Federal CIO Council’s Guidelines on Security and Social Media

Posted September 17th, 2009 by

I got an email today from the author who said that it’s now officially on the street: Guidelines for Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies, v1.0.  I’m listed as a reviewer/contributor, which means that maybe I have some good ideas from time to time or that I know some people who know people.  =)

Abstract: The use of social media for federal services and interactions is growing tremendously, supported by initiatives from the administration, directives from government leaders, and demands from the public. This situation presents both opportunity and risk. Guidelines and recommendations for using social media technologies in a manner that minimizes the risk are analyzed and presented in this document.

This document is intended as guidance for any federal agency that uses social media services to collaborate and communicate among employees, partners, other federal agencies, and the public.

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, The Guerilla CISO | No Comments »

Communicating the Value of Security Seminar Preview

Posted July 17th, 2009 by

Actually this is all a little bit strange to comprehend, I’m not sure I get it all, but here goes…

So my friend Michael Santarcangelo sold his palatial estate, put his wordly posessions in storage somewhere in upstate NY state, and packed up his family in an RV and is travelling around the US giving a series of seminars on “Communicating the Value of Security”.  I’ve met Michael, and he’s not a patchouli-smelling hippie looking for inner truth or some kind of weird traveling salesman, he’s just a really smart guy who’s passionate about what he does.

And he’s coming to Northern Virginia on the 25th to bring you BBQ, pool, and a seminar on how to communicate with non-security folks.  There’s a trivial cost to pay for the food.  It’s also a family event, and there’s no extra cost for your family to come along, although when Michael sees how much my teenage daughters eat, he’ll probably charge me at least an extra $50 bucks.

Get the full set of information here.  Sign up and give it a try.

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, Speaking | No Comments »

OWASP AppSec Conference 09

Posted July 16th, 2009 by

It’s a global-scale conference. It’s in DC November 10-13th.  Registration is open.  I’m helping out as manual labor and maybe all-around fluffer of some sort.

The DC area sponsors (contractor companies and non-profits) are noticeably lacking, and I would like to fix that.  If you’re interesting in sponsoring, let me know and I’ll forward your info on to the event organizers.

And while I’m out shilling, the DC OWASP Chapter is going strong and having their next meeting on August 5th.  Check them out.

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, Rants | 1 Comment »

Got Training?

Posted December 15th, 2008 by

So rybolov asked for another guest blog and a hot topic on my mind recently is training. Training in the IT world is kind of like the chicken before the egg argument – every employer whats you to have the latest Security F00$ training but they never want to pay for it. What is an IT professional to do?

So why are the majority of employers hesitant to train their IT staff? Are they afraid they are going to bring new skills to your resume and then you will jump ship to the next “jump and bump opportunity”? Or do they really have funding shortfalls and budget cuts to to prevent you from taking that 7 day Bahamas IT training cruise you wanted wanted to take this winter? My take is that it is probably a little bit of both.

Let’s think about this for a minute. You are a cash-strapped IT Manager at $your_organization_name_here and have limited funding for a never-ending list of training requests. In your attempt to balance training with the rest of your budget, you eventually have to cut training to the bare minimum. If you do splurge and spend the money to send an employee to the latest security F00$ training, the next time he/she is unhappy they might leave. But chances are you have program requirements that dictate some level of yearly training that is required. This situation can also be double whammy if you are in a consulting or contracting role where opportunity costs also means you are not billable during your time in training.

My suggestion is to strike some kind of balance to make both the employee and IT management happy. If you are in the role of government management, consider the possibility of allowing your contracting/consulting staff to bill their training hours to the program instead of going on company overhead. Another possibility to consider is if you involved in IT management in the  consulting/private/commercial sector, consider offering a reasonable allowance each year towards training. It does not have to be huge amount of money to pay for an expensive 10 day conference out of town but enough to pay the tuition for a week long training class. This will show the employee that you are serious about keeping them current in their career field but at the same time put some effort on them to be reasonable with their training requests. Depending on your geographic location, you can usually find job related training locally, especially if you are located anywhere near the beltway.

I was recently faced with this dilemma in my current position. We were told training funding was not available this year and that we would have to wait until next year. After thinking about this for a while, I approached my manager with an idea they bought into. I identified an area within my field that I have really wanted to get into the last few years but the opportunity never presented itself. Since we have the need for this skill and the organization was planning on investing in this area in 2009, I offered to pay my own tuition to attend this training if they would allow me use PTO for the classes. They agreed and I purchased a one-year training package that will allow me to attend an unlimited number of classes from the vendor over the next year. When training funding becomes available again next year, we are planning on putting my training allowance towards travel costs.  In the end, I was able to turn the situation into a win-win for both my employer and my skills set. In a world of shrinking IT budgets, a little creativity can go a long way in meeting your training goals.

Football Training photo by melyviz

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, What Works | 3 Comments »

Workin’ for the ‘Counters: an Analysis of my Love-Hate Relationship with the CPAs

Posted September 30th, 2008 by

No big surprise by now, I work for an accounting firm.  Oh, what’s that?  Oh yes, that’s right, it’s a consulting firm with a high percentage of accountants, including a plethora of CPAs.  “Accounting firm” is so 1950s-ish. =)

It’s my secret theory (well, not so much of a secret now, just between the Internet and me) that the primary problem we have in information security is that as a field we have borrowed heavily from public accounting.  The only problem is that public accounting is different from what we do.

Goals for public accounting run something like this:

  • Eliminate fraud through oversight
  • Protect the company’s money from rogue agents
  • Protect the shareholders of public companies
  • Ensure accountability of actions

Accounting for Mere Mortals Such as Security Folk

Accounting for Non-Accountants photo by happyeclair.

As a result of their goals, accountants have an interesting set of values:

  • Signatures are sacred
  • Separation of duties is sacrosanct
  • Auditing is designed to act as a deterrent to fraud
  • “Professional Skepticism” is a much-valued trait
  • Zero-Defects is a good condition

In other words, accountants live in a panopticon of tranparency, the concept being that through oversight and transparency, people will not become evildoers and those that do will be caught.  Pretty simple idea, makes me think about IDS in an entirely new light.

Words that accountants use that mean something entirely different from the way you or I use them:

  • Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: They’re talking about spending money, I’m usually talking about people doing something ethically wrong.
  • Investigation: They’re looking at the numbers to see how a particular number was created.  Me, I bring the nice people with guns when I do an investigation.
  • Incident: Their version is what I would call an event.  When I call something an incident, we’re headed towards an investigation.
  • Security test and evaluation: To them, it’s a compliance audit.  To me, it’s determining the frequency that the system will fail and if we have a way to fix it once it does.  Remember this, it’s a critical difference.
  • Control: I think their version has something to do with having oversight and separation of duties.  Me, when I see this word, I think “countermeasure to a specific threat and vulnerability”.
  • Audit: An activity designed to prove that fraud has not happened.  Usually we don’t use the word unless we absolutely have to.
  • Technical: They’re talking about the highly-detailed accounting rules.  I’m talking about if you know how to build your own server and OS using lumps of raw silicon and a soldering iron.
  • Checklist: They’re talking about a sacred list that condenses all the rules into an easily-auditable format.  Me, I’m thinking that a checklist is something that will fail because my threats and their capabilities don’t fit into nice little lists.
  • Forensics: Their version is what I would call “research to find out where the money went to” and involves looking at a bunch of numbers.  My version has something to do with logs, memory dumps, and hard drive images.
  • Risk Management: This has something to do with higher interest rates for high-risk loans.  For me, it’s looking for countermeasures and knowing what things to skimp on even though the catalog of controls says you have to have it.

In short, pretty much anything they could say about our line of work has a different meaning.  This is why I believe it’s a problem if we adopt too much of their methodology and management models because they are doing similar activities to what security people do, only for different purposes.

In order to understand the mentality that we’re working with, let’s give you a couple of scenarios:

After-Work Optional Training Session: The accountants not only make you put your name on the attendance roster but you have to sign it as well.  Are they worried that you’re committing fraud by showing up at training that you were not supposed to, so they need some sort of signature nonrepudiation to prove that you were there?  No!  They just make you sign it because they believe in the power of the signature and that’s just how they do things, no matter how trivial.

The Role of Security: To an accountant, the role of security in an organization is to reduce fraud by “hack-proof” configurations and monitoring.  This is a problem in that since security is economics, we’re somehow subordinate to the finance people.

Let’s look at the world of the typical security practitioner:

  • The guidance that security professionals have is very contradictory, missing, or non-relevant.
  • Really what we do comes down to risk management, which means that sometimes it makes more sense to break the rules (even though there is a rule that says break the rules, which should freak your brain out by now if you’re an accountant).
  • We have a constantly changing environment that rules cannot keep up with.

Now this whole blog post, although rambling on about accountants, is aimed at getting a message across.  In the US Federal Government, we use a process called certification and accreditation (C&A).  The certification part is pretty easy to understand–it’s like compliance, do you have it and does it work.  CPAs will readily understand that as a controls assessment.  That’s very much a transferable concept.

But in accreditation, you give the risks to a senior manager/executive and they accept the risks associated with operating the system.  The CPA’s zero-defects world comes through and they lie on the ground doing the cockroach.  Their skills aren’t transferable when dealing with risk management, only compliance with a set of rules.

Once again, the problem with security in Government is that it’s cultural.

And don’t get me wrong, I like accountants and they do what I do not have neither the skills nor the desire to do.  I just think that there aren’t as many transferable skills between our jobs as there might seem on the surface.

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, Rants | 4 Comments »

Backtrack 3 USB Slides

Posted September 12th, 2008 by

Just a quick slideshow I threw together for a class on making a Backtrack 3 bootable USB drive.  I sanitized it for public use, but I figure there’s some reusable content that somebody will thank me for later.

Backtrack 3 USB

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: usb pen-test)

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, Technical, What Works | 1 Comment »

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