Category Archives: security

Surveillance Law from Standford University via Coursera

In the past week I completed the work for the first MOOC (Massive Open online Course) that I’ve ever taken.  The course was Surveillance Law which I completed via Coursera. Let me start by saying that this course was fantastic.  The presenter, Jonathan Mayer from Stanford did a great job delivering a series of short lectures that introduced and discussed US surveillance laws from technical and legal perspectives.  The readings were great on that Mayer and the course team choose great materials but also advised participants when to read and when to skim.  The lectures and materials covered topics and news that happened just weeks and months ago; so the overall course was tremendously relevant and informative.

The discussion forums in a MOOC can be pretty daunting.  There were many, many people participating.  I read a number of messages and threads that I felt were off topic and became less interested in participating there.  I regret that now as I later learned that a number of regional, online (Google hangouts?), and over the phone study groups formed.  I would have liked to participate in one of those.  The constant “we’re screwed’, ‘the government is watching us’ attitudes expressed and off topic back and forth in some (many) of the discussions had turned me off.  I realize now they turned me off too soon.

Among what I thought were the highlights of the course:

How to Read a Legal Opinion, A Guide for New Law Students by Orin Kerr was a fantastic read.  Thank you.

Liberty and Security in a Changing World, Report and Recommendations of The President’s  Review group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. I had seen and read this document before but i reading it again in contect with the lectures i got so much more out of it.

– Jonathan’s great red t-shirt

– An archive of all of the course lectures appears on Youtube!

I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in criminal justice or surveillance law.  I’d also highly recommend Jonathan Mayer as a course instructor.

 

 

Good References on Securing Mac OS/X

After reading Thomas’ article on re-evaluating the safety of Mac OS/X last week I finally managed to bring most of my Apple equipment up to current.  I checked all the network devices and updated most of those.  My Windows machines are all current.  I do have that one Mac that won’t run a current OS.  I read a great tips article over at Naked Security about bringing that as close to protected as possible.

Password Managers & Escrow

Five years ago I made a decision to move from PasswordSafe to AgileBits 1Password.  As someone in the security field I’ve always tried to practice what I preach and using different passwords for different sites and cycling passwords (changing passwords every N months) is important.  I looked at a number of different password management solutions.  I enthusiastically moved to 1Password as it offered everything I was looking for.  Early on I used a local database but after becoming comfortable with the product I moved to using a shared database stored at DropBox.

One of the other password managers I looked at was PasswordBox.  PasswordBox offers an application that includes the capability to sync passwords back to ‘cloud’ storage at the developers site and is available for Mac, Windows, and mobile platforms.   When I first looked at this my concern with PasswordBox was that there was no knowing how my passwords would be secured given the applications storage model (i.e stored where?).  With 1Password storage is either local or at DropBox.  The 1Password folks have been called out on encryption (Cult of Mac 2012, Lifehacker 2013TraxArmstrong 2013 ) numerous times over the past years.  I followed that controversy and think the AgileBits team handled it well so I have no reservations recommending 1Pasword with DropBox.

Using any password manager one of the harder problems seems to be keeping the browser plug-in alive.  As Firefox has marched through release after release I’ve had to update the plug-in and recently had to uninstall / reinstall the plugin after the 1Password major version change.  That’s just one browser.  I try to keep 1Password running in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.

Something that I have been looking for as a feature of a password manager has been some way to do password escrow.  That is creating the means to pass on information in my password manager should something happen to me.  The simple way of doing this is to give someone I trust the password to my password manager.  The downside is that the act of giving that password information creates a potentially huge point of friction.  You have to ask yourself ‘Will the person I gave that password to do the right thing at the right time?’.  Giving someone the password also equates to giving them the keys to everything.  You lose the capability to purge some information you don’t want to pass on.  One way around that is the capability offered by an application such as Legacy Locker.

Legacy Locker and other apps like it (Perpetu) offer a service that passes on usernames and passwords that you select to some person or people that you designate in the event that you ‘in theory’ pass away or become permanently incapacitated.  All of these offer some form of credential or service escrow capability.  They solve a very difficult problem that is faced by virtually all Internet based service providers; how to allow someone other than the user who agreed to the terms of agreement and opened the account into an account.

My advice regarding password managers is that more people should use them.  They are an important tool to maintaining one’s individual security on the Internet.  In order to be truly useful across multiple devices a password manager needs to use some common storage point and using Internet Cloud based storage works.  The key to using Cloud based storage and keeping your passwords secure is making sure the manager supports strong encryption.

Remote Access Tool Misuse & Familial IT Support

I read an excellent article by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica, “How the FBI found Miss Teen USA’s webcam spy” about how they broke the recent Miss USA ‘sextortion’ case.  It got me thinking about how many of my friend and colleagues become temporary IT support personnel at the end or the year trying to help their parents and loved ones through their various computer problems.  While remote access tools are a tremendous help in solving these issues without having to travel to someone’s home; they do pose a risk.  Even my wife’s favorite support tool; Teamviewer has been targeted.  By their design these tools are developed to sit and listen for an incoming connection.  If you do use these tools make sure that you are using a non trivial password or pass-phrase.  Try to make sure that the tool doesn’t load upon start up and requires that someone find and execute the program before a remote connection can be created.  If possible move the link to the utility out of the normal applications folder and into a sub folder so that it is that much harder to ‘accidentally’ launch.

Why Security is Hard: When APTs became TPAs

Trying to secure the Internet and all it’s users, content, and services is a difficult job. The Internet is a global resource that supports many different cultures and languages.  The purpose of the various Internet web sites that appear on the Internet vary from commercial sites selling products and services to informational sites about many more topics that most people need or care to know about.  There are a myriad of operating systems and applications used to produce and access those sites.  As if Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) were not bad (or scary) enough there is now a new term used to describe the attacks that security personnel are trying to secure all these operating systems and applications from.  Welcome Targeted Persistent Attacks (TPA)!

The first read where I came across TPA was over at Tech Republic.  During an interview with the Research Vice President at NSS Labs they report:

“The truth of the matter is that an APT is sometimes made up of known exploits/vulnerabilities that are not that Advanced; so the term APT doesn’t define the action correctly. TPA highlights that the actor is going after a specific target such as company X or an entire industry sector like financial services, and will be persistent in attacking the target”

Uhh?  So the reason we need a new category of product is because some malware writer slacked off and didn’t use the latest, most advanced exploit or vulnerability and instead used something that Microsoft already addressed a couple of Tuesday’s ago?

To be fair this blog post that also appeared at NSS labs makes a better case for the new term (TPA that was).  What NSS Labs seems to be talking about here is threat or breach detection.  Of course, there is also a TPA focused Breach Detection Systems (BDS) product buyers guide.

 

Lance Spitzer’s Draft Security Awareness Roadmap

Back in May security professional Lance Spitzer wrote about the challenges facing security professionals in organizing, operating and assessing the maturity of an
organization’s security awareness program
.  It was a good that defines five levels of maturity from non-existent to long-term sustained and metrics.  He followed this work up with a draft Security Awareness Roadmap.

Lance followed this up with the draft of the Security Awareness Roadmap, a graphical representation of the five level model.  This is also a good work.  I had a couple of suggestions which might make it better.

In level 2, the Compliance Focused level I think you should also identify an audience for security awareness training.  That audience should be a group who can help either support and deliver the messages of the training, or a group that the training can reach whose behavior needs to be changed.  In other words that audience should either be advocates or bad guys.

When you look at the deliverables in level 2 i’d suggest that you want to be able to report that given what training materials you purchased or acquired you reached some percantage of the target audience.  This only helps when you reach level 3 – Promoting Awareness & Change.  It gives you something to go to a potential executive sponsor with.  It gives you people who can act as initial champions.

The draft has much of the WHO and the HOW in level 3.  I would suggest that some thinking about that belongs in level 2.

Absent in the deliverables for level 3 is any discusion of metrics about the baseline survey.  This is another opportunity to target an audience.  If your orgainization has a combination of remote and headquarters employees; you may want to start out by reaching just the HQ employees first.  That will likely be an easier audience to reach since you can go somewhere to interact with and see them.

In level 4 the plan suggests that you should “Identify when you will review your awareness program each year”.  I’d suggest that you need to tie such a review to individual campaigns or learning programs.  If you are trying to change employee behavior about password changing or password selection by using posters hanging around the workplace; you might need to look at how you assess that campaigns effectiveness as often as each week.