McKinsey's just released report on its third annual survey of the usage and benefits of Web 2.0 technology was enlightening as far as it went. However, it completely ignores the IT security risks Web 2.0 creates. Furthermore, traditional IT security products do not mitigate these risks. If we are going to deploy Web 2.0 technology, then we need to upgrade our security to, dare I say, "IT Security 2.0."

Even if Web 2.0 products had no vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit, which is not possible, there is still the need for a control function, i.e. which applications should be allowed and who should be able to use them. Unfortunately traditional security vendors have had limited success with both. Fortunately, there are security vendors who have recognized this as an opportunity
and have built solutions which mitigate these new risks.

In the past, I had never subscribed to the concept of security enabling innovation, but I do in this case. There is no doubt that improved communication, learning, and collaboration within the organization and with customers and suppliers enhances the organization's competitive position. Ignoring Web 2.0 or letting it happen by itself is not an option. Therefore when planning Web 2.0 projects, we must also include plans for mitigating the new risks Web 2.0 applications create.

The Web 2.0 good news – The survey results are very positive:

"69 percent of respondents report that their companies have gained
measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and
services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower
cost of doing business, and higher revenues.

Companies that made
greater use of the technologies, the results show, report even greater
benefits. We also looked closely at the factors driving these
improvements—for example, the types of technologies companies are
using, management practices that produce benefits, and any
organizational and cultural characteristics that may contribute to the
gains. We found that successful companies not only tightly integrate
Web 2.0 technologies with the work flows of their employees but also
create a “networked company,” linking themselves with customers and
suppliers through the use of Web 2.0 tools. Despite the current
recession, respondents overwhelmingly say that they will continue to
invest in Web 2.0."

The Web 2.0 bad news – Web 2.0 technologies introduce IT security risks that cannot be ignored. The main risk comes from the fact that these applications are purposely built to bypass traditional IT security controls in order to simplify deployment and increase usage. They use techniques such as port hopping, encrypted tunneling, and browser based applications. If we cannot identify these applications and the people using them, we cannot monitor or control them. Any exploitation of vulnerabilities in these applications can go undetected until it's too late.

A second risk is bandwidth consumption. For example, unauthorized and uncontrolled consumer-oriented video and audio file sharing applications consume large chunks of bandwidth. How much? Hard to know if we cannot see them.

In case we need some examples of the bad news, just in the last few days see here, here, here, and here.

The IT Security 2.0 good news – There are new IT Security 2.0 vendors who are addressing these issues in different ways as follows:

Database Activity Monitoring – Since we cannot depend on traditional perimeter defenses, we must protect the database itself. Database encryption, another technology, is also useful. But if someone has stolen authorized credentials (very common with trojan keyloggers), encryption is of no value. I discussed Database Activity Monitoring in more detail here. It's also useful for compliance reporting when integrated with application users.

User Activity Monitoring – Network appliances designed to
monitor internal user activity and block actions that are out of
policy. Also useful for compliance reporting.

Web Application Firewalls – Web server host-based software or appliances specifically designed to analyze anomalies in browser-based applications. WAFs are not meant to be primary firewalls but rather to be used to monitor the Layer 7 fields of browser-based forms into which users enter information. Cybercriminals enter malicious code which, if not detected and blocked, can trigger a wide range of exploits. It's also useful for PCI compliance.

"Web 2.0" Firewalls – Next generation network firewalls that can detect and control Web 2.0 applications in addition to traditional firewall functions. They also identify users and can analyze content. They can also perform URL filtering, intrusion prevention, proxying, and data leak prevention. This multi-function capability can be used to generate significant cost reductions by (1) consolidating network appliances and (2) unifying policy management and compliance reporting.

I have heard this type of firewall referred to as an Application Firewall. But it seems confusing to me because it's too close to Web Application Firewall, which I described above and performs completely different functions. Therefore, I prefer the term, Web 2.0 Firewall.

In conclusion, Web 2.0 is real and IT Security 2.0 must be part of Web 2.0 strategy. Put another way, IT Security 2.0 enables Web 2.0.

Roger Grimes at InfoWorld's Security Central wrote a very good article about password management. I agree with everything he said, except Roger did not go far enough. For several of Roger's attack types password guessing, keystroke logging, and hash cracking, one of the mitigation techniques is strong (high entropy) passwords.

True enough. However, I am convinced that it's simply not possible to memorize really strong (high entropy) passwords.

I wrote about this earlier and included a link to a review of password managers.

I thought a post about Database Activity Monitoring was timely because one of the DAM vendors, Sentrigo, published a Microsoft SQLServer vulnerability today along with a utility that mitigates the risk. Also of note, Microsoft denies that this is a real vulnerability.

I generally don't like to write about a single new vulnerability because there are just so many of them. However, Adrian Lane, CTO and Analyst at Securosis, wrote a detailed post about this new vulnerability, Sentrigo's workaround, and Sentrigo's DAM product, Hedgehog. Therefore I wanted to put this in context.

Also of note, Sentrigo sponsored a SANS Report called "Understanding and Selecting a Database Activity Monitoring Solution." I found this report to be fair and balanced as I have found all of SANS activities.

Database Activity Monitoring is becoming a key component in a defense-in-depth approach to protecting "competitive advantage" information like intellectual  property, customer and financial information and meeting compliance requirements.

One of the biggest issues organizations face when selecting a Database Activity Monitoring solution is the method of activity collection, of which there are three – logging, network based monitoring, and agent based monitoring. Each has pros and cons:

  • Logging – This requires turning on the database product's native logging capability. The main advantage of this approach is that it is a standard feature included with every database. Also some database vendors like Oracle have a complete, but separately priced Database Activity Monitoring solution, which they claim will support other databases. Here are the issues with logging:
    • You need a log management or Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system to normalize each vendor's log format into a standard format so you can correlate events across different databases and store the large volume of events that are generated. If you already committed to a SIEM product this might not be an issue assuming the SIEM vendor does a good job with database logs.
    • There can be significant performance overhead on the database associated with logging, possibly as high as 50%.
    • Database administrators can tamper with the logs. Also if an external hacker gains control of the database server, he/she is likely to turn logging off or delete the logs. 
    • Logging is not a good alternative if you want to block out of policy actions. Logging is after the fact and cannot be expected to block malicious activity. While SIEM vendors may have the ability to take actions, by the time the events are processed by the SIEM, seconds or minutes have passed which means the exploit could already be completed.
  • Network based – An appliance is connected to a tap or a span port on the switch that sits in front of the database servers. Traffic to and, in most cases, from the databases is captured and analyzed. Clearly this puts no performance burden on the database servers at all. It also provides a degree of isolation from the database administrators.Here are the issues:
    • Local database calls and stored procedures are not seen. Therefore you have an incomplete picture of database activity.
    • Your must have the network infrastructure to support these appliances.
    • It can get expensive depending on how many databases you have and how geographically dispersed they are.
  • Host based – An agent is installed directly on each database server.The overhead is much lower than with native database logging, as low as 1% to 5%, although you should test this for yourself.  Also, the agent sees everything including stored procedures. Database administrators will have a hard time interfering with the process without being noticed. Deployment is simple, i.e. neither the networking group nor the datacenter team need be involved. Finally, the installation process should  not require a database restart. As for disadvantages, this is where Adrian Lane's analysis comes in. Here are his concerns:
    • Building and maintaining the agent software is difficult and more time consuming for the vendor than the network approach. However, this is the vendor's issue not the user's.
    • The analysis is performed by the agent right on the database. This could mean additional overhead, but has the advantage of being able to block a query that is not "in policy."
    • Under heavy load, transactions could be missed. But even if this is true, it's still better than the network based approach which surely misses local actions and stored procedures.
    • IT administrators could use the agent to snoop on database transactions to which they would not normally have access.

Dan Sarel, Sentrigo's Vice President of Product, responded in the comments section of Adrian Lane's post. (Unfortunately there is no dedicated link to the response. You just have to scroll down to his response.) He addressed the "losing events under heavy load" issue by saying Sentrigo has customers processing heavy loads and not losing transactions. He addressed the IT administrator snooping issue by saying that the Sentrigo sensors doe not require database credentials. Therefore database passwords are not available to IT administrators.

Controversy around the PCI DSS compliance program increased recently when Robert Carr, the CEO of Heartland Payment Systems, in an article in CSO Online, attacked his QSAs saying, "The audits done by our QSAs (Qualified Security Assessors) were of no value whatsoever. To the extent that they were telling us we were secure beforehand, that we were PCI compliant, was a major problem."

Mike Rothman, Senior VP of eIQNetworks responded to Mr. Carr's comments not so much to defend PCI but to place PCI in perspective, i.e. compliance does not equal security. I discussed this myself in my post about the 8 Dirty Secrets of IT Security, specifically in my comments on Dirty Secret #6 – Compliance Threatens Security

Eric Ogren, a security industry analyst, continued the attack on PCI in his article in SearchSecurity last week where he said, "The federal indictment this week of three men for their roles in the
largest data security breach in U.S. history also serves as an
indictment of sorts against the fraud conducted by PCI – placing the
burden of security costs onto retailers and card processors when what
is really needed is the payment card industry investing in a secure
business process."

The federal indictment to which Eric Ogren referred was that of Albert Gonzalez and others for the breaches at Heartland Payment Services, 7-Eleven, Hannaford, and two national retailers referred to as Company A and Company B. Actually this is the second federal indictment of Albert Gonzalez that I am aware of. The first, filed in Massachusetts in August 2008, was for the breaches at BJ's Wholesale Club, DSW, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sport Authority, and TJX.

Bob Russo, the general manager of the PCI Security Standards Council disagreed with Eric Ogren's characterizations of PCI, saying that retailers and credit card processors must take responsibility for protecting cardholder information.

Rich Mogull, CEO and Analyst at Securosis, responded to Bob Russo's article with recommendations to improve the PCI compliance program which he characterized as an "overall positive development for the state of security." He went on to say, "In other words, as much as PCI is painful, flawed, and ineffective, it
has also done more to improve security than any other regulation or
industry initiative in the past 10 years. Yes, it's sometimes a
distraction; and the checklist mentality reduces security in some environments, but overall I see it as a net positive."

Rich Mogull seems to agree with Eric Ogren that the credit card companies have the responsibility and the power to improve the technical foundations of credit card transactions. In addition, he calls the PCI Council to task for such issues as:

  • incomplete and/or weak compliance requirements
  • QSA shopping
  • the conflict of interest they created by allowing QSA's to perform audits and then sell security services based on the findings of the audits.

Clearly organizations have no choice but to comply with mandatory regulations. But the compliance process must be part of an overall risk management process. In other words, the compliance process is not equal to the risk management process but a component of it.

Finally, and most importantly, the enterprise risk management process must be more agile and responsive to new security threats than a bureaucratic regulatory body can be. For example, it may be some time before the PCI standards are updated to specify that firewalls must be able to work at the application level so all the the Web 2.0 applications traversing the enterprise network can be controlled. This is an important issue today as this has been a major vector for compromising systems that are then used for funds transfer fraud.

27. August 2009 · Comments Off on Estonian Internet Service Provider is a front for a cyber crime network · Categories: Risk Management, Security Management · Tags: , , , , , ,

TrendMicro's security research team announced a
white paper detailing their investigation of an Estonian Internet
company that was actually a front for a cybercrime network. This white
paper is important because it shows just how organized cyber criminals
have become. I have pointed this out in an earlier post here.

Organizations in the U.S. and Western Europe may wonder how this is relevant to them:

"From its office in Tartu [Estonia], employees administer sites that host codec
Trojans and command and control (C&C) servers that steer armies of
infected computers. The criminal outfit uses a lot of daughter
companies that operate in Europe and in the United States. These
daughter companies’ names quickly get the heat when they become
involved in Internet abuse and other cybercrimes. They disappear after
getting bad publicity or when upstream providers terminate their

The full white paper is well worth reading.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that there is an increase in "funds transfer fraud" being perpetrated by organized crime groups from Eastern Europe against small and medium U.S. businesses. 

It's hard to know the extent of this type of crime because there is no breach notification requirement since no customer information is disclosed. However, many companies are reporting these crimes to the FBI and of course to their banks.

The risk of funds transfer fraud to businesses is much higher than to consumers for the following reasons:

  • Dollar amounts are higher.
  • Under the Uniform Commercial Code, businesses only have two days to dispute charges they feel are unauthorized. Consumers have 60 days from the time they receive their statements.
  • Because banks are liable for the consumer losses and less so for the business losses, they invest more resources in protecting consumers.

The complete article in the Washington Post is well worth reading.

In a previous post, I highlighted one of the techniques used by cyber criminals where they surreptitiously install the Clampi trojan on a PC in order to get the login credentials needed for online banking.

Recommended actions:

  • Install anti-virus/anti-malware agents on all workstations and keep them up-to-date
  • Use an end-point configuration management system to discover all workstations, to assure the above mentioned agents are installed and up-to-date, and to assure that unauthorized software is not installed
  • Implement firewall policies to (1) assure that only authorized people (i.e. people in authorized roles) using only authorized workstations can connect to financial institutions to perform funds transfer transactions, (2) assure that people not authorized cannot connect to financial institutions, (3) generate alerts when there are attempts to violate these policies
  • Implement a process where funds transfer transactions are reviewed on a daily basis by someone other than the person or people who perform the transactions

30. July 2009 · Comments Off on Information Technology Security Management is Business Risk Management · Categories: Books, Risk Management, Security Management · Tags: , , , , , , ,

I view Information Technology Security Management from a
business risk management perspective. After all, in the modern enterprise,
every significant business process depends on information technology. Therefore
any risk to the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of digital assets
is a risk to the business.

But what is risk really? A practical definition would be the
probability and frequency of bad things happening and the resulting loss to the
business. From an IT perspective, the bad things are the disclosure, alteration, or destruction of
information based assets like intellectual property, customer information,
trends and projections, and financial, health, and personnel records. The
impact includes the costs of recovering from the incident and also loss of
reputation which often translates into lost revenue and profits and a drop in
stock price.

While I am going
to be spending most of my time on IT Security Risk, it’s obvious that there are
other types of IT Risks not to mention the myriad other business risks that
must be identified and managed as part of an overall risk management effort. For
a comprehensive analysis of IT Risk, you might consider IT Risk by George
Westerman and Richard Hunter, Harvard Business School Press, 2007