Tag Archives: Symantec

Securing Web services in the cloud

Almost every SaaS (software as a service) is based on REST or XML Web services.  In this post, I’d like to provide a brief introduction to some typical threats and security countermeasures to protect Web services;

Malicious Attack on the message

The beauty of  HTTP Web Services is that traffic flows through port 80 and port 443 and it uses a human-readable format (XML or JSON). This is also the key vulnerability.  A typical IT / system administration approach that relies on protecting Web service providers with a firewall/IPS setup is not very effective.  We will explain why.

Firewalls do a good job of port monitoring and recognizing brute force malicious attack but are not good at being able to view the content of messages in order to detect and prevent more sophisticated security compromises. While most firewalls can recognize SOAP as well-formed HTTP traffic they cannot inspect the actual content of the SOAP message or JSON data. Web Services interfaces are much more complex than Web site interfaces which exchange HTML pages and forms. Web service interfaces are like software API’s and expose database functionality. In addition, an attacker has more information available to them. The message is often self-describing and clearly shows the data elements.

A Web service provider is a juicy, self-describing target.

Replay Attack
Similar to Denial of Service, replay attacks involve copying valid messages and repeatedly sending them to a service. Similar techniques for detecting and handling Denial of Service can be applied towards replay attacks. In some ways, replay attacks are easier to detect with Web Services because payload information is more readily available. With the right tools, patterns can be detected more easily even if the same or similar payload is being sent across multiple mediums like HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, etc.

Buffer Overflow
An attacker can send a parameter that is longer than the program can handle, causing the service to crash or for the system to execute undesired code supplied by the attacker. A typical method of attack is to send an overly long request, for instance, a password with many more characters than expected. Similar to buffer overflow attacks; hackers often send malformed content to produce a similar effect. Sending in strings such as quotes, open parentheses and wildcards can often confuse a Web Service interface.

Dictionary Attack
Dictionary attacks are common where a hacker may either manually or programmatically guess passwords to gain entry into the system. Administrators should ensure that passwords are difficult to guess and are changed often.

Intrusion Detection of attacks by malicious outsiders
Proactively securing all of the possible misuses of Web Services is almost impossible. Security policies and strict access control management should help reduce the occurrence of intrusion. An IPS will detect anomalous attack behavior and if monitored may help the security team mitigate the threat.

Extrusion detection of attacks by trusted insiders
Attackers are usually thought to be outside of the organization. However, most security breaches occur from within the organization. With Web Services, more functionality is available to a more people. Access to confidential information or embezzlement of funds is just some of the possible internal security breaches that can be performed by employees or former employees. Because employees are the most familiar with internal systems, detection can be made extremely difficult. Unintentional compromises are also possible. If an interface is unsecured, an employee may accidentally access information that they are not intended to view. Since Firewalls are insufficient for data breach, we would require use of a DLP –  Data loss  prevention system such as Fidelis XPS or WebSense DLP.

Threat containment
Once a security breach is detected, being able to shut down systems and reject traffic from specific sources are important for handling a compromise.  A DLP system provides real-time detection, forensics recording and  the ability to drop traffic from specific IP source addresses in order to properly mitigate the threat.

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Bank of America and Wikileaks

First reported in the Huffington Post in November 2010, the Bank of America has set up a Wikileaks defense team after an announcement by Julian Assange that Wikileaks has information from a 5GB hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

In a burst of wikipanic, Bank of America has dived into full-on counterespionage mode…15 to 20 bank officials, along with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, will be “scouring thousands of documents in the event that they become public, reviewing every case where a computer has gone missing and hunting for any sign that its systems might have been compromised.”

Interesting that they needed Booz and Hamilton.  I thought Bank of America was a Vontu DLP (now Symantec) customer.  It says something about the technology either not working, being discarded or simply not implemented properly because the Wikileaks announcement was made in October 2009. So it took BoA over a year to respond.  Good luck finding forensics over a year after the leak happened.

This is a good thing for information security consultants and solution providers, especially if it drives companies to invest in DLP. There are some good technologies out there and companies that implement DLP thoughtfully (even if for dubious reasons) will be profiting from the improved visibility into transactions on their network and better protection of IP and customer data.

Ethics of the bank executive aside, it is conceivable (albeit totally speculative), that the Obama administration is behind the Wikileaks disclosures on US banking. It is consistent with the Obama policy that required banks to accept TARP funds and stress testing in order to make the financial institutions more beholden to the Federal government. This is consistent with the State Department cables leak, which also appears (from my vantage point in the Middle East) to be deliberately disclosed to Wikileaks in order further the agenda against the Iranians without coming out and saying so specifically.

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Protecting your data in the cloud

Several factors combine to make data security in the cloud a challenge.

Web applications have fundamental vulnerabilities. HTTP is the cloud protocol of choice for everything from file backup in the cloud to Sales force management in the cloud. HTTP and HTML evolved from a protocol for static file delivery to a protocol for 2 way applications – a purpose for which they  were never designed; let’s examine some of the data security issues with the current rich content Web 2.0 model:

1. The multiple layers at the server side from db server to Web server or App server are vulnerable to attack since the Web application passes messages to the data tier through several interfaces in order to execute SQL.  The interfaces are vulnerable, in particular to SQL injection

2. HTTP is a stateless protocol. As a result, the simplest kind of Ajax application generates dozens of http transactions between the client and the server. The simplest autocomplete floods the pipe with Ajax transactions.  If you have ever put a sniffer like Wireshark on the line you will see this.  The rich interactivity on the client with Ajax generates a huge, disproportionate amount of traffic and a high price tag for simple operations.   For example – in a tcp socket-socket link, if you want to know if there are new mail messages, no polling is required and the message length is just a few bytes. This is primarily a latency and load issue on the cloud computing infrastructure but also creates additional difficulties in detecting data loss and opens the door for network-based attacks such as a slow POST DDOS attack.

3. Passing messages between remote process (client and server) inside the query string is patently a bad idea that is not remedied by using https (although if you pass privacy data in a query string you must use https). It is a bad idea because it is fragile (may break on software changes) and vulnerable to any number of software bugs and exploits from buffer overflow to sql injection to simple query hacking.  To get a feel for the order of magnitude of the problem, just google for web application security.

The current rich Web 2.0 model is broken, not because Javascript or PHP are bad, it’s just that the existing Web application stack on server and client is a bad fit to the world of applications.

There is little free market demand for software security. The key demand-side driver for cloud computing is that it is a service that can be consumed at a  variable cost like a utility. We might think that with all the headlines on data security breaches,  that consumers would be discerning about the security of the service.  However,  data loss risk is negligible in a consumer buying decision since people use applications based on their utility and productivity and beauty of the UI not because of their security, since we all assume that the security is built-in.  The cloud model requires the consumer to consider impact of data loss, similar to considering the impact of a power spike on home appliances with digital controllers.  Data security in the cloud won’t happen by itself.

Enforcing data security in the cloud is harder than in the enterprise. Trusted insiders can exploit application vulnerabilities no matter where the application runs.  However, our ability to detect data loss inside the cloud is far less than our ability to detect data loss inside an office network and more expensive to mitigate in a virtualized operating system environment.

Inside an enterprise network, you can put procedural, network monitoring and DLP solutions into place, however the same security countermeasures may not be supported by your cloud provider as a standard item.   By implementing custom countermeasures in the cloud, you won’t enjoy the economy of scale of a shared, virtualized infrastructure nor benefit from the experience curve of the cloud service provider.  It will become your problem.

Data security is about economics. If you want guaranteed service levels on the security of your IP and customer data that you store in a SaaS system, you need to RFP and negotiate the appropriate contract and security countermeasures (encrypting data at rest and in motion, employee monitoring, key management, data loss prevention, malicious software detection and more).  Compliance with PCI DSS 2.0 and HIPAA may come at additional cost.

Data security in the cloud is a cost borne upstream by the customer and downstream by the cloud provider.

From a cloud service provider perspective, note that there are high fixed costs involved in providing capacity, customer support and secure infrastructure while the revenue from consumers is variable. Consumers that adopt a hybrid model for cloud delivery will have additional fixed and variable costs of operation.

In order to protect your data in the cloud, I suggest adopting some common-sense best practices:

  • Before moving your application to the cloud, do some attack modeling and consider the value of your assets to be stored in the cloud, versus the cloud service costs and custom security measures you may (or may not need) to implement
  • Invest in software security. Remember that hackers attack your software, not your security procedures.
  • After you set a budget, choose a cloud service according to your threat model and read their dotted line on data security before committing
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WikiLeaks Breach – trusted insiders not hackers

With a delay of almost 10 years – SCIAM has published an article on the insider threat – WikiLeaks Breach Highlights Insider Security

As one of the pioneers in the DLP space (data loss prevention) and an active data security consultant in the field since 2003 – I am not surprised when civilians like the authors of the article and the current US administration claim discovery of America, once they discover that the emperor is naked.  Of course there is an insider threat and of course it is immune to anti-virus and firewalls and of course the US Federal government is way behind the curve on data security – installing host based security which was state of the art 7 years ago.

My Dad, who worked in the US and Israeli Defense industry for over 50 years is a PhD in systems science. He asked me how it happened that Wikileaks was able to hack into the US State Department cables.  I explained that this was not an external attack but a trusted insider leaking information because of a bribe or anger at Obama or Clinton or a combination of the 4 factors. My Dad just couldn’t get it.   I said look – you know that there is a sense of entitlement with people who are 20-30 something, that permits them to cross almost any line.  My Dad couldn’t get that either and I doubt that the US Federal bureaucrats are in a better place of understanding the problem.

Data leakage by trusted insiders is a complex phenomenon and without doubt, soft data security countermeasures like accepted usage policies have their place alongside hard core content interception technologies like Data loss prevention.  As Andy Grove once said – “a little fear in the workplace is not a bad thing”. The  set of data security countermeasures adopted and implemented must be a good fit to the organization culture, operation and network topology.

BUT, most of all – and this is of supreme importance – it is crucial for the head of the management pyramid to be personally committed by example and leadership to data protection.

The second key success factor is measuring the damage in financial terms. It can be argued that the Wikileaks disclosures via a trusted insider did little substantive damage to the US government and it’s allies and opponents alike. If anything – there is ample evidence that the disclosure has helped to clear the air of some of the urban legends surrounding US foreign policy – like the Israelis and the Palestinians being key to Middle East peace when in fact it is clear beyond doubt that the Iranians and Saudi financing are the key threats that need to be mitigated, not a handful of Israelis building homes in Judea and Samaria.

As an afternote to my comments on the SCIAM article, consider that after the discovery of America, almost 300 years went by before Jefferson and the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence.   I would therefore expect that in the compressed 10:1 time of Internet years, it will be 30 years before organizations like the US government get their hands around the trusted insider threat.

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Compliance, security and Wikileaks

This is an essay I wrote in 2004.  There is nothing here that doesn’t still ring true, especially with the latest round of Wikileaks disclosures. I wrote then and I still hold that  compliance and and data security technology cannot protect an organization from a data breach. The best security countermeasures  for protecting a company’s digital assets and individuals’ private information are uncompromising ethics and honest management.

On security and compliance

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that compliance (like it or not) is a driver for companies to invest in improving their software and data security past running a firewalls and anti-virus. While compliance drives companies into taking action, do compliance activities actually result in implementing and sustaining strong data security  management and technology countermeasures?  We will see that the answer is generally no.

There is plethora of compliance regulations. There is regulation for  Privacy(HIPAA/HHS), for Children: (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for Credit Card holders: (FCRA), for merchants (PCI DSS), for Public entities (Sarbanes-Oxley), for Insurance (State laws) , for Securities trading (SEC), for Telecom (New York State Public Service Commission rulings) and many many more.

Looking at the wide variety of regulations and standards we can see that compliance really comes in only 3 flavors:

  1. Governance regulation such as HIPAA and SOX.  Government compliance regulation is focussed on customer protection and requires a top down risk analysis process.
  2. Industry compliance regulation such as PCI DSS that focuses on protecting the card association supply chain, doesn’t require risk analysis and mandates a fixed control set (if you think that best-practice security control sets are a good idea, then stop and consider the abysmal failure of the Maginot line in WWII and the Bar Lev line in the Yom Kippur war in 1973).
  3. Vendor-neutral standards such as ISO 27001 that focuses on data and system protection, doesn’t require risk analysis nor consider asset values although it does provide what is arguable the most comprehensive set of controls.

Well-meaning as the regulators may be, there are two fundamental flaws in the security-by-compliance model:

  1. You can comply without being secure and use compliance as a fig-leaf for lack of data security
  2. You can invest in software and data security without being compliant

…We don’t invest in data loss prevention technology because it’s a criminal offense when one of our employee breaches critical filings. We feel the legal deterrent is sufficient.
IT Manager – Securities and Exchange Commission in a Middle East country

Privacy regulation trends in the US and Europe

Government-regulated privacy-protection of information is a natural response rooted in the field of telecommunications, since countries either own the telecom business outright or tightly regulate their industry. This has largely led to a view of electronic privacy as an issue of citizen rights versus state legislation and monopoly.

In the information age, privacy has two dimensions – intrusion and data breach:

  • Protection against intrusion by unwanted information or criminals; similar to the constitutional protection to be secure in one’s home.
  • Protection against data breach by controlling information flows about an individual’s or a business’s activities; for example preventing identify theft or protecting a company’s trade secrets.

Regulation has moved in two major directions–centralized general protection and decentralized ad-hoc protection. The EEC (European Economic Community ) has pursued the former, and passed comprehensive data protection laws with coordination on information collection and data flows. The United States, in contrast, has dealt with issues on a case-by-case basis (health-care, credit cards, corporate governance etc…) resulting in a variety of ad hoc federal and state legislation.

A synthesis of the European and the American approaches is to formulate a set of broad rules for vertical industry. This was the direction taken by the New York Public Service Commission on the issue of telecommunications privacy. However, U.S. privacy legislation remains considerably less strict than European law in the regulation of private databases. Two Representatives in the House Select Committee on Homeland Security are calling for a Privacy Czar. The Privacy Czar would be responsible for privacy policies throughout the federal government as well as ensuring private technology does not erode public privacy.

“Right now, there’s no one at home at the White House when it comes to privacy. There’s no political official in the White House who has privacy in their title or as part of their job description. Congress should take the lead here because this administration has not,” says Peter Swire, an Ohio State University law professor and former chief privacy officer in the Clinton administration in an interview with Wired back in 2006 – and in the Obama administration has anything changed?
(http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,63542,00.html )

Horizontal applications

Sarbanes Oxley: enforcing corporate governance

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) has had a major impact on US corporate governance SOX was a response to the accounting scandals and senior management excesses at some public companies in recent years. It requires compliance with a comprehensive reform of accounting procedures for public corporations to promote and improve the quality and transparency of financial reporting by both internal and external independent auditors. SOX regulation is enforced by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“the Board”).

SOX Section 404 – “Management Assessment Of Internal Controls ” is indirectly relevant to data breach. It requires an “internal control” report in the annual report which states management responsibility and assesses effectiveness of internal controls. Companies are also required to disclose whether they have adopted a code of ethics for senior financial officers and the contents of that code.

SOX Section 409 – “Real Time Disclosure” implies that a significant data breach event be disclosed on “a rapid and current basis”. SOX also increases the penalties for mail and wire fraud increased from 5 to 10 years and creates a crime for tampering with a record or otherwise impeding any official proceeding.

HSS/HIPAA: enforcing patient privacy

Each time a patient sees a doctor, is admitted to a hospital, goes to a pharmacist or sends a claim to a health plan, a record is made of their confidential health information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) gave Congress 3 years to pass health privacy legislation. In May 2003 – the HHS (Dept of Health and Human services implemented federal protections for the privacy of individual health information under the Privacy Rule, pursuant to HIPAA. Because of limitations of HIPPA, the rule is far from seamless and will require a lot more work in the US Congress by both parties to ensure privacy of personal health information.

My conclusion on all of this is:

  • SOX has been a strong driver for sales of  IT  products and services, but it’s totally unclear that the billions spent by corporate America on compliance has actually done much to improve customer protection.

Vertical Industries

Securities: Did we leave the cat guarding the cream?

Annette L. Nazareth, market regulation director at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, outlined proposals at a securities industry conference in New York on May 21 calling for stock exchanges, as the Associated Press put it, “to abide by most of the requirements they set for companies they list.”
(http://www.sec.gov./news/speech/spch052104aln.htm )

Wow.

Insurance Industry: Federal versus free market

October 2003, witnesses before the Senate Commerce committee testified regarding insurance industry regulations. The committee analyzed the current US system, which relies on state law, and examined proposals for improving industry regulation. One of the central issues was whether or not the federal government should play a larger role in insurance industry regulation. Also discussed was the need to provide protection for consumers without forcing unnecessary regulations on insurance companies. Some senators expressed concerns about high insurance rates.

Conclusion

If you’re a vendor of IT products and services, it has become increasingly difficult to sell security with rising complexity of attacks and countermeasures and decision makers who find it difficult to understand what works and what doesn’t.

What will happen to the B2C security industry is hard to say. Perhaps the Intel McAfee acquisition is a sign of things to come where security becomes a  B2B  industry  like safety manufacturers for the aerospace and automotive industries.

Until security becomes built-into the cloud, my best suggestion for a business is don’t leave your ethics at home and don’t wait for the government to tell you what you learned from your parents at age 5 – put your toys away and don’t steal from the other kids.

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Why the Europeans are not buying DLP

It’s one of those things that European-based information security consultants must  ask themselves at times – why isn’t my phone ringing off the hook for DLP solutions if the European Data protection directives are so clear on the requirement to protect privacy?

The central guideline is the EU Data Protection Directive – and reading the law, we begin to get an answer to our dilemma.

Continue reading

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Mcafee embedded device security

If Mcafee is jumping into this area – then it might explain some of the synergy with the Intel acquisition – two years ago, Intel went public with products aimed at driving medical monitoring into the home – see Intel launches medical device for home patient monitoring.  Home monitoring (the Intel Health Guide is a 10.5″ tablet) “is a big area of focus and a growth opportunity for Intel” according to Mariah Scott, director of sales and marketing for Intel’s Digital Health Group.

Enhance device security
Protect embedded devices against existing and unknown zero-day threats via malware (such as worms, viruses, Trojans and buffer-overflow threats, etc.). Because many embedded devices such as ATMs and kiosks have a large attack area, they face increased security vulnerabilities. McAfee Embedded Security ensures that the device—when in production and in the field—is secure and cannot be compromised.

The Mcafee product is clearly aimed at embedded Windows devices – which are unfortunately over 1/2 of embedded medical devices since a good many software developers come from IT backgrounds and don’t have the cojones to deal with Linux let alone embedded Linux on small footprint hardware.  Some of the collateral makes a lot of sense while other parts seem like typical security vendor marcom   –  like the part about assuring HIPAA compliance with tamper free logs. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail as I noted in my post last year on the true cost of HIPAA privacy violations

The product feels like a commercialization of a project that their professional services group did for a particular customer. The discussion about supporting integration of multi vendor channels sort of  smells like an Intel aphorism and while it might serve Intel, multi-vendor channel integration may be  the exception rather than the rule in the medical device space,  since most medical device vendors are  small specialized business units or startups intent on preserving their own IP.

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Cyber warfare pentagon cyberwar

Why Pentagon cyber strategy is divorced from reality.

From the recent September/October 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs – William Lyn U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense writes about defending a new domain.

The  long, eloquently phrased article, demonstrates that the US has fundamental flaws in it’s strategic thinking about fighting terror:

Predicting cyberattacks is also proving difficult, especially since both state and nonstate actors pose threats…..Given these circumstances, deterrence will necessarily be based more on denying any benefit to attackers than on imposing costs through retaliation.

And in summary:

“The principal elements of that strategy are to develop an organizational construct for training, equipping, and commanding cyberdefense forces …to build collective defenses with U.S. allies; and to invest in the rapid development of additional cyberdefense capabilities. The goal of this strategy is to make cyberspace safe…”

It is unfortunate that a politruk has so much influence on US cyber security.

The US and European governments consistently adopt strategic policies that were obsolete  years before they came into office.

Just as the Obama administration is crippled by flawed assumptions about the regional balance of power in the Middle East, Washington still sees security as an exercise in organizational constructs, inter-agency collaboration and better defenses and pats itself on the back for recognizing that there is a new domain of threats….when the Internet was invented 20 years ago.

Lyn’s laundry lists of strategic objectives phrased in politically-correct corporate-speak are the wrong answer for improving cyber-security. When Lynn himself, speaks extensively about the need for speed and flexibility, the answer cannot be more government-funded monolithic, bureaucracies.

The private – public partnership is particularly problematic in my view.    The really smart people in security technologies are at small startups – not at Raytheon and Symantec and all the other big corporates that have enough lobbyist resources to line up and eat pork from the Federal plate.  And – why – if I may challenge some conventional wisdoms – should companies like Symantec be allowed to influence US cyber defenses when they have done an abysmal job protecting civilian networks and digital assets? And – why- should Microsoft be part of the solution when they are part of the problem.

Perhaps the US should start by outlawing Windows and using Ubuntu which is not vulnerable to removable USB device auto run attacks.

Perhaps the US should start getting more humint on the ground instead of gutting the CIA from it’s human assets and relying on satellites and network intercepts.   At the time of 9/11 – the CIA had no human assets in Saudi and since the Clinton administration – investment in people on the ground has gone downhill.   I hear the sign in the CIA station chief office in Riyadh says “Better to do nothing then to do something and look bad”.

Perhaps the US should consider that there are numerous offensive alternatives to retaliation (which indeed is not an effective countermeasure due to the extreme asymmetry of cyber attacks).

Perhaps the US should consider that cyber attackers are not motivated by economic utility functions and therefore utility-function-based defenses are not appropriate.

The security concept proposed by Lynn is  sadly divorced from reality.

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Is your DLP project a failure?

Are we in the same valley of death that held  content management applications in the 90s?  Where companies spent 6-7 figures on content management from companies like Vignette and over 50% of the projects never got off the ground?

Tell me what you think in this Linked In poll – DLP success or failure

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