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Incomplete Thought: The Psychology Of Red Teaming Failure – Do Not Pass Go…

August 6th, 2013 14 comments
team fortress red team

team fortress red team (Photo credit: gtrwndr87)

I could probably just ask this of some of my friends — many of whom are the best in the business when it comes to Red Teaming/Pen Testing, but I thought it would be an interesting little dialog here, in the open:

When a Red Team is engaged by an entity to perform a legally-authorized pentest (physical or electronic) with an explicit “get out of jail free card,” does that change the tactics, strategy and risk appetite of the team were they not to have that parachute?

Specifically, does the team dial-up or dial-down the aggressiveness of the approach and execution KNOWING that they won’t be prosecuted, go to jail, etc.?

Blackhats and criminals operating outside this envelope don’t have the luxury of counting on a gilded escape should failure occur and thus the risk/reward mapping *might* be quite different.

To that point, I wonder what the gap is between an authorized Red Team action versus those that have everything to lose?  What say ye?

/Hoff

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The Soylent Green of “Epic Hacks” – It’s Made of PEOPLE!

August 7th, 2012 3 comments

Allow me to immediately state that I am, in no way, attempting to blame or shame the victim in my editorial below.

However, the recent rash of commentary from security wonks on Twitter and blogs regarding who is to “blame” in Mat Honan’s unfortunate experience leaves me confused and misses an important point.

Firstly, the title of the oft-referenced article documenting the series of events is at the root of my discontent:

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking

As I tweeted, my assessment and suggestion for a title would be:

How my poor behavior led to my epic hacking & flawed trust models & bad luck w/Apple and Amazon assisted

…especially when coupled with what is clearly an admission by Mr. Honan, that he is, fundamentally, responsible for enabling the chained series of events that took place:

In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

In many ways, this was all my fault. My accounts were daisy-chained together. Getting into Amazon let my hackers get into my Apple ID account, which helped them get into Gmail, which gave them access to Twitter. Had I used two-factor authentication for my Google account, it’s possible that none of this would have happened, because their ultimate goal was always to take over my Twitter account and wreak havoc. Lulz.

Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and e-mails that I had stored in no other location.

Those security lapses are my fault, and I deeply, deeply regret them.

The important highlighted snippets above are obscured by the salacious title and the bulk of the article which focuses on how services — which he enabled and relied upon — however flawed certain components of that trust and process may have been, are *really* at the center of the debate here.  Or ought to be.

There’s clearly a bit of emotional transference occurring.  It’s easier to associate causality with a faceless big corporate machine rather than swing the light toward the victim, even if he, himself, self-identifies.

Before you think I’m madly defending and/or suggesting that there weren’t breakdowns with any of the vendors — especially Apple — let me assure you I am not.  There are many things that can and should be addressed here, but leaving out the human element, the root of it all here, is dangerous.

I am concerned that as a community there is often an aire of suggestion that consumers are incapable and inculpable with respect to understanding the risks associated with the clicky-clicky-connect syndrome that all of these interconnected services brings.

People give third party applications and services unfettered access to services like Twitter and Facebook every day — even when messages surrounding the potential incursion of privacy and security are clearly stated.

When something does fail — and it does and always will — we vilify the suppliers (sometimes rightfully so for poor practices) but we never really look at what we need to do to prevent having to see this again: “Those security lapses are my fault, and I deeply, deeply regret them.”

The more interconnected things become, the more dependent upon flawed trust models and the expectations that users aren’t responsible we shall be.

This is the point I made in my presentations: Cloudifornication and Cloudinomicon.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion regarding the effectiveness of security awareness training.  Dave Aitel started a lively one here: “Why you shouldn’t train employees for security awareness

It’s unfortunate the the only real way people learn is through misfortune, and any way you look at it, that’s the thing that drives awareness.

There are many lessons we can learn from Mr. Honan’s unfortunate experience…I urge you to consider less focusing blame on one link in the chain and instead guide the people you can influence to reconsider decisions of convenience over the potential tradeoffs they incur.

/Hoff

P.S. For you youngsters who don’t get the Soylent Green reference, see here.  Better yet, watch it. It’s awesome. Charlton Heston, FTW.

P.P.S. (Check out the sentiment of all the articles below)

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Six Degress Of Desperation: When Defense Becomes Offense…

July 15th, 2012 No comments
English: Defensive and offensive lines in Amer...

English: Defensive and offensive lines in American football (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One cannot swing a dead cat without bumping into at least one expose in the mainstream media regarding how various nation states are engaged in what is described as “Cyberwar.”

The obligatory shots of darkened rooms filled with pimply-faced spooky characters basking in the green glow of command line sessions furiously typing are dosed with trademark interstitial fade-ins featuring the masks of Anonymous set amongst a backdrop of shots of smoky Syrian streets during the uprising,  power grids and nuclear power plants in lockdown replete with alarms and flashing lights accompanied by plunging stock-ticker animations laid over the trademark icons of financial trading floors.

Terms like Stuxnet, Zeus, and Flame have emerged from the obscure .DAT files of AV research labs and now occupy a prominent spot in the lexicon of popular culture…right along side the word “Hacker,” which now almost certainly brings with it only the negative connotation it has been (re)designed to impart.

In all of this “Cyberwar” we hear that the U.S. defense complex is woefully unprepared to deal with the sophistication, volume and severity of the attacks we are under on a daily basis.  Further, statistics from the Private Sector suggest that adversaries are becoming more aggressive, motivated, innovative, advanced,  and successful in their ability to attack what is basically described as basically undefended — nee’ undefendable — assets.

In all of this talk of “Cyberwar,” we were led to believe that the U.S. Government — despite hostile acts of “cyberaggression” from “enemies” foreign and domestic — never engaged in pre-emptive acts of Cyberwar.  We were led to believe that despite escalating cases of documented incursions across our critical infrastructure (Aurora, Titan Rain, etc.,) that our response was reactionary, limited in scope and reach and almost purely detective/forensic in nature.

It’s pretty clear that was a farce.

However, what’s interesting — besides the amazing geopolitical, cultural, socio-economic, sovereign,  financial and diplomatic issues that war of any sort brings — including “cyberwar” — is that even in the Private Sector, we’re still led to believe that we’re both unable, unwilling or forbidden to do anything but passively respond to attack.

There are some very good reasons for that argument, and some which need further debate.

Advanced adversaries are often innovative and unconstrained in their attack methodologies yet defenders remain firmly rooted in the classical OODA-fueled loops of the past where the A, “act,” generally includes some convoluted mixture of detection, incident response and cleanup…which is often followed up with a second dose when the next attack occurs.

As such, “Defenders” need better definitions of what “defense” means and how a silent discard from a firewall, a TCP RST from an IPS or a blip from Bro is simply not enough.  What I’m talking about here is what defensive linemen look to do when squared up across from their offensive linemen opponents — not to just hold the line to prevent further down-field penetration, but to sack the quarterback or better yet, cause a fumble or error and intercept a pass to culminate in running one in for points to their advantage.

That’s a big difference between holding till fourth down and hoping the offense can manage to not suffer the same fate from the opposition.

That implies there’s a difference between “winning” and “not losing,” with arbitrary values of the latter.

Put simply, it means we should employ methods that make it more and more difficult, costly, timely and non-automated for the attacker to carry out his/her mission…[more] active defense.

I’ve written about this before in 2009 “Incomplete Thought: Offensive Computing – The Empire Strikes Back” wherein I asked people’s opinion on both their response to and definition of “offensive security.”  This was a poor term…so I was delighted when I found my buddy Rich Mogull had taken the time to clarify vocabulary around this issue in his blog titled: “Thoughts on Active Defense, Intrusion Deception, and Counterstrikes.

Rich wrote:

…Here are some possible definitions we can work with:

  • Active defense: Altering your environment and system responses dynamically based on the activity of potential attackers, to both frustrate attacks and more definitively identify actual attacks. Try to tie up the attacker and gain more information on them without engaging in offensive attacks yourself. A rudimentary example is throwing up an extra verification page when someone tries to leave potential blog spam, all the way up to tools like Mykonos that deliberately screw with attackers to waste their time and reduce potential false positives.
  • Intrusion deception: Pollute your environment with false information designed to frustrate attackers. You can also instrument these systems/datum to identify attacks. DataSoft Nova is an example of this. Active defense engages with attackers, while intrusion deception can also be more passive.
  • Honeypots & tripwires: Purely passive (and static) tools with false information designed to entice and identify an attacker.
  • Counterstrike: Attack the attacker by engaging in offensive activity that extends beyond your perimeter.

These aren’t exclusive – Mykonos also uses intrusion deception, while Nova can also use active defense. The core idea is to leave things for attackers to touch, and instrument them so you can identify the intruders. Except for counterattacks, which move outside your perimeter and are legally risky.

I think that we’re seeing the re-emergence of technology that wasn’t ready for primetime now become more prominent in consideration when folks refresh their toolchests looking for answers to problems that “passive response” offers.  It’s important to understand that tools like these — in isolation — won’t solve many complex attacks, nor are they a silver bullet, but understanding that we’re not limited to cleanup is important.

The language of “active defense,” like Rich’s above, is being spoken more and more.

Traditional networking and security companies such as Juniper* are acquiring upstarts like Mykonos Software in this space.  Mykonos’ mission is to “…change the economics of hacking…by making the attack surface variable and inserting deceptive detection points into the web application…mak[ing] hacking a website more time consuming, tedious and costly to an attacker. Because the web application is no longer passive, it also makes attacks more difficult.”

VC’s like Kleiner Perkins are funding companies whose operating premise is a more active “response” such as the in-stealth company “Shape Security” that expects to “…change the web security paradigm by shifting costs from defenders to hackers.”

Or, as Rich defined above, the notion of “counterstrike” outside one’s “perimeter” is beginning to garner open discussion now that we’ve seen what’s possible in the wild.

In fact, check out the abstract at Defcon 20 from Shawn Henry of newly-unstealthed company “Crowdstrike,” titled “Changing the Security Paradigm: Taking Back Your Network and Bringing Pain to the Adversary:

The threat to our networks is increasing at an unprecedented rate. The hostile environment we operate in has rendered traditional security strategies obsolete. Adversary advances require changes in the way we operate, and “offense” changes the game.

Shawn Henry Prior to joining CrowdStrike, Henry was with the FBI for 24 years, most recently as Executive Assistant Director, where he was responsible for all FBI criminal investigations, cyber investigations, and international operations worldwide.

If you look at Mr. Henry’s credentials, it’s clear where the motivation and customer base are likely to flow.

Without turning this little highlight into a major opus — because when discussing this topic it’s quite easy to do so given the definition and implications of “active defense,”– I hope this has scratched an itch and you’ll spend more time investigating this fascinating topic.

I’m convinced we will see more and more as the cybersword rattling continues.

Have you investigated technology solutions that offer more “active defense?”

/Hoff

* Full disclosure: I work for Juniper Networks who recently acquired Mykonos Software mentioned above.  I hold a position in, and enjoy a salary from, Juniper Networks, Inc. ;)

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Reflections on SANS ’99 New Orleans: Where It All Started

July 25th, 2010 1 comment

A few weeks ago I saw some RT’s/@’s on Twitter referencing John Flowers and that name brought back some memories.

Today I sent a tweet to John asking him if I remembered correctly that he was at SANS in New Orleans in 1999 when he was still at Hiverworld.

He responded back confirming he was, indeed, at SANS ’99.  I remarked that this was where I first met many of today’s big names in security: Ed Skoudis, Ron Gula, Marty Roesch, Stephen Northcutt, Chris Klaus, JD Glaser, Greg Hoglund, and Bruce Schneier.

John responded back:

I couldn’t agree more.  That was an absolutely amazing time. I was on my second security startup (NodeWarrior Networks,) times were booming and this generation of the security industry as we know it was being given birth to.

I remember many awesome things from that week:

  • Sitting in “Intrusion Detection Shadow Style” with Stephen Northcut and Judy Novak for something like 8 hours going cross-eyed reading tcpdump packet traces and getting every question Stephen asked wrong. Well, some of them, anyway ;)
  • Asking Ron Gula’s wife something about Dragon and her looking back at me like I was a total n00b
  • Asking Ron Gula the same question and having him confirm that I was, in fact, a complete tool
  • Staying up all night drinking, writing code in Perl and doing dangerous things on other people’s networks
  • Participating in my first CTF
  • Almost getting arrested for B&E as I tried to rig the CTF contest by attempting to steal/clone/pwn/replace the HDD in the target machine. The funniest part of that was almost pulling it off (stealing the removable drive) but electrocuting myself in the process — which is what alerted my presence to the security guard.
  • Interrupting Lance Spitzner’s talk by stringing a poster behind him that said “www.lancespitznerismyhero.com” (a domain I registered during the event.)
  • Watching Bruce Schneier scream at the book store guy because they, incredulously, did not stock “Practical Cryptography
  • Sitting down with Ed Skoudis (who was with SAIC at the time, I believe,) looking at one another and wondering just what the hell we were going to do with our careers in security
  • Spending $14,000 (I shit you not, it was the Internet BOOM time, remember) by hitting 6 of the best restaurants in New Orleans with a party of hax0rs and working the charge department at American Express into a frenzy (not to mention actually using the line from Pretty Woman: “we’re going to spend obscene amounts of money here” in order to get in…)
  • Burning the roof of my mouth by not heeding the warnings of the waitress at Cafe Dumonde, biting into a beignet which cauterized my mouth as I simultaneously tried to extinguish the pain with scalding hot Chicory coffee.

I came back from that week knowing with every molecule in my body that even though I’d been “doing” security for 5 years already, it was exactly what I wanted to for the rest of my life.

I have Stephen Northcut to thank for that.  I haven’t been to a SANS since 1999 (don’t ask me why) but I am so excited about going back in August in DC (SANS What Works In Virtualization and Cloud Computing Summit) and giving a keynote at the event.

It’s been a long time.  Too long.

/Hoff

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On Amrit Williams’ (BigFix) Beyond The Perimeter Podcast

July 18th, 2010 No comments

My good friend Amrit Williams (@amrittsering) from BigFix (congrats on the IBM acquisition!) has an awesome Podcast titled “Beyond the Perimeter.”

He was nice enough to invite me to record episode 93 titled “Is Trust the Real Barrier To Cloud Computing?” (ultimately points you to an iTunes subscription.)

We spoke for almost an hour on all sorts of great discussion points related to Cloud Computing, specifically focusing on Trust (which I define in context as Security, Compliance, Control, Reliability and Privacy.)

We also spoke about the Cloud Security Alliance, CloudAudit and the HacKid conference — three things I am very passionate about.

Thanks Amrit, great conversation as usual.

/Hoff

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How To Say “Whoops! We Need To Rethink Our Train System’s Control Plane” In Polish…

January 11th, 2008 4 comments

TrainwreckMy dear friend Murray (sorry if that expression of warmth comes as a surprise, Murr…) sent me this story from the Register:

Polish teen derails tram after hacking train network

A Polish teenager allegedly turned the tram system in the city of
Lodz into his own personal train set, triggering chaos and derailing
four vehicles in the process. Twelve people were injured in one of the
incidents.

The 14-year-old modified a TV remote control so that it could be used to change track points, The Telegraph
reports. Local police said the youngster trespassed in tram depots to
gather information needed to build the device. The teenager told police
that he modified track setting for a prank.

"He studied the trams and the tracks for a long time and then built
a device that looked like a TV remote control and used it to manoeuvre
the trams and the tracks," said Miroslaw Micor, a spokesman for Lodz
police.

"He had converted the television control into a device capable of
controlling all the junctions on the line and wrote in the pages of a
school exercise book where the best junctions were to move trams around
and what signals to change.

"He treated it like any other schoolboy might a giant train set, but
it was lucky nobody was killed. Four trams were derailed, and others
had to make emergency stops that left passengers hurt. He clearly did
not think about the consequences of his actions," Micor added.

Transport command and control systems are commonly designed by
engineers with little exposure or knowledge about security using
commodity electronics and a little native wit. The apparent ease with
which Lodz’s tram network was hacked, even by these low standards, is
still a bit of an eye opener.

Problems with the signalling system on Lodz’s tram network became
apparent on Tuesday when a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to
the right was involuntarily taken to the left. As a result the rear
wagon of the train jumped the rails and collided with another passing
tram. Transport staff immediately suspected outside interference.

The youth, described by his teachers as an electronics buff and
exemplary student, faces charges at a special juvenile court of
endangering public safety. ®

Yes, yes.  I know, it’s not a SCADA system…as fun as that would be to bring up again, I don’t need any death threats, so I won’t mention it…directly.  But if you read about the recent security design debacle of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and then look at this, it doesn’t take much of a logic jump to see why we should be worried about how command/control systems are implemented.

My next piece of chicanery is to steal one of Mogull’s Wii Guitar Hero controllers, hack it, and cause it to electrocute his cat every time he hits C# on Stairway to Heaven…

/Hoff

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