A Nation State modified it’s users’ web traffic to overload the deployed servers of a Silicon Valley start-up. The business, GitHub, allows businesses to store files online.
Why this matters…
This was done to bring offline content that was against their censorship policies. Such an attack is possible against any business, service, or organization. This could be done against something as harmless as taking offline any website in the planet, but could also be applied to any critical infrastructure sensor and set of systems – think Internet of Things, Nuclear power plants, 911 phone systems, etc ..
The business and nation state security implications are quite severe here. The reason for the attack was about the 2 types of content – New York Times (banned in China) and information on bypassing the Chinese censorship firewall. Clearly these are not aligned to China leadership.
This attack was executed in the following manner:
via GitHub suffers ‘largest DDoS’ attack in site’s history | ZDNet.
Despite a good deal of articles the common media (WSJ, Bloomberg, etc..) and political response has been lacking compared to the response and support provided to Sony.
My true concern here is that this minor attack (only a few citizens of China are unknowingly having their traffic used to attack a small technology company) is an excellent BETA TEST for a full scale modification of all 1.4B Chinese citizen traffic against critical infrastructure (46% of population was used for GibHub).
The advent of user created, managed and handled passwords as the sole means of authenticating is coming to an end. The utility of these was defined in an era based on assumptions of brute force capability, system computing power and pro-active security teams. – After much debate and analysis … there is the thesis
This topic came up for me last year as I was working through some large amorphous business processes. The question of credentials was raised, and we challenged it. This is interesting as we had some pretty serious brains in the room from the house of auditing, security, risk, and business leaders. I am sharing my thoughts here to seek input and additional alternate perspectives – seeking more ‘serious brains’.
I will update as feedback comes in … this and other posts will serve as workspaces to share the analysis and perspectives to consider. I am breaking this topic across different posts to allow for edits and pointed (critical perhaps) feedback on a topic basis. This is LIVE research, so understand impressions today may change tomorrow based on information and insight. Looking forward to collaborating, and with that … lets jump right in!
Passwords are designed to restrict access by establishing confirmation that the entity accessing the system is in-fact authorized. This is achieved by authenticating that user. Passwords / pass phrases have been the ready steady tool. The challenges to this once golden child cross the entire sphere, and I’ll be seeking your collaboration through the journey up to my RSA presentation in SFO at the end of February 2013!
- False premise one – Passwords are good because they cannot be cracked
- False premise two – Password strength should transcend devices – mobile, tablets (iPad, surface)
- False premise three – Password control objectives are disassociated from the origination and intent
FALSE PREMISE ONE: (Updated Jan.31.2013)
- Passwords are great because they are difficult to break?
The idea here is that users are trained (continuously) to use complex, difficult, long, and unique passwords. The concept was that these attributes made it difficult for a password to be broken.
Lets explore what that meant… When a password was X characters long using Y variety of symbols it would take a computer Z time to break it. Pretty straight forward. (This example drawn is for a password hash that is being brute force attacked offline) This analogy and logic is also true with encryption, but it is based on poor premise:
- Password cracking CPU cycles for a single machine are far more powerful than yesteryear, AND if we focus ONLY only on computing power, well the use of Cloud Armies to attack represent the new advantage for the cracking team
- Password cracking by comparison pretty much made the CPU argument (and length of time to hack) moot. There exists databases FULL of every single password hash (for each type of encryption / hash approach) that can be compared against recovered passwords – think 2 excel tables .. search for hash in column A and find real world password in column B.
Interesting selective supporting facts:
- A $3000 computer running appropriate algorithms can make 33 billion password guesses every second with a tool such as whitepixel
- A researcher from Carnegie Mellon developed an algorithm designed for cracking long passwords that are made up of combined set of words in a phrase (a common best practice advice) – “Rao’s algorithm makes guesses by combining words and phrases from password-cracking databases into grammatically correct phrases.” This is research is being presented in San Antonio at the “Conference on Data and Application Security & Privacy” – New Scientist
Humans also pick awful passwords …
- Based on habit
- We trend towards the same passwords
- Based on grammer
- Our punctuation and writing habits also lend towards identification and passwords
To be continued ….. Part 2 and 3 will be shared soon, looking forward to more collaboration!
Keep seeking, everything.
– James DeLuccia IV
Posted in audit, Security
Tagged 2013, best practices, cfp, china, Compliance, cybersecurity, it compliance and controls, IT Controls, james deluccia, jdeluccia, passwords, rsa conference, rsac, Security
I read a short section in Bruce Schneier’s book Liars and Outliers that tells the tale of Jamaica Ginger:
“an epidemic of paralysis occurred as a result of Jamaica Ginger… it was laced with a nerve poison… and the company was vilified”, but not until 10s of thousands were victims, this resulted in the creation of the FDA.
To date, throughout most industries there is no absolute requirement with meaningful incentives to introduce and sustain operational information technology safeguards. There are isolated elements focused on particular threats and fraud (such as, PCI for the credit card industry, CIP for the Energy sector, etc…). So what will result in the Jamaica Ginger of information security?
Some portend that a cyber-war (a real one) that creates such societal disruption; a long enough sustained negative impact to survive the policy development process, and driven enough motivation to be complete. OSHA, FDA, and other such entities exist as a result of such events.
The best action enterprises can follow is to mature and engage sufficient operations that address their information technology concerns in the marketplace. As a means of self preservation; selfish (perhaps) demonstration of a need to NOT have legislation or a body established (such as the Federal Security Bureau), and ultimately preparedness should such a requirement be introduced the changes to your business would be incremental at best.
Posted in audit, Compliance, IT Controls
Tagged 2013, best practices, china, Compliance, cybersecurity, europe, fines, fisma, it compliance and controls, IT Controls, james deluccia, jdeluccia, pci, PCI DSS, regulation, Security
A malware executed attack was highlighted by ActivClient that provides technology for secure authentication (smart cards to comply with the GSC-IS 2.1). The attack is described in detail in a number of sites, such as Security Week here, and I would encourage reading the explanation of the attack by AlienVault here.
What is interesting here and relevant to all security practitioners and sectors is that cryptography at some levels can be made irrelevant. The immense sophistication of the crytography and hardware manufacturing placed within these keycards and their infrastructure, in this case, are countered simply by capturing the pin that is associated with the key. That allows an attacker to access the protected resources the card was designed to restrict. Specifically the attack works because the attacker gets the PIN through a key logger, then binds it to the local computers certificate, and finally attacks remote resources protected by key card whenever the card is connected.
In all, a pretty elegant way of defeating what would be a complex and low-return attack vector (hacking the crytography).
The takeaway is that, as always it seems, the old assumptions that hardware / cryptography / and standard processes are enough is wrong. A practice of continually evaluating the impact of new attack types (variants) and the new ability of attacker. Plus, the recent ongoing attack on the underlying security safeguards as a means of attacking an organization has reached a critical level. In the past 12 months anti-virus source code has been stolen; 2 factor authentication tokens perceived as insecure due to the RSA breach; Certificate Authorities breached and poisoned, and this demonstration of bypassing card security.
The malware yes, could be detected through malware and behavioral IPS type technology on the network and host. The increased activity / parallel queries of a user could yes be detected. The vulnerabilities allowing the installation in this particular case could also be patched. The result though is still an ongoing need to evolve security practices; monitor and respond rapidly to suspect activity, and reduce / limit access as much as possible.
Other thoughts and avenues?
James DeLuccia IV
Posted in Security
Tagged 2012, attack, best practices, china, cybersecurity, data breaches, fisma, GSC-IS, it compliance and controls, IT Controls, james deluccia, PCI DSS, regulation, rsa, smartcards, sykipot
The ability to attack, compromise, and cause damage has existed since the utility industry began connecting these systems on the Internet. Examples, including the European nation that was attacked 24+ months ago, are easy to locate. Yesterday an attack (more proof of concept than anything it could have really been) occurred. The current public awareness of cyber attacks, the nation state theater risks, and transparency of this action has raised the resulting awareness beyond the closed professional circles within Information Security. There is a number of interesting writeups and I would suggest carefully reading a few for a balanced perspective. Two that I would recommend include:
What this means for your Utility company is that the abstract threat modeling exercise that considers these attack vectors should be conducted more thoroughly with real risk and mitigation decisions progressing up to the Board of Directors.
As for everyone else who is a customer of such utility companies, the BCP/DR plans should be updated to reflect the possibility of such a loss of services. Business enterprise information security / risk management programs (+vendor management) should elevate utility service providers (including cellular operators). These actions should directly impact the annual/ongoing risk assessments and establish an expectation of security assessment and assurance on a regular basis from these service providers.
It is an interesting quandry that Cloud service providers are vetted and assessed more rigorously than that of Utility service providers, the original cloud.
Thoughts .. challenges?
James DeLuccia iV
Posted in Compliance
Tagged 2011, best practices, china, cloud computing, cybersecurity, data breaches, europe, it compliance and controls, IT Controls, james deluccia, PCI DSS, risk management, scada, Security, vendor management, virtualization