Monthly Archives: December 2014

Sony-pocalypse is still stuck in my mind

13 December 2014

The more technical details about the Sony attack come to light, the more restless I become. Although the attacker delivered a high sophisticated piece of code, the impact of this attack would not have been such serious without the unintended help of the Sony users and IT groups.

Samuel Gibbs writes in theguardian ‘While security analysts have said that preventing sophisticated and well-funded cyber criminals from breaking into a company is very hard indeed, researchers have criticised Sony Pictures for its poor data security, which allegedly saw login details stored in unencrypted spreadsheets.’

That’s really bad! And particularly critical in the case of functional accounts or global admin accounts.

Another large weak spot, users who work with administrative privileges or accounts, was exploited for the initial attack.

The big question is: How could we make an attackers life more difficult?

Just a few suggestions:

  • Never use an account with administrative rights for daily work. This also applies for members of the IT groups. Administrators should work with standard user accounts, and switch to privileged accounts if required.
  • Never use the same accounts and passwords for administration of services like email or database server systems and workstations. Even if a workstation account is compromised the server will stay safe.
  • Never use the same functional accounts and passwords for workstations and servers. Functional accounts are often used for managing services of third-party vendors, e.g. the anti-malware systems. Unfortunately these accounts must often have administrative privileges. Different accounts and passwords for workstations and servers will prevent the spread of malware to servers if e.g. the workstation account is compromised.
  • Never use the same functional account for multiple services. Mind the isolation principle!
  • Service specific functional accounts should be defined locally, and only on systems where the services are hosted.
  • Use strong passwords with length > 20 chars only. This is in particular for functional accounts no problem because the passwords are not very often used.
  • Decide about implementing Two Factor Authorization.

That’s it for today, and for this year. I will take a Christmas break.

Christmas Trees

A merry Christmas to you all
and the best wishes for health, happiness
and prosperity in the New Year.

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The human factor a key challenge to information security!

11 December 2014

I returned from a business trip to Berlin yesterday in the late evening. In the morning I presented the results of the threat analysis of a complex application, which we performed in the past weeks, to the application steward. To be honest, I am not fully satisfied with the outcome, although we agreed in a lot of protection packages to secure the database and the application layer. Some of the weak points, e.g. the access from the users to the application server and the distribution of the software to the user Workstations, are still not sufficiently mitigated.

Later in the afternoon I found an email titled ‘The human factor a key challenge to information security, say experts’ in my inbox.

The key message of the study discussed in this report is:

“People will always be the most vulnerable part of any organisation’s information security, because people make mistakes and they are easily manipulated.”

Yes, I fully agree! But software suppliers, who deliver bad configured software, and business leaders, who constantly run IT cost-reduction programs, contribute also substantially to this security problems.

People who use complex software to run complex business processes create more help-desk calls and support effort than people who use office applications only. But cost cutting programs are not aware of this trivial insight. From a pure economic point of view such applications does not exists, although they may contribute substantially to the success of a company.

IT groups are doing a great job in automation of support processes to deliver fast and high quality support to their users. Unfortunately, security suffers under cost pressure. If the number of complaints of e.g. low performance of an application is large enough IT groups are far too ready to define exceptions from security standards. But exactly this self-made vulnerabilities could be used by attackers to get access to the computers in a company…

Sony is everywhere!

Sony-pocalypse -Sony hack exposes poor security practice

6 December 2014

In ‘Sony hack exposes poor security practices’ Warwick Ashford talks about the lessons learned from the latest Sony cyber attach.

‘According to the FBI, the malware comes wrapped in an executable “dropper” that installs itself as a Windows service.’

The big question is: How comes a dropper on my computer? And why could a dropper start itself as a service? Under normal conditions, administrative privileges are required to start a Service.

‘It also uses the command line of the Windows Management Interface (WMI) to spread to other computers on the network.’

This is definitely the most important information. If you are somewhat familiar with Windows computer networks you know, that you can install services on another computer in your network only, if you have administrative privileges on this computer.

In other word, this means that the attackers got access to a domain administrator account. Or a service account which is installed on all computers in the network, including the servers.

All this sounds like phishing and weak passwords, flavored with a missing concept for privileged account management. It’s always the same old story…

If you like to read more about the impressive technical details of the malware see this report on ars technica.

Lütetsburg Park, 53°35'55.0"N 7°15'39.5"E

Lütetsburg Park, 53°35’55.0″N 7°15’39.5″E

Have a good Weekend!

Review: Poor password practices put 60% of UK citizens at risk

4 December 2014

Poor password practices put 60% of UK citizens at risk.

Warwick Ahsford’s report is really alarming.  ‘More than six in 10 UK consumers put their data at risk by using a single password across multiple online accounts, a study has shown.’

But the worst is yet to come. They are using also weak passwords: ‘Trustwave analysed more than 625,000 password hashes and found 54% were cracked in just a couple of minutes and 92% in 31 days.’

Passwords are definitely inappropriate for authentication in the age of cyber crime. The news of the past weeks show that major players on the IT market like Twitter, Microsoft or Google developed technologies to address this problem.

FIDO U2F Security Key

FIDO U2F Security Key

The FIDO U2F standard (FIDO = Fast Identity Online Alliance, U2F = Universal second Factor) appears to be a quantum leap towards secure authentication in the world-wide web. Google has already integrated this standard in the Chrome browser. The second factor is established by a security key attached to a USB port.

Unfortunately it comes to fruition only after login into your computer, phone or tablet Computer, and only for Chrome.

And that’s in my opinion the crux of the matter. In a perfect world, I would like to login to my computer with a PIN or fingerprint and the FIDO U2F security key attached to the device.

A central, world-wide available and trusted identification authority verifies my identity and creates my identity token, which is valid for the duration of my session.

All services like Google, Home Depot, Amazon, the city council or the tax office rely on this identity token. For reasons of security the identity must be checked again before critical transactions are carried out.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

Look forward to a world without passwords!