Friday, July 24, 2009

Why “DISSECTING THE HACK: The F0rb1dd3n Network” was written. By: Jayson E. Street

Note: This blog entry was written by Jayson E. Street and published on his behalf.

The consumer, the corporate executive, and the government official. Regardless of your perspective, DISSECTING THE HACK: The F0rb1dd3n Network was written to illustrate the issues of Information Security through story. We all tell stories. In fact, we do our best communicating through stories. This book illustrates how very real twenty-first century threats are woven into the daily lives of people in different walks of life.

Three kids in Houston, Texas. A mid-level Swiss businessman traveling abroad. A technical support worker with a gambling problem. An international criminal who will do anything for a profit (and maybe other motives). FBI agents trying to unravel a dangerous puzzle. A widower-engineer just trying to survive. These are just some of the lives brought together in a story of espionage, friendship, puzzles, hacks, and more. Every attack is real. We even tell you how some of these attack are done. And we tell you how to defend against varied attacks as well.

DISSECTING THE HACK: The F0rb1dd3n Network is a two-part work. The first half is a story that can be read by itself. The second half is a technical reference work that can also be read alone. But together, each provides texture and context for the other. The technical reference – called the STAR or “Security Threats Are Real” – explains the “how” and “why” behind much of the story. STAR addresses technical material, policy issues, hacker culture context, and even explains “Easter Eggs” in the story.

This book is the product of a community of Information Security professionals. It is written to illustrate how we are all interesting targets for various reasons. We may be a source of money for criminals through fraud, we might have computing resources that can be used to launch attacks on someone else, or we may be responsible for protecting valuable information. The reasons we are attacked are legion – and so are the ways we are attacked. Our goal is to raise awareness in a community of people who are under-served. Few of us really want dry lectures about how we should act to protect ourselves. But stories of criminals, corporate espionage, friendship and a little juvenile delinquency – now that is the way to learn.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Verify Your Security Provider -- The truth behind manual testing.

Something that I’ve been preaching for a while is that automated vulnerability scanners do not produce quality results and as such shouldn’t be relied on for penetration tests or vulnerability assessments. I’ve been telling people that they should look for a security company that offers manual testing, not just automated scans. The price points for quality work will be significantly higher, but in the end the value is much greater. After all the cost in damages of a single successful compromise is far greater than the cost of the best possible security services.

I’ve noticed that there are a bunch of vendors who claim to be performing manual testing. But when I dig into their methodologies their manual testing isn’t real manual testing at all, its just vetting of automated scanner results or testing based on the results. In other words they test on what the automated scanner reports and don’t do any real manual discovery. I’m not saying that tools like nessus (an automated scanner) don’t have their place, I’m just saying that they aren’t going to protect you from the bad guys. If you want to be protected from the threat, you need to be tested at a level that is a few notches higher than the threat that you are likely to face in the real world.

This is akin to how the Department of Defense tests the armor on its tanks, and I’ve probably mentioned this before somewhere on the blog. But, we don’t test our tanks against fire from bb guns and .22 caliber pistols. If we did that they wouldn’t be very effective in war. We test the tanks against a threat that is a few levels higher in intensity than what they are likely to face in the real world. As a result, the tank can withstand most threats and is a very effective weapon. Doing anything less isn’t going to protect you when the threat tries to align with your risks; you’ll end up being an expensive casualty of war.

So why do some security companies test at this lesser level? Its simple really, they are in the business of making money and care more about that then they do about actually protecting their customer’s infrastructure. Additionally, there is a market for that sort of low quality testing. There are some businesses that don’t actually care about their security posture; they just care about passing the test so that they can put a check in their compliancy box. Then there are other businesses that unknowingly get taken advantage by of vendors because they don’t know the difference between high quality and low quality services.

So what is the difference between high quality and low quality? From a high level perspective it’s the difference between real manual research based security testing or not. Once hackers have access, they can do anything to your data from steal it, to install back door technology in your product's source code. Its happened before, and its going to happen again.

When a company tells you that they perform manual testing hold their feet to the fire. You can do the following things to verify it:

  • Dig into their methodology and ask them specific questions about how they perform their testing. (See our white papers on how to do that).
  • Don’t swallow jargon and terms that sound cool and don’t mean anything, use Wikipedia to look up the terms and make sure that they make sense.
  • Ask them for the names of their security experts and then use tools like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and PIPL to do research on those experts. If nothing comes up then chances are their experts aren’t experts at all.
  • Search vulnerability databases like milw0rm, securityfocus, sirtfr, secunia, packetstormsecurity, etc. for the vendor’s name to see if they have research capabilities. If you don’t get anything in return then chances are that they don’t have research capabilities. If that’s the case then how do you expect them to perform quality manual testing? Chances are that they won’t be able to.

Remember you’re putting the integrity of your business and its respective name into their hands.