Archive for the ‘Security Breaches’ Category

Why are people so shocked re: privacy breaches?

June 25th, 2006 4 comments

This is getting more and more laughable by the minute.  From Dark Reading:

JUNE 22, 2006 | Another
day, another security breach: In the last 48 hours, Visa, Wachovia,
Equifax, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have joined a growing
list of major companies and government agencies to disclose they’ve
been hit by sensitive — and embarrassing — security breaches.

The organizations now are scrambling to assist customers and
employees whose personal information was either stolen or compromised
in recent weeks. They join AIG, ING, and the Department of Veterans
Affairs, all of which have disclosed major losses of sensitive data in
the last few weeks.

Each of the incidents came to light well after the fact.

Disclaimer: I am *not* suggesting that anyone should make light of or otherwise shrug off these sorts of events.  I am disgusted and concerned just like anyone else with the alarming rate of breach and data loss notifications in the last month, but you’re not really surprised, are you?  There, I’ve said it.

If anyone has any real expectation of privacy or security (two different things) when your data is in the hands of *any* third party, you are guaranteed to be sorely disspointed one day.  I fully expect that no matter what I do, that some amount of my personal information will be obtained, misappropriated and potentially misused in my lifetime.   I fully expect that any company I work for will ultimately have this problem, also.  I do what I can to take some amount of personal responsibility for this admission (and its consequences) but to me, it’s a done deal.  Get over it.

The Shimster (my bud, Alan Shimel) also wrote about some of this here and here.

Am I giving up and rolling over dead?  No.  At the same time, I am facing the realities of the overly-connected world in which we live and moreso the position in which I choose to live it.  It isn’t with my head in the sand or in some other dark cavity, but rather scanning the horizon for the next opportunity to do something about the problem.

Anyone who has been on the inside of protecting the critical assets of an Enterprise knows that isn’t "if" you’re going to have a problem with data or assets showing up somewhere they shouldn’t (or that you did not anticipate) but rather "when" … and hope to (insert diety here) it isn’t on your watch.

Sad but true.  We’ve seen corporations with every capability at their disposal show up on the front page because they didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t put in place the necessary controls to prevent these sorts of things from occuring…and here’s the dirty little secret: there is nothing they can do to completely prevent these sorts of things from occuring.

Today we focus on "network security" or "information security" instead of "information defensibility" or "information survivability" and this is a tragic mistake because we’re focusing on threats and vulnerabilities instead of RISK and this is a losing proposition because of these little annoyances called human beings and those other little annoyances they (we) use called computers.

Change control doesn’t work.  Data classification doesn’t work(* see below.)  Policies don’t work.  In the "real world" of IM, encrypted back channels, USB drives, telecommuting, web-based storage, VPN’s, mobile phones, etc., all it takes is one monkey to do the wrong thing even in the right context and it all comes tumbling down.

I was recently told that security is absolute.  Relatively speaking, of course, and that back in the day, we had secure networks.  That said nothing, of course, about the monkeys using them.

Now, I agree that we could go back to the centralized computing model with MAC/RBAC, dumb networks, draconian security measures and no iPods, but we all know that the global economy depends upon people being able to break/bend the rules in order to "innovate" and move business along the continuum and causing me not to put that confidential customer data on my laptop so I can work on it at home over the weekend would impact the business…

The reality is that no amount of compliance initiatives, technology, policies or procedures is going to prevent this sort of thing from happening completely, so the best we can do is try as hard as we can as security professionals to put a stake in the ground, start managing risk knowing we’re going to have our asses handed to us on a platter one day, and do our best to minimize the impact it will have.  But PLEASE don’t act surprised when it happens.

Outraged, annoyed, concerned, angered and vengeful, yes.  Surprised?  Not so much.

Until common sense comes packaged in an appliance, prepare for the worst!


P.S. Unofficially, only 3 out of the 50 security professionals I contacted who *do* have some form of confidential imformation on their laptops (device configs, sample code, internal communications, etc.) actually utilize any form of whole disk encryption.  None use two factor authentication to provde the keys in conjunction with a strong password.  See here for the skinny as to why this is relevant.

*Data Classification doesn’t work because there’s no way to enforce its classification uniformly in the first place.  For example, how many people have seen documents stamped "confidential" or "Top Secret" somewhere other than where these sorts of data should reside.  Does MS Word or Outlook force you to "classify" your documents/emails before you store/print/send them?  Does the network have an innate capability to prevent the "routing" of data across segments/hosts?  What happens when you cut/paste data from one form to another?

I am very well aware of many types of solutions that provide some of these capabilities, but it needs to be said that they fail (short of being deployed at aterial junctions such as the perimeter) because:

  1. They usually expect to be able to see all data.  Unlikely because anyone that has a large network that has computers connected to it knows this is impossible (OK, improbable)
  2. They want to be pointed at the data and classify it so it can be recognized.  Unlikely because if you knew where all the data was, you’d probably be able to control/limit its distribution.
  3. They expect that data will be in some form that triggers an event based upon the discovery of its existence of movement.  Unlikely because of encryption (which is supposed to save us all, remember 😉 and the fact that people are devious little shits.
  4. What happens when I take a picture of it on my screen with my cameraphone, send it out-of-band and it shows up on a blog?

Rather, we should exercise some prudent risk management strategies, hope to whomever that those boring security awareness trainings inflict some amount of guilt and hope for the best.

But seriously, authenticating access *to* any data (no matter where it exists) and then being able to provide some form of access control, monitoring and non-repudiation is a much more worthwhile endeavor, IMHO.

Otherwise, this exercise is like herding cats.  It’s a general waste of time because it doesn’t make you any more "secure."

I’m getting more cynical by the (breach) minute…BTW, Michael Farnum just wrote about this very topic…

Full Drive Encryption on Laptops – Time for all of us to “nut up or shut up!”

June 11th, 2006 7 comments

…or "He who liveth in glass houses should either learn to throw small stones or investeth in glass insurance…lots and lots of glass insurance. I, by the way, have lots and lots of glass insurance ;)"

Given all of the recently disclosed privacy/identity breaches which have been demonstrated as a result of stolen laptops inappropriately containing confidential data, we’ve had an exponential increase in posts in the security blogosphere in regards to this matter.

This is to be expected.  This is what we do.  It’s the desperate housewives complex. 😉

These posts come from the many security experts, analysts, pundits and IT Professionals bemoaning the obvious poor application of policies, procedures, technology and standards that would "prevent" this sort of thing from happening and calling for the heads of those responsible…of the very people who not only perpertrated the crime, but also those responsible for making the crime possible; the monkey who put the data on the laptop in the first place.

So, since most of us who are "security experts" or IT professionals almost always utilize laptops in our lines of work, I ask you to honestly respond in comments below to the following question:

What whole-disk encryption solution utilizing two-factor authentication do you use to prevent an exposure of data should your laptop fall into the wrong hands?  You *do* use a whole-disk encryption solution utilizing two-factor authentication to secure the data on your laptop…don’t you?

Be honest. If you don’t use a solution like this then please don’t post another thing on this topic condemning anyone else.  Ever.

Sure, you may say that you don’t keep confidential information on your laptop and that’s great.  However, if you’ve got email and you’re involved in a company as a security/IT person (or management or even as a general user,) that argument’s already in the bullshit hopper.

If you say that you use encryption for specifically identified "confidential" files and information but still use a web-browser or any Office product on a Windows platform,  for example, please reference the aforementioned bovine excrement container.  It’s filling up fast, eh?

See where this is going?  If we, the keepers of the gate, don’t implement this sort of solution and we still gabble on about how crappy these errant users are, how irresponsible their bosses, how aware we should make and liable we should hold their Board of Directors, the government, etc…

I’ll ask you the same question about that USB thumb drive you have hanging on your keychain, too.

Don’t be a hyprocrite…encrypt yo shizzle.

If you don’t already, stop telling everyone else what lousy humans they are for not doing this and instead focus on getting something like this, or at a minimum, this.