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Showing posts from May, 2009

Google Wave Security

Have Google thought about security or got caught up in a Wave of enthusiasm?
The big advantage of email has always been the firmware independence; it doesn't matter if I'm using a Vista machine, a Mac Book Air or my mobile phone, I can always send and receive email. Google have argued that this is a 40-year-old technology that is ripe for an update. This is true, but if Google want widespread adoption of Wave, they need to have two things. Firstly, it needs to be open and platform independent - they have announced that it will be open-source, so that checks out. Although they say that they want to give something back to the community, this project would fall flat if the only way to communicate was via their web app that people have to sign up to. I don't need to sign up to Google to get my email or to receive gmail messages. I have choice. This is critical to the success of the new platform, but, as my wife says, it's always good to turn a necessity into a virtue.
Th…

Obstacle Poker for Security Assessments

I was talking to Vic Page, a colleague of mine, today about various things and he told me about one of his PhD deliverables on 'Three Card RAG' or 'Obstacle Poker' - very interesting concept that he has come up with. During our discussion, we came up with an embryonic idea for using his concept to aide security assessments of organisations. Before I can describe it I need to extract a few concepts from his 10-page paper in the BT Technology Journal entitled "Security risk mitigation for information systems".

In the paper he describes the Security Obstacle Mitigation Model (SOMM) for developing trustworthy information systems. He also defines some terminology - a subset of which I have reproduced here (his paper is an interesting read):

mitigation - a mitigation is a procedure that will counter the effect of an obstacle
obstacle - an obstacle is something that, should it occur, will obstruct a trust assumption and affect the CIAA security requirements - obstacle…

Security Through Obscurity

I have been reminded recently, while looking at several products, that people still rely on the principle of 'security through obscurity.' This is the belief that your system/software/whatever is secure because potential hackers don't know it's there/how it works/etc. Although popular, this is a false belief. There are two aspects to this, the first is the SME who thinks that they're not a target for attack and nobody knows about their machines, so they're safe. This is forgivable if misguided and false. See my post about logging attack attempts on a home broadband connection with no advertised services or machines.

The second set of people is far less forgivable, and those are the security vendors. History has shown that open systems and standards have a far better chance of being secure in the long run. No one person can think of every possible attack on a system and therefore they can't secure a system alone. That is why we have RFCs to arrive at open st…

Clustering Technologies

I have been asked to give a very brief overview of the clustering technologies that we can utilise for high availability. We are, therefore, going to ignore high power computational clustering, as this is about more power rather than redundancy. The two main techniques that we use are a shared-resource cluster (usually some kind of disk array) and a network load balancing cluster, which does exactly what it says on the tin! We'll deal with each of these in turn here, but they can be used together to provide a complete solution.

The goals of Server Clusters are to share computing load over several systems whilst maintaining transparency for system administrators. There is also transparency for users, in that a user has no idea which node in the cluster they have connected to, or indeed that they are connected to a cluster at all as it will appear as one machine. If a component fails users will suffer degraded performance only, but do not lose connectivity to the service. If more po…

How Reliable is RAID?

We all know that when we want a highly available and reliable server we install a RAID solution, but how reliable actually is that? Well, obviously, you can work it out quite simply as we will see below, but before you do, you have to know what sort of RAID are you talking about, as some can be less reliable than a single disk. The most common types are RAID 0, 1 and 5. We will look at the reliability of each using real disks for the calculations, but before we do, let's recap on what the most common RAID types are.

Common Types of RAID RAID 0 is the Stripe set, which consists of 2 or more disks with data written in equal sized blocks to each of the disks. This is a fast way of reading and writing data to disk, but it gives you no redundancy at all. In fact, RAID 0 is actually less reliable than a single disk, as all the disks are in series from a reliability point of view. If you lose one disk in the array, you've lost the whole thing. RAID 0 is used purely to speed up disk a…

Trusteer or no trust 'ere...

...that is the question. Well, I've had more of a look into Trusteer's Rapport, and it seems that my fears were justified. There are many security professionals out there who are claiming that this is 'snake oil' - marketing hype for something that isn't possible. Trusteer's Rapport gives security 'guaranteed' even if your machine is infected with malware according to their marketing department. Now any security professional worth his salt will tell you that this is rubbish and you should run a mile from claims like this. Anyway, I will try to address a few questions I raised in my last post about this.

Firstly, I was correct in my assumption that Rapport requires a list of the servers that you wish to communicate with; it contacts a secure DNS server, which has a list already in it. This is how it switches from a phishing site to the legitimate site silently in the background. I have yet to fully investigate the security of this DNS, however, as most o…

Trusteer's Rapport

NatWest have just sent through an important information letter to their customers highlighting a new security solution to help secure their online banking. They are using Trusteer's Rapport product (more info). Anything people do to combat malware, phishing, pharming, etc., is a good thing, and for this they should be commended. However, Trusteer make some bold claims and I'm wondering how true they really are. This needs a lot more investigation than reading through their sales rhetoric, but I'm going to get some of my initial thoughts down here, then see what I can find out.

The problem statement is well defined by Trusteer and centres around lack of user education. In a previous blog entry I wrote about 2 successful phishing attacks against an organisation that only needed one person to send an email containing their password to bring the whole network down (here). Users need to be educated into not handing out secret or personal information to anyone who asks, e.g. a b…

APWG Report 2nd Half 2008

The Anti-Phishing Working Group produce two reports a year now on Phishing Activity Trends. I was reminded to look at the report from the second half of last year recently by problems encountered by an organisation I'm involved with(!), which has suffered two successful phishing attacks in the last 9 months. The two incidents both followed the same pattern: a phishing email was sent round purporting to be from the technical staff talking of lack of storage space on the user's account. They asked for the user's password in order to be able to reconfigure the quota. Now, the vast majority of people deleted this email, but on each occasion one person (a different one in each incident) replied with their username and password. This resulted in vast amounts of spam being sent through the users' email accounts, sufficient for the domain to be blacklisted by Message Labs in the first incident. The problem is that people still fall for this type of scam, and it only needs one …

Log Attack Attempts

While I was answering emails and writing another blog post, I was reminded that lots of people ask me about the seriousness of the threat of attack as they are sceptical. So, I decided to turn on additional logging on my router to view all incoming traffic to see what it is blocking silently. I can tell you that in 2 hours on my home connection here I have had 22 different IP addresses making 47 different attempts to connect to me. One tried to launch a Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack on my web server three times (unsuccessfully), and another attached to my web server to view the options available and didn't bother retrieving any pages - this is a classic sign of footprinting before an attack. The first was host 123-204-6-150.dynamic.seed.net.tw and the second was host164-120-static.29-87-b.business.telecomitalia.it.

What were the other 20 connection attempts? Well I don't actually have anything else open on my network, but by logging all connection attempts I can view what peo…

InfoSecurity Europe 2009

Well, a couple of weeks ago I went to InfoSecurity Europe 2009 at Earl's Court, as I do every year. If you've never been, but are at all interested in network and information security or are looking for vendors, then I highly recommend visiting. To my surprise, and for the first time I can remember, Microsoft wasn't there. Apart from that, however, all the usual players were there and, to be honest, it was all much the same as before. There was no new emerging technology or hot topic, just new developments of old technologies. A couple of years ago we had the hot topic of 'social engineering' and 'securing the user'; ok, we all knew that the users were our weak link and phrases like "we spend all our time securing the first 2000 miles and forget about the last 2 feet", and "our network would be totally secure, reliable and fully functional if we didn't let users login", have always been commonplace, but there were new mass threats, n…