That was the week that was; InfoSec Europe, BSides and the Security Bloggers Network

?????????????????????????????????????????A lot of good stuff has already been written about this last week with regards to BSides London, InfoSecurity Europe and the Security Blogger awards, so this post is a personal recollection after the haze of too many late nights, early mornings and good times.

Tuesday 29th bought BSides London, and once again the volunteers surpassed themselves; it retained two tracks but definitely felt expanded with the workshops and a new location for the rookie track. The organizers should feel rightly proud of what they have done, and those of you who didn’t turn up on the day (and therefore denied others of a ticket) should take good long look at themselves in the mirror.

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The Danger Zone Dream Team

I had to spend the afternoon over at Infosecurity Europe as I was on a panel titled “One big threat to cyber security: IT Geeks can’t talk to management” alongside Dwayne Melancon and Stephen Bonner. It was only 25 minutes long but I felt we managed to push a lot of good advice and takeaways into it, and the conversations continued afterwards in the hallway. I even managed to get a reference to Kenny Loggins into one answer, something I feel rightfully proud of.

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Joseph & Ian rocking the BSides Rookie Track

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Trying to look young again…

Then back to BSides to see Joseph Gwynne-Jones speak on the rookie track. I was mentoring Joseph this year, and to be honest I found it very challenging as Joseph is profoundly deaf; we couldn’t speak in the run up to BSides and could only communicate over email and Twitter. I advised as best I could, reviewed slides etc, but what was crucial was the ability of his interpreter being able to effectively communicate the jargon etc on the day. Given Joseph wouldn’t meet him until the morning of the conference this would be quite a challenge. As it turned out Ian Hodgetts  did a marvelous job, and was also on hand to interpret into British Sign Language (BSL) of all of the talks Joseph went to. We believe this is a first for an info security conference. Joseph obviously did an absolutely cracking job and I was able to spend some time with him and Ian afterwards talking about what else we could do in the future to improve further. It was an eye opener for me, and an absolute education in how important it is to communicate clearly and effectively in these kinds of conferences to absolutely everyone who attends. At the after party I was able to wear the hoody that was generously given to me by the Abertay Ethical Hacking Society, and feel like a student again (if not look like one).

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Best Personal Security Blog

Wednesday bought Infosec Europe again after a few early morning meetings, (including some scheming and rubbing of hands with invisible soap with the good folks of 44CON at the 44Cafe – I can’t wait for September!) but the highlight was of course the Security Bloggers Awards. Between me and Host Unknown I was up for eight awards in total, and came away with the award for Best Personal Security Blog, again! I was both surprised and touched that I was able to get this award again. Host Unknown didn’t fare as well unfortunately, but I can guarantee that the next twelve months will put us in a very strong position for next year, both at the European awards as well as the USA awards at RSA. Unfortunately Andrew was indisposed to help us collect a Host Unknown prize (that we didn’t win).

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Confirming what everyone already knew

(I have said this before but will say it again, everyone who is not only involved but also nominated for the blogger awards represents the very best of our industry in that they are all contributing their time and expertise to the community; I can’t recommend enough that if you are reading this that you also read their blogs too. Also, none of this would have happened without Brian Honan, Jack Daniel, Tenable, Tripwire and Firemon; thank you all.

Thursday bought another panel, this time in the Keynote Theatre with a panel on “Risk and control: Effective risk assessment methodologies to drive security strategy and investment” (alongside Vicki Gavin, Paul Haywood and moderated very well by Dave Clemente. It was a good, vibrant session and with plenty of questions both during and after the session.

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Inspired by the success of the CI Double SP film, we create a band called “CISS (P)”

A selfie, with a very famous CISO of Restricted Intelligence

A selfie, with a very famous CISO of Restricted Intelligence

Finally for the afternoon I got involved in only what can be termed a “flash mob” for Twist & Shout (as soon as that is released I will show it here!) and then got engrossed in the hallway track with the likes of Shan Lee, Quentyn Taylor, Peter Stephens, Jim Shields, Dave Lewis, Wim Remes, of course my conference partner in crime Javvad, and the lovely folks of Eskenzi and Acumin.

If there is one thing that is apparent form the above it is that any conference week is only valuable from the people you meet there. This list must be barely 10% of the people I shook hands with, shared a drink or said hello to, all of whom influence me to one degree or another. Whatever your thoughts on the infosec conference scene, this aspect alone is what makes it worthwhile. Apologies to anyone and everyone I have missed out.

InfoSecurity Europe is a show that has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, with the education programme improving; combine this with an excellent BSides London Conference, this week in Europe is one to look out for (although next year Infosec Europe and BSides will be from 2nd to 4th June at Olympia).

Why is using VPN so difficult?

mather-_660I was in the Manchester Central library over the last weekend, a newly refurbished space that has very recently been reopened to the public. I was only visiting Manchester, so it seemed like a good thing to do and I have to say I was very impressed with the space. There were computers and interactive kiosks throughout, even the cafe tables had a “Surface” like feel to them with images and documents you can read and manipulate with your fingers. As expected there was free Wi-Fi.

I connected to it, and duly fired up my VPN. It didn’t connect. Confused, I tried again. Still failed. Free, public Wi-Fi which blocks VPN! All I wanted to do was check the viewing figures of the latest Host Unknown video, but even that could potentially expose my Google username and password to anyone snooping; with BSides Manchester just around the corner I wasn’t about to become the subject of someone’s Wi-Fi pineapple presentation, so I tweeted my concern (as you do) and disconnected.

4_1024x1024There isn’t a piece of general security guidance that gets published that doesn’t include the advice to only connect through a public Wi-Fi point unless you are using a VPN. The risk of having your personal details, usernames and passwords transmitted and subsequently intercepted is too high and YOU MUST NOT DO IT! USE A VPN AT ALL TIMES!

Great advice, except that VPN has still not been adopted properly by any major hardware or software manufacturers of computers, tablets and smartphones. There needs to be a built in, simple and ubiquitous approach to VPN now that mirrors the adoption of anti-virus of 15 years ago and encryption of 5 years ago. There are paid for solutions for enterprises and the more technically minded and free solutions of both for the small business and home user. But not when it comes to VPN. No Apple VPN, or Google VPN for the average home user to be able to use with little effort or even understanding.

Where is VPN? Why can it not be made more accessible?

Where is VPN? Why can it not be made more accessible?

The VPN solutions on offer are typically smaller packages that the average person would simply not come across, basically the technology has yet to be commoditised. If you have a problem convincing someone to use a decent complex password, think about trying to explain to them about using a VPN.

Even Apple, whose interface design in my opinion is some of the best in the industry has missed a trick with iOS7; VPN is buried in the settings apps, rather than being on the easy access swipe menu where you can quickly and easily enable it and disable it. And what about the option to have it permanently running, automatically reconnecting when the device goes into standby? I have lost count of the number of times I have been using free Wi-Fi at a conference or hotel only to realise that at some point my VPN has disconnected me without realising it, and I am supposed to be a security professional.

Convenience always wins over security (a wise person once said) and so until VPN is made as transparent as antivirus and encryption (when installed properly) we are simply wasting our time trying to educate the greater population about using it the next time they are in Starbucks.

(Note: the Manchester Central Library Twitter account did respond, and we are in the process of communicating about the evils of open, password free Wi-Fi. Perhaps some InfoSec locals may also wish to reach out to them to educate and discuss?)

NOT another Heartbleed Post

no-heartbleed-218x218But rather a heartfelt thank you and cry for your support! In exchange for not writing yet another piece on Heartbleed (enough coverage by me here  from last week) I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the European Security Blogger Awards.

In it’s second year only, the competition has certainly heated up with a large number of high quality blogs, blogs and podcasts on offer to vote for. There is a good commentary from IT Security Guru and Brian Honan on what it is all about here.  I am thrilled, excited and pleasantly surprised to have been nominated in five categories this year:

  • Best Corporate Security Blog
  • Best Personal Security Blog
  • Most Entertaining Blog
  • Most Educational Blog
  • Grand Prix best Overall Security Blog

(I’m not sure how I got into the corporate blog category, but it’s all good!)

Thank you to all of those who nominated this blog in all of those categories, but with the quality amount of the competition I shall have to start practicing my Hollywood Oscars “really upset but can’t show it that I lost to that charlatan” face when the winners are announced.

One of my other internet tenancies has also been nominated three time, Host Unknown:

  • Best Security Video Blog
  • Most Educational Blog
  • Best New Security Blog

With less than a year in “business” it is great to be nominated here as well, and we have a number of very exciting activities coming up over the next few months.

I said this last year, and it is worth repeating again; this list of nominations represents the very best of what the information security blogging community has to offer. Some of it serious, some of it humorous and some of it acerbic, but all of it providing a viewpoint of one kind of another that is worth listening to, reading or watching. Use this as a shopping list for your RSS reader.

Voting closes on Wednesday 23rd April, and the awards will be announced on Wednesday April 30th at the Prince of Teck Pub, Earls Court.

Thank you again to those of you who nominated me, time for the voting campaign to begin!

Not All Risks Are Bad (even the bad ones…)

Keep_Calm_Big_ThinkThe very term ‘risk” often makes people feel uncomfortable, with connotations of bad things happening and that if risk is not minimized or removed then life (or business) becomes too dangerous to continue.

Crossing the road is risky, especially if you live in a busy city, and yet people, young and old alike, do it every day. In fact it is riskier than flying  and yet I would argue that there are more people afraid of flying that of crossing the road. Hugh Thompson of RSA put it very well in his 2011 RSA Conference Europe presentation when he raised the issue of “Sharkmageddon”; more people are killed every year sitting on the beach by falling coconuts than those by sharks, but there is an almost universal fear of sharks. We irrationally consider swimming in the sea safer (less risky?) than sitting under a coconut tree.

Risk is an inherent part of our lives, and if we let the realities of risk take control of our business decisions we become the corporate version of an agoraphobic; staying in the safe confines of the environment  we know and not ever venturing out to be active in the outside world; ultimately we wither and fail be it as individuals or as a business.
In my experience, one of the most misunderstood approaches to treating a risk is to accept or manage it. Most people are comfortable with mitigating, transferring or avoiding a risk as they involve some kind of act to deal with them, something we are all familiar with. We fix a problem, give the problem to someone else or stop doing the thing that causes us the problem in the first place. However, it often feels wrong to simply accept a risk, in essence to do nothing. Although this is not strictly the case, it is essentially how we feel we are dealing with it. You are accepting that there is either nothing you can do, or nothing you are willing to do to reduce the risk. However, you are not blindly accepting it at face value; rather you are being cognisant of the risk as you continue your operational activities. You know it is there as you carry on your day job. These activities and the very environment you are operating in can change without notice, and make the decision to accept a risk now the wrong course of action.

For instance, it may now be cheaper to fix the risk than it was going to cost you, or the highly lucrative contract that made the risk acceptable is now over and there is a greater risk of financial lost that costs more than the revenue you are bringing in. The reasons for change are often financial, although not always. Your risk appetite may also have reduced or the industry you are operating in becomes more regulated; all of these example mean your decision to accept needs to be reviewed.

All risk decisions need to be reviewed regularly, for exactly the reasons given above, but in my opinion it is risk acceptance decisions that should be reviewed more often, as they are the ones that are made as a result of more transient and changing factors, and are the ones that will potentially harm the organisation the greatest.

tiger__extIt’s a bit like keeping a tiger as a pet – it looks awesome and maybe even draws admiring glances from many, but if you forget you locked it into your bathroom overnight you are going to have a very big surprise when you get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. You can’t accept risks without truly understanding them in the first place.

A more secure cashpoint/ATM transaction?

skimgallery1There has been much written and talked about over the years about the use of skimming devices and cameras being installed on cashpoints (ATM’s for my international readers), their increasing complexity and ability to seamlessly blend into the cashpoint itself. With the card being entered and read, and the PIN code either intercepted with lay on keypads or filmed with cameras, the criminals ability to clone cards is quite significant, and the financial rewards high. Most of us, if we were honest, would struggle to see a sillfully crafted and installed skimmer on an average ATM.

Why are we still so reliant on this kind of security? Sure, it is technically two-factor, with the card that I have and the PIN that I know, but as my previous statements show very clearly, this security can be bypassed very easily.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) quietly announced a new feature last year to their mobile app that allows cash to be removed from an RBS or NatWest cashpoint without a card. Given there has been much research on the fact that people were no more likely to forget their wallets and purses than their phones, and actually become more distressed at not having their phone over their wallet, the bank could see a shift in how people were becoming increasingly reliant on their smartphones.

The process is straightforward; after logging into the (already downloaded) app, and pressing  “Get Cash” one simply types in the amount of money they would like to withdraw, and is then presented with a six digit, one time use PIN. This PIN can also be texted or sent to someone else if need be. (VERY useful to help out friends and family in distress.) One then uses an RBS or NatWest cashpoint (unfortunately other banks do not participate in this scheme) , presses enter on the keypad, and then enters the six digit PIN number twice followed by the amount of money that was originally requested. The cash is then dispensed. If more money is required, the process is repeated and another, different, six digit PIN is issued.

To my mind this is an excellent innovation, and other thought so too, with the creators behind the enhancement, SapientNitro being awarded a Cannes Lion at last years show. A slightly cheesy advert follows…

(Note: at this point it is worth me declaring my interest, as I am an employee of Sapient, the parent company of SapientNitro. That said, I was using the service before I realised it was Sapient that came up with the idea in the first place!)

This works in many ways:

  1. 1: The pin is only used once, so it doesn’t matter if a skimmer is in place, it is recording only a one time password.
  2. 2: Your card cannot be cloned as it is never used.
  3. 3: It is convenient because nights out only involve looking after your phone, not you phone and cash card and cash!
  4. 4: Even if you phone is lost, it is password protected, tracked, and you r banking app is also PIN protected with more than a four digit pin code (it is, right?). You can also wipe your smartphone remotely in most cases.

pizzaexpressA UK food chain, Pizza Express, did a similar thing last year as well, whereby on the bottom of the receipt is a unique code that allows people to pay with PayPal; again this is smart (your misgivings about PayPal aside) as your card cannot be taken around the back and cloned without your knowledge, as the payment is sent directly from PayPal to the restaurant and notification received on the till. Of course every time I have tried to use it the code has always been misprinted stopping me from doing so! Lovely idea nonetheless…

So what is the upshot of this? Most importantly I think it shows how with the judicial use of technology we can keep one step ahead of the criminals. Of course they will catch up, and of course there are other security implications (a rise in smartphone theft perhaps?) but RBS has shown that a relatively small change in their systems can result in a huge change in the security of their transactions. As of writing I am not aware of any other UK bank having this capability (they seem to be focussing on the ability to send payments to friends rather like PayPal than anything else), but this kind of approach should become the new norm.

It is this application of security alongside the ability to truly understand their clients and their needs that in this case has allowed RBS to steal a march on their competitors. I know this simply because of the looks on the faces of my friends when I take cash out of the cashpoint without using my card; it is magic, and they like it…

This is truly a case over security versus convenience… but with added convenience.

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