Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Top security best practices for IoT applications - Combating IoT cyber threats

I have written the following article for IBM which was published today on IBM Development Works.

The Internet of Things is changing the way that businesses operate, especially in the areas of warehousing, transportation, and logistics. These changes make the security of IoT devices even more crucial, given the time and money that is required if a hacker breaks through the defenses. This article outlines the best practices for securely developing robust IoT solutions.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

To Firewall or not to Firewall – Trusted & Untrusted Networks

The big danger of firewall deployments within a complex dynamic network infrastructure (a typical enterprise) is you end up with placebo network security. It is a problem that creeps in with each firewall rule change over the course of time. No one ever seems to be concerned when adding a new rule to a firewall ruleset, but removing a rule is a fearful business, so often it is not risked, so not to break anything.  The general adhoc adding of rules without first understanding the entire ruleset is what seriously weakens firewall security, it makes rulesets hard to understand and can mushroom into an ineffective firewall configuration. So instead of allowing a network range through on specific set of ports as a single rule, you end up with tens of rules allowing individual IPs each on a specific port. I have seen firewall rulesets with thousands of unnecessary individual rules, caused by a combination of poor firewall management, lack of change control, lack of ruleset documentation and to be honest a lack of staff expertise.

Lets roll back to the fundamental purpose of a network firewall, which is to control network traffic between trusted and untrusted networks, only allowing specific required and trusted network communication between an untrusted and trusted network segment.  The obvious example is the Internet (untrusted) and the office LAN (trusted). However the textbook Internet facing firewall is not typically where the issues are in a complex internal network infrastructure, where often there are countless individual networks making up a WAN.
It is important to define what we mean by an ‘untrusted’ network in the context of the ‘trusted’ network we seek to protect. I would define it as such, an untrusted network is any network you do not have the ability to control or manage.  So (typically) an external client network is untrusted, a third party service provider network is untrusted, but as for networks within the enterprise WAN, well that all depends on whether they are controlled and managed, in other words are they secured to same degree as the trusted network you seek to protect. 

In the context of a WAN, we should not overlook internal network security is a part of a layered security approach, and that data transit through the networks are also are controlled logically at the application layer (access control) and perhaps even encryption. However this multi-layered security approach may not suit the needs and risk for internal network interconnectivity. To understand where firewalls are required it must start with assessing which networks are considered as untrusted and which ones are consider trusted.

Some network environments won't be as simple as the duplex of an untrusted and trust network, however they can still be logically defined in a levelled trust relationship model, allow zones of trust within the network infrastructure, a bit complicated to explain fully in this post but for example:
  • Network A: Network B & C are trusted (untrusted zone)
  • Network B: Network A is untrusted, Network C is trusted (trusted zone level 1)
  • Network C: Network A & B are untrusted (trusted zone level 2)
A network firewall device may not even be necessary to segregate networks, as an adequate degree of network security to a firewall can be provided by network devices, for instance by creating Access Control List (ACL) on a Managed Switch, and a Router can be used to secure network traffic between networks.

Finally, firewall deployments and the network layer security needs to be tested and assured. I recommend regular firewall ruleset reviews, however the most effective way is test the security like a hacker or malware would, by performing regular network discovery and vulnerability scanning, which help ensure firewalls continue to secure communications between trusted and untrusted networks as designed. Internal network discovery and vulnerability scans can even be a fully automated process by using tools such as Outpost24's Hacker In A Box (HIAB)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Enviable Business Cloud Adoption & Cloud Security

I was quoted in an interesting discussion type article on Business Cloud Adoption at CIO.com 

How Line Of Business Is Driving The Move To The Cloud

I have picked out my quotes which underlines my view that IT and Security functions must be agile and accommodating to the business cloud wants. While the business in turn must be careful not be so bamboozled by the efficiency & cost saving gains, and all those sexy sales buzzwords, they neglect the security question when procuring cloud services.

On Cloud Adoption
“Quite often businesses adopt cloud services outside the IT function whether is it Sales using Salesforce or HR using LinkedIn for recruitment, or general staff using Dropbox,” said UK-based Information Security Expert Dave Whitelegg. “The traditional internal-facing IT department can be quickly left behind by buy-and-go cloud service adoption"

On Cloud Security
“Cloud data security concerns should be addressed by IT carrying out due diligence and risk assessments with the cloud service provider, an approach often neglected when business departments decide to go commando and adopt loud services on their own,” said Whitelegg."

However, he added that the onus should be on IT to move with the times and make sure solutions put forward by Line of Businesses (LOB) are properly considered.

“The IT function definitely needs to come down from the ivory towers, stop saying no and tune into the addressing the business requirements and the benefits cloud services can provide.”

Monday, 1 June 2015

Security Today - Cyber Information Security News Stream & Alerts Twitter Feed

I was an early adopter to Twitter, opening my @securityexpert account back in October 2008, I found Twitter has been an excellent tool for picking up and sharing information security news, articles, major breaches and critical vulnerability alerts. As well as making my own contributions I often retweet tweets of InfoSec interest, education and intrigue, however I have always had a strict policy of never allowing my @securityexpert account to send any automated tweets, every tweet is manually sent or is retweeted by yours truly. Once you go down that road the personal nature of the account goes. I recognise that many of followers of the account are interested are in the latest news, so with that in mind I have launched a new Twitter account to provide a more comprehensive and more regular stream of InfoSec news.

@securitytoday has been launched to just tweet cyber information security related news and alerts. The account steadily tweets information/cyber security related news, articles and critical vulnerability alerts from a variety of sources. Most of the tweets are from a world wide context, but the service also has a focus on providing news and alerts from the UK InfoSec space. For example it picks up specific UK cyber threats & incidents, and the latest news from the UK & European Data Protection legalisation space.

If you are looking for a steady stream of cyber news or wish to drop into a snapshop of what's going on in the world of information security at any point in time, rather than security snip-bits tweets which are intertwined with what someone has eaten for breakfast, @securitytoday will be for you.

Follow @securitytoday and dive into the a news stream of cyber / information security tweets at your convenience.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Snoopers’ Charter Law Eroding our Digital Privacy is Sneaking In

The UK parliament re-opened for business today with a new UK government, which means a new raft of laws. While the media and the public were pre-occupied with rights eroding laws on unions to take strike action, and the possible replacement of the Human Rights Act, there was another proposed law in the list which seriously erodes another fundamental human right, our right to privacy. In the last coalition government the Liberal Democrats blocked this law on privacy grounds, but with the LibDems blown away in last month's general election, there is nothing to stop a Conservative majority government placing the Snoopers' Charter law.

Anti Austerity and Pro Union Protesters in London after the opening of Parliament

The Snooper's Charter is actually the nickname for the Communications Data Bill. The intended bill will grant ‘official’ permission for UK government agencies to read our email, listen to our phone calls and access our web browsing history. The law requires all UK ISPs and mobile phone operators to store our internet browsing activity, social media usage, emails, voice calls, internet gaming, and mobile phone messaging information for 12 months. Lets not kid ourselves that the UK security services don’t presently have such capabilities for themselves, just read the Edward Snowden leaked documents on GHCQ's snooping activities. 

Everyone has a legal right to (digital) privacy; any law that impedes on this fundamental human right has to be fully scrutinised and expertly debated. You only have to listen to the rubbish that comes out of our politicians mouths when it comes to digital privacy and security to be very concerned, the Prime Minister said he wanted to ban online encryption, which is utter nonsense. The Snoopers' Charter is being pushed by the UK security services, taking in politicians because they don’t understand the subject matter and they believe such laws are necessary to prevent terrorism. If there is one thing we all should have learnt from the Snowden circus, is our security services need to be held in check when comes to them freely trampling over digital privacy. I don't believe there will be enough counter argument to the Snoopers’ law, especially with the LibDems voice of privacy reason gone. I fear the political debate will gloss over the privacy infringement aspects of the law, focusing only on the terrorism prevention reason. There is a very delicate balance between security and privacy, it is for society to determine how it should be balanced, never the security services.

From a data protection perspective, hanging onto personal data longer than is required is a major ‘no no’. The changes in law will force many companies to store our most private information when previously they didn't have to. I think we can expect to see this new personal data storage leading to some serious data breaches in the future, especially by the smaller businesses involved, which quite frankly lack the security expertise, funding and so ability to secure sensitive data to high standard. We certainly can expect this data to be targeted by online fraudsters, as it will be of high exploitable value to them, and the data will even be targeted for the purpose of fame and notoriety by anti-government hacking groups, how ironic.

Finally any talk of passing laws which weaken encryption strength to permit UK security services to snoop is both nonsense and none enforceable, as by definition if you weaken security to let the UK government in, you weaken security for everyone.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

EU Data Protection Tsunami Warning

I attended a couple of data protection conferences this month, I heard a significant amount of naivety about the proposed EU Data Protection regulations. I listened to supposedly expert DP speakers talk about lobbying for changes to the EU regulations, and a general denial that many of the new requirements were actually going to happen, hence my tsunami warning analogy.

UK Business needs to prepare to surf EU DP Regulation Tsunami

Seismic ‘once in a lifetime’ privacy Law Change
By end of this year, or early next year at the very latest, the European Parliament will enshrine into European law the biggest shake up in data protection and privacy legalisation we'll probably ever see in our lifetimes, it is that huge of a deal. Granted it will likely take another two years before it comes into force. 

Today we are standing on the beach, those that look will observe the dark spectre of a tsunami approaching far on the horizon, it is coming in, first we need to accept it is heading to our shores, then we need to accept we can’t change its scale or course, but what we can do is start preparing business for its arrival. 

The warning shot was the “EU Cookie’ law, an EU wide law that no EU citizen actually cares about, but nether-the-less nearly all major UK websites have annoying pop-up cookie banners in order to comply with it. The new EU regulations has some serious teeth by the way of huge financial penalties for any non-compliance with any of requirements, this makes the EU Cookie Law look like a drop in the ocean. Many of the legal requirements go beyond just the protection of personal data, here are a few bullet points of the rough ride in store for UK business in the data protection space in 2018.
  • Regulation Not Directive - This means the requirements are not open to any interpretation by member states (as current DPA laws are) as they pass it into local country laws; as the requirements are written so they shall be done
  • Data Breach Disclosure - All personal data breaches are required to be reported and so publicly disclosed, likely to be within a 48 hours of them occurring. Also applies to data processors, no more hiding behind data controllers for them. Presently only public sector organisations in the UK have to report personal data breaches to the ICO.
  • Major Fines for Non-Compliance - Fines of up to 5% of global annual turnover is enough to rock any boardroom with concern.
  • Data Processor liability - A Data Processor will be on equal par to a Data Controller. This will be a major concern to cloud service providers.
  • The Right to be Forgotten - Businesses must abide by data subject (EU citizens) requests to erase their personal data.
  • The Right of Portability - Businesses must be able to provide any held personal data in a format which lends itself to moving/sharing with other organisations upon the request of the data subject.
  • Data Protection Officer - Most UK businesses will be required to appoint a Data Protection Officer
  • Applies to Non-EEC business processing EU Citizen Data - Even if the UK opt of the EU, UK business which touch European Citizen personal information will still need to comply with the EU regulations. Also means US companies that process EU citizen data must comply as well, no matter where their data centres are, bad news for hte likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google.
My point is whether you agree with these regulations is a moot point, some may say the privacy horse has bolted and long left the stable, while others say its high time we turn the tide on our 1984 society. But what is crystal clear water, is the present DPA law is seriously outdated, it was drafted long before the internet and digital data usage took off, so it is difficult to argue that an update to our data protection law is long overdue. Now we can debate whether these changes go too far or are not at conferences until the cows come home, but that's not going to change the fact these major changes will happen and will significantly impact UK businesses, so now is the time to stop debating, take our heads out of the sand and start preparing the business.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Lenovo's Superfish is Adware at Best and Malware at Worst

Since the middle of 2014, Lenovo have been pre-installing a piece of software commonly known as 'Superfish' onto its new laptops and PCs. In recent days the "Cyber Security" press has questioned the validity of Superfish, saying that it invades personal privacy, and that it exposes Lenovo users to data theft, they do have a point. Although Lenovo aren't the first to covertly push the privacy boundary for commercial gain, and they won't be the last either.

Adware at Best
Superfish operates fairly covertly in the background of the operating system, as you search online the software returns related advertisements back onto the desktop. These advertisements are chosen by Lenovo, and provide revenue to Lenovo when clicked upon. This is in affect adware, namely a user unwanted and unnecessary piece of software running on the operating system, it appears to be of no benefit or aid to the user, its main purpose is to provide an income for Lenovo. If we needed any additional help with our online searches, I am sure Google would have thought of it first and have provided it. Therefore I can only conclude, Superfish has to join the long list of adware software, which includes every browser search toolbar under the sun, as they simply aren't necessary, if anything they slow your web browser and searches down, for what? to make money for a non-welcome third party. Yes, adware is unwelcome on any system.

Malware at Worst
Superfish goes beyond being just adware, and has a more serious privacy and security concern, the software opens up users to the possibility ofprivacy snooping directly by Lenovo and by malicious third parties.  When you access a encrypted (https) website through a web browser, the browser sets up an end-to-end encrypted communication channel directly to the website, protecting all traffic sent to and from. This encrypted communication is vital security requirement to protect online banking, e-commerce, social media, and even web searches from being spied upon and stolen by third parties. Superfish installs a self-sign root certificate on the operating system, this allows Lenovo to intercept web traffic between the web browser and with any https protected website. The reason behind this is to allow the Lenovo advertising system to read and analyse the data, as sent by the user over the encrypted channel, so appropriate advertisements of interest can be placed onto the desktop. In wake of the Snowden relations, the internet has rapidly adopted encrypted website connectivity, even search engines like Google now provide https encryption connectivity by default to protect their user's privacy, this is why Lenovo need to use this dodgy method to break the Google website encryption to access their customer's search data, a goldmine of commercial exploitation for Lenovo.

The Superfish method of breaking https is nothing new, and has been used by malicious actors for years, it is commonly known as a "man in the middle" (MITM) attack. 

The Superfish method, as with any MITM attack, most users are oblivious that their secure https web connection has been compromised, and their private data is being snooped upon by a third party. With Superfish, we need to trust Lenovo, a Chinese company, will be completely ethical with this power, and not use Superfish to snoop people's private information. Given Lenovo's keen interest in directing advertisements for profit at its customers, the abuse of this power has to be a concern. But it gets worse, Superfish opens up the possibility of malicious actors taking advantage, by creating malware that exploits the Superfish software, cyber criminals may be able to use the Superfish root level certificates to MITM attack any website accessed through the Lenovo host system by the user.

Current Situation with Superfish
After receiving user complaints Lenovo announced it had "temporarily removed Superfish from consumer systems". 

Due to some issues (browser pop up behavior for example), with the Superfish Visual Discovery browser add-on, we have temporarily removed Superfish from our consumer systems until such time as Superfish is able to provide a software build that addresses these issues. As for units already in market, we have requested that Superfish auto-update a fix that addresses these issues. - Lenovo Forum AdminThere have been a few other statements made by Lenovo since the negative publicity, saying they will remove Superfish from new machines and disabling it from others. However Lenovo are being far too coy for my liking. Therefore I suggest Lenovo users check for the presence of Superfish, and if it is there, remove it themselves.

How to Detect and Remove Superfish
Not all new Lenovo Laptops and PCs had Superfish pre-installed, so first determine if you have Superfish installed, there are several methods, here are three...

  • This website will test for the presence of Superfish https://filippo.io/Badfish/
  • If you notice while searching a "Visual Search Results" section and "powered by Visual Discovery", it is certain you have Superfish running.
  • Press the "Windows Key" & "R" to open the Run tool, then enter certmgr.msc and run to launch Window's Certificate Manager. Then click the "Trusted Root Certificate Authorities", next click "Certificates". if you see a certificate which says "Superfish, inc".

Example of the Superfish Certificate

There are several methods to stop and to remove Superfish, but the sure fire way to make sure your Lenovo system safe is to delete the Superfish Trusted root certificate..
  • Press the "Windows Key & R" for the Run tool, enter certmgr.msc and run to launch the Certificate Manager, then select "Trusted root certificate authorities", next click "Certificates", find the Superfish entry, right click it and select "Delete".  Also make sure to check under each user account on the system. I recommend using a registry cleaner to make sure all instants of Superfish Certificate are gone. Finally to ensure it has gone, visit the test website https://filippo.io/Badfish/ 

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Ongoing Security Awareness Problem:

Quite often I am sent reports, InfoGraphics and articles to post on this blog, many are too sales orientated or too off topic to consider, but the odd one is well worth sharing. So the following post and InfoGraphic has been provided by the UAB Collat School of Business, focusing on, in my view, the most riskiest and yet most neglected areas of Information Security, staff information security awareness. This maybe a little US focused, but the findings and advice mirrors what's seen within UK businesses. I've highlighted some very alarming statistics which shows the management 'god complex' attitude towards information security, and the business data leakage to the cloud.

Employees and General Information Security
Over 80%t of companies say that their biggest security threat is end user carelessness. 75% of companies also believe that employee negligence is their greatest security threat. 3% of all United States full time employees admitted to using the same collection of passwords for their online needs. A third of this percentage even admitted to using less than five different passwords to access anywhere between twenty five to fifty websites, some of which were business and professional locations. Over 33% percent of US companies do not have a security plan for internal security risks, which means personal responsibility is the largest deterrent in a vast majority of these incidents.

Top Mistakes
Many mistakes committed by employees are entirely avoidable. Things such as sharing passwords with others and leaving their computers unattended outside the workplace all contribute to security problems. Employees are strongly encouraged to use different passwords for different websites, and to change them frequently. Additionally, it is important to delete data when it is no longer being used on the computer, as well as avoid connecting personal devices to company networks and databases.

Largest Threats to Information Security
Senior managers are as much a culprit of problematic behaviour as their employees. Over 58% of senior managers have accidentally sent crucial and private company information to the wrong people. 51% percent of all senior managers have also taken private files from the company with them after they left the job. Business owners may end up compromising their own company’s security as well. Over 87% of all business owners regularly upload files from work to a personal cloud or storage network. 63% of  business owners also use the same passwords to log into different systems in both business and personal affairs.

Tips on Promoting Security
There are many solutions that can be taken to help keep the workplace safe. One of the first of these is to implement a strict, written set of security guidelines. Enforcing physical restrictions to personal data is also recommended. Destroying older data in a more timely fashion can also help resolve many security risks. Generally raising security awareness in the workplace by training and educating employees in proper and improper behaviour can be a good idea. All business owners and leaders are strongly encouraged to become more vocal about security in the workplace.

Employees and Specialised Training
Proper information and security training on a professional level can also help reduce the frequency and severity of security breaches. Over 37% of employees had received mobile security training, while over 40% of employees had received information sharing training. Increasing this number can help spread security awareness in the workplace on a much more efficient level, and businesses are encouraged to introduce some type of professional training program.

Current Bring Your Own Device Practices
Fortunately, while there is room for improvement in many companies, management professionals are also looking into ways to help improve Bring Your Own Device standards and practices. Over 40% of companies currently consider mobile device insecurities to be a large security concern. 15% of employees believe that they have minimal, or practically no, responsibility to safeguard the personal data stored on their devices. This type of thinking is what encourages security risks to occur in the first place. As a result, there is going to be an expected increase in security strategies of upwards of 64% for employees concerning the use of their personal devices over the next twelve months.

Information Security Recommendations
Numerous security recommendations are already being considered by many companies and many businesses are planning on introducing more data leakage protection to help control what data mobile employees will be able to send through Bring Your Own Device practices. This can help prevent the transfer of regulated data through unsecured apps. These plans can also help prevent employees from accessing data on unsecured devices, or transferring unsecured data on their own devices. Future demands will also require owned devices to have a password necessary in order to access the stored data. Many training programs are also going to be planned as well, which will inform employees of the necessity of adhering to, and enforcing, data security regulations.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

2015 & UK websites still fail miserably to protect Customer Data

The New Year was ushered in with news that both Moonpig.com and the UK Police National Property Register websites, had vulnerabilities that placed millions of UK citizen’s personal information at risk of data theft.

Moonpig had 3 million customer records exposed by a basic web application vulnerability. By changing the customer ID number on an unauthenticated API request (the website's Application Programmable Interface). An attacker could return different website users personal data, which included their name, address, birth date and email address. By writing a simple script an attacker could (might) have taken a copy of millions of customer records. Worst still this serious vulnerability was reported to Moonpig some 18 months ago.

It only takes a few minutes on the Moonpig website to see they are a million miles away from adhering to industry best practice web (application) site security, as advocated by the likes of OWASP. It appears that the Moonpig website has never been properly Penetration Tested; if it has, then either the pen testers have done a terrible job, or the Moonpig staff have completely ignored fixing vulnerabilities discovered by the test.

The first thing I noticed when I set up a Moonpig account a couple of years back, is that I was provided with a default 8 digit password. That’s digits as in just numbers, even primary school children know only using numbers is a terrible idea when setting a password, trust me as I have educated quite a few school kids on password security in my time. Poor default passwords are a tell-tale sign of overall poor website security.

Moonpig.com has still not been Secured
The next thing I observed (which is still present as I write this), is the website does not timeout user sessions in an adequate timescale. When you close down the Moonpig.com website on your web browser, you may believe you have logged out of the website, but give it 20 minutes or so, open Moonpig.com on your web browser, then you, or if using a shared computer possibly someone else, still has a user logged in access to the Moonpig website (authenticated).  It is 101 web application security to set a website session idle timeout, depending on risk, to between 5 and 15 minutes. This logs an authenticated website user out of the website when a user is not actively using it. User session timeouts times play an important role in protecting user account against session hijacking and man-in-the-middle attacks, and is important enough vulnerability to be listed 3rd on the OWASP Top Ten.

If you have an account with Moonpig, you are probably thinking it would be wise to delete your account to ensure your personal information is kept safe. The problem is that you can’t delete your account via the Moonpig website, the best you can do is to remove all names and addresses of your loved ones and friends from your Moonpig address book. If you want your Moonpig account removed, which you fully entitled over UK law, I suggest you phone Moonpig on 0345 4500 100.

I expect the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), an independent body responsible for protecting UK citizen personal data, will take a dim view of the Moonpig's website, and take enforcement action against the business for the apparent flagrant disregard in protecting their customer's personal information.

Immobilise WebApp flaw was both Serious and Embarrassing
The serious vulnerability in the UK Police National Property Register website, Immobilise, is highly embarrassing to say the least. The Immobilise website allows members of the British public to list valuables kept within their homes. A similar web application vulnerability to that of the Moonpig website was found, by changing the ID number in the website URL, an attacker could gain access to different people’s records. This is possible due to a lack of a user authentication check by the website code. The Immobilise website data includes a name and address along with a list of valuables with an estimated value of each item, this just happens to be the perfect information for any would be burglar, hence the high embarrassment. Over 4 million records were placed at risk by this basic web application coding vulnerability.  Recipero, the provider of the Immobilise website, acted quickly to resolve the vulnerability, however the presence of this kind of vulnerability suggests the website was not properly penetration tested, or it was and either a poor testing job was done, or the vulnerability was previously detected but not fixed. 

The Moral of these Website Vulnerabilities
The moral of both these news stories, if your business has a website which holds personal or confidential information, ensure you have the website penetration tested by a reputable penetration testing company before the website goes live on the Internet. Then ensure the website is penetration tested on an at least annual basis there after, and after any significant change made to the website code. It should go without saying that any vulnerabilities found by pen testing are resolved. A quality penetration tester will be happy to explain the vulnerabilities found, and to advise developers on how to fix them. Make sure any Critical, High and Medium level vulnerabilities detected are not only resolved, but are re-tested before going live with the website.

I also recommend to perform an automated vulnerability scan of all websites. Subject to the risk, conduct automated vulnerability scans either daily, weekly or at the very most monthly, quarterly is not frequent enough in my view. The likes of Outpost24 Outscan provide quality external automated website vulnerability scans, which detects many web application vulnerabilities, helping keeping a step ahead of the bad guys that seek to exploit website vulnerabilities for personal gain.