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Security is Not, and Should not be Treated as, a Special Flower

My normal Wednesday lunch yesterday was rudely interrupted by my adequate friend and reasonable security advocate Javvad calling me to ask my opinion on something. This in itself was surprising enough, but the fact that I immediately gave a strong and impassioned response told me this might be something I needed to explore further…

The UK Parliament in this report have recommended that CEO salaries should be defined by their attitude and effectiveness of their cybersecurity. I am not one normally for histrionics when it comes to government reports, partly because they are often impenetrable and not directed at me or my lifestyle, but I will make an exception in this case. I think this attitude is quite simply short sighted and a knee jerk reaction to a very public breach that was admittedly caused by a lackadaisical attitude to security.

I have argued for a long time that the security function is not a “special flower” in the business, and that by supporting that case security becomes an inhibitor of the business, restricting it from taking the kind of risks that are vital to a growing and agile business. The only way I would agree to this demand would be if the CEO’s compensation was directly related to financial performance, staff attrition, number of court cases levelled and number of fires or false alarms in its premises, and have that all supported by a change in the law. If that happened, there would suddenly be a dearth of well paid, well motivated CEO’s in the country.

By calling security out individually means the security function will all to easily slip back into old behaviours of saying NO! to every request, only this time the reason given is not just “it’s not secure”, but also “Bob’s pay depends on it”.

This can only work if every other function of the CEO was also covered by similar laws as I said above. Sure, there are basic behaviour laws around financial, people, legal, facilities etc. such that a company can’t be embezzled, people can’t be exploited or put into danger etc.. But this recommendations makes security far to primary a concern. It also doesn’t even take into account the fact that determined hackers will get in anyway in many cases, or that data can easily be stolen through softer, social engineering techniques. Zero day exploit, never before seen? Sorry Mr CEO, you need to take a pay cut for not having a cyber crystal ball and defending against it. Determined nation state attacks? Tough luck you only have a cyber budget a fraction the size of the attackers, back to reduced pay.

I get that many folks are angry with the level of CEO pay and reward in the workplace these days. In the case of Talk Talk I find it astounding that Dame Dido Harding has been awarded £2.8 million GBP in pay and shares after what has to be an absolutely disastrous year fro Talk Talk. That said, I also don’t know the details of her contract and the performance related aspects of it; maybe she hit all of her targets, and cyber risk was not one of them.

This is where we need to address this; not in law and regulation, but in cyber savvy contracts and performance metrics within the workplace and enforced by the Board. No emphasis on cybersecurity, but a balanced view across the entire business.

No single part of a business is the special flower, we all have an equal and unique beauty and contribution to make.

“And the winner is… Compliance!”

real-men-real-men-demotivational-poster-1221782347Disclaimer: My comments below are based upon quotes from both Twitter and The Times of London on the UK’s TalkTalk breach; as a result the subsequent investigation and analysis may find that some of the assertions are in fact incorrect. I will post clarifying statements should this happen to be the case.

I am not normally one to pick over the bones of company A or company B’s breach as there are many people more morbid and qualified than me to do so, and I also hate the feeling of tempting fate. All over the world i would guarantee there are CISOs breathing a sigh of relief and muttering to themselves/psychoanalyst/spouses “thank god it wasn’t us”. Bad things happen to good people, and an industry like ours that tends to measure success on the absence of bad things happening is not a great place to be when those bad things appear to happen far more frequently than ever before.

So it took me a while to decide if I should write up my feelings on TalkTalk’s breach, although I had Tweeted a few comments which were followed up on.

Quentyn W Twitter 1

(that original quote I Tweeted from the Times)

that original quote I Tweeted from the Times dated 25th October 2015

Initially I was shocked that people are still using the same password across so many crucial accounts. After a ten minute rant in the car about it with my wife, she calmly (one of the many reasons I married her) explained that not everyone thinks like me as a security professional, and that I should remember my own quote of “convenience eats security for breakfast”. Having calmed down a little, I was then shocked by something else.  That something else was when the TalkTalk CEO, Dido Harding was on national television looking clearly exhausted (I can only imagine how much sleep she had been getting the last few days) giving out unequivocally bad advice such as “check the from address on your emails, if it has our address it is from us”. Graham Cluley’s short analysis was spot on here:

As if TalkTalk’s customers hadn’t gone through enough, they are then being given shoddy advice from someone in a supposed position of trust that is going to put them at even more risk. The scammers and phishers must have been rubbing their hands with invisible soap and glee as they prepared their emails and phone calls.

Now, the attack it seems did not disclose as much information as was first though, which is good news. So credit card numbers were tokenised and therefore unusable, so no direct fraud could be carried out there (again dependent upon the form of that tokenisation which I am sure there will be more details on in the coming months). Bank details were however disclosed, but again, there is a limited amount of damage that can be done there (there is some I acknowledge, but it takes time and is more noticeable… another time for that discussion). Here is the Problem Number One though; with Harding’s poor advice, many people subsequently (and allegedly) fell for phishing attacks through either phone calls or emails, and lost hundreds of thousands of pounds. TalkTalk’s response? Credit monitoring.

And then we move to Problem Number Two; Why weren’t the bank details stored safely? Why were they not encrypted? Armed with the knowledge of customers bank account details scammers can make a much more convincing case that they are actually from TalkTalk, especially if other account information was also lost (time will tell). TalkTalk’s response?

TimesTalkTalk

Dido Harding talking to The Times, 24th October 2015

So TalkTalk was technically compliant? Shouldn’t this kind of thinking be consigned to the same mouldering scrapheap where “we’ve always done it this way” and “we’re here to secure the business, not help it” lay? I sincerely hope that this episode will at the very least highlight that “compliance” and “security” are two very different things and that the former most certainly doesn’t automatically result in the latter. What has transpired is the perfect storm of a breach, unforgivably poor advice, and complacency based upon compliance and resulted in the pain of a lot of people involving large amounts of money.

If an example like this does not spur you into doing more as regards your own security awareness activities, then please go back to the beginning and start again. Why? I have been accused of “victim blaming” somewhat (see the above Tweets), but if individuals had an ounce of sense or training they wouldn’t have fallen for the subsequent scams and been more careful when responding to email supposedly from TalkTalk. I will leave the last word to Quentin Taylor, and as you carry on with your internet residencies, don’t forget you need to wear protective clothing at all times.

Quentyn W 2

Three Envelopes, One CISO

three-envelopes
The outgoing CISO of a company meets his replacements for lunch the day before he starts. He hands the newcomer three envelopes, labelled 1, 2, & 3.
I have one piece of advice for you. Whenever you have a breach, open each envelope in turn.
The job continues as expected over the months, when the fateful day come and the company suffers a security breach. Just before he is called into the boardroom to represent himself, he remember the envelopes and opens the first one. Inside, the card reads:
Blame your predecessor.
This he does and moves on.
A few months later another security breach occurs. Standing outside the boardroom, he opens the second envelope”
Blame your team.
A few months later, a third breach occurs. With a smile on his a face and spring in his step he approaches the boardroom confident he is going to get away with it again. As he is called in, he opens the envelope, mentally preparing to talk his way out of trouble. His eyes widen as he reads the card:
Prepare three envelopes.

 

512px-Sony_logo.svg
Last week saw the rather shocking news of the Sony security breach that suffered a very overt attack on Sony and multiple days of downtime. Rumours abound around if it was an insider job, the extent of the damage, the rebuilding of the entire Sony Active Directory structure and wiping of all workstations and reinstallation of operating systems. The exact details will no doubt take many months to surface, but one thing seems to be clear; the blame of the breach is being squarely laid at the CISO’s (and sometimes the CIO’s) feet.
One article from IT Security Guru supported this with a quote from Phil Lieberman, CEO of Lieberman Software:
This was a perfect example of sloppy IT security and a CISO that did not implement proper privileged identity management, or a disaster recovery backup plan for continuity of business. The consequences were a loss of control over his environment caused by a focus on convenience of IT rather than the security of the enterprise.

This may well be true of course, and the Sony CISO may well have been incompetent in this instance. There is however a very real alternative possibility. What if the CISO had been very clear in the dangers in this case of convenience over security? And what if the board, or other senior leadership simply felt it was too “expensive” culturally and from the perspective of impact to the current productivity of the company. Sony is a strongly creative focussed business; it is not a bank, an energy company or in a regulated environment, so they are not forced to carry out particular security activities. The ability of their employees to not work as flexibly and without restriction could well be seen as a higher risk than that of a breach (even after the 2011 breaches).

Perhaps the cost of this breach will simply be a blip in the years to come.

The key thing though is that the business may well have accepted this risk and simply moved on, much as they would have accepted a financial risk and moved on. Sometimes financial risks results in massive downturns in business, and I don’t always see the CFO being pilloried on the first day without evidence – that is normally reserved for the CEO or Chair of the Board.

We seem to want to chop down the CISO as soon as something goes wrong, rather than seeing it in the context of the business overall.

Let’s wait and see what actually happened before declaring his Career Is So Over, and also appreciate that security breaches are not always the result of poor information security, but often simply a risk taken by the business that didn’t pay off.

I’m off now to get my PS4 in a fire sale.

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.

photo 5

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

photo 1

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).

photo 4

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.

photo 2

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).

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!

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