk)
profit = value - (effort * risk)
if profit > 0 then
  organisation.enumerate()
select attack_type
case DoS
engage_botnet(myBotnet)
      myBotnet.launchDDoS(organisation)
case Access
      organisation.gainAccess(myAccount)
      myAccount.Elevate()
      organisation.installBackdoor(myAccount)
      organisation.cleanUP()
end select
else
  exit
end if

This highlights the fact that we only need enough security to make it not worthwhile attacking, i.e. it will…

Blackboard (in)Security

The University recently recently paid for a vulnerability assessment and penetration test, which came back saying that, apart from a few minor things, everything was fine and secure. I take issue with this finding for several reasons, most of which I won't go into here. Now, I haven't actually seen the report produced by the company, but I have had verbal reports from the IT technicians that 'nothing serious' was found.

The University uses a hateful product called Blackboard as a Virtual Learning Management System. This is a web-based application allowing access to learning materials, grades, etc., from anywhere in the world. The problem is that it doesn't use an encrypted connection and uses a simple Session ID cookie to assert that you are an authenticated user. There are two problems with this. Firstly, if I capture your cookie and send it with my HTTP request, then I will be treated as you and can see or do anything as you. Secondly, and much more importantly, …

Secret Sharing Algorithm for Protecting Files in the Cloud

Data stored in the cloud can be compromised or lost (see my previous post). So, we have to come up with a way to secure those files. We can encrypt them before storing them in the cloud, which sorts out the disclosure aspects. However, what if the data is lost due to some catastrophe befalling the cloud service provider? We could store it on more than one cloud service and encrypt it before we send it off. Each of them will have the same file. What if we use an insecure, easily guessable password to protect the file, or the same one to protect all files? I have often thought that secret sharing algorithms could be employed to good effect in these circumstances instead.

What are secret sharing algorithms? They are algorithms that will share a secret between several parties, such that none of them can know the secret without the help of others. Either all or a subset of them will need to get together and put their parts together to obtain the original secret. A simplistic solution can b…

PhoneFactor Security

I was asked recently to look at the security of the PhoneFactor 2-factor authentication solution. If you don't know what it is, then you can find out more here, but essentially you enter your username and password, then they phone you on your pre-defined number and press the # key to validate the authentication. The problem with just pressing the # key is obvious, but they allow you to configure entering a PIN number rather than just pressing the # key. To my mind, there should be no other option than having to type in the PIN number. However, this isn't necessarily a brilliant idea. As I've said before in this blog, a lot of phones log the digits dialled, in which case that PIN isn't secure.

I was also told that the PSTN and GSM networks are secure, so this is a good solution. I'm not sure I agree that PSTN and GSM networks have good security. Analogue PSTN is easy to listen in to with proximity and GSM can theoretically be cracked, and probably will be within 6 t…

Security Questions for your Cloud Services Provider

Comodo Vision Video Blog
Cloud Services or Cloud Computing are getting a lot of attention in IT circles, promising cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and time-to-market advantages over traditional alternatives. However, they also increase your security risk by expanding your security perimeter to include that of your service provider. This video blog poses some key questions to ask your Cloud services/Cloud Computing provider regarding data security as well as advice to reduce the risk to your business introduced by Cloud Computing.
See my third video blog for Comodo Vision here.

APWG Report 1st Half 2009

On 27th September the APWG released their First Half 2009 Phishing Trends Report. This provides some interesting/worrying reading. Most notably is the rise and rise of rogue anti-malware programs.
Rogue anti-malware programs are programs that run on a user's machine and falsely identify malware infections. They then inform users that the malware can be removed by purchasing their anti-malware program. The installed software, in many cases, does absolutely nothing. The malware author has made their money off the user and doesn't care about them or the fact that their machine is left vulnerable to other malware. However, there is another breed of rogue anti-malware that will install other malware onto the user's machine, often adding them to botnets or adding trojans and spyware. According to Panda Labs' Luis Corrons, rogue anti-malware programs are proliferating with "exponential growth. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, more new strains were created than in all…

Telephone and Fax Services Security

In this day of doing everything online, we still rely heavily on services delivered over POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Banks and credit card companies still require the telephone to make certain changes, queries and security checks, even though most functions can be performed online. Medical records, bank details, security key order requests, etc., are routinely transferred by facsimile. However, are these secure? Are they more or less secure than doing the same thing online?

I'm not going to talk about the underlying security of POTS, but concentrate on a couple of easy attack vectors on the end device of the user that I have recently observed. A couple of weeks ago, I needed to amend something on one of my credit card accounts (I would tell you which bank, only it's my personal credit card and I don't want phisers knowing which banks I have accounts with). This bank has an automated telephone answering system to make things more efficient and reduce staff required …

Human Factors in Information Security - Errors & Violations

Human failures are often described as Slips, Lapses, Mistakes and Violations. These are grouped into two categories: Errors and Violations. The difference here is the intent - violations result from conscious decisions to disregard policies and procedures, whereas errors have no malicious intent. Also, violations often involve more than one form of misconduct, whereas errors are often isolated.

Don Turnblade has stated that in his experience "well trained staff had a 3.75% unintentional non-compliance rate; they did not realize that installed software compromised data security. About 0.4% of end users were intentionally non-compliant, generally willful persons with strong technical skill or organizational authority who were unaccustomed to complying with computing restrictions."

So what are the different types of error? Dealing with each in turn, we have Slips, Lapses and Mistakes.
Slips - actions not carried out as intended, e.g. pressing the wrong key by accident. Slips usua…

Personal Mobile Devices Violate Compliance

Computer Weekly recently conducted a survey via Twitter on how many organisations allow their users access to corporate email from their own private phone. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any results from this survey as yet, but it made me think about organisations that do allow private devices to attach to the network, not just mobile phones. I have also had many comments on my blog post entitled 'Mobile Device Data Breaches', which have fed into this post.

In one of those comments, someone pointed out that in their experience users are often a weak link. Isn’t it always the case that users are the weakest link? A poorly educated/trained user can compromise the best security. Unfortunately, I have seen so many organisations that do not adequately train their users or make them aware that there are policies, let alone what they mean to their daily usage of the corporate systems. I have also come across one organisation where a top executive had all the system passwords store…

Compliance does NOT Equal Security

Comodo Vision Video Blog
Responsibility for the notorious Heartland Payment Systems data breach late last year has been debated recently, with Heartland’s CEO suggesting that their PCI auditors let the firm down, while the auditors insist they can’t be responsible for checking absolutely everything. This case brings to light the reality that absolute security is an impossible goal, and that audits are only as good as an organization’s vigilance in following proper security procedures after the audit has been completed.
See my second video blog here.

Mobile Device Data Breaches

Comodo Vision Video Blog
Several recent data breaches at major enterprises and governmental agencies stemmed from the loss or theft of mobile computers and USB drives. While encrypting the data on these devices isn’t a bad idea, the larger question is why was sensitive personal information stored on the mobile device in the first place?
See my first video blog for Comodo Vision here.

ATM & Bank Card Security

I recently read an article in New Scientist entitled "Want to clone bank cards? Just press 'print'". They state that it has been discovered that
"... a devious piece of criminal coding that has been quietly at work in a clutch of cash machines at banks in Russia and Ukraine. It allows a gang member to walk up to an ATM, insert a "trigger" card, and use the machine's printer to produce a list of all the debit card numbers used that day, including their start and expiry dates - and their PINs. Everything needed, in fact, to clone those cards and start emptying bank accounts." This is possible because ATM Terminal vendors have succumbed to financial pressures, and the demand for greater functionality, and moved to using standard modular PC architectures and off-the-shelf operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows and Linux. These ATM devices then become vulnerable to similar malware as their desktop counterparts.
SpiderLabs, part of Trustwave…

Should an Administrator Trust their Users?

The answer is yes and no (note, in this blog, I'm not talking about cryptographic or identity trust, but systems trust). There are two aspects to this. Firstly, do you think your users will deliberately act against your organisation or try to harm the system? This is not usually the case for corporate employees - you also have severe sanctions available if they do. The second aspect is, do you trust your users NOT to make mistakes? Everyone makes mistakes; we're only human. You don't want accidental updates or changes, so in this sense maybe you shouldn't trust your users.

Actually there are three overall approaches to system trust on networks. We can trust all of the people all of the time (bad idea, but much more common than you'd think), trust no one at any time (maybe too excessive and hinder functionality), or we can trust some of the people some of the time. The last one is usually the best strategy to adopt for your network.

Finally, we have to decide on the…

Wireless Network Security Recommendations

Wireless Networks are still causing businesses problems. By their very nature they are insecure, as they are a broadcast network that frequently extends beyond your physical boundary - remember radio signals don't stop at your door. There ARE security mechanisms to make them secure, but too often these are not implemented properly or are circumvented by users. It is vital that all traffic on the wireless network be encrypted, and connections authenticated, otherwise anyone with a laptop can view all your traffic. There are many mechanisms for achieving this, but at the very least you should use WPA with long pass phrases (not simple passwords) and MAC address authentication.

Don't use WEP; it can be broken easily. I won't bore you with details here, but I refer you to Google instead. However, there are several flaws such as using a linear Integrity Check Value, such that predictable bit-flipping can be used to send invalid messages that will appear to be valid. Secondly, t…

Data Anonymisation to prevent Data Leakage

With data leaks constantly in the news, I thought I would write a quick blog post about data anonymisation. The problem seems to be that people think it's perfectly acceptable to walk around with sensitive information on mobile devices and removable media. The solution, according to common thought, is to encrypt those devices. This is a solution that should be adopted, but after the more fundamental problem has been addressed. It should not be possible or necessary to store raw sensitive data on mobile devices or removable media!

Assuming that you need the data for business intelligence purposes and that the IT department can't or won't (for some good reason) allow this to be done online through a secure connection, then you must anonymise the data first and then encrypt it. Why do you need to know the names, addresses and credit card numbers of your customers when on the road TK Maxx? Why do you need the names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance numbers, salari…

Zoomable, Non-Linear PowerPoint Presentations with pptPlex

OK, so many people have asked me how I do my presentations and could they have a link that I've decided to put the links and a short explanation on my blog. My presentations are all done in PowerPoint 2007, but I use a Microsoft Office Labs plug-in called pptPlex. From their website come the following quotes:

"pptPlex uses Plex technology to give you the power to zoom in and out of slide sections and move directly between slides that are not sequential in your presentation."
"...pptPlex can help you organize and present information in a non-linear fashion." If you don't know what any of this means, then you should ask me to do a presentation :-) or have a look at their videos. It's very simple to install and use. However, remember that you need it to be installed on your presentation machine in order to give the Plex version of the presentation, otherwise it will just show as a normal PowerPoint presentation.
If the pptPlex Ribbon Tab doesn't displa…

IPICS OCTAVE-S

OCTAVE-S stands for Operationally Critical Threat, Asset and Vulnerability Evaluation for Small organisations. It is a version of the full OCTAVE methodology aimed specifically at small to medium sized organisations, i.e. those with up to 100 employees. OCTAVE is a risk-based strategic assessment and planning technique for security. It is a top-down approach that is driven by the business's missions and objectives, and is not technology focussed. OCTAVE-S is simply a streamlined version of OCTAVE, with simple worksheets and less expertise required. The outputs of OCTAVE-S should be similar to those of OCTAVE, it is just that it may be possible to shortcut some of the process in smaller orgnisations. OCTAVE itself is designed to be applicable to any organisation, no matter how large.

The Main OCTAVE principles are as follows:
Core Information Security Risk Evaluation Principles Self-directed The organisation takes responsibility for the evaluationThe organisation makes the decisions…

Lack of true Identity Verification forces need for EV SSL Certificates

What are EV SSL Certificates? Simply they are Extended Validation SSL Certificates. What does this mean? Well, simply put the Certification Authority goes to more lengths to validate the identity of the person asking for (paying for) the certificate. The EV SSL Certificate then will make the browser address bar go green to certify that this really is the site you think it is and not a phishing or pharming site. It gives the user a very visual check of the validity of the website that they are using.

Isn't this what Digital Certificates were supposed to do in the first place? Yes, but the Certification Authorities were more interested in taking people's money than verifying that they actually were the people in question. This led to almost anybody being able to sign up for a certificate claiming to be almost anybody. This, obviously, isn't a workable situation, so EV SSL Certificates were introduced to do the intended job, only at a higher price than the standard SSL Certif…

IPICS Risk Assessment Slides

These are my slides on Information Security Risk Assessment, presented at the Intensive Programme on Information and Communication Security (IPICS). The topics covered are: the System-Holistic Approach to ICT Security; Risk Assessment approaches, strategies & terminology; Three Card RAG / Obstacle Poker; OCTAVE® - Operationally Critical Threat, Asset and Vulnerability Evaluation.

A PDF of the slides can be downloaded from here. (updated)

I will publish more information on the topics covered in due course (and if anyone asks). However, more information on Three Card RAG / Obstacle Poker can be found in a previous blog post.

The PCI DSS and Why It's Relevant to Everyone

Many of you will know that PCI DSS stands for the Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standard and most of the rest of you have probably heard of it and wondered what it was. You may immediately say I'm not interested in the Payment Card Industry and want to navigate away, but just before you do, you should know that many of the 12 recommendations are relevant to all. Actually the PCI DSS recommendations are mostly common sense that we should all be implementing anyway. I'll give a quick overview of the big 12 and how these can be applied to all networks in this blog.
According to the PCI Security Standards Council, "The core of the PCI DSS is a group of principles and accompanying requirements, around which the specific elements of the DSS are organized." The 12 recommendations that they put forward can be generalized as follows and should be adhered to by all organisations:
Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect private/sensitive data Do not …

Trojan Keylogger Screensaver Compromising Novell Client for Windows

I've been talking about 2-factor authentication and improving authentication mechanisms for a while now and trying to get companies to implement such solutions. One such organisation uses the Novell client for Windows on Windows XP. When a user attempts to log in they are not required to press Ctrl+Alt+Del. Many forums and reviews state that this is an advantage, as users don't like it! The point of pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del (CAD) on Windows is to stop all applications from running and kill Trojans, etc. Novell have replaced the MSGina.dll with NWGina.dll so that they can capture the CAD key combination. This is the standard way to override the built-in login screen and replace it with a custom one. However, Novell have decided to allow administrators to eliminate the need for the CAD key combination. This, obviously reduces the overall security of the system.

I know that there are many ways to write a keylogger, some more sophisticated than others, but a lot of these low-level sy…

How to tell if your Firewall is a full DMZ

Most firewalls have a 'DMZ' setting, but are they actually a full DMZ firewall? DMZ is a term often used in network security, but it can mean two different things to manufacturers and practitioners. Technically, there is no such thing as a DMZ in a firewall architecture, only a screened-subnet firewall, screened-host firewall or an exposed host, but the term is the industry standard when talking about allowing access to information servers (e.g. web, mail, etc.) from the Internet.

So what is a DMZ? DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone and is, obviously, a military term for the no-go area between two armies where no military activity is allowed. However, in network security terms it is a secure subnet that separates the Internet from the internal machines on your network. This becomes a logical place to implement any Information Servers, as these can be partially opened to the Internet, whilst not allowing direct access to the internal network. So are all DMZ firewalls the same? W…

The 5 Restoration Phases of a Secure and Dependable System

We all want our systems to be secure and dependable, indeed the two topics are interlinked. Dependability requires high availability management, which has several aspects to it. We can try to achieve Fault Avoidance, with fault prevention and fault removal, but this isn't actually possible in all cases. For example, hard disk drives will have physical wear out due to moving parts, power supplies do not run indefinitely, etc. Therefore, we move towards Fault Acceptance. Fault acceptance relies on fault forecasting, to try to determine the most likely causes of faults, and fault tolerance to enable the system to continue functioning in the event of a fault. With fault tolerance we build redundancy into the system so that faults do not result in system failures. However, there are times when even our most fault tolerant systems will fail. What do we do then? Well, obviously we need to recover as quickly as possible.

The 5 restoration phases of a system are as follows:
Diagnostic Phase

User-Friendly Multi-Factor Authentication with GrIDsure

I have been tasked with rolling out a trial multi-factor authentication system that must be user-friendly, secure, low-cost and have zero impact on the existing network and users who won't be on the trial. That should be simple!

A trawl round the InfoSecurity Europe show always helps, as you can get the latest state of play from all the major vendors. This year there were the obvious keyring tokens, SmartCards, USB tokens, SMS solutions and some innovative software solutions, including GrIDsure. Before making any decisions about the solution to go for, several things need to be decided, among which are: how much security is required? What is considered user-friendly to a normal, non-technical user? What metrics should we use for authentication?

To answer these we need to look at what authentication is first: Authentication is the binding of an identity to a subject. The subjects we're talking about in this case are users and we're trying to bind their digital identity, i.e…