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Just say No to Flash, CNN

CNN didn’t get the memo. After all the progress that’s been made to eliminate the requirement for using Adobe’s Flash player by so many streaming-media websites, CNNgo still requires the problematic plug-in, as you can see by the screen I saw just a few minutes ago.


Have you not heard of HTML5, oh, CNN programmers? Perhaps the techies at CNN should read “Why Adobe Flash is a Security Risk and Why Media Companies Still Use it.” After that, “Gone in a Flash: Top 10 Vulnerabilities Used by Exploit Kits.”

Yes, Adobe keeps patching Flash to make it less insecure. Lots and lots of patches, says the story “Patch Tuesday: Adobe Flash Player receives updates for 13 security issues,” publishing in January. That comes in the heels of 17 security flaws patched in December 2016.

And yes, there were more critical patches issued on June 13, 2017. Flash. Just say no. Goodbye, CNNgo, until you stop requiring that prospective customers utilize such a buggy, flawed media player.

And no, I didn’t enable the use of Flash. Guess I’ll never see what CNN wanted to show me. No great loss.

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Business advice for chief information security officers (CISOs)

An organization’s Chief Information Security Officer’s job isn’t ones and zeros. It’s not about unmasking cybercriminals. It’s about reducing risk for the organization, for enabling executives and line-of-business managers to innovate and compete safely and  securely. While the CISO is often seen as the person who loves to say “No,” in reality, the CISO wants to say “Yes” — the job, after all, is to make the company thrive.

Meanwhile, the CISO has a small staff, tight budget, and the need to demonstrate performance metrics and ROI. What’s it like in the real world? What are the biggest challenges? We asked two former CISOs (it’s hard to get current CISOs to speak on the record), both of whom worked in the trenches and now advise CISOs on a daily basis.

To Jack Miller, a huge challenge is the speed of decision-making in today’s hypercompetitive world. Miller, currently Executive in Residence at Norwest Venture Partners, conducts due diligence and provides expertise on companies in the cyber security space. Most recently he served as chief security strategy officer at ZitoVault Software, a startup focused on safeguarding the Internet of Things.

Before his time at ZitoVault, Miller was the head of information protection for Auto Club Enterprises. That’s the largest AAA conglomerate with 15 million members in 22 states. Previously, he served as the CISO of the 5th and 11th largest counties in the United States, and as a security executive for Pacific Life Insurance.

“Big decisions are made in the blink of an eye,” says Miller. “Executives know security is important, but don’t understand how any business change can introduce security risks to the environment. As a CISO, you try to get in front of those changes – but more often, you have to clean up the mess afterwards.”

Another CISO, Ed Amoroso, is frustrated by the business challenge of justifying a security ROI. Amoroso is the CEO of TAG Cyber LLC, which provides advanced cybersecurity training and consulting for global enterprise and U.S. Federal government CISO teams. Previously, he was Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer for AT&T, and managed computer and network security for AT&T Bell Laboratories. Amoroso is also an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Amoroso explains, “Security is an invisible thing. I say that I’m going to spend money to prevent something bad from happening. After spending the money, I say, ta-da, look, I prevented that bad thing from happening. There’s no demonstration. There’s no way to prove that the investment actually prevented anything. It’s like putting a “This House is Guarded by a Security Company” sign in front of your house. Maybe a serial killer came up the street, saw the sign, and moved on. Maybe not. You can’t put in security and say, here’s what didn’t happen. If you ask, 10 out of 10 CISOs will say demonstrating ROI is a huge problem.”

Read more in my article for Global Banking & Finance Magazine, “Be Prepared to Get Fired! And Other Business Advice for CISOs.”

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Streamlining the cybersecurity insurance application process

Have you ever suffered through the application process for cybersecurity insurance? You know that “suffered” is the right word because of a triple whammy.

  • First, the general risk factors involved in cybersecurity are constantly changing. Consider the rapid rise in ransomware, for example.
  • Second, it is extremely labor-intensive for businesses to document how “safe” they are, in terms of their security maturity, policies, practices and technology.
  • Third, it’s hard for insurers, the underwriters, and their actuaries, to feel confident that they truly understand how risky a potential customer can be — information and knowledge that’s required for quoting a policy that offers sufficient coverage at reasonable rates.

That is, of course, assuming that everyone is on the same page and agrees that cybersecurity insurance is important to consider for the organization. Is cybersecurity insurance a necessary evil for every company to consider? Or, is it only a viable option for a small few? That’s a topic for a separate conversation. For now, let’s assume that you’re applying for insurance.

From their part, insurance carriers aren’t equipped to go into your business and examine your IT infrastructure. They won’t examine firewall settings or audit your employee anti-phishing training materials. Instead, they rely upon your answers to questionnaires developed and interpreted by their own engineers. Unfortunately, those questionnaires may not get into the nuances, especially if you’re in a vertical where the risks are especially high, and so are the rewards for successful hackers.

According to InformationAge, 77% of ransomware appear in four industries. Those are business & professional services (28%), government (19%), healthcare (15%) and retail (15%). In 2016 and 2017, healthcare organizations like hospitals and medical practices were repeatedly hit by ransomware. Give that data to the actuaries, and they might look for those types of organizations to fill out even more questionnaires.

About those questionnaires? “Applications tend to have a lot of yes/no answers… so that doesn’t give the entire picture of what the IT framework actually looks like,” says Michelle Chia, Vice President, Zurich North America. She explained that an insurance company’s internal assessment engineers have to dig deeper to understand what is really going on: “They interview the more complex clients to get a robust picture of what the combination of processes and controls actually looks like and how secure the network and the IT infrastructure are.”

Read more in my latest for ITSP Magazine, “How to Streamline the Cybersecurity Insurance Process.”

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Hacking can kill — and cyberattacks can lead to warfare

Two Indian Air Force pilots are dead, possibly because of a cyberattack on their Sukhoi 30 fighter jet. According to the Economic Times of India,

Squadron leader D Pankaj and Flight Lieutenant S Achudev, the pilots of the Su-30 aircraft, had sustained fatal injuries when the aircraft crashed approximately 60 km from Tezpur Airbase on May 23. A court of Inquiry has already been ordered to investigate the cause of the accident.

According to defence spokesperson S Ghosh, analysis of the Flight Data Recorder of the aircraft and certain other articles recovered from the crash site revealed that the pilots could not initiate ejection before crash. The wreckage of the aircraft was located on May 26.

What does that have to do with hackers? Well, the aircraft was flying close to India’s border with China, and according to reports, the Sukhoi’s two pilots were possibly victims of cyberwarfare. Says the Indian Defense News,

Analysts based in the vicinity of New York and St Petersburg warn that the loss, days ago, of an advanced and mechanically certified as safe, Sukhoi 30 fighter aircraft, close to the border with China may be the result of “cyber-interference with the onboard computers” in the cockpit. This may explain why even the pilots may have found it difficult to activate safety ejection mechanisms, once it became obvious that the aircraft was in serious trouble, as such mechanisms too could have been crippled by computer malfunctions induced from an outside source.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the troubles going on with Qatar in the Middle East, and it might lead to a shooting war. In mid-May, stories were published on the Qatar News Agency that outraged its Arab neighbors. According to CNN,

The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office.

Soon thereafter, three Arab countries cut off ties and boycotted the country, which borders Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. It’s now believed that those stories were “fake news” planted by hackers. Were they state-sponsored agents? It’s too soon to tell. However, given how quickly Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates reacted — and given how hard Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen — this is troubling. Could keystrokes from hackers lead to the drumbeat of war?

Read more in my latest piece for Zonic News, Cyberattacks Can Lead to Real Warfare, and to Real Deaths.

 

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It’s suddenly harder to do tech business in China

Doing business in China is always a rollercoaster. For Internet businesses, the ride just became more thrilling.

The Chinese government has rolled out new cybersecurity laws, which begin affecting foreign companies today, June 1, 2017. The new rules give the Chinese government more control over Internet companies. The government says that the rules are designed to help address threats causes by terrorists and hackers – but the terms are broad enough to confuse anyone doing business in China.

Two of the biggest requirements of the new legislation:

  • Companies that do business in China must store all data related to that business, including customer data, within China.
  • Consumers must register with their real names on retail sites, community sites, news sites, and social media, including messaging services.

According to many accounts, the wording of the new law is too ambiguous to assure compliance. Perhaps the drafters were careless, or lacked of understanding of technical issues. However, it’s possible that the ambiguity is intentional, to give Chinese regulators room to selectively apply the new laws based on political or business objectives. To quote coverage in The New York Times,

One instance cited by Mats Harborn, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, in a round-table discussion with journalists, was that the government said it wanted to regulate “critical information infrastructure,” but had not defined what that meant.

“The way it’s enforced and implemented today and the way it might be enforced and implemented in a year is a big question mark,” added Lance Noble, the chamber’s policy and communications manager. He warned that uncertainty surrounding the law could make foreign technology firms reluctant to bring their best innovations to China.

Learn more about the new rules  facing tech companies in “The New Cybersecurity Requirement of Doing Business in China,” published today on Zonic News.

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Malware in movie subtitles are coming to a mobile near you

Movie subtitles — those are the latest attack vector for malware. According to Check Point Software, by crafting malicious subtitle files, which are then downloaded by a victim’s media player, attackers can take complete control over any type of device via vulnerabilities found in many popular streaming platforms. Those media players include VLC, Kodi (XBMC), Popcorn-Time and strem.io.

I was surprised to see that this would work, because I thought that text subtitles were just that – text. Silly me. Subtitles embedded into media files (like mp4 movies) can be encoded in dozens of different formats, each with unique features, capabilities, metadata, and payloads. The data and metadata in those subtitles can be hard to analyze, in part because of the many ways the subtitles are stored in a repository. To quote Check Point:

These subtitles repositories are, in practice, treated as a trusted source by the user or media player; our research also reveals that those repositories can be manipulated and be made to award the attacker’s malicious subtitles a high score, which results in those specific subtitles being served to the user. This method requires little or no deliberate action on the part of the user, making it all the more dangerous.

Unlike traditional attack vectors, which security firms and users are widely aware of, movie subtitles are perceived as nothing more than benign text files. This means users, Anti-Virus software, and other security solutions vet them without trying to assess their real nature, leaving millions of users exposed to this risk.

According to Check Point, more than 200 million users (or devices) are potentially vulnerable to this exploit. The risk?

Damage: By conducting attacks through subtitles, hackers can take complete control over any device running them. From this point on, the attacker can do whatever he wants with the victim’s machine, whether it is a PC, a smart TV, or a mobile device. The potential damage the attacker can inflict is endless, ranging anywhere from stealing sensitive information, installing ransomware, mass Denial of Service attacks, and much more.

Here’s an infographic from Check Point:

Read more, about this vulnerability in my latest for Zonic News, “Malware Hides in Plain Sight on the Small Screen.”

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My article on digital watermarks cited in a U.S. government paper

March 2003: The U.S. International Trade Commission released a 32-page paper called, “Protecting U.S. Intellectual Property Rights and the Challenge of Digital Piracy.” The authors, Christopher Johnson and Daniel J. Walworth, cited an article I wrote for the Red Herring in 1999.

Here’s the abstract of the ITC’s paper:

ABSTRACT: According to U.S. industry and government officials, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement has reached critical levels in the United States as well as abroad. The speed and ease with which the duplication of products protected by IPR can occur has created an urgent need for industries and governments alike to address the protection of IPR in order to keep markets open to trade in the affected goods. Copyrighted products such as software, movies, music and video recordings, and other media products have been particularly affected by inadequate IPR protection. New tools, such as writable compact discs (CDs) and, of course, the Internet have made duplication not only effortless and low-cost, but anonymous as well. This paper discusses the merits of IPR protection and its importance to the U.S. economy. It then provides background on various technical, legal, and trade policy methods that have been employed to control the infringement of IPR domestically and internationally. This is followed by an analysis of current and future challenges facing U.S. industry with regard to IPR protection, particularly the challenges presented by the Internet and digital piracy.

Here’s where they cited yours truly:

To improve upon the basic encryption strategy, several methods have evolved that fall under the classification of “watermarks” and “digital fingerprints” (also known as steganography). Watermarks have been considered extensively by record labels in order to protect their content.44 However, some argue that “watermarking” is better suited to tracking content than it is to protecting against reproduction. This technology is based on a set of rules embedded in the content itself that define the conditions under which one can legally access the data. For example, a digital music file can be manipulated to have a secret pattern of noise, undetectable to the ear, but recorded such that different versions of the file distributed along different channels can be uniquely identified.45 Unlike encryption, which scrambles a file unless someone has a ‘key’ to unlock the process, watermarking does not intrinsically prevent use of a file. Instead it requires a player–a DVD machine or MP3 player, for example–to have instructions built in that can read watermarks and accept only correctly marked files.”46

Reference 45 goes to

Alan Zeichick, “Digital Watermarks Explained,” Red Herring, Dec. 1999

Another paper that referenced that Red Herring article is “Information Technology and the Increasing Efficacy of Non-Legal Sanctions in Financing Transactions.” It was written by Ronald J. Mann of the the University of Michigan Law School.

Sadly, my digital watermarks article is no longer available online.

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Proposed laptop travel ban is not good news

From eWeek’s story, “Proposed Laptop Travel Ban Would Wreak Havoc on Business Travelers,” by Wayne Rash:

A current proposal from the Department of Homeland Security to mandate that large electronic devices be relegated to checked luggage is facing stiff resistance from airlines and business travelers.

Under the proposal, travelers with electronic devices larger than a cell phone would be required to carry them as checked luggage. Depending on the airline, those devices may either be placed in each passenger’s luggage, or the airline may offer secure containers at the gate.

While the proposed ban is still in the proposal stage, it could go into effect at any time. U.S. officials have begun meeting with European Union representatives in Brussels on May 17, and will continue their meetings in Washington the following week.

The proposed ban is similar to one that began in March that prohibited laptops and other large electronics from passenger cabins between certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa.

That ban has resulted in a significant reduction in travel between those countries and the U.S., according to a report by Emirates Airlines. That airline has already cut back on its flights to the U.S. because of the laptop ban.

The new laptop ban would work like the current one from the Middle East, except that it would affect all flights from Europe to the U.S.

The ban raises a series of concerns that so far have not been addressed by the Department of Homeland Security, most notably large lithium-ion batteries that are currently not allowed in cargo holds by many airlines because of their propensity to catch fire.

The story continues going into detail about the pros and cons – and includes some thoughtful analysis by yours truly.

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The art and science of endpoint security

The endpoint is vulnerable. That’s where many enterprise cyber breaches begin: An employee clicks on a phishing link and installs malware, such a ransomware, or is tricked into providing login credentials. A browser can open a webpage which installs malware. An infected USB flash drive is another source of attacks. Servers can be subverted with SQL Injection or other attacks; even cloud-based servers are not immune from being probed and subverted by hackers. As the number of endpoints proliferate — think Internet of Things — the odds of an endpoint being compromised and then used to gain access to the enterprise network and its assets only increases.

Which are the most vulnerable endpoints? Which need extra protection? All of them, especially devices running some flavor of Windows, according to Mike Spanbauer, Vice President of Security at testing firm NSS Labs. “All of them. So the reality is that Windows is where most targets attack, where the majority of malware and exploits ultimately target. So protecting your Windows environment, your Windows users, both inside your businesses as well as when they’re remote is the core feature, the core component.”

Roy Abutbul, Co-Founder and CEO of security firm Javelin Networks, agreed. “The main endpoints that need the extra protection are those endpoints that are connected to the [Windows] domain environment, as literally they are the gateway for attackers to get the most sensitive information about the entire organization.” He continued, “From one compromised machine, attackers can get 100 per cent visibility of the entire corporate, just from one single endpoint. Therefore, a machine that’s connected to the domain must get extra protection.”

Scott Scheferman, Director of Consulting at endpoint security company Cylance, is concerned about non-PC devices, as well as traditional computers. That might include the Internet of Things, or unprotected routers, switches, or even air-conditioning controllers. “In any organization, every endpoint is really important, now more than ever with the internet of Things. There are a lot of devices on the network that are open holes for an attacker to gain a foothold. The problem is, once a foothold is gained, it’s very easy to move laterally and also elevate your privileges to carry out further attacks into the network.”

At the other end of the spectrum is cloud computing. Think about enterprise-controlled virtual servers, containers, and other resources configured as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Anything connected to the corporate network is an attack vector, explained Roark Pollock, Vice President at security firm Ziften.

Microsoft, too, takes a broad view of endpoint security. “I think every endpoint can be a target of an attack. So usually companies start first with high privilege boxes, like administrator consoles onboard to service, but everybody can be a victim,” said Heike Ritter, a Product Manager for Security and Networking at Microsoft.

I’ve written a long, detailed article on this subject for NetEvents, “From Raw Data to Actionable Intelligence: The Art and Science of Endpoint Security.”

You can also watch my 10-minute video interview with these people here.

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What the WannaCry ransomworm means for you

Many IT professionals were caught by surprise by last week’s huge cyberattack. Why? They didn’t expect ransomware to spread across their networks on its own.

The reports came swiftly on Friday morning, May 12. The first I saw were that dozens of hospitals in England were affected by ransomware, denying physicians access to patient medical records and causing surgery and other treatments to be delayed.

The infections spread quickly, reportedly hitting as many as 100 countries, with Russian systems affected apparently more than others. What was going on? The details came out quickly: This was a relatively unknown ransomware variant, dubbed WannaCry or WCry. WannaCry had been “discovered” by hackers who stole information from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA); affected machines were Windows desktops, notebooks and servers that were not up to date on security patches.

Most alarming, WannaCry did not spread across networks in the usual way, through people clicking on email attachments. Rather, once one Windows system was affected on a Windows network, WannaCry managed to propagate itself and infect other unpatched machines without any human interaction. The industry term for this type of super-vigorous ransomware: Ransomworm.

Iturned to one of the experts on malware that can spread across Windows networks, Roi Abutbul. A former cybersecurity researcher with the Israeli Air Force’s famous OFEK Unit, he is founder and CEO of Javelin Networks, a security company that uses artificial intelligence to fight against malware.

Abutbul told me, “The WannaCry/Wcry ransomware—the largest ransomware infection in history—is a next-gen ransomware. Opposed to the regular ransomware that encrypts just the local machine it lands on, this type spreads throughout the organization’s network from within, without having users open an email or malicious attachment. This is why they call it ransomworm.”

He continued, “This ransomworm moves laterally inside the network and encrypts every PC and server, including the organization’s backup.” Read more about this, and my suggestions for copying with the situation, in my story for Network World, “Self-propagating ransomware: What the WannaCry ransomworm means for you.”

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Almost on my way to London for NetEvents to talk about endpoint security

If you’re in London in a couple weeks, look for me. I’ll be at the NetEvents European Media Spotlight on Innovators in Cloud, IoT, AI and Security, on June 5.

At NetEvents, I’ll be doing lots of things:

  • Acting as the Master of Ceremonies for the day-long conference.
  • Introducing the keynote speaker, Brian Lord, OBE, who is former GCHQ Deputy Director for Intelligence and Cyber Operations
  • Conducting an on-stage interview with Mr. Lord, Arthur Snell, formerly of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Guy Franco, formerly with the Israeli Defense Forces.
  • Giving a brief talk on the state of endpoint cybersecurity risks and technologies.
  • Moderating a panel discussion about endpoint security.

The one-day conference will be at the Chelsea Harbour Hotel. Looking forward to it, and maybe will see you there?

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Ransomworm golpea a más de 150 Países

Los informes llegaron rápidamente el viernes por la mañana, 12 de mayo – la primera vez que leí una alerta, referenciaba a docenas de hospitales en Inglaterra que fueron afectados por ransomware (sin darse cuenta que era ransomworm), negando a los médicos el acceso a los registros médicos de sus pacientes, causando demoras en cirujías y tratamientos en curso dijo la BBC,

El malware se propagó rápidamente el viernes, con el personal médico en el Reino Unido, según se informa, las computadoras “una por una” quebadan fuera de uso.

El personal del NHS compartió capturas de pantalla del programa WannaCry, que exigió un pago de $ 300 (£ 230) en moneda virtual Bitcoin para desbloquear los archivos de cada computadora.

A lo largo del día, otros países, principalmente europeos, reportaron infecciones.

Algunos informes dijeron que Rusia había visto el mayor número de infecciones del planeta. Los bancos nacionales, los ministerios del interior y de la salud, la empresa estatal de ferrocarriles rusa y la segunda mayor red de telefonía móvil, fueron reportados como afectados.

Las infecciones se diseminaron rápidamente, según se informa golpearon hasta 150 países, con los sistemas rusos afectados aparentemente más que otros.

Read the rest of my article, “Ransomworm golpea a más de 150 Países,” in IT Connect Latam.

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Save yourself, save your corporate assets, by blocking spearphishing

Ping! chimes the email software. There are 15 new messages. One is from your boss, calling you by name, and telling him to give you feedback ASAP on a new budget for your department. There’s an attachment. You click on it. Hmm, the file appears to be corrupted. That’s weird. An email from the CEO suggests you read a newspaper article. You click the link, the browser seems to go somewhere else, and then redirects to the newspaper. You think nothing of it. However, you’ve been spearphished. Your computer is now infected by malware. And you have no idea that it even happened.

That’s the reality today: Innocent and unsuspecting people are being fooled by malicious emails. Some of them are obvious spammy-sorts of messages that nearly people would delete — but a few folks will click the link or open the attachment anyway. That’s phishing. More dangerous are spearphishing message targeting individuals in your organization, customized to make the email look legitimate. It’s crafted from a real executive’s name and forged return address, with details that match your company, your family, your job, your personal interests. There’s the hook… there’s the worm… got you! And another computer is infected with malware, or another user was tricked into providing account names, passwords, bank account information or worse.

Phishing and spearphishing are the delivery method of choice for identity theft and corporate espionage. If the user falls for the malicious message, the user’s computer is potentially compromised – and can be encrypted and held for ransom (ransomware), turned into a member of a botnet, or used to gain a foothold on a corporate network to steal intellectual property.

Yet we’ve had email for decades. Why is phishing still a problem? What does the worst-case scenario look like? Why can’t training solve the problem? What can we do about it?

Read my story for NetEvents, “Blunting the Tip of the Spear by Blocking Phishing and Spearphishing.” It’s a long-form feature – quite in depth.

Also watch a video that I recorded on the same subject. Yes, it’s Alan on a video!

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Open up the network, that’s how you enable innovation

I have a new research paper in Elsevier’s technical journal, Network Security. Here’s the abstract:

Lock it down! Button it up tight! That’s the default reaction of many computer security professionals to anything and everything that’s perceived as introducing risk. Given the rapid growth of cybercrime such as ransomware and the non-stop media coverage of data theft of everything from customer payment card information through pre-release movies to sensitive political email databases, this is hardly surprising.

The default reaction of many computer security professionals to anything that’s perceived as introducing risk is to lock down the system.

In attempting to lower risk, however, they also exclude technologies and approaches that could contribute significantly to the profitability and agility of the organisation. Alan Zeichick of Camden Associates explains how to make the most of technology by opening up networks and embracing innovation – but safely.

You can read the whole article, “Enabling innovation by opening up the network,” here.

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Your board members are a cybersecurity liability — here’s what to do

To those who run or serve on corporate, local government or non-profit boards:

Your board members are at risk, and this places your organizations at risk. Your board members could be targeted by spearphishing (that is, directed personalized attacks) or other hacking because

  • They are often not technologically sophisticated
  • They have access to valuable information
  • If they are breached, you may not know
  • Their email accounts and devices are not locked down using the enterprise-grade cybersecurity technology used to protect employees

In other words, they have a lot of the same information and access as executive employees, but don’t share in their protections. Even if you give them a corporate email address, their laptops, desktops, phone, and tablets are not covered by your IT cybersecurity systems.

Here’s an overview article I read today. It’s a bit vague but it does raise the alarm (and prompted this post). For the sake of the organization, it might be worth spending some small time at a board meeting on this topic, to raise the issue. But that’s not enough.

What can you do, beyond raising the issue?

  • Provide offline resources and training to board members about how to protect themselves from spearphishing
  • Teach them to use unique strong passwords on all their devices
  • Encourage them to use anti-malware solutions on their devices
  • Provide resources for them to call if they suspect they’ve been hacked

Perhaps your IT provider can prepare a presentation, and make themselves available to assist. Consider this issue in the same light as board liability insurance: Protecting your board members is the good for the organization.

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Last year’s top hacker tactics may surprise you

Did you know that last year, 75% of data breaches were perpetrated by outsiders, and fully 25% involved internal actors? Did you know that 18% were conducted by state-affiliated actors, and 51% involved organized criminal groups?

That’s according to the newly release 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon. It’s the 10th edition of the DBIR, and as always, it’s fascinating – and frightening at the same time.

The most successful tactic, if you want to call it that, used by hackers: stolen or weak (i.e., easily guessed) passwords. They were were used by 81% of breaches. The report says that 62% of breaches featured hacking of some sort, and 51% involved malware.

More disturbing is that fully 66% of malware was installed by malicious email attachments. This means we’re doing a poor job of training our employees not to click links and open documents. We teach, we train, we test, we yell, we scream, and workers open documents anyway. Sigh. According to the report,

People are still falling for phishing—yes still. This year’s DBIR found that around 1 in 14 users were tricked into following a link or opening an attachment — and a quarter of those went on to be duped more than once. Where phishing successfully opened the door, malware was then typically put to work to capture and export data—or take control of systems.

There is a wealth of information in the 2017 DBIR, covering everything from cyber-espionage to the dangers caused by failing to keep up with patches, fixes, and updates. There’s a major section on ransomware, which has grown tremendously in the past year. There are also industry-specific breakouts, covering healthcare, finance, and so-on. It’s a big report, but worth reading. And sharing.

Learn more by reading my latest for Zonic News, “Verizon Describes 2016’S Hackers — And Their Top Tactics.”

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No security plan? It’s like riding a bicycle in traffic in the rain without a helmet

Every company should have formal processes for implementing cybersecurity. That includes evaluating systems, describing activities, testing those policies, and authorizing action. After all, in this area, businesses can’t afford to wing it, thinking, “if something happens, we’ll figure out what to do.” In many cases, without the proper technology, a breach may not be discovered for months or years – or ever. At least not until the lawsuits begin.

Indeed, running without cybersecurity accreditations is like riding a bicycle in a rainstorm. Without a helmet. In heavy traffic. At night. A disaster is bound to happen sooner or later: That’s especially true when businesses are facing off against professional hackers. And when they are stumbled across as juicy victims by script-kiddies who can launch a thousand variations of Ransomware-as-a-Service with a single keystroke.

Yet, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), small and very small businesses are extremely deficient in terms of having cybersecurity plans. According to the BCC, in the U.K. only 10% of one-person businesses and 15% of those with 1-4 employees have any formal cybersecurity accreditations. Contrast that with businesses with more than 100 employees: 47% with more than 100 employees) have formal plans.

While a CEO may want to focus on his/her primary business, in reality, it’s irresponsible to neglect cybersecurity planning. Indeed, it’s also not good for long-term business success. According to the BCC study, 21% of businesses believe the threat of cyber-crime is preventing their company from growing. And of the businesses that do have cybersecurity accreditations, half (49%) believe it gives their business a competitive advantage over rival companies, and a third (33%) consider it important in creating a more secure environment when trading with other businesses.

Read more about this in my latest for Zonic News, “One In Five Businesses Were Successfully Cyber-Attacked Last Year — Here’s Why.

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Manage the network, Hal

Some large percentage of IT and security tasks and alerts require simple responses. On a small network, there aren’t many alerts, and so administrators can easily accommodate them: Fixing a connection here, approving external VPN access there, updating router firmware on that side, giving users the latest patches to Microsoft Office on that side, evaluating a security warning, dismissing a security warning, making sure that a newly spun-up virtual machine has the proper agents and firewall settings, reviewing log activity. That sort of thing.

On a large network, those tasks become tedious… and on a very large network, they can escalate unmanageably. As networks scale to hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands of devices, thanks to mobility and the Internet of Things, the load expands exponentially – and so do routine IT tasks and alerts, especially when the network, its devices, users and applications are in constant flux.

Most tasks can be automated, yes, but it’s not easy to spell out in a standard policy-based system exactly what to do. Similarly, the proper way of handling alerts can be automated, but given the tremendous variety of situations, variables, combinations and permutations, that too can be challenging. Merely programming a large number of possible situations, and their responses, would be a tremendous task — and not even worth the effort, since the scripts would be brittle and would themselves require constant review and maintenance.

That’s why in many organizations, only responses to the very simplest of tasks and alert responses are programmed in rule-based systems. The rest are shunted over to IT and security professionals, whose highly trained brains can rapidly decide what to do and execute the proper response.

At the same time, those highly trained brains turn into mush because handling routine, easy-to-solve problems is mind-numbing and not intellectually challenging. Solving a problem once is exciting. Solving nearly the same problem a hundred times every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year (not counting holidays) is inspiration for updating the C.V… and finding a more interesting job.

How do we solve this? Read my newest piece for Zonic News, “Artificial Intelligence Is The Right Answer To IT And Security Scalability Issues — And AI Won’t Get Bored.

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Look who’s talking – and controlling your home speech-enabled technology

“Alexa! Unlock the front door!” No, that won’t work, even if you have an intelligent lock designed to work with the Amazon Echo. That’s because Amazon is smart enough to know that someone could shout those five words into an open window, and gain entry to your house.

Presumably Amazon doesn’t allow voice control of “Alexa! Turn off the security system!” but that’s purely conjecture. It’s not something I’ve tried. And certainly it’s possible go use programming or clever work-around to enable voice-activated door unlocking or force-field deactivation. That’s why while our home contains a fair amount of cutting-edge AI-based automation, perimeter security is not hooked up to any of it. We’ll rely upon old-fashioned locks and keys and alarm keypads, thank you very much.

And sorry, no voice-enabled safes for me either. It didn’t work so well to protect the CIA against Jason Bourne, did it?

Unlike the fictional CIA safe and the equally fictional computer on the Starship Enterprise, Echo, Google Home, Siri, Android, and their friends can’t identify specific voices with any degree of accuracy. In most cases, they can’t do so at all. So, don’t look to be able to train Alexa to set up access control lists (ACLs) based on voiceprints. That’ll have to wait for the 23rd century, or at least for another couple of years.

The inability of today’s AI-based assistants to discriminate allows for some foolishness – and some shenanigans. We have an Echo in our family room, and every so often, while watching a movie, Alexa will suddenly proclaim, “Sorry, I didn’t understand that command,” or some such. What set the system off? No idea. But it’s amusing.

Less amusing was Burger King’s advertising prank which intentionally tried to get Google Home to help sell more hamburgers. As Fast Company explains:

A new Whopper ad from Burger King turns Google’s voice-activated speaker into an unwitting shill. In the 15-second spot, a store employee utters the words “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This should wake up any Google Home speakers present, and trigger a partial readout of the Whopper’s Wikipedia page. (Android phones also support “OK Google” commands, but use voice training to block out unauthorized speakers.)

Fortunately, Google was as annoyed as everyone else, and took swift action, said the story:

Update: Google has stopped the commercial from working – presumably by blacklisting the specific audio clip from the ad – though Google Home users can still inquire about the Whopper in their own words.

Burger King wasn’t the first to try this stunt. Other similar tricks have succeeded against Home and Echo, and sometimes, the devices are activated accidentally by TV shows and news reports. Look forward to more of this.

It reminds me of the very first time I saw a prototype Echo. What did I say? “Alexa, Format See Colon.” Darn. It didn’t erase anything. But at least it’s better than a cat running around on your laptop keyboard, erasing your term paper. Or a TV show unlocking your doors. Right?

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Listen to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Don’t weaken encryption!

It’s always a bad idea to intentionally weaken the security that protects hardware, software, and data. Why? Many reasons, including the basic right (in many societies) of individuals to engage in legal activities anonymously. An additional reason: Because knowledge about weakened encryption, back doors and secret keys could be leaked or stolen, leading to unintended consequences and breaches by bad actors.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is worried. Some officials in the United States and the United Kingdom want to force technology companies to weaken encryption and/or provide back doors to government investigators.

In comments to the BBC, Sir Tim said that there could be serious consequences to giving keys to unlock coded messages and forcing carriers to help with espionage. The BBC story said:

“Now I know that if you’re trying to catch terrorists it’s really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what – so could other people and guess what – they may end up getting better at it than you are,” he said.

Sir Tim also criticized moves by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic, which he sees as an assault on the privacy of web users. He attacked the UK’s recent Investigatory Powers Act, which he had criticised when it went through Parliament: “The idea that all ISPs should be required to spy on citizens and hold the data for six months is appalling.”

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which became U.K. law last November, gives broad powers to the government to intercept communications. It requires telecommunications providers to cooperate with government requests for assistance with such interception.

Read more about this topic — including real-world examples of stolen encryption keys, and why the government wants those back doors. It’s all in my piece for Zonic News, “Don’t Weaken Encryption with Back Doors and Intentional Flaws.

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Three years of the 2013 OWASP Top 10 — and it’s the same vulnerabilities over and over

Can’t we fix injection already? It’s been nearly four years since the most recent iteration of the OWASP Top 10 came out — that’s June 12, 2013. The OWASP Top 10 are the most critical web application security flaws, as determined by a large group of experts. The list doesn’t change much, or change often, because the fundamentals of web application security are consistent.

The 2013 OWASP Top 10 were

  1. Injection
  2. Broken Authentication and Session Management
  3. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
  4. Insecure Direct Object References
  5. Security Misconfiguration
  6. Sensitive Data Exposure
  7. Missing Function Level Access Control
  8. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
  9. Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities
  10. Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards

The preceding list came out on April 19. 2010:

  1. Injection
  2. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
  3. Broken Authentication and Session Management
  4. Insecure Direct Object References
  5. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
  6. Security Misconfiguration
  7. Insecure Cryptographic Storage
  8. Failure to Restrict URL Access
  9. Insufficient Transport Layer Protection
  10. Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards

Looks pretty familiar. If you go back further to the inaugural Open Web Application Security Project 2004 and then the 2007 lists, the pattern of flaws stays the same. That’s because programmers, testers, and code-design tools keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

Take the #1, Injection (often written as SQL Injection, but it’s broader than simply SQL). It’s described as:

Injection flaws occur when an application sends untrusted data to an interpreter. Injection flaws are very prevalent, particularly in legacy code. They are often found in SQL, LDAP, Xpath, or NoSQL queries; OS commands; XML parsers, SMTP Headers, program arguments, etc. Injection flaws are easy to discover when examining code, but frequently hard to discover via testing. Scanners and fuzzers can help attackers find injection flaws.

The technical impact?

Injection can result in data loss or corruption, lack of accountability, or denial of access. Injection can sometimes lead to complete host takeover.

And the business impact?

Consider the business value of the affected data and the platform running the interpreter. All data could be stolen, modified, or deleted. Could your reputation be harmed?

Eliminating the vulnerability to injection attacks is not rocket science. OWASP summaries three approaches:

Preventing injection requires keeping untrusted data separate from commands and queries.

The preferred option is to use a safe API which avoids the use of the interpreter entirely or provides a parameterized interface. Be careful with APIs, such as stored procedures, that are parameterized, but can still introduce injection under the hood.

If a parameterized API is not available, you should carefully escape special characters using the specific escape syntax for that interpreter. OWASP’s ESAPI provides many of these escaping routines.

Positive or “white list” input validation is also recommended, but is not a complete defense as many applications require special characters in their input. If special characters are required, only approaches 1. and 2. above will make their use safe. OWASP’s ESAPI has an extensible library of white list input validation routines.

Not rocket science, not brain surgery — and the same is true of the other vulnerabilities. There’s no excuse for still getting these wrong, folks. Cut down on these top 10, and our web applications will be much safer, and our organizational risk much reduced.

Do you know how often your web developers make the OWASP Top 10 mistakes? The answer should be “never.” They’ve had plenty of time to figure this out.

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What’s the deal with Apple iCloud accounts being hacked?

The word went out Wednesday, March 22, spreading from techie to techie. “Better change your iCloud password, and change it fast.” What’s going on? According to ZDNet, “Hackers are demanding Apple pay a ransom in bitcoin or they’ll blow the lid off millions of iCloud account credentials.”

A hacker group claims to have access to 250 million iCloud and other Apple accounts. They are threatening to reset all the passwords on those accounts – and then remotely wipe those phones using lost-phone capabilities — unless Apple pays up with untraceable bitcoins or Apple gift cards. The ransom is a laughably small $75,000.

According to various sources, at least some of the stolen account credentials appear to be legitimate. Whether that means all 250 million accounts are in peril, of course, is unknowable.

Apple seems to have acknowledged that there is a genuine problem. The company told CNET, “The alleged list of email addresses and passwords appears to have been obtained from previously compromised third-party services.”

We obviously don’t know what Apple is going to do, or what Apple can do. It hasn’t put out a general call, at least as of Thursday, for users to change their passwords, which would seem to be prudent. It also hasn’t encouraged users to enable two-factor authentication, which should make it much more difficult for hackers to reset iCloud passwords without physical access to a user’s iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Unless the hackers alter the demands, Apple has a two-week window to respond. From its end, it could temporarily disable password reset capabilities for iCloud accounts, or at least make the process difficult to automate, access programmatically, or even access more than once from a given IP address. So, it’s not “game over” for iCloud users and iPhone owners by any means.

It could be that the hackers are asking for such a low ransom because they know their attack is unlikely to succeed. They’re possibly hoping that Apple will figure it’s easier to pay a small amount than to take any real action. My guess is they are wrong, and Apple will lock them out before the April 7 deadline.

So what’s really going on, and what can be done about it? Read more in my essay, “Apple iCloud Accounts Hacked — Or Maybe Not,” on Zonic News.

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New phishing scam referencing a company called FrontStream

We received this realistic-looking email today claiming to be from a payment company called FrontStream. If you click the links, it tries to get you to active an account and provide bank details. However… We never requested an account from this company. Therefore, we label it phishing — and an attempt to defraud.

If you receive a message like this, delete it. Don’t click any of the links, and don’t reply to it either. You’ve been warned.

From: billing [email address at frontstream.com]
Sent: Wed, Mar 22, 2017 10:34 am
Subject: New Account Ready for Activation

Dear [redacted],

Your account is now available at our FrontStream Invoicing Website for you to view your existing outstanding invoices and make payment. You can directly activate your account here:

[link redacted]

Or you can go to the FrontStream Invoicing website [link redacted], select ‘REGISTER’ option and go through the activation process. Below is your detailed account information from our record. They’re required in order to complete your account activation.

Customer Number: [redacted]

Phone Number: [redacted]

Activation Code: [redacted]

Sincerely,

Accounts Receivable

UPDATE MARCH 22

I tweeted about this blog post, and @FrontStream replied:

@zeichick Sorry for the confusion! The email was sent in error from our customer invoicing system. We’ll be following up with more details.

Given that we aren’t a FrontStream customer, this is peculiar. Will update again if there are more details.

UPDATE MARCH 27

Nothing more from FrontStream.

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The cybersecurity benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning

Let’s talk about the practical application of artificial intelligence to cybersecurity. Or rather, let’s read about it. My friend Sean Martin has written a three-part series on the topic for ITSP Magazine, exploring AI, machine learning, and other related topics. I provided review and commentary into the series.

The first part, “It’s a Marketing Mess! Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning,” explores probably the biggest challenge about AI: Hyperbole. That, and inconsistency. Every lab, every vendor, every conference, every analyst, defines even the most basic terminology — when they bother to define it at all. Vagueness begets vagueness, and so the terms “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” are thrown around with wanton abandon. As Sean writes,

The latest marketing discovery of AI as a cybersecurity product term only exacerbates an already complex landscape of jingoisms with like muddled understanding. A raft of these associated terms, such as big data, smart data, heuristics (which can be a branch of AI), behavioral analytics, statistics, data science, machine learning and deep learning. Few experts agree on exactly what those terms mean, so how can consumers of the solutions that sport these fancy features properly understand what those things are?

Machine Learning: The More Intelligent Artificial Intelligence,” the second installment, picks up by digging into pattern recognition. Specifically, the story is about when AI software can discern patterns based on its own examination of raw data. Sean also digs into deep learning:

Deep Learning (also known as deep structured learning, hierarchical learning or deep machine learning) is a branch of machine learning based on a set of algorithms that attempt to model high level abstractions in data by using a deep graph with multiple processing layers, composed of multiple linear and non-linear transformations.

In the conclusion, “The Actual Benefits of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning,” Sean brings it home to your business. How you can tell if an AI solution is real? How can you tell what it really does? That means going beyond the marketing material’s attempts to obfuscate:

The bottom line on AI-based technologies in the security world: Whether it’s called machine learning or some flavor of analytics, look beyond the terminology – and the oooh, ahhh hype of artificial intelligence – to see what the technology does. As the saying goes, pay for the steak – not the artificial intelligent marketing sizzle.

It was a pleasure working on this series with Sean, and we hope you enjoy reading it.

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The Russians are hacking! One if by phishing, two if by Twitter

Was the Russian government behind the 2004 theft of data on about 500 million Yahoo subscribers? The U.S. Justice Department thinks so: It accused two Russian intelligence officers of directing the hacking efforts, and also named two hackers as being part of the conspiracy to steal the data.

According to Mary B. McCord, Acting Assistant Attorney General,

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions. Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere.

Ms. McCord added that scheme targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including security staff, diplomats and military personnel. “They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities,” she said.

From a technological perspective, the hackers first broke into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services. From there, they harvested information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts.

The harm? The hackers, explained Ms. McCord, were hired to gather information for the FSB officers — classic espionage. However, they quietly went farther to steal financial information, such as gift card and credit card numbers, from users’ email accounts — and also use millions of stolen Yahoo accounts to set up an email spam scheme.

You can read more about this — and also about Twitter hacking in the escalating war-of-words between Turkey and the Netherlands. See my post for Zonic News, “State-Sponsored Hacking? Activists Who Support A Cause? Both? Neither?

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Look out iOS, Android and IoT, here comes the CIA, says WikiLeaks

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency can spy on mobile phones. That includes Android and iPhone, and also monitor the microphones on smart home devices like televisions.

This week’s disclosure of CIA programs by WikiLeaks has been billed as the largest-ever publication of confidential documents from the American spy agency. The document dump will appear in pieces; the first installment has 8,761 documents and files from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, says WikiLeaks. According to WikiLeaks, the CIA malware and hacking tools are built by EDG (Engineering Development Group), a software development group within the CIA’s Directorate for Digital Innovation. WikiLeaks says the EDG is responsible for the development, testing and operational support of all backdoors, exploits, malicious payloads, trojans, viruses and any other kind of malware used by the CIA.

Another part of the program, code-named “Weeping Angel,” turns smart TVs into secret microphones. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode. The owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

According to the New York Times, the CIA has refused to explicitly confirm the authenticity of the documents. however, the government strongly implied their authenticity when the agency put out a statement to defend its work and chastise WikiLeaks, saying the disclosures “equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm.”

The WikiLeaks data dump talked about efforts to infect and control non-mobile systems. That includes desktops, notebooks and servers running Windows, Linux, Mac OS and Unix. The malware is distributed in many ways, including website viruses, software on CDs or DVDs, and portable USB storage devices.

Enterprises should expect many updates to come from every major hardware or software vendors – and be vigilant about making those security updates. In addition, attempt to identify unpatched devices on the network, and deny them access to critical resources until they are patched and tested.

To read more about this, including Apple’s reaction to the targeting of iOS devices, see my full story, “WikiLeaks Exposes CIA Spyware On Mobile, IoT Devices,” on the Zonic News blog.

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What to do about credentials theft – the scourge of cybersecurity

Cybercriminals want your credentials and your employees’ credentials. When those hackers succeed in stealing that information, it can be bad for individuals – and even worse for corporations and other organizations. This is a scourge that’s bad, and it will remain bad.

Credentials come in two types. There are personal credentials, such as the login and password for an email account, bank and retirement accounts, credit-card numbers, airline membership program, online shopping and social media. When hackers manage to obtain those credentials, such as through phishing, they can steal money, order goods and services, and engage in identity theft. This can be extremely costly and inconvenient for victims, but the damage is generally contained to that one unfortunate individual.

Corporate digital credentials, on the other hand, are the keys to an organization’s network. Consider a manager, executive or information-technology worker within a typical medium-size or larger-size business. Somewhere in the organization is a database that describes that employee – and describes which digital assets that employee is authorized to use. If cybercriminals manage to steal the employee’s corporate digital credentials, the criminals can then access those same assets, without setting off any alarm bells. Why? Because they have valid credentials.

What might those assets be? Depending on the employee, it might range from everything to file servers that contain intellectual property, as pricing sheets, product blueprints, or patent applications.

It might include email archives that describe business plans. Or accounting servers that contain important financial information that could help competitors or allow for “insider trading.”

It might be human resources data that can help the hackers attack other individuals. Or engage in identity theft or even blackmail.

What if the stolen credentials are for individuals in the IT or information security department? The hackers can learn a great deal about the company’s technology infrastructure, perhaps including passwords to make changes to configurations, open up backdoors, or even disable security systems.

Read my whole story about this —including what to do about it — in Telecom Times, “The CyberSecurity Scourge of Credentials Theft.”

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Don’t trust Facebook to keep your secrets

Nothing you share on the Internet is guaranteed to be private to you and your intended recipient(s). Not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on Google+, not using Slack or HipChat or WhatsApp, not in closed social-media groups, not via password-protected blogs, not via text message, not via email.

Yes, there are “privacy settings” on FB and other social media tools, but those are imperfect at best. You should not trust Facebook to keep your secrets.

If you put posts or photos onto the Internet, they are not yours to control any more. Accept they can appropriated and redistributed by others. How? Many ways, including:

  • Your emails and texts can be forwarded
  • Your Facebook and Twitter posts and direct-messages can be screen-captured
  • Your photos can be downloaded and then uploaded by someone else

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s gone forever. Poof! So if there’s something you definitely don’t want to become public, don’t put it on the Internet.

(I wrote this after seeing a dear friend angered that photos of her little children, which she shared with her friends on Facebook, had been re-posted by a troll.)

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The Fifth Column hiding in the Internet of Things (IoT)

I can’t trust the Internet of Things. Neither can you. There are too many players and too many suppliers of the technology that can introduce vulnerabilities in our homes, our networks – or elsewhere. It’s dangerous, my friends. Quite dangerous. In fact, it can be thought of as a sort of Fifth Column, but not in the way many of us expected.

Merriam-Webster defines a Fifth Column as “a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders.” In today’s politics, there’s lot of talk about secret sympathizers sneaking across national borders, such as terrorists posing as students or refugees. Such “bad actors” are generally part of an organization, recruited by state actors, and embedded into enemy countries for long-term penetration of society.

There have been many real-life Fifth Column activists in recent global history. Think about Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt, part of the “Cambridge Five” who worked for spy agencies in the United Kingdom in post-World War II era; but who themselves turned out to be double agents working for the Soviet Union. Fiction too, is replete with Fifth Column spies. They’re everywhere in James Bond movies and John le Carré novels.

Am I too paranoid?

Let’s bring our paranoia (or at least, my paranoia) to the Internet of Things, and start by way of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I remember quite clearly the introduction of telco and network routers by Huawei, and concerns that the Chinese government may have embedded software into those routers in order to surreptitiously listen to telecom networks and network traffic, to steal intellectual property, or to do other mischief like disable networks in the event of a conflict. (This was before the term “cyberwarfare” was widely used.)

Recall that Huawei was founded by a former engineer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The company was heavily supported by Beijing. Also there were lawsuits alleging that Huawei infringed on Cisco’s intellectual property – i.e., stole its source code. Thus, there was lots of concern surrounding the company and its products.

Read my full story about this, published in Pipeline Magazine, “The Surprising and Dangerous Fifth Column Hiding Within the Internet of Things.”

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An intimate take on cybersecurity: Yes, medical devices can be hacked and compromised

Modern medical devices increasingly leverage microprocessors and embedded software, as well as sophisticated communications connections, for life-saving functionality. Insulin pumps, for example, rely on a battery, pump mechanism, microprocessor, sensors, and embedded software. Pacemakers and cardiac monitors also contain batteries, sensors, and software. Many devices also have WiFi- or Bluetooth-based communications capabilities. Even hospital rooms with intravenous drug delivery systems are controlled by embedded microprocessors and software, which are frequently connected to the institution’s network. But these innovations also mean that a software defect can cause a critical failure or security vulnerability.

In 2007, former vice president Dick Cheney famously had the wireless capabilities of his pacemaker disabled. Why? He was concerned “about reports that attackers could hack the devices and kill their owners.” Since then, the vulnerabilities caused by the larger attack surface area on modern medical devices have gone from hypothetical to demonstrable, in part due to the complexity of the software, and in part due to the failure to properly harden the code.

In October 2011, The Register reported that “a security researcher has devised an attack that hijacks nearby insulin pumps, enabling him to surreptitiously deliver fatal doses to diabetic patients who rely on them.” The insulin pump worked because the pump contained a short-range radio that allow patients and doctors to adjust its functions. The researcher showed that, by using a special antenna and custom-written software, he could locate and seize control of any such device within 300 feet.

report published by Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) shows the danger. This report examined 12 hospitals, the organization concluded “that remote adversaries can easily deploy attacks that manipulate records or devices in order to fully compromise patient health” (p. 25). Later in the report, the researchers show how they demonstrated the ability to manipulate the flow of medicine or blood samples within the hospital, resulting in the delivery of improper medicate types and dosages (p. 37)–and do all this from the hospital lobby. They were also able to hack into and remotely control patient monitors and breathing tubes – and trigger alarms that might cause doctors or nurses to administer unneeded medications.

Read more in my blog post for Parasoft, “What’s the Cure for Software Defects and Vulnerabilities in Medical Devices?