Monday, 25 February 2013

The Sky Falling, NOT!

FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.  It seems to drive the product segment of the security market, and it really annoys me.  The sky is falling.  Cybercrime is rampant.  And on, and on, and on...

Let's dial the emotion down, and look at the underlying premise.  How safe online are we really?

As I look out my window, the sky is not falling, it is a beautiful blue.  However there are a few clouds and it may rain tomorrow.  If the doomsayers were in the weather industry instead, they would be telling us all the carry umbrellas at all times, wear raincoats just in case, and take out lightning protection insurance.  I don't see anyone on the street taking these sort of precautions, because they are all able to make a sensible assessment of the likelihood of rain.  Unfortunately they are not able to make a similar sensible assessment on the likelihood of a security compromise, so they worry.  And worry is the marketing tool of choice.

Cybercrime is certainly a problem, but the main problem is the "cyber" prefix.  Cybercrime is just crime.  We don't talk about transport-crime when a thief uses a car as a getaway vehicle.  We don't call it powertool-crime when a safe is cracked.  So why make such a big deal about the enabling technology?  Everything is online now, so everything is "cyber", so let's stop using the word.  People have been stealing from each other since they first decided to pile rocks up in a cave, and it is not much different today.  The majority of crime is theft and fraud, and this is a very rare event in everyday life.  It does happen.  It will continue to happen.  It may be a large absolute value, as much as hundreds of millions of dollars, but the world economy is in the hundreds of trillions, and if we've got crime down to below 0.0001% then we should be pleased about it, not worried by it.

I grew up in a small country town, where everyone knew everyone, and people didn't lock their doors.  Today the same town is much larger, unknown people are the majority, and everyone locks their doors.  In the online world, we are now in the large town, but still acting like we are in the small one.  We need to take sensible precautions against the bad guys, but not spend all our days worrying about them.  And at least know where your umbrella is!

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer

Monday, 18 February 2013

Information Security Themes for 2013

Everyone else is making predictions as to what will be the important information security trends in 2013.  I think they are all wrong.  Not because the writers are uninformed, just because they are unimaginative.  It’s easy to look to the past, draw a line through the dots, scale it up and to the right, and predict the future.  Except these sort of predictions are safe, boring and they never allow for disruptive events.

Here are a few of the safe predictions that others have made:

·         mobile malware will increase

·         state sponsored attacks will increase

·         malware will get smarter

·         hactivists will get smarter

·         IPv6 security will matter

I agree with all of them, but then who wouldn’t.  Up and to the right.  And nearly everyone making these predictions sells something to mitigate them.

So what do I think the themes for 2013 will be?  I have only one information security theme that I think really matters.  Only one theme that will confound the industry, and add to the number of grey hairs sported by CIOs.  Only one theme we cannot avoid, even though we are really trying to do so.


Everything else pales in comparison.  It really is back to basics.  2012 was the year that we saw more password dumps than ever before.  It was the year the hash-smashing as a service became mainstream, and not just performed by spooky government agencies.  It was the year that we saw a mobile version of the Zeus crime-ware toolkit to attack SMS two factor authentication.  It was the year logging into sites via Facebook became the norm, and not the exception.

And these are all symptoms of an underlying problem.  Passwords suck.  Passphrases are just long passwords, and they also suck.  Every two factor scheme out there really sucks – mostly because I have so many different tokens that I have to carry around depending on what I want access to.

The problem is that we are tied into the past: something you know, something you have, something you are.  We spend more and more time trying to prove these to so many disparate systems that the utility of the systems asymptotes to zero.

So instead of looking back we need to look forward: somewhere I am, something I do, something I use.

Instead of trying to authenticate the user, we need to instead authenticate the transaction.  And that is a hard problem that our backward looking way of thinking makes even more difficult to address.  Happy 2013.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer

Monday, 11 February 2013

Myth #10: We have a security plan

We have a security plan, and I can point you to the binder that contains it.  It’s got all the sections that the consultants told us we needed: policy, risk management, personnel security, information classification, incident management and BCP.  So we must be secure!

No doubt the magic binder is in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.

Plans that exist only for compliance purposes aren’t functional, and quite literally aren’t worth the paper they are written on.  No-one knows about them, no-one follows them, no-one keeps them up to date.  The only thing that they really are useful for is waving at clueless auditors.

That said, we have a security plan at CQR.  Actually we have a security management system certified to ISO 27001.  But you’d expect that of a security company.  This is because we practice what we preach.

So here’s the preaching: security plans only work if they are part of the day to day operations.  If they are just what you do, not what you drag out to appease the auditors, then practical and pragmatic plans really do add value.  I know it’s a cliché, but security really is a journey, not a destination, with a security plan being the map.

With a good plan, security is easy and this myth is confirmed.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer

Monday, 4 February 2013

Myth #9: We trust our staff

We are secure because we trust our staff.  We have a solid awareness programme, and after all, security is only a problem on the Internet.  If only it were true.

We might imagine that the most common internal attackers are the IT staff as they have full and unrestricted access to all of our systems.  As Microsoft wisely said in their 10 Immutable Laws of Security, a computer is only as secure as the administrator is trustworthy.

But system administrators aren’t the only insiders with means, motive and opportunity.

The Verizon 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report looked at the type of role held by internal attackers.  The results are eye opening.  While 6% of breaches were due to system administrators, 12% were by regular employees, 15% by managers and even 3% by executive management!

The truth is that trust must be earned, never expected.  All insiders have means and opportunity, all they need is motive.

To lower the risk, wise businesses perform background checks for new employees moving into sensitive positions, apply appropriate segregation of duties to lower the potential for attack, and then implement good detective controls to catch it if and when it happens.

If you trust but verify, then this myth is plausible.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer