Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The most challenging aspect of security

Ever wondered what is the most challenging aspect to security? It's not understanding the evolving threats and actors. Certainly those are important, but people smarter than me do a fine job of tracking and reporting on emerging threats.

It's not the constant evolution of tools and blinky boxes. Sure, tools are part of the mix, and knowing what tools will benefit in what situations is a must, but a tool is a tool. Given the right tool with a suitable understanding of the problem, the right people can figure out the right way to use it.

It's not understanding the technologies and solutions I'm tasked with defending. Of course that is crucial, but 20 years in the field have taught me a great bit about operating systems, applications, networking, business, and the way systems work, break, and can be fixed.

The biggest challenge? It's not threats, blinky boxes, or foundational knowledge. It's the context switching. It's being eyeball deep into a topic when something else demands attention. It's the interrupt-driven pace of work, always at the mercy of the next unscheduled threat.

What techniques do you use to carve out dedicated time for strategic work? How do you avoid the pitfall of perpetual firefighting? Comment below or join the discussion on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

On teaching kids to make good security and privacy choices themselves

Over the years I've written several posts on raising security-conscious kids.
A trend in my writing, as well as in my parenting, has been that as they grow up, my approach has evolved from technical controls to educating them to make good choices themselves. A recent conversation with my high school daughter highlights why that is.

My middle daughter maintains an active Instagram account. A household rule is, if your social media account is public, don't post anything personally identifiable; if you want to post personal stuff, keep your account private. This is a rule that gradually loosens as they grow older and can make informed decisions. As my daughter has gradually shifted from private to somewhat public, she recently was asked if she would be a "brand ambassador" for a company. 


We discussed some of the dangers and abuses a teenage girl would face as her exposure grew (abuses I have little first-hand experience with, but that I am well aware of through conversations with many of you). Her response was both shocking and encouraging: 
"Dad, I already deal with all of that. I just block and report them. Besides, Instagram obscures DM'ed photos unless I accept the request."
While not the response I expected, and not a topic I would have ever thought relevant in the not-too-distant past, I have to admit that's a pretty mature response. 

The moral? Technical controls can only go so far; as kids grow into teenagers and fledgling adults, they need the tools and skills to look after themselves.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Using malware's own behavior against it

A quick read for a Monday night.

Last week while investigating some noisy events in my security monitoring system, I noticed two competing Windows features filling up event logs: link-local multicast name resolution (LLMNR) put lots of name resolution requests onto the local network segment, which Windows firewall promptly blocked.

LLMNR is the successor to NetBIOS Name Service. Both serve the same purpose: if a computer cannot resolve a name through DNS, it essentially yells out on the local network "hey, anyone know an address for xyzzy?" 

This sounds like a reasonable solution, but it invites abuse. If an adversary has a foothold on my network, they can either listen for and reply to common typos, or can actively interrupt the legitimate DNS and instead give their own answers. In either case, the adversary can provide fake addresses for servers and websites, directing users to malicious places (and possibly stealing usernames and passwords along the way).

Generally speaking, I recommend turning off LLMNR and NBNS, as well as using a trusted DNS provider that prevents access to known-malicious websites.

Today I came across a slick way to use such malware's own behavior against it. LLMNR "responder" malware replies to requests with a bogus address, so they generally respond to *any* request. So Respounder spits out bogus name requests and looks for responses.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Seeing isn't believing: the rise of fake porn

The following may be disturbing to readers, but I feel it is important to write for several reasons. The first is, to stay a step ahead of cyberbullies that could use this technology to humiliate others. The second is to give readers - especially parents and teens - information to consider when deciding what to share publicly, privately, or at all.

In late 2016, software maker Adobe showcased an audio-editing tool that could, given a speech sample, create a natural-sounding recording of that person. This capability could come in very handy for editing podcasts or narrations, allowing a producer or sound engineer to edit the spoken text instead of re-recording. 

Last summer, a University of Washington research project demonstrated the next logical step. They were able to take a video recording of a public speech, replace the audio portion with a recording saying something else entirely, and manipulate the video so the speaker's face and mouth movements matches the new audio.

Faking someone's spoken words is one thing. But technology publication Motherboard wrote today of a new and disturbing practice gaining steam in the last six weeks or so: so-called "face-swap" porn, an artificial intelligence-aided merging of celebrity faces onto the bodies of porn actors, to create convincing videos that appear to be of that celebrity.

In the article (warning: NSFW, and unsettling content) Motherboard writes of individuals taking benign video from celebrities' public Instagram stories, and transferring the faces onto nude Snapchats posted by others. Using freely available software and step-by-step instructions, the technique can be accomplished by even a novice computer user. 

My fear is that it won't stop with celebrities. The thought of someone taking video from my daughter's Instagram, and creating a believable fake video with which to humiliate her, shakes me to the core, as it should any parent.

So why write this?

The first reason is to counter would-be cyberbullies. My hope is that a fake video - even an extremely convincing fake - might be less traumatic if it is widely known that such fakes are no longer fantasy. 

The second reason is to give you food for thought when it comes to privacy decisions. What you (or your child) post publicly, may be seen by - or downloaded and abused by - anyone. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to privacy and safety, but I'll share how I have approached this with my kids. When my children first began using social media, our household rule was that a social media account could be either public, or personal, but never both.

If the child wanted to share publicly, it had to be under a pseudonym and never include pictures of them, their family members, pets, or home. If the child wanted to identify themselves, the account had to be private and only shared with friends they (and we) knew in real life. 

As they and their situational awareness have grown, we have given them more discretion, but you can bet this development is the subject of discussion in our home.

Friday, January 12, 2018

It's W2 scam season


Time for a short Friday afternoon social engineering‍ discussion. If you work in HR / finance / benefits, you'll want to stick with me.

It's January, the beginning of tax season in the US (and I presume, other countries as well). Employers in the US are required to provide W2 statements documenting pay and tax to their employees by the end of his month.

Scammers know this, and love to exploit this annual ritual. The common schemes I see are an email or phone call pretending to be from either a company executive (often the CEO or CFO), or from the taxing authority, with an urgent request for employee records.

Urgent because, a sense of urgency can short-circuit skepticism and get an employee to respond before thinking.

Oddly, even though employers must provide this data by January 31, W2 scams have tended to peak around March for the last few years. Perhaps there's a psychological element since individual tax returns are due by April 15 so it remains top of mind for the HR/finance/benefits/payroll employee.

If you work in HR / finance / payroll / benefits, or otherwise have access to employee personal data, stay vigilant over the next 90 days or so. Be suspicious of any request for employee records, especially if it comes in an unusual manner.

Take the time to verify the request through a trusted channel. Depending on your organization size, that might mean in person, over the phone, or via an established business process.

DON'T ship a CSV or XLS of employee data simply because someone - even the CEO - sends an email requesting such.

If you own or manage a business, or manage those that have access to employee records, be sure they know how employee records are handled, and know the appropriate process for requesting and approving transfer of that data.

If there is no established process for handling employee records - make one, and stick to it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A handy trick for proxying HSTS sites in Chrome


TL;DR: Chrome has a nifty undocumented trick that makes proxying so much more useful when testing sites using HSTS or pinned certs: where the security warning screen doesn't give you an option to ignore, type "badidea" to continue anyway.

Browser makers have been raising the bar when it comes to website security, gradually moving toward a state where insecure websites stand out like a sore thumb. The result has been a steady increase in the proportion of websites that safeguard your private information while in transit between you and the web server. Google's Chrome in particular makes it especially challenging to use badly secured websites, with a variety of warning messages such as the image above.

In the example above, the website in question has enabled HTTP Strict Transport Security, or HSTS, which tells browsers that it should only be accessed over a secure channel, and so to always use HTTPS. Essentially, the website tells browsers "don't ever come here again except over HTTPS."

In this case, the warning is slightly misleading: I am browsing to the site over HTTPS, but using a proxy to inspect what I am sending to the website. The proxy feature of Burp Suite allows me to send information to a secure website, but to catch and decrypt it before it leaves my computer, to see exactly what my browser is sending.  

As a penetration tester or vulnerability researcher, it is very handy for making sure an application is not sending more data than I intend. It is also very handy for probing an application for data leaks and weaknesses. In this scenario, Chrome's helpful protection is less, well, helpful.

Thankfully, Google developers included an undocumented Easter Egg: typing the phrase "badidea" while that warning is on the screen, will clear the warning and proceed to the website.

A note to readers: this is a handy trick for researchers and penetration testers. Generally though, that warning is there for a reason. If you unexpectedly see a warning that your connection is not private - your connection is not private. If you are not intentionally man-in-the-middling your connection, the warning likely means either the website or your network is compromised. The technique I use for testing web applications is the same technique used by malicious hackers to eavesdrop when you connect to an "evil twin" hotspot mimicking the legitimate connection provided by your coffee shop or airport.

The moral? Unless you know what you are doing, bypassing Chrome's privacy warning is, well, a bad idea.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Private data in public places


Professional social engineer and open source intelligence expert Stephanie "@_sn0ww" Carruthers makes a living out of (mis)using what people and companies share publicly, so when she talks I listen. Her talk at the Lonestar Application Security conference in October was captivating in showing how such information can be used to infiltrate a business (in her case, for the purposes of showing the business their weaknesses and how to defend themselves against someone with actual malicious intent). She made an observation this week that sparked some lively discussion:

Don't leave your resume public on google docs.

Whois David?

My photo

I have spent the better part of two decades in information technology and security, with roots in application developer support, system administration, and network security. My specialty is cyber threat intelligence - software vulnerabilities and patching, malware, social networking risks, etc. In particular, I strive to write about complex cyber topics in a way that can be understood by those outside the infosec industry.

Why do I do this? A common comment I get from friends and family is that complex security topics give them headaches. They want to know in simple terms how to stay safe in a connected world. Folks like me and my peers have chosen to make a profession out of hacking and defending. I've been doing this for the better part of two decades, and so have a high degree of knowledge in the field. Others have chosen different paths - paths where I would be lost. This is my effort to share my knowledge with those that are experts in something else.

When not in front of a digital screen, I spend my time raising five rambunctious teens and pre-teens - including two sets of twins. Our family enjoys archery, raising show and meat rabbits, and simply enjoying life in the Texas hill country.

For a decade I served as either Commander or a division leader for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs, Texas; while I have retired from that role I continue to have a passion for children's ministry. At the moment I teach 1st through 3rd grade Sunday School. Follow FBC Dripping Springs Kids to see what is going on in our children's ministries.