Posts Tagged ‘Google’

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.


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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App Stores: From Mobile Platforms To VMs – Ripe For Abuse

March 2nd, 2011 4 comments
Android Market

Image via Wikipedia

This CNN article titled “Google pulls 21 apps in Android malware scare” describes an alarming trend in which malicious code is embedded in applications which are made available for download and use on mobile platforms:

Google has just pulled 21 popular free apps from the Android Market. According to the company, the apps are malware aimed at getting root access to the user’s device, gathering a wide range of available data, and downloading more code to it without the user’s knowledge.

Although Google has swiftly removed the apps after being notified (by the ever-vigilant “Android Police” bloggers), the apps in question have already been downloaded by at least 50,000 Android users.

The apps are particularly insidious because they look just like knockoff versions of already popular apps. For example, there’s an app called simply “Chess.” The user would download what he’d assume to be a chess game, only to be presented with a very different sort of app.

Wow, 50,000 downloads.  Most of those folks are likely blissfully unaware they are owned.

In my Cloudifornication presentation, I highlighted that the same potential for abuse exists for “virtual appliances” which can be uploaded for public consumption to app stores and VM repositories such as those from VMware and Amazon Web Services:

The feasibility for this vector was deftly demonstrated shortly afterward by the guys at SensePost (Clobbering the Cloud, Blackhat) who showed the experiment of uploading a non-malicious “phone home” VM to AWS which was promptly downloaded and launched…

This is going to be a big problem in the mobile space and potentially just as impacting in cloud/virtual datacenters as people routinely download and put into production virtual machines/virtual appliances, the provenance and integrity of which are questionable.  Who’s going to police these stores?

(update: I loved Christian Reilly’s comment on Twitter regarding this: “Using a public AMI is the equivalent of sharing a syringe”)


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“Open” means more than just an API…Google’s Data Liberation Project Ponies Up

October 16th, 2009 2 comments

datalibThis is chewy goodness.

Short and sweet from the Googleborg via a Webmonkey article titled “Pack Up Your Data and Leave Whenever You Want, It’s the New Rule of the Cloud:

Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to make it easier for them to move data in and out.

Bravo.  Brian Fitzpatrick and his team gains major street cred here; they’re up-front about the benefits to both end-users and Google.  Openness and transparency benefit everyone.

Read more about the project at


Cloud Providers and Security “Edge” Services – Where’s The Beef?

September 30th, 2009 16 comments

usbhamburgerPreviously I wrote a post titled “Oh Great Security Spirit In the Cloud: Have You Seen My WAF, IPS, IDS, Firewall…” in which I described the challenges for enterprises moving applications and services to the Cloud while trying to ensure parity in compensating controls, some of which are either not available or suffer from the “virtual appliance” conundrum (see the Four Horsemen presentation on issues surrounding virtual appliances.)

Yesterday I had a lively discussion with Lori MacVittie about the notion of what she described as “edge” service placement of network-based WebApp firewalls in Cloud deployments.  I was curious about the notion of where the “edge” is in Cloud, but assuming it’s at the provider’s connection to the Internet as was suggested by Lori, this brought up the arguments in the post
above: how does one roll out compensating controls in Cloud?

The level of difficulty and need to integrate controls (or any “infrastructure” enhancement) definitely depends upon the Cloud delivery model (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS) chosen and the business problem trying to be solved; SaaS offers the least amount of extensibility from the perspective of deploying controls (you don’t generally have any access to do so) whilst IaaS allows a lot of freedom at the guest level.  PaaS is somewhere in the middle.  None of the models are especially friendly to integrating network-based controls not otherwise supplied by the provider due to what should be pretty obvious reasons — the network is abstracted.

So here’s the rub, if MSSP’s/ISP’s/ASP’s-cum-Cloud operators want to woo mature enterprise customers to use their services, they are leaving money on the table and not fulfilling customer needs by failing to roll out complimentary security capabilities which lessen the compliance and security burdens of their prospective customers.

While many provide commoditized solutions such as anti-spam and anti-virus capabilities, more complex (but profoundly important) security services such as DLP (data loss/leakage prevention,) WAF, Intrusion Detection and Prevention (IDP,) XML Security, Application Delivery Controllers, VPN’s, etc. should also be considered for roadmaps by these suppliers.

Think about it, if the chief concern in Cloud environments is security around multi-tenancy and isolation, giving customers more comfort besides “trust us” has to be a good thing.  If I knew where and by whom my data is being accessed or used, I would feel more comfortable.

Yes, it’s difficult to do properly and in many cases means the Cloud provider has to make a substantial investment in delivery platforms and management/support integration to get there.  This is why niche players who target specific verticals (especially those heavily regulated) will ultimately have the upper hand in some of these scenarios – it’s not socialist security where “good enough” is spread around evenly.  Services like these need to be configurable (SELF-SERVICE!) by the consumer.

An example? How about Google: where’s DLP integrated into the messaging/apps platforms?  Amazon AWS: where’s IDP integrated into the VMM for introspection?

I wrote a couple of interesting posts about this (that may show up in the automated related posts lists below):

My customers in the Fortune 500 complain constantly that the biggest providers they are being pressured to consider for Cloud services aren’t listening to these requests — or aren’t in a position to respond.

That’s bad for everyone.

So how about it? Are services like DLP, IDP, WAF integrated into your Cloud providers’ offerings something you’d like to see rather than having to add additional providers as brokers and add complexity and cost back into Cloud?


Google & AWS: Just Goes To Prove You Can Have Your Cloud and, um, Eat It Too…

September 25th, 2009 4 comments

…and by “eat it” I mean that how you think I mean that.  I feel for these guys, they have big targets on their backs, but that’s what happens when you’re a market leader.

To wit, there are two polarized views expressed every time Google or Amazon have an outage or service interruption given that both are constantly held up as the poster children for Cloud Computing:

  1. Cloud Computing isn’t ready for prime time; if Google or Amazon can go down, why/how can I trust them with my most critical assets!?
  2. Google and Amazon are just service providers; service providers have issues.  This isn’t a Cloud issue, it’s just a service issue.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Here’s my $0.02.  You may not like it.  Refunds will be processed by mail.

If you market yourself as the shit, you can expect some back when it hits the fan:

From Hoff's Preso: Cloudifornication - Indiscriminate Information Intercourse Involving Internet Infrastructure

From Hoff's Preso: Cloudifornication - Indiscriminate Information Intercourse Involving Internet Infrastructure

Stop apologizing and live up to the hype you’re helping create.


Google Gaffe – The Cloud Needs a Snuggie…Or a Wedgie

May 19th, 2009 No comments

snuggieBy now you’ve undoubtedly heard that Google had a little operational hiccup.  I particularly enjoyed Craig Labovitz’s (arbor) account of “The Great GoogleLapse

When a suite of services that account for a projected 5% of the entire Intertube’s traffic shits the bed, people pay attention.

Sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Conspiracy theories, rumors of the end of days and chants of “don’t trust the Cloud!” start to fly when operational issues such as the routing boo-boo that hit Google turn up.

The reality is that in the grand scheme of things, we should take the three salient points from this experience and move on:

  1. Cloud services — even those with the scale, maturity and operational track-record of Google — still depend on fundamentally weak, insecure and unstable infrastructure that is easy to screw up.
    This is the premise for my upcoming Black Hat talk titled “Cloudifornication: Indiscriminate Information Intercourse Involving Internet Infrastructure.”
  2. You ought to have a Plan B. That maybe difficult as it relates to Cloud-based SaaS application offerings and service which, by definition, tend to tie you to the platform/provider offering them.
  3. This isn’t going to stop anyone from moving to the Cloud.  It may give people pause and they may spend a few more cycles evaluating what Plan B might mean, but it also pushes the agendas of hybrid architectures like Google’s NaCl and client-side hypervisors for “off-line” Cloud goodness.  All in all, it’s a nice reminder, but Cloud goes on.

The economic lubricant provided by the Astro Glide that is Cloud is just too compelling. If someone hasn’t factored potential widespread outages from single-sourced providers, shame on them; that’s poor risk assessment.

Yes, we’ve got lots of attendant issues to solve when it comes to Cloud.  Many of them, I have so soapboxed, are the same ones we’ve had for a long while.  To those of us who recognize the Internet Cloud for what it is, Google’s outage was simply an opportunity to order another Hoffachino.

What doesn’t kill us makes us…just as insecure and potentially unavailable due to some monkey pushing the wrong button as we’ve always been.

Besides, now we know that outsourcing your traffic to China is the sux0r.

So chill.  Learn from this.  Use it to form rational arguments about how to deal with this sort of thing when it does happen — because it’s going to again, just like it always has.  Remember?

Worse comes to worse, may I suggest one of these — it is the cure for all your woes anyway, right?