Monthly Archives: October 2016

The IoT brings down the Internet

29 October 2016

Last Friday, a large botnet, which was powered by the Mirai malware, caused a significant outage of Internet in the United States. This headline in MOTHERBOARD sums it up: ‘Blame the Internet of Things for Destroying the Internet Today’.

IoT devices are inherently insecure.

  • IoT devices are, for instance, very often secured by default passwords, which need not be necessarily changed during startup. And for ease of startup WLAN is powered on by default.
  • A software life-cycle concept, e.g. patching of critical vulnerabilities, is in general not provided. With this, the devices become vulnerable to the exploitation of new critical software bugs during operating time.

A single compromised IoT device creates no significant impact on the internet. But if attackers exploit the vulnerabilities of millions of devices and join them to a botnet, it is very likely that this will have a major impact even on well secured critical infrastructures.

We need to save the Internet from the IoT. Strict statutory guidelines are required to prevent the collapse of critical infrastructures. Some easy to implement technical rules are for example:

  • WLAN is by default off.
  • WLAN can only be activated through an out-of-bound connection.
  • WLAN is activated only after the default password has been changed.

A security label for IoT devices is required to support consumers. The European Commission already established the basis for a security label in the ‘Cybersecurity Strategy of the European Union’, published February 6, 2013:

‘Develop industry-led standards for companies’ performance on cybersecurity and improve the information available to the public by developing security labels or kite marks helping the consumer navigate the market.’

Devices which do not comply with the basic requirements should be labeled accordingly. In addition, the vendors of such devices are obliged to take out a cyber insurance to mitigate the impact posed by insecure devices.

In ‘We Need to Save the Internet from the Internet of Things’ published on October 6, 2016 in MOTHERBOARD, Bruce Schneier states:

The IoT will remain insecure unless government steps in and fixes the problem.

Let’s start!

Have a good weekend.

Cross-Domain Innovation: Using a PAM solution for efficient mitigation of Pass-the-Hash attacks

25 October 2016

During the ‘Move Laterally’ phase of a cyber-attack the Pass-the-Hash (PtH) method is often used to jump from one system to another in Windows networks. The best way to deal with PtH attacks is to use only locally defined privileged accounts with individual passwords because the related hashes are not valid on other systems. For more details please see the NSA IAD guideline ‘Reducing the effectiveness of Pass-the-Hash‘.

Using individual passwords on thousands of Windows systems is a really big challenge. In addition, since network login with local users has to be deactivated, the effort for the administrators is significantly increased. With this, the NSA suggestions will, if at all, only be implemented in very few organization.

Today, I participated in a great presentation of BeyondTrust’s Enterprise Password Management solution. Although primarily designed for privileged account management, the solution provides all the capabilities for the efficient management of local privileged accounts, and even with one-time passwords and automated creation of rdp sessions to the target systems. With this, PtH attacks can be mitigated nearly without any extra effort for the administrators.

Have a good day.

IBM Webinar: Force the Bad Guys to Use Zero Day Exploits with Continuous Endpoint Enforcement and Patching

22 October 2016

On Tuesday, I watched the IBM webinar ‘Force the Bad Guys to Use Zero Day Exploits with Continuous Endpoint Enforcement and Patching’.

On slide 3 one could read the really interesting statement ‘NSA: no zero days were used in any high profile breaches over last 24 months’.

Slide 3 - Force the Bad Guys to Use Zero Day Exploits — and Why That’s a Good Thing

Slide 3 – Force the Bad Guys to Use Zero Day Exploits — and Why That’s a Good Thing

Curtis Dukes, deputy national manager of security systems within the NSA, said that NSA has been involved in incident response or mitigation efforts for all ‘high profile incidents’ one has read about in the Washington Post or the New York times.

In all this incidents hacker used somewhat simple technology like spear phishing, water holing and USB-drive delivery to get onto the victim’s networks.

In the last 24 months, not one zero day has been used in these high profile intrusions.

That is a very interesting insight. Moreover, Curtis Dukes said that

The fundamental problem we faced in every one of those incidents was poor cyber hygiene.

The central idea of the webinar is to harden all systems by applying at least all existing patches to the known vulnerabilities, and in a timely manner. For most of the organizations this is a great challenge: Applying an endless stream of operating system and application patches to thousands of servers and endpoints is a never-ending nightmare. But essential to hinder an attacker, who managed to get on the network, in his lateral movement across the network.

If an attacker cannot exploit existing vulnerabilities, he is forced to install hacking tools from his C&C server. But this will increase the likelihood of detection because the attacker creates anomalies which can be detected e.g. by a current anti-malware solution or a well-tuned SIEM system.

It is important to recognize that cyber hygiene shall not be restricted to patching and password rules. Operating systems offer lots of powerful inbuilt tools, e.g. PowerShell, which can be used by an attacker to move laterally across the network. Such movements a much harder to detect, because they are very similar to standard user behavior. Pass-the-hash attacks are another example where patching is of limited value only.

It is very important to understand what threats a security solution mitigates. But it is of crucial importance to know the gaps and to have some ideas on how to deal with them effectively.

Have a good weekend.

G7 sets common cyber-security guidelines for financial sector – Part II

16 October 2016

On Tuesday the Group of the Seven industrial powers agreed on guidelines for protecting the global financial sector from cyber-attacks. At the same time, reports about a new trojan called Odinaff appeared in the media. Financial institutions all over the world have been attacked in the past 9 months. And also SWIFT users. For technical details please see the excellent post ‘Odinaff: New Trojan used in high level financial attacks’ published in the Symantec Blog.

The G7 cyber-security guidelines have come just at the right time. Or, perhaps too late? From the Symantec report one learns that the technology used by the trojan is not new at all. For example, payloads hidden in password secured rar-files have already been used in the past.

It almost seems as though the cyber security groups of the banks haven’t learned from the past: Password protected attachments are potentially dangerous, and should be blocked in the first instance. Never deliver those files to the end-users!

In addition, cyber-security awareness campaigns for end-users had not been effective or had not taken place. ‘One’s mind is the best weapon’, hence well-trained people are the most effective preventive measure in the protection against cyber-attacks.

Have a good weekend.

G7 sets common cyber-security guidelines for financial sector

13 October 2016

On Tuesday the Group of the Seven industrial powers agreed on guidelines for protecting the global financial sector from cyber-attacks.  Although the guidelines are not binding for the financial sector they will definitely make a difference:

Cyber security receives at last the governmental attention which is required to safeguard the global economy. This is long overdue, hopefully not too late because it will take some years until the global financial system has implemented the guidelines.

The initial work is done. Now some more governmental attention is required to ensure international competitiveness at a high level. Lots of work to do for the Group of the Seven industrial powers.

Have a good day.

Cybersecurity is just too much trouble for the general public, claims study

8 October 2016

In report ‘Cybersecurity is just too much trouble for the general public, claims study’ published on 6 October at the Tripwire state-of-security blog, Graham Cluley cites from the NIST study Security Fatigue:

“Participants expressed a sense of resignation, loss of control, fatalism, risk minimization, and decision avoidance, all characteristics of security fatigue. The authors found that the security fatigue users experience contributes to their cost-benefit analyses in how to incorporate security practices and reinforces their ideas of lack of benefit for following security advice.”

We should not be surprised ‘that the public is suffering from “security fatigue” and a feeling of helplessness when it comes to their online security’. Most of the advice for end users in the information security domain is just puzzling. Let me make this clear with an example.

Renowned German Stiftung Warentest assessed 15 e-mail providers in the October 2016 edition of the Test magazine. Focus of the assessment was data privacy, ‘the protection of customers and emails against unwanted looks’. And, of course, usability. Table 1 below shows the Stiftung Warentest quality ranking.

Provider Quality Ranking (1)
Mailbox.org Tarif Mail 1.4
Posteo 1.4
Mail.de Plusmail 2.2
GMX Topmail 2.3
Web.de Club 2.3
Web.de Freemail 2.5
GMX Freemail 2.6
Telekom Freemail 2.6
Freenetmail Basic 2.7
Telekom Mail / Cloud M 2.7
1&1 Mail Basic 3.1
AOL Mail 3.1
Yahoo Mail 3.2
Microsoft Outlook.com 3.3
Google Gmail 3.4

Table 1: Stiftung Warentest rankings

(1)    Quality Ranking: 0.5 .. 1.5: Very good, 1.6 .. 2.5: Good, 2.6 .. 3.5: Average

At a first glance, the table suggests that it is sufficient to use one of these providers (all were rated from very good to average) and security is guaranteed.

Unfortunately, this assessment is very misleading. Email encryption is just one aspect of information security. It protects against cyber criminals, state-sponsored attackers or insider attacks because the information is not readable unless the attacker has access to the encryption key.

If an attacker is able to compromise a user’s account, e.g. through a password phishing attack, he might have full access to all emails, although they are encrypted.

To secure an account against phishing with frequent password changes and the use of individual passwords for different services, is not sufficient. And usability is bad, even if password managers are used. Two-Factor Authentication (TFA) or one-time passwords are the tools of choice to enhance security against phishing attacks.

Table 2 shows the Stiftung Warentest results updated with details about TFA availability.

Provider Quality Ranking (1) TFA available With soft token With SMS With hard token
Mailbox.org Tarif Mail 1.4 (2) Yes Yes Yes
Posteo 1.4 Yes Yes  
Mail.de Plusmail 2.2 Yes Yes Yes
GMX Topmail 2.3 No
Web.de Club 2.3 No
Web.de Freemail 2.5 No
GMX Freemail 2.6 No
Telekom Freemail 2.6 No
Freenetmail Basic 2.7 No
Telekom Mail / Cloud M 2.7 No
1&1 Mail Basic 3.1 Undef. (2)
AOL Mail 3.1 Yes Yes
Yahoo Mail 3.2 Yes   Yes  
Microsoft Outlook.com 3.3 Yes Yes Yes
Google Gmail 3.4 Yes Yes Yes Yes

Table 2: Rankings updated with details about TFA

(1)    Quality Ranking: 0.5 .. 1.5: Very good, 1.6 .. 2.5: Good, 2.6 .. 3.5: Average

(2)    It was not possible to determine whether TFA is available from the provider’s homepage

Only 7 of the 15 email providers allow the use of a second factor. The limitation to one aspect of information security creates puzzling results and a false sense of security. It is therefore no wonder that consumers show the ‘characteristics of security fatigue’.

TFA with soft tokens is under normal conditions activated within seconds, and very easy to use. From my point of view, service providers should create the needed attention and force the use of TFA. It is not sufficient to notify the users of new waves of phishing attacks.

Have a good weekend.