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Grab the Popcorn: It’s the First 2008 “Ethical Security Marketing” (Oxymoron) Dust-Up…

January 5th, 2008 15 comments

Xsswormfap_2
Robert Hansen (RSnake / ha.ckers.org / SecTheory) created a little challenge (pun intended) a couple of days ago titled "The Diminutive XSS worm replication contest":

The diminutive XSS worm replication contest
is a week long contest to get some good samples of the smallest amount
of code necessary for XSS worm propagation. I’m not interested in
payloads for this contest, but rather, the actual methods of
propagation themselves. We’ve seen the live worm code
and all of it is muddied by obfuscation, individual site issues, and
the payload itself. I’d rather think cleanly about the most efficient
method for propagation where every character matters.

Kurt Wismer (anti-virus rants blog) thinks this is a lousy idea:

yes, folks… robert hansen (aka rsnake), the founder and ceo of
sectheory, felt it would be a good idea to hold a contest to see who
could create the smallest xss worm
ok, so there’s no money changing hands this time, but that doesn’t mean
the winner isn’t getting rewarded – there are absolutely rewards to be
had for the winner of a contest like this and that’s a big problem
because lots of people want rewards and this kind of contest will make
people think about and create xss worms when they wouldn’t have
before…

Here’s where Kurt diverges from simply highlighting nominal arguments of the potential for
misuse of the contest derivatives.  He suggests that RSnake is being
unethical and is encouraging this contest not for academic purposes, but rather to reap personal gain from it:

would you trust your security to a person who makes or made malware?
how about a person or company that intentionally motivates others to do
so? why do you suppose the anti-virus industry works so hard to fight
the conspiracy theories that suggest they are the cause of the viruses?
at the very least mr. hansen is playing fast and loose with the publics
trust and ultimately harming security in the process, but there’s a
more insidious angle too…

while the worms he’s soliciting from others are supposed to be merely
proof of concept, the fact of the matter is that proof of concept worms
can still cause problems (the recent orkut worm
was a proof of concept)… moreover, although the winner of the contest
doesn’t get any money, at the end of the day there will almost
certainly be a windfall for mr. hansen – after all, what do you suppose
happens when you’re one of the few experts on some relatively obscure
type of threat and that threat is artificially made more popular? well,
demand for your services goes up of course… this is precisely the
type of shady marketing model i described before
where the people who stand to gain the most out of a problem becoming
worse directly contribute to that problem becoming worse… it made
greg hoglund and jamie butler household names in security circles, and
it made john mcafee (pariah though he may be) a millionaire…

I think the following exchange in the comments section of the contest forum offers an interesting position from RSnake’s perspective:                   

Re: Diminutive XSS Worm Replication Contest

            

Posted by: Gareth Heyes (IP Logged)

      

Date: January 04, 2008 04:56PM

      

@rsnake

This contest is just asking for trouble :)

Are there any legal issues for creating such a worm in the uk?

————————————————————————————————————

 

Re: Diminutive XSS Worm Replication Contest

 

            

Posted by: rsnake (IP Logged)

      

Date: January 04, 2008 05:11PM

      

@Gareth Heyes – perhaps, but trouble is my middle name. So is danger.
Actually I have like 40 middle names it turns out. ;) No, I’m not
worried, this is academic – it won’t work anywhere without modification
of variables, and has no payload. The goal is to understand worm
propagation and get to the underlying important pieces of code.

I’m not in the UK and am not a lawyer so I can’t comment on the
laws. I’m not suggesting anyone should try to weaponize the code (they
could already do that with the existing worm code if they wanted anyway).

So, we’ve got Wismer’s perspective and (indirectly) RSnake’s. 

What’s yours?  Do you think holding a contest to build a POC for a worm a good idea?  Do the benefits of research and understanding the potential attacks so one can defend against them outweigh the potential for malicious use?  Do you think there are, or will be, legal ramifications from these sorts of activities?

/Hoff

Gartner Solutions Expo a Good Gauge of the Security Industry?

June 9th, 2007 No comments

Gartnerparties
Mark Wood from nCircle blogged about his recent experience at the Gartner IT Security Summit in D.C.  Alan Shimel commented on Mark’s summary and both of them make an interesting argument about how Gartner operates as the overall gauge of the security industry.  Given that I was  also there, I thought I’d add some color to Mark’s commentary:

In 2006, there were two types of solutions that seemed to dominate
the floor: network admission control and data leakage (with the old
reliable identity and access management coming in a strong third). This
year, the NAC vendors were almost all gone and there were many fewer
data leakage vendors than I had expected. Nor was there any one type of
solution that really seemed to dominate.

…that’s probably because both of those "markets" are becoming "features" (see here and here) and given how Gartner proselytizes to their clients, features and those who sell them need to spend their hype-budgets wisely and depending upon where one is on the hype cycle (and what I say below,) you’ll see less vendors participating when the $ per lead isn’t stellar.  Lots and lots of vendors in a single quadrant makes it difficult to differentiate.

 

The question is: What does this mean? On the one hand, I continue to
be staggered by the number of new vendors in the security space. They
seem to be like ants in the kitchen — acquire one and two more crawl
out of the cracks in the window sill. It’s madness, I tell you! There
were a good half a dozen names I had never seen before and I wonder if
the number of companies that continue to pop up is good or bad for our
industry. It’s certainly good that technological innovation continues,
but I wonder about the financial status of these companies as funding
for security startups continues to be more difficult to get. There sure
is a lot of money that’s been poured into security and I’m not sure how
investors are going to get it back.

Without waxing on philosophically on the subconscious of the security market, let me offer a far more simple and unfortunate explanation:

Booth space at the Gartner show is one of, if not the most, expensive shows on the planet when you consider how absolutely miserable the scheduling of the expo hours are for the vendors.  They open the vendor expo at lunch time and during track sessions when everyone is usually eating, checking email, or attending the conference sessions!  It’s a purely economic issue, not some great temperature taking of the industry.

I suppose one could argue that if the industry were flush with cash, everyone showing up here would indicate overall "health," but I really do think it’s not such a complex interdependency.  Gartner is a great place for a booth if you’re one of those giant, hamster wheel confab "We Do Everything" vendors like Verisign, IBM or BT.

I spoke to about 5 vendors who had people at the show but no booth.  Why?  Because they would get sucked dry on booth costs and given the exposure (unless you’re a major sponsor with speaking opportunities or a party sponsor) it’s just not worth it.  I spoke with Ted Julian prior to his guest Matasano blog summary, and we looked at each other shaking our heads.

While the quality of the folks visiting are usually decision makers, the foot traffic is limited in the highly-compressed windows of availability.  The thing you really want to do is get some face time with the analysts and key customers and stick and move. 

The best bang for the exposure buck @ Gartner is the party at the end of the second day.  Crossbeam was a platinum sponsor this year; we had a booth (facing a wall in the back,) had two speaking sessions and sponsored a party.  The booth position and visibility sucked for us (and others) while the party had folks lined out the door for food, booze and (believe it or not) temporary tattoos with grown men and women stripping off clothing to get inked.  Even Stiennon showed up to our party! ;)

On the other hand, it seemed that there was much less hysteria than
in years past. No
"we-can-make-every-one-of-your-compliance-problems-vanish-overnight" or
"confidential-data-is-seeping-through-the-cracks-in-your-network-while-you-sleep-Run!-Run!"
pitches this year. There seems to be more maturity in how the industry
is addressing its buying audience and I find this fairly encouraging.
Despite the number of companies, maybe the industry is slowing growing
up after all. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Well, given the "Security 3.0 theme" which apparently overall trends toward mitigating and managing "risk", a bunch of technology box sprinkling hype doesn’t work well in that arena.  I would also ask whether or not this really does represent maturity or the "natural" byproduct of survival of the fittest — or those with the biggest marketing budgets?  Maybe it’s the same thing?

/Hoff

BigFix Comes Out Swinging — With a Gun-Toting Vulcan Marine Hottie…

June 5th, 2007 12 comments

Bigfixad
No, this is not an ad for Bigfix. It is about an ad for Bigfix, however.  If you’re at Garter, methinks Pescatore might describe what I’m highlighting as "Security Marketing 3.0" ;)

Anywho, I was reading the USA Today this morning as was dutifully delivered to my hotel room by the fine folks at Marriott and as I pawed through the business section, I hit page 8B.

Page 8B features a full-page black and white ad from Bigfix.  No big deal, you say, there are lots of ads from IT companies in newspapers.

Sure, but generally they’re not from IT Security companies, they’re usually not from companies this size, they’re usually not a full page, they usually don’t feature big-breasted, gun-toting, Vulcan, Marine recon soldiers, and they usually don’t say things like this:

[Overlaid on top of picture of said big-breasted, gun-toting, Vulcan, Marine recon person…]

Contrary to the impotent baloney from McAfee/Symantec/et al, it doesn’t take weeks and an army of servers to secure all your computers.  You just need one can of BIGFIX whup-ass.

What can you do from one console with a single, policy-driven BIGFIX agent? How about continuous discovering, assessing, remediating, optimizing and enforcing the health/security of hundreds of thousands of computers in minutes?  Yup.  Minutes.

Windows, Vista, Linux/Unix and mac systems.  Nobody else can do this.  And we’re making sure everyone else is more than a little embarrassed about it.  Ooh-rah!

Interesting…picture, text, messaging…  It got my attention.  I wonder if it will get the attention of anyone else — or more importantly the right set of people?  Was it just in this edition or countrywide?  Any other papers?

Amrit, you have anything to do with this?

/Hoff


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