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Elemental: Leveraging Virtualization Technology For More Resilient & Survivable Systems

June 21st, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday saw the successful launch of Bromium at Gigamon’s Structure conference in San Francisco.

I was privileged to spend some stage time with Stacey Higginbotham and Simon Crosby (co-founder, CTO, mentor and good friend) on stage after Simon’s big reveal of Bromium‘s operating model and technology approach.

While product specifics weren’t disclosed, we spent some time chatting about Bromium’s approach to solving a particularly tough set of security challenges with a focus on realistic outcomes given the advanced adversaries and attack methodologies in use today.

At the heart of our discussion* was the notion that in many cases one cannot detect let alone prevent specific types of attacks and this requires a new way of containing the impact of exploiting vulnerabilities (known or otherwise) that are as much targeting the human factor as they are weaknesses in underlying operating systems and application technologies.

I think Kurt Marko did a good job summarizing Bromium in his article here, so if you’re interested in learning more check it out. I can tell you that as a technology advisor to Bromium and someone who is using the technology preview, it lives up to the hype and gives me hope that we’ll see even more novel approaches of usable security leveraging technology like this.  More will be revealed as time goes on.

That said, with productization details purposely left vague, Bromium’s leveraged implementation of Intel’s VT technology and its “microvisor” approach brought about comments yesterday from many folks that reminded them of what they called “similar approaches” (however right/wrong they may be) to use virtualization technology and/or “sandboxing” to provide more “secure” systems.  I recall the following in passing conversation yesterday:

  • Determina (VMware acquired)
  • Green Borders (Google acquired)
  • Trusteer
  • Invincea
  • DeepSafe (Intel/McAfee)
  • Intel TXT w/MLE & hypervisors
  • Self Cleansing Intrusion Tolerance (SCIT)
  • PrivateCore (Newly launched by Oded Horovitz)
  • etc…

I don’t think Simon would argue that the underlying approach of utilizing virtualization for security (even for an “endpoint” application) is new, but the approach toward making it invisible and transparent from a user experience perspective certainly is.  Operational simplicity and not making security the user’s problem is a beautiful thing.

Here is a video of Simon and my session “Secure Everything.

What’s truly of interest to me — and based on what Simon said yesterday — the application of this approach could be just at home in a “server,” cloud or mobile application as it is on a classical desktop environment.  There are certainly dependencies (such as VT) today, but the notion that we can leverage virtualization for better resilience, survivability and assurance for more “trustworthy” systems is exciting.

I for one am very excited to see how we’re progressing from “bolt on” to more integrated approaches in our security models. This will bear fruit as we become more platform and application-centric in our approach to security, allowing us to leverage fundamentally “elemental” security components to allow for more meaningfully trustworthy computing.

/Hoff

* The range of topics was rather hysterical; from the Byzantine General’s problem to K/T Boundary extinction-class events to the Mexican/U.S. border fence, it was chock full of analogs ;)

 

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Why Steeling Your Security Is Less Stainless and More Irony…

March 5th, 2012 3 comments

(I originally pre-pended to this post a lengthy update based on my findings and incident response, but per a suggestion from @jeremiahg, I’ve created a separate post here for clarity)

Earlier today I wrote about the trending meme in the blogosphere/security bellybutton squad wherein the notion that security — or the perceived lacking thereof — is losing the “war.”

My response was that the expectations and methodology by which we measure success or failure is arbitrary and grossly inaccurate.  Furthermore, I suggest that the solutions we have at our disposal are geared toward solving short-term problems designed to generate revenue for vendors and solve point-specific problems based on prevailing threats and the appetite to combat them.

As a corollary, if you reduce this down to the basics, the tools we have at our disposal that we decry as useless often times work just fine…if you actually use them.

For most of us, we do what we can to provide appropriate layers of defense where possible but our adversaries are crafty and in many cases more skilled.  For some, this means our efforts are a lost cause but the reality is that often times good enough is good enough…until it isn’t.

Like it wasn’t today.

Let me paint you a picture.

A few days ago a Wired story titled “Is antivirus a waste of money?” hit the wires that quoted many (of my friends) as saying that security professionals don’t run antivirus.  There were discussions about efficacy, performance and usefulness. Many of the folks quoted in that article also run Macs.  There was some interesting banter on Twitter also.

If we rewind a few weeks, I was contacted by two people a few days apart, one running a FireEye network-based anti-malware solution and another running a mainstream host-based anti-virus solution.

Both of these people let me know that their solutions detected and blocked a Javascript-based redirection attempt from my blog which runs a self-hosted WordPress installation.

I pawed through my blog’s PHP code, turned off almost every plug-in, ran the exploit scanner…all the while unable to reproduce the behavior on my Mac or within a fresh Windows 7 VM.

The FireEye report ultimately was reported back as a false positive while the host-based AV solution couldn’t be reproduced, either.

Fast forward to today and after I wrote the blog “You know what’s dead? Security…” I had a huge number of click-throughs from my tweet.

The point of my blog was that security isn’t dead and we aren’t so grossly failing but rather suffering a death from a thousand cuts.  However, while we’ve got a ton of band-aids, it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Speaking of pain, almost immediately upon posting the tweet, I received reports from 5-6 people indicating their AV solutions detected an attempted malicious code execution, specifically a Javascript redirector.

This behavior was commensurate with the prior “sightings” and so with the help of @innismir and @chort0, I set about trying to reproduce the event.

@chort0 found that a hidden iFrame was redirecting to a site hosting in Belize (screen caps later) that ultimately linked to other sites in Russia and produced a delightful greeting which said “Gotcha!” after attempting to drop an executable.

Again, I was unable to duplicate and it seemed that once loaded, the iFrame and file dropper did not reappear.  @innismir didn’t get the iFrame but grabbed the dropped file.

This led to further investigation that it was likely this was an embedded compromise within the theme I was using.  @innismir found that the Sakura theme included “…woo-tumblog [which] uses a old version of TimThumb, which has a hole in it.”

I switched back to a basic built-in theme and turned off the remainder of the non-critical plug-ins.

Since I have no way of replicating the initial drop attempt, I can only hope that this exercise which involved some basic AV tools, some browser debug tools, some PCAP network traces and good ole investigation from three security wonks has paid off…

ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT MALWARE FIRES (so please let me know if you see an indication of an attempted malware infection.)

Now, back to the point at hand…I would never have noticed this (or more specifically others wouldn’t) had they not been running AV.

So while many look at these imperfect tools as a failure because they don’t detect/prevent all attacks, imagine how many more people I may have unwittingly infected accidentally.

Irony?  Perhaps, but what happened following the notification gives me more hope (in the combination of people, community and technology) than contempt for our gaps as an industry.

I plan to augment this post with more details and a conclusion about what I might have done differently once I have a moment to digest what we’ve done and try and confirm if it’s indeed repaired.  I hope it’s gone for good.

Thanks again to those of you who notified me of the anomalous behavior.

What’s scary is how many of you didn’t.

Is security “losing?”

Ask me in the morning…I’ll likely answer that from my perspective, no, but it’s one little battle at a time that matters.

/Hoff

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You Know What’s Dead? Security…

March 5th, 2012 5 comments

…well, it is if you listen to many of the folks who spend their time trawling about security conferences, writing blogs (like this one) or on podcasts, it is.  I don’t share that opinion, however.

Lately there’s been a noisy upswing in the security echo chamber of people who suggest that  given the visibility, scope, oft-quoted financial impact and reputational damage of recent breaches, that “security is losing.”

{…losing it’s mind, perhaps…}

What’s troubling about all this hen pecking is that with each complaint about the sorry state of the security “industry,” there’s rarely ever offered a useful solution that is appropriately adoptable within a reasonable timeframe, that satisfies a business condition, and result in an outcome that moves the needle to the “winning” side of the meter.

I was asked by Martin Mckeay (@mckeay) in a debate on Twitter, in which I framed the points above, if “…[I] don’t see all the recent breaches as evidence that we’re losing…that so many companies compromised as proof [that we’re losing.]”

My answer was a succinct “no.”

What these breaches indicate is the constant innovation we see from attackers, the fact that companies are disclosing said breaches and the relative high-value targets admitting such.  We’re also seeing the better organization of advanced adversaries whose tactics and goals aren’t always aligned with the profiles of “hackers” we see in the movies.

That means our solutions aren’t aligned to the problems we think we have nor the motivation and tactics of the attackers that these solutions are designed to prevent.

The dynamic tension between “us” and “them” is always cyclical in terms of the perception of who is “winning” versus “losing.”  Always has been, always will be.  Anyone who doesn’t recognize patterns in this industry is either:

  1. New
  2. Ignorant
  3. Selling you something
  4. …or all of the above

Most importantly, it’s really, really important to recognize that the security “industry” is in business to accomplish one goal:

Make money.

It’s not a charity.  It’s not a cause.  It’s not a club.  It’s a business.

The security industry — established behemoths and startups alike — are in the business of being in business.  They may be staffed by passionate, idealistic and caring individuals, but those individuals enjoy paying their mortgages.

These companies also provide solutions that aren’t always ready from the perspective of market, economics, culture, adoptability, scope/impact of problem, etc.  This is why I show the Security Hamster Sine Wave of Pain and why security, much like bell bottoms, comes back into vogue in cycles…generally when those items above converge.

Now, if you overlay what I just said with the velocity and variety of innovation without constraint that attackers play with and you have a clearer picture of why we are where we are.

Of course, no rant like this would be complete without the anecdotal handwaving bemoaning flawed trust models and technology, insecure applications and those pesky users…sigh.

The reality is that if we (as operators) are constrained to passive defense and are expected to score progress in terms of moving the defensive line forward versus holding ground, albeit with collateral damage, then yes…we’re losing.

If, rather, we assess our ability to influence outcomes such that the business can function at an acceptable level of risk, where “winning” and “losing” aren’t measured in emotional baggage or absolutes, then perhaps more often than not, we’d be winning instead of whining.

It’s all a matter of perspective, really.

I think staring at things other than one’s bellybutton can deliver some.

Try it.  It won’t hurt.  Promise.

/Hoff

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Security: “There’s No Discipline In Our Discipline”

June 6th, 2011 No comments

Martin McKeay (@mckeay) reminded me of something this morning with his tweet:

To which I am compelled to answer with another question from one of my slides in my “Commode Computing” talk, which is to say “which part of “security” are you referring to?:

“Security” is so heavily fragmented, siloed, specialized and separated from managing “risk,” that Martin’s question, while innocent enough, opens a can of worms not even anti-virus can contain (and *that* is obviously a joke.)

/Hoff

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More On Cloud and Hardware Root Of Trust: Trusting Cloud Services with Intel® TXT

May 6th, 2011 No comments

Whilst at CloudConnect I filmed some comments with Intel, RSA, Terremark and HyTrust on Intel’s Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) and its implications in the Cloud Computing space specific to “trusted cloud” and using the underlying TPM present in many of today’s compute platforms.

The 30 minute session got cut down into more consumable sound bites, but combined with the other speakers, it does a good job setting the stage for more discussions regarding this important technology.

I’ve written previously on cloud and TXT with respect to measured launch environments and work done by RSA, Intel and VMware: More On High Assurance (via TPM) Cloud Environments. Hopefully we’ll see more adoption soon.

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CloudPassage & Why Guest-Based Footprints Matter Even More For Cloud Security

February 1st, 2011 4 comments
VM (operating system)

Image via Wikipedia

Every day for the last week or so after their launch, I’ve been asked left and right about whether I’d spoken to CloudPassage and what my opinion was of their offering.  In full disclosure, I spoke with them when they were in stealth almost a year ago and offered some guidance as well as the day before their launch last week.

Disappointing as it may be to some, this post isn’t really about my opinion of CloudPassage directly; it is, however, the reaffirmation of the deployment & delivery models for the security solution that CloudPassage has employed.  I’ll let you connect the dots…

Specifically, in public IaaS clouds where homogeneity of packaging, standardization of images and uniformity of configuration enables scale, security has lagged.  This is mostly due to the fact that for a variety of reasons, security itself does not scale (well.)

In an environment where the underlying platform cannot be counted upon to provide “hooks” to integrate security capabilities in at the “network” level, all that’s left is what lies inside the VM packaging:

  1. Harden and protect the operating system [and thus the stuff atop it,]
  2. Write secure applications and
  3. Enforce strict, policy-driven information-centric security.

My last presentation, “Cloudinomicon: Idempotent Infrastructure, Building Survivable Systems and Bringing Sexy Back to Information Centricity” addressed these very points. [This one is a version I delivered at the University of Michigan Security Summit]

If we focus on the first item in that list, you’ll notice that generally to effect policy in the guest, you must have a footprint on said guest — however thin — to provide the hooks that are needed to either directly effect policy or redirect back to some engine that offloads this functionality.  There’s a bit of marketing fluff associated with using the word “agentless” in many applications of this methodology today, but at some point, the endpoint needs some sort of “agent” to play*

So that’s where we are today.  The abstraction offered by virtualized public IaaS cloud platforms is pushing us back to the guest-centric-based models of yesteryear.

This will bring challenges with scale, management, efficacy, policy convergence between physical and virtual and the overall API-driven telemetry driven by true cloud solutions.

You can read more about this in some of my other posts on the topic:

Finally, since I used them for eyeballs, please do take a look at CloudPassage — their first (free) offerings are based upon leveraging small footprint Linux agents and a cloud-based SaaS “grid” to provide vulnerability management, and firewall/zoning in public cloud environments.

/Hoff

* There are exceptions to this rule depending upon *what* you’re trying to do, such as anti-malware offload via a hypervisor API, but this is not generally available to date in public cloud.  This will, I hope, one day soon change.

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Past Life Regressions & Why Security Is a Petunia (Or a Whale) Depending Upon Where You Stand

January 26th, 2011 1 comment
42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...
Image via Wikipedia

In Douglas Adam’s epic “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” we read about an organism experiencing a bit of a identity crisis at 30,000 feet:

It is important to note that suddenly, and against all probability, a Sperm Whale had been called into existence, several miles above the surface of an alien planet and since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity. This is what it thought, as it fell:

The Whale: Ahhh! Woooh! What’s happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my… well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a… tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what’s this roaring sound, whooshing past what I’m suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It’ll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I’m dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There’s an awful lot of that now isn’t it? And what’s this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like ‘Ow’, ‘Ownge’, ‘Round’, ‘Ground’! That’s it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it’ll be friends with me? Hello Ground!
[
dies]

Curiously the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias, as it fell, was, ‘Oh no, not again.’ Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly *why* the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.

“Security” is facing a similar problem.

To that end, and without meaning to, Gunnar Petersen and Lenny Zeltser* unintentionally wrote about this whale of a problem in two thought provoking blogs describing what they portray as the sorry state of security today; specifically the inappropriate mission focus and misallocation of investment (Gunnar) and the need for remedying the skills gap and broadening the “information security toolbox” (Lenny)  that exists in an overly infrastructure-centric model used today.

Gunnar followed up with another post titled: “Is infosec busy being born or busy dying?”  Fitting.

Both gents suggest that we need to re-evaluate what, why and how we do what we do and where we invest by engaging in a more elevated service delivery role with a focus on enablement, architecture and cost-efficiency based on models that align spend to a posture I can only say reflects the mantra of survivability (see: A Primer on Information Survivability: Changing Your Perspective On Information Security):

[Gunnar] The budget dollars in infosec are not based on protecting the assets the company needs to conduct business, they are not spent on where the threats and vulnerabilities lie, rather they are spent on infrastructure which happens to be the historical background and hobby interest of the majority of technical people in the industry.

[Lenny] When the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail, wrote Abraham Maslow a few decades ago. Given this observation, it’s not surprising that most of today’s information security efforts seem to focus on networks and systems.

Hard to disagree.

It’s interesting that both Gunnar and Lenny refer to this condition as being a result of our “information security” efforts since, as defined, it would appear to me that their very point is that we don’t practice “information security.”  In fact, I’d say what they really mean is that we primarily practice “network security” and pitter-patter around the other elements of the “stack:”

This is a “confused discipline” indeed.  Fact is, we need infrastructure security. We need application security.  We need information security.  We need all of these elements addressed by a comprehensive architecture and portfolio management process driven by protecting the things that matter most at the points where the maximum benefit can be applied to manage risk for the lowest cost.

Yes.

That’s. Freaking. Hard.

This is exactly why we have the Security Hamster Sine Wave of Pain…we cyclically iterate between host, application, information, user, and network-centric solutions to problems that adapt at a pace that far exceeds our ability to adjust to them let alone align to true business impact:

Whales and Petunias…

The problem is that people like to put things in neat little boxes which is why we have neat, little boxes and the corresponding piles of cash and people distributed to each of them (however unfortunate the ratio.)  Further, the industry that provides solutions across this stack are not incentivized to solve long term problems and innovative solutions brought to bear on emerging problems are often a victim of poor timing.  People don’t buy solutions that solve problems that are 5 years out, they buy solutions that fix short-term problems even if they are themselves predicated on 20 year old issues.

Fixing stuff in infrastructure has been easy up until now; buy another box.

Infrastructure has been pretty much static and thus the apps and information have bouyed about, tethered to the anchor of a static infrastructure.  Now that the infrastructure itself is becoming more dynamic, fixing problems upstack in dynamic applications and information — woohoo, that’s HARD, especially when we’re not organized to do any one of those things well, let alone all of them at once!

Frankly, the issue is one where the tactical impacts of the blending and convergence of new threats, vulnerabilities, socio-economic, political, cultural and technology curves chips away at our ability to intelligently respond without an overall re-engineering of what we do.  We’d have to completely blow up the role of “security” as we know it to deliver what Gunnar and Lenny suggest.

This isn’t a bad idea, it’s just profoundly difficult.  I ought to know. I’ve done it.  It took years to even get to the point where we could chip away at the PEOPLE who were clinging on to what they know as the truth…it’s as much generational and cultural as it is technical.

The issue I have is that it’s important to also realize that we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again and more importantly WHY.  I don’t think it’s a vast conspiracy theory but rather an unfortunate side-effect of our past lives.

I don’t disagree with the need to improve and/or reinvent ourselves as an industry — both from the perspective of the suppliers of solutions, the operators or the architects.  We do every 5 years anyway what with every “next big thing” that hits.

To round this back to the present, new “phase shifts” like Cloud computing are great forcing functions that completely change our perspective on where, how, who, and why we practice “security.”  I’d suggest that we leverage this positively and march to that drum beat Lenny and Gunnar are banging away on, but without the notion that we’re all somehow guilty of doing the wrong things.

BTW, has anyone seen my Improbability Drive?

/Hoff

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On Security Conference Themes: Offense *Versus* Defense – Or, Can You Code?

November 22nd, 2010 7 comments

This morning’s dialog on Twitter from @wmremes and @singe reminded me of something that’s been bouncing around in my head for some time.

Wim blogged about a tweet Jeff Moss made regarding Black Hat DC in which he suggested CFP submissions should focus on offense (versus defense.)

Black Hat (and Defcon) have long focused on presentations which highlight novel emerging attacks.  There are generally not a lot of high-profile “defensive” presentations/talks because for the most part, they’re just not sexy, generally they involve hard work/cultural realignment and the reality that as hard as we try, attackers will always out-innovate and out-pace defenders.

More realistically, offense is sexy and offense sells — and it often sells defense.  That’s why vendors sponsor those shows in the first place.

Along these lines, one will notice that within our industry, the defining criterion for the attack versus defend talks and those that give them, is one’s ability to write code and produce tools that demonstrate the vulnerability via exploit.  Conceptual vulnerabilities paired with non-existent exploits are generally thought of as fodder for academia.  Only when a tool that weaponizes an attack shows up do people pay attention.

Zero days rule by definition. There’s no analog on the defensive side unless you buy into marketing like “…ahead of the threat.” *cough* Defense for offense that doesn’t exist generally doesn’t get the majority of the funding ;)

So it’s no wonder that security “rockstars” in our industry are generally those who produce attack/offensive code which illustrate how a vector can be exploited.  It’s tangible.  It’s demonstrable.  It’s sexy.

On the other hand, most defenders are reconciled to using tools that others wrote — or become specialists in the integration of them — in order to parlay some advantage over the ever-increasing wares of the former.

Think of those folks who represent the security industry in terms of mindshare and get the most amount of press.  Overwhelmingly it’s those “hax0rs” who write cool tools — tools that are more offensive in nature, even if they produce results oriented toward allowing practitioners to defend better (or at least that’s how they’re sold.)  That said, there are also some folks who *do* code and *do* create things that are defensive in nature.

I believe the answer lies in balance; we need flashy exploits (no matter how impractical/irrelevant they may be to a large amount of the population) to drive awareness.  We also need  more practitioner/governance talks to give people platforms upon which they can start to architect solutions.  We need more defenders to be able to write code.

Perhaps that’s what Richard Bejtlich meant when he tweeted: “Real security is built, not bought.”  That’s an interesting statement on lots of fronts. I’m selfishly taking Richard’s statement out of context to support my point, so hopefully he’ll forgive me.

That said, I don’t write code.  More specifically, I don’t write code well.  I have hundreds of ideas of things I’d like to do but can’t bridge the gap between ideation and proof-of-concept because I can’t write code.

This is why I often “invent” scenarios I find plausible, talk about them, and then get people thinking about how we would defend against them — usually in the vacuum of either offensive or defensive tools being available, or at least realized.

Sometimes there aren’t good answers.

I hope we focus on this balance more at shows like Black Hat — I’m lucky enough to get to present my “research” there despite it being defensive in nature but we need more defensive tools and talks to make this a reality.

/Hoff

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Incomplete Thought: Why We Need Open Source Security Solutions More Than Ever…

July 17th, 2010 1 comment
Illustrates a rightward shift in the demand curve.
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t have time to write a big blog post and quite frankly, I don’t need to. Not on this topic.

I do, however, feel that it’s important to bring back into consciousness how very important open source security solutions are to us — at least those of us who actually expect to make an impact in our organizations and work toward making a dent in our security problem pile.

Why do open source solutions matter so much in our approach to dealing with securing the things that matter most to us?

It comes down to things we already know but are often paralyzed to do anything about:

  1. The threat curve and innovation of attacker outpaces that of the defender by orders of magnitudes (duh)
  2. Disruptive technology and innovation dramatically impacts the operational, threat and risk modeling we have to deal with (duh duh)
  3. The security industry is not in the business of solving security problems that don’t have a profit motive/margin attached to it (ugh)

We can’t do much about #1 and #2 except be early adopters, by agile/dynamic and plan for change. I’ve written about this many times and built and entire series of talks presentations (Security and Disruptive Innovation) that Rich Mogull and I have taken to updating over the last few years.

We can do something about #3 and we can do it by continuing to invest in the development, deployment, support, and perhaps even the eventual commercialization of open source security solutions.

To be clear, it’s not that commercialization is required for success, but often it just indicates it’s become mainstream and valued and money *can* be made.)

When you look at the motivation most open source project creators bring a solution to market, it’s because the solution generally is not commercially available, it solves an immediate need and it’s contributed to by a community. These are all fantastic reasons to use, support, extend and contribute back to the open source movement — even if you don’t code, you can help by improving the roadmaps of these projects by making suggestions and promoting their use.

Open source security solutions deliver and they deliver quickly because the roadmaps and feature integration occur in an agile, meritocratic and vetted manner than often times lacks polish but delivers immediate value — especially given their cost.

We’re stuck in a loop (or a Hamster Sine Wave of Pain) because the problems we really need to solve are not developed by the companies that are in the best position to develop them in a timely manner. Why? Because when these emerging solutions are evaluated, they live or die by one thing: TAM (total addressable market.)

If there’s no big $$$ attached and someone can’t make the case within an organization that this is a strategic (read: revenue generating) big bet, the big companies wait for a small innovative startup to develop technology (or an open source tool,) see if it lives long enough for the market demand to drive revenues and then buy them…or sometimes develop a competitive solution.

Classical crossing the chasm/Moore stuff.

The problem here is that this cycle is broken horribly and we see perfectly awesome solutions die on the vine. Sometimes they come back to life years later cyclically when the pain gets big enough (and there’s money to be made) or the “market” of products and companies consolidate, commoditize and ultimately becomes a feature.

I’ve got hundreds of examples I can give of this phenomenon — and I bet you do, too.

That’s not to say we don’t have open-source-derived success stories (Snort, Metasploit, ClamAV, Nessus, OSSec, etc.) but we just don’t have enough of them. Further, there are disruptions such as virtualization and cloud computing that fundamentally change the game that we can harness in conjunction with open source solutions that can accelerate the delivery and velocity of solutions because of how impacting the platform shift can be.

I’ve also got dozens of awesome ideas that could/would fundamentally solve many attendant issues we have in security — but the timing, economics, culture, politics and readiness/appetite for adoption aren’t there commercially…but they can be via open source.

I’m going to start a series which identifies and highlights solutions that are either available as kernel-nugget technology or past-life approaches that I think can and should be taken on as open source projects that could fundamentally help our cause as a community.

Maybe someone can code/create open source solutions out of them that can help us all.  We should encourage this behavior.

We need it more than ever now.

/Hoff

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The Security Hamster Sine Wave Of Pain: Public Cloud & The Return To Host-Based Protection…

July 7th, 2010 7 comments
Snort Intrusion Detection System Logo
Image via Wikipedia

This is a revisitation of a blog I wrote last year: Incomplete Thought: Cloud Security IS Host-Based…At The Moment

I use my ‘Security Hamster Sine Wave of Pain” to illustrate the cyclical nature of security investment and deployment models over time and how disruptive innovation and technology impacts the flip-flop across the horizon of choice.

To wit: most mass-market Public Cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services rely on highly-abstracted and limited exposure of networking capabilities.  This means that most traditional network-based security solutions are impractical or non-deployable in these environments.

Network-based virtual appliances which expect generally to be deployed in-line with the assets they protect are at a disadvantage given their topological dependency.

So what we see are security solution providers simply re-marketing their network-based solutions as host-based solutions instead…or confusing things with Barney announcements.

Take a press release today from SourceFire:

Snort and Sourcefire Vulnerability Research Team(TM) (VRT) rules are now available through the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) in the form of an Amazon Machine Image (AMI), enabling customers to proactively monitor network activity for malicious behavior and provide automated responses.

Leveraging Snort installed on the AMI, customers of Amazon Web Services can further secure their most critical cloud-based applications with Sourcefire’s leading protection. Snort and Sourcefire(R) VRT rules are also listed in the Amazon Web Services Solution Partner Directory, so that users can easily ensure that their AMI includes the latest updates.

As far as I can tell, this means you can install a ‘virtual appliance’ of Snort/Sourcefire as a standalone AMI, but there’s no real description on how one might actually implement it in an environment that isn’t topologically-friendly to this sort of network-based implementation constraint.*

Since you can’t easily “steer traffic” through an IPS in the model of AWS, can’t leverage promiscuous mode or taps, what does this packaging implementation actually mean?  Also, if  one has a few hundred AMI’s which contain applications spread out across multiple availability zones/regions, how does a solution like this scale (from both a performance or management perspective?)

I’ve spoken/written about this many times:

Where Are the Network Virtual Appliances? Hobbled By the Virtual Network, That’s Where… and

Dear Public Cloud Providers: Please Make Your Networking Capabilities Suck Less. Kthxbye

Ultimately, expect that Public Cloud will force the return to host-based HIDS/HIPS deployments — the return to agent-based security models.  This poses just as many operational challenges as those I allude to above.  We *must* have better ways of tying together network and host-based security solutions in these Public Cloud environments that make sense from an operational, cost, and security perspective.

/Hoff

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* I “spoke” with Marty Roesch on the Twitter and he filled in the gaps associated with how this version of Snort works – there’s a host-based packet capture element with a “network” redirect to a stand-alone AMI:

@Beaker AWS->Snort implementation is IDS-only at the moment, uses software packet tap off customer app instance, not topology-dependent

and…

they install our soft-tap on their AMI and send the traffic to our AMI for inspection/detection/reporting.

It will be interesting to see how performance nets out using this redirect model.

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