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Posts Tagged ‘Information Security’

My Information Security Magazine Cover Story: “Virtualization security dynamics get old, changes ahead”

November 4th, 2013 2 comments

ISM_cover_1113This month’s Search Security (nee Information Security Magazine) cover story was penned by none other than your’s truly and titled “Virtualization security dynamics get old, changes ahead”

I hope you enjoy the story; its a retrospective regarding the beginnings of security in the virtual space, where we are now, and we we’re headed.

I tried very hard to make this a vendor-neutral look at the state of the union of virtual security.

I hope that it’s useful.

You can find the story here.

/Hoff

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Quick Quip: Capability, Reliability and Liability…Security Licensing

November 28th, 2012 9 comments

Earlier today, I tweeted the following and was commented on by Dan Kaminsky (@dakami):

…which I explained with:

This led to a very interesting comment by Preston Wood who suggested something very interesting from the perspective of both leadership and accountability:

…and that brought forward another insightful comment:

Pretty interesting, right? Engineers, architects, medical practitioners, etc. all have degrees/licenses and absorb liability upon failure. What about security?

What do you think about this concept?

/Hoff

 

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...
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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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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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RSA Interview (c/o Tripwire) On the State Of Information Security In Virtualized/Cloud Environments.

March 7th, 2010 1 comment

David Sparks (c/o Tripwire) interviewed me on the state of Information Security in virtualized/cloud environments.  It’s another reminder about Information Centricity.

Direct Link here.

Emedded below:

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Don’t Hassle the Hoff: Recent Press & Podcast Coverage & Upcoming Speaking Engagements

February 19th, 2010 No comments

Here is some of the recent coverage from the last couple of months or so on topics relevant to content on my blog, presentations and speaking engagements.  No particular order or priority and I haven’t kept a good record, unfortunately.

Important Stuff I’m Working On:

Press/Technology & Security eZines/Website/Blog Coverage/Meaningful Links:

Recent Speaking Engagements/Confirmed to  speak at the following upcoming events:

  • Govt Solutions Forum Feb 1-2 (panel |n DC)
  • Govt Solutions Forum Feb 24 D.C.
  • ESAF, San Francisco, March 1
  • Cloud Security Alliance Summit, San Francisco, March 1
  • RSA Security Conference March 1-5 San Francisco
  • Microsoft Bluehat Buenos Aires, Argentina – March 16-19th
  • ISSA General Assembly, Belgium
  • Infosec.be, Belgium
  • Codegate, South Korea, April 7-8
  • SOURCE Boston, April 21-23
  • Shot the Sherrif – Brazil – May 17th
  • Gluecon , Denver, May 26/27
  • FIRST, Miami, FL,  June 13-18
  • SANS DC – August 19th-20th

Conferences I am tentatively attending, trying to attend and/or working on logistics for speaking:

  • InterOp April 25-29 Vegas
  • Cisco Live – June 27th – July 1st Vegas
  • Blackhat 2010 – July 24-29 Vegas
  • Defcon
  • Notacon

Oh, let us not forget these top honors (buahahaha!)

  • Top 10 Sexy InfoSec Geeks (link)
  • The ThreatPost “All Decade Interview Team” (link)
  • ‘Cloud Hero’ and ‘Best Cloud Presentation’ – 2009 Cloudies Awards (link), and
  • 2010 RSA Social Security Bloggers Award nomination (link) ;)

[I often get a bunch of guff as to why I make these lists: ego, horn-tooting, self-aggrandizement. I wish I thought I were that important. ;) The real reason is that it helps me keep track of useful stuff focused not only on my participation, but that of the rest of the blogosphere.]

/Hoff

Comments on the PwC/TSB Debate: The cloud/thin computing will fundamentally change the nature of cyber security…

February 16th, 2010 2 comments

I saw a very interesting post on LinkedIn with the title PwC/TSB Debate: The cloud/thin computing will fundamentally change the nature of cyber security…

PricewaterhouseCoopers are working with the Technology Strategy Board (part of BIS) on a high profile research project which aims to identify future technology and cyber security trends. These statements are forward looking and are intended to purely start a discussion around emerging/possible future trends. This is a great chance to be involved in an agenda setting piece of research. The findings will be released in the Spring at Infosec. We invite you to offer your thoughts…

The cloud/thin computing will fundamentally change the nature of cyber security…

The nature of cyber security threats will fundamentally change as the trend towards thin computing grows. Security updates can be managed instantly by the solution provider so every user has the latest security solution, the data leakage threat is reduced as data is stored centrally, systems can be scanned more efficiently and if Botnets capture end-point computers, the processing power captured is minimal. Furthermore, access to critical data can be centrally managed and as more email is centralised, malware can be identified and removed more easily. The key challenge will become identity management and ensuring users can only access their relevant files. The threat moves from the end-point to the centre.

What are your thoughts?

My response is simple.

Cloud Computing or “Thin Computing” as described above doesn’t change the “nature” of (gag) “cyber security” it simply changes its efficiency, investment focus, capital model and modality. As to the statement regarding threats with movement “…from the end-point to the centre,” the surface area really becomes amorphous and given the potential monoculture introduced by the virtualization layers underpinning these operations, perhaps expands.

Certainly the benefits described in the introduction above do mean changes to who, where and when risk mitigation might be applied, but those activities are, in most cases, still the same as in non-Cloud and “thick” computing.  That’s not a “fundamental change” but rather an adjustment to a platform shift, just like when we went from mainframe to client/server.  We are still dealing with the remnant security issues (identity management, AAA, PKI, encryption, etc.) from prior  computing inflection points that we’ve yet to fix.  Cloud is a great forcing function to help nibble away at them.

But, if you substitute “client server” in relation to it’s evolution from the “mainframe era” for “cloud/thin computing” above, it all sounds quite familiar.

As I alluded to, there are some downsides to this re-centralization, but it is important to note that I do believe that if we look at what PaaS/SaaS offerings and VDI/Thin/Cloud computing offers, it makes us focus on protecting our information and building more survivable systems.

However, there’s a notable bifurcation occurring. Whilst the example above paints a picture of mass re-centralization, incredibly powerful mobile platforms are evolving.  These platforms (such as the iPhone) employ a hybrid approach featuring both native/local on-device applications and storage of data combined with the potential of thin client capability and interaction with distributed Cloud computing services.*

These hyper-mobile and incredibly powerful platforms — and the requirements to secure them in this mixed-access environment — means that the efficiency gains on one hand are compromised by the need to once again secure  diametrically-opposed computing experiences.  It’s a “squeezing the balloon” problem.

The same exact thing is occurring in the Private versus Public Cloud Computing models.

/Hoff

* P.S. Bernard Golden also commented via Twitter regarding the emergence of Sensor nets which also have a very interesting set of implications on security as it relates to both the examples of Cloud and mobile computing elements above.

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Cloud: Security Doesn’t Matter (Or, In Cloud, Nobody Can Hear You Scream)

January 25th, 2010 9 comments

In the Information Security community, many of us have long come to the conclusion that we are caught in what I call my “Security Hamster Sine Wave Of Pain.”  Those of us who have been doing this awhile recognize that InfoSec is a zero-sum game; it’s about staving off the inevitable and trying to ensure we can deal with the residual impact in the face of being “survivable” versus being “secure.”

While we can (and do) make incremental progress in certain areas, the collision of disruptive innovation, massive consumerization of technology along with the slow churn of security vendor roadmaps, dissolving budgets, natural marketspace commoditzation and the unfortunate velocity of attacker innovation yields the constant realization that we’re not motivated or incentivized to do the right thing or manage risk.

Instead, we’re poked in the side and haunted by the four letter word of our industry: compliance.

Compliance is often dismissed as irrelevant in the consumer space and associated instead with government or large enterprise, but as privacy continues to erode and breaches make the news, the fact that we’re putting more and more of our information — of all sorts — in the hands of others to manage is again beginning to stoke an upsurge in efforts to somehow measure and manage visibility against a standardized baseline of general, common sense and minimal efforts to guard against badness.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how “secure” Cloud providers suggest they are.  It doesn’t matter what breakthroughs in technology sprout up in the face of this new model of compute. The only measure that counts in the long run is how compliant you are.  That’s what will determine the success of Cloud.  Don’t believe me? Look at how the leading vendors in Cloud are responding today to their biggest (potential) customers — taking the “one size fits all” model of mass-market Cloud and beginning to chop it up and create one-off’s in order to satisfy…compliance.

Why?  Because it’s easier to deal with the vagaries of trust and isolation and multi-tenant environments by eliminating the latter to increase the former. If an auditor/examiner doesn’t understand or cannot measure your compliance to those things he/she is tasked to evaluate you against, you’re sunk.

The only thing that will budge the needle on this issue is how agile those who craft the regulatory guidelines are or how you can clearly demonstrate why your compensating controls mitigate the risk of the provider of service if they cannot. Given the nature and behavior of those involved in this space and where we are with putting our eggs in a vaporous basket, I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Movement in this area is glacial at best and in many cases out of touch with the realities of just how disruptive Cloud Computing is.  All it will take is one monumental cock-up due to a true Cloudtastrophe and the Cloud will hit the fan.

As I have oft suggested, the core issue we need to tackle in Cloud is trust, since the graceful surrender of such is at the heart of what Cloud requires.  Trust is comprised of Security, Control, Service Levels and Compliance.  It’s relatively easy to establish where we are today with the first three, but the last one is MIA.  We’re just *now* seeing movement in the form of SIGs to deal with virtualization.  Cloud?

When the best you have is a SAS-70, it’s time to weep.  Conversely, wishing for more regulation will simply extend the cycle.

What can you do?  Simple. Help educate your auditors and examiners. Read the Cloud Security Alliance’s guidelines. Participate in making the Automated Audit, Assertion, Assessment, and Assurance API (A6) a success so we can at least gain back some visibility and transparency which helps demonstrate compliance, since that’s how we’re measured.  Ultimately, if you’re able, focus on risk assessment in helping to advise your constituent business customers on how to migrate to Cloud Computing safely.

There are TONS of things one can do in order to make up for the shortcomings of Cloud security today.  The problem is, most of them erode the benefits of Cloud: agility, flexibility, cost savings, and dynamism.  We need to make the business aware of these tradeoffs as well as our auditors because we’re stuck.  We need the regulators and examiners to keep pace with technology — as painful as that might be in the short term — to guarantee our success in the long term.

Manage compliance, don’t let it manage you because a Cloud is a terrible thing to waste.

/Hoff

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