Apr 20

Heartbleed strikes again… according to respected security consulting firm Mandiant, one of its corporate customers’ SSL VPN appliances was compromised by attackers using the Heartbleed vulnerability.  The attackers were able to hijack logged in sessions and thus access the organization’s network.  The key to detecting hijacked sessions is to look for log entries which show sessions switching between two different IP addresses at short intervals.  Mandiant isn’t telling which vendor’s SSL VPN is vulnerable, but Cisco,  Juniper, and the open source OpenVPN project have all issued security advisories related to Heartbleed.   Infosec people should be checking for new VPN vendor patches and scanning logs for telltale IP address changes.



Apr 11


SANS recently published the latest edition of their “OUCH!” security newsletter for end users – this month’s topic is Yes – You Actually ARE a Target! - something that we usually have to remind users about on a regular basis, in spite of the regular coverage of hacks, data breaches and other cyber shenanigans which are always afoot these days.

OUCH is a good (and free) resource to augment your organization’s Security Awareness efforts.

SANS OUCH Newsletter


Jul 11

Via Gizmodo

Feb 24

Some spear phishing wisdom from Security BSides SFO today…

Rohyt Belani of PhishMe told an interesting story highlighting just how much research attackers do when choosing their targets and crafting spear phishing payloads. In an attack on an energy company, employees received an email appearing to be from the company’s HR department offering information on discounted health care premiums for employees with more than 3 children. The only employees to receive the message? The two people at the company with 4 or more children.

This raises two issues for InfoSec professionals…

First, the attackers are doing their homework, people. They are taking the time to craft their social engineering payloads in ways that target very specific targets. This means (IMHO) that they are extremely motivated – most probably by money or ideology.

Second, our coworkers are helping the attackers with their targeting by sharing all sorts of personal information via social networking platforms. We need to educate them about:

+ The fact that their social media profiles are visible not only to friends and family, but also bad guys who will use that information to craft their attacks. The “familiarity cues” which we tend to use to determine whether a message or request is from a friend or a foe just don’t work anymore.

+ Their ability to control who sees their social networking information by using the privacy features offered by Facebook, LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent, Twitter. They need to think about what they are posting and who will see it – not only to protect the company, but to protect the privacy of themselves and their families.

While we put all sorts of technical solutions in place to protect our systems and information from malware, our users are the front line defense against the most serious threats we face. Educating them to be aware of how their actions both inside and outside the office affect the organization’s security is one of the most important tasks we face as InfoSec professionals.

Jan 21

java: threat or menace?

By alberg best practices, CSO, hacks Comments Off

Too much Java can make you cranky…

It has been a pretty bad few weeks for Oracle’s Java language – zero day vulns, followed by an out of band patch, with another serving of zero days to top things off.   “Uninstall Java – it is dangerous at any speed!” was the message from some security experts.

The things that make Java attractive to web app developers (it’s cross platform compatibility and pretty ubiquitous distribution) are the same things that make it such an attractive target for malware authors.  Add to that a seemingly endless supply of critical security vulnerabilities, and you have a recipe for big trouble.

I have pretty much had it up to here (my hand is at neck level) with Java as a web plugin and would love to just uninstall the whole bug infested mess from my users’ computers at the office.  (Of course I could say the same thing about Flash)  However, some pretty critical parts of our business rely on Java web apps to bring in revenue (some of which goes to pay my salary – nuff said).  So, I had to get a bit clever in coming up with a defensive strategy.

After looking at my web proxy logs, I determined that Java usage at my firm pretty much fell into two buckets:  a small number of business related apps from trusted business partners and a whole bunch of totally non business related apps accessed during recreational surfing.  This made my job pretty easy… I figured out where the business apps came from and created a whitelist.  Then I set the web filter to block all .jar and .class file downloads from other locations.  In the two or so weeks that this policy has been in place, I have gotten exactly one request to whitelist a new jar file.  The result?  A much reduced attack surface for the company.  My users seem to be OK with the new policies, which I explained in an email blast.

Yes, we will continue to update our Java Runtime Environments – after all, there could be some locally installed software which needs the JRE and using the latest and greatest versions is just good practice.  And we’ll continue to implement other good practices (getting rid of unused software, keeping an eye on our log files and network traffic, keeping patches and fixes up to date and the like).

While I can’t say that we are totally protected from Java based attacks, I do feel that we have struck a pretty good balance between security and the need to let the business do business on this one.



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Sep 26

The most valuable piece of security equipment in your organization

For the past few years, the Social Engineering Capture the Flag contest has been a highlight of the Defcon security conference.  The report from the 2012 edition of the contest provides some interesting insight into the social engineering threat and what companies need to do to protect themselves.

The targets of this year’s contest were 10 firms in the retail, oil, freight, telecom and technology industries.  The oil industry got the highest marks for keeping their information secret, which makes sense to me.  Their employees probably have a lot less interaction with the public on a day to day basis, so unusual requests for information would probably stand out from the norm.  Retail giants Walmart and Target brought up the rear, giving up the most information.

The theme of this year’s contest was “Battle of the SExes,” pitting male social engineers off against their female counterparts.  While the male contestants scored higher than the social engineers of the fairer sex, the small sample size (10 men and 10 women) and the fact that female participants in prior years of the contest were few and far between, makes me wonder if these results are indicative of a trend.

The contest participants were given two weeks to perform “open source intelligence” (the gathering of information about their targets from public sources on the Internet).  A number of the companies targeted provided attackers with lots of information during this phase.  Some of the more noteworthy information leaks resulted from photos posted on social media, which yielded pictures of employee ID badges and layouts of facilities – either which could help an attacker get physical access to their targets.  Other information gathered from social media included ESSIDs of wireless networks and location checkins by employees.

The real fun began when contestants got on the phone.  A number of pretexts were used to explain the callers’ requests for information.  The trickiest pretext was that the caller was an employee of the targeted organization.  Knowing the right jargon and using widely available caller ID spoofing services bolstered these callers in some cases, but maintaining a believable cover story here was difficult.  Callers who purported to be “taking a survey” or calling from a vendor did not do too well, since many employees find these types of calls annoying and thus routinely terminate such calls quickly.  One more successful pretext was that the caller was a student doing research on the targeted company for a school assignment.

The conclusions in the report were what you would expect:

  • Employees need to be better educated against social engineering threats (true, in spite of  the report writer’s business in performing such training and social engineering tests).
  • Employers need to tighten their social media policies to control the leakage of confidential information to the Internet.

The second finding, while it sounds great, is potentially problematic for US companies.  As I have noted in previous posts, US law does not allow companies to place many restrictions which make sense from a corporate security perspective on employees’ personal social media accounts.  The regulations are aimed at preventing employers from quashing employees’ rights to discuss their work environment and organize unions, but have the side effect of making it very difficult to write social media policies which both protect the organization and stand up to legal scrutiny.  If you haven’t reviewed your social media policies in a while, now is a good time to do so – and include your legal counsel.

The restrictions on social media restrictions make the need for employee education all the more important.  The social engineers are out there and they are gunning for your company’s crown jewels.  Taking the time to strengthen your Human Firewall is a worthwhile investment.

Jul 20

A while back, I wrote about how US organizations writing social media policies need to beware of the National Labor Relations Board’s requirements that these policies not interfere with the rights of employees to discuss their working conditions or organize unions.  At the time of my original post, the NLRB had released a guidance document which raised more questions than it answered.  Since then, they have released additional guidance which includes a number of examples of bad policies and explains the specific problems with each.  More importantly, it includes a sample policy which is in compliance with NLRB rules and which can be used as a guide in writing (or updating) your company’s social media policy.  It is really worth taking a look at this document – many things that any normal, reasonable infosec professional would expect to be acceptable (ie. “don’t post confidential information to social media sites”) are not.

May 15

If you are an information professional at a publicly traded company, I would strongly suggest reading a recent blog post by Richard Bejtlich about the SEC’s requirements for the disclosure of cybersecurity breaches.   Bejtlich points out that the ramifications of these requirements go well past getting in to hot water with the regulators – they also raise other risks, such as whistleblowing by employees or third parties as well as the potential for shareholder lawsuits when companies do not take the proper steps to secure information (or are perceived as not doing so).  Having a conversation about this issue with your General Counsel before an incident occurs makes a lot of sense.  All this being said, kudos to the SEC for recognizing the role  of cybersecurity in good corporate governance.

Apr 15

As the line between work and personal life becomes thinner and thinner, employee use of social media sites has become a more and more important (and vexing) issue for organizations.  Companies are building their brands online, but so are employees.  Social Media posts made by employees (on or off the clock) can work to enhance or sully companies’ online reputations.  In response, most social media policies include a clause prohibiting employees from making disparaging comments about their employer online.  However, these policies may not be legal without a very specific carve out – whoever is responsible for social media policies in your organization should take some time to read this blog post over at the Workplace Privacy Counsel blog.

Apr 13

Apple has been getting some grief over the past week or so for their handling of the “FlashBack” trojan which infected over 500,000 Mac users worldwide.  Well, yesterday, they released a new Java patch to address Flashback, and it has some interesting properties:

It looks for and removes FlashBack

It requires users to specifically enable Java on their systems

It automatically disables Java if no Java applets are run for “an extended period” – some bloggers are stating that this period is 35 days.

I’m glad Apple is taking these steps – if users are not using Java, disabling it will protect them from the rising tide of Java based malware that is out there.  I just hope that the process for re-enabling Java when needed is made easy for the non technical user.  It would be nice if Apple added a feature to “Software Update” which would be a little more proactive in nagging users to install security related updates as well.

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