03. November 2009 · Comments Off on The new insider threat – lifestyle hackers · Categories: IT Security 2.0 · Tags: , ,

CSO Online published an article yesterday called Lifestyle Hackers. It simply points out that younger employees who are very active with Web 2.0 applications like Facebook and peer-to-peer, like to use these applications while at work in the name of productivity enhancement.

The use of these Web 2.0 applications by insiders increases the risk of security breaches. In most cases, these breaches are not malicious, rather inadvertent, but nevertheless damaging. 

It's a well written article but not news. I have written about the increased IT Security risk due to Web 2.0 applications several times:

Social Networking's Promise and Peril

Block Facebook?

Empirical evidence show that the top cyber security risks are related to Web 2.0

How to leverage Facebook and minimize risk 

Two more high profile Web 2.0 exploits – NY Times, RBS Worldpay

If Web 2.0, then IT Security 2.0


NetworkWorld has an interesting article today on the perils of social networking. The article focuses on the risk of employees transmitting confidential data. However, it's actually worse than that. There are also risks of malware infection via spam and other social engineering tactics. Twitter is notorious for its lax security. See my post, Twitter is Dead.

Blocking social networks completely is not the answer just as disconnecting from the Internet was not the answer in the 90's. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among others can be powerful marketing and sales tools.

The answer is "IT Security 2.0" tools that can monitor these and hundreds of other web 2.0 applications to block incoming malware and outgoing confidential documents.

21. September 2009 · Comments Off on Empirical evidence shows that the top cyber security risks are related to Web 2.0 · Categories: Application Security, IT Security 2.0, Risk Management · Tags: , , ,

Every consultant and vendor has a theory about the top cyber security risks. But what's really going on? SANS has the answer. Last week they released their analysis of threat and vulnerability data collected from 6,000 organizations and 9 million systems during the period from March 2009 to August 2009.

SANS says that two threat types dominate the analysis, both of which are tied to Web 2.0:

  • Threats associated with people using Web 2.0 applications, i.e. their workstations' vulnerabilities that are not patched and are exploited when they visit web sites.

My take: While the hype around NAC has definitely waned, the importance of comprehensive and continuous end point discovery, vulnerability analysis, configuration compliance checking, and patching at the application level as well as the operating system level is increasing.

  • Organizations' Internet-facing web sites remain vulnerable to threats like SQL Injection and Cross-Site Scripting.

My take: It's clear that using a rigorous Software Development Life Cycle process is just not getting the job done. Web application firewalls are a must have.

17. September 2009 · Comments Off on How to leverage Facebook and minimize risk · Categories: Application Security, IT Security 2.0, Network Security, Web 2.0 Network Firewalls · Tags: , , , ,

Marketing and Sales teams can benefit from using Web 2.0 social networks like Facebook to reach new customers and get customer feedback. It's about conversations rather broadcasting. So simply denying the use of Facebook due to security risks and time wasting applications is not a good option, much as in the 90's denying access to the Internet due to security risks was not feasible.

IT Security 2.0 requires finer grained monitoring and control of social networks like Facebook as follows:

  1. Restrict access to Facebook to only those people in sales and marketing who legitimately need access.
  2. Facebook is not a single monolithic application. It's actually a platform or an environment with many functions and many applications, some of which are pure entertainment and thus might be considered business time wasters. Create policies that restrict usage of Facebook to only those functions that are relevant to business value.
  3. Monitor the Facebook stream to detect and block incoming malware and outgoing confidential information.

Palo Alto Networks, which provides an "Application/User/Content aware" firewall (is that a mouthful?), appears to be able to provide such capabilities. Perhaps we might call it a Web 2.0 network firewall.

Is anyone aware of another firewall that can provide similar functionality?

14. September 2009 · Comments Off on Two more high profile Web 2.0 exploits – NY Times, RBS Worldpay · Categories: Breaches, IT Security 2.0, Malware, Secure Browsing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Two more high profile organizations have succumbed to Web 2.0 based exploits, New York Times and RBS Worldpay. These highlight the shortcomings of traditional IT security. I have no doubt that both of these organizations had deployed traditional firewalls and other IT Security tools, yet they were still breached by well understood exploit methods for which there are are proven mitigation tools.

I discussed this issue, Web 2.0 requires IT Security 2.0, at some length recently.

The current RBS Worldpay problem was merely a hacker showing off a SQL Injection vulnerability of RBS Worldpay's payment processing system. Late last year RBS Worldpay suffered a more damaging breach involving the "personal and financial account information of about 1.5 million
cardholders and other individuals, and the social security numbers
(SSNs) of 1.1 million people."

The New York Times website itself was not breached. A third party ad network vendor they use was serving "scareware" ads on New York Times site. Martin McKeay points out on his blog:

"it appears that the code wasn’t directly on a NYT server, rather it was
served up by one of the third-party services that provide ads for the
NYT.  Once again, it shows that even if you trust a particular site
you’re visiting, the interaction between that site and the secondary
systems supporting it offer a great attack vector for the bad guys to
gain access through."

On the other hand, the average user coming to the New York Times site is not aware of this detail and will most deservedly hold the New York Times responsible. Web sites that use third party ad networks to make money, must take responsibility for exploits on these ad networks. For now, as usual, end users have to protect themselves.

I recommend that Firefox 3.5 users avail themselves of Adblock Plus and NoScript. Adblock Plus obviously blocks ads and NoScript by default prevents JavaScript from running.

What's particularly interesting about NoScript is that you can allow JavaScript associated with the site to run but not the JaveScript associated with third party sites like advertising networks. Based on my reading of Troy Davis's analysis of the exploit, if you were using Firefox 3.5 and running NoScript with only New York Times JavaScript allowed, you would not have seen the scareware ad.

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.