Friday Flyfishing Post

Posted January 30th, 2009 by

Believe it or not, I get emails from people (Hi Steve!) wondering why I don’t post fishing blog entries anymore.

Well, I’ve been a little obsessive on the work front.  These things happen, or so I hear.  I did, however, get out in early January for some cold-weather fishing.

I have to get out at least once every Christmas break to go fish, more often than not on Christmas Day.  Typically you go to a tailwater, someplace below a dam where the water levels are fairly stable.  Gunpowder Falls is a good fishery for this in the DC area, but I’ve also done it on the South Platte in Colorado and the Row, Willamette, and Middle Fork of the Willamette in Oregon.  It’s brutally cold to be standing in the water, and you have to stop every 5 minutes to get the ice off your rod. You suffer all day long and maybe pick up a couple fish a little bit after noon during the “warm” part of the day, and then everything stops–time to go visit someplace with warm food.

I emailed a hasty trip report to the guys at Backwater Angler and they posted it for me.  You can catch the whole set of photos in a flickr photo set.  I’m especially enamored of the pretty red dots on the adipose fin of the brownies I caught.

Gunpowder Brownie photo by ME!

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Posted in Flyfish | 1 Comment »

Shmoocon: Less Moose, More LOLCATS

Posted January 29th, 2009 by

While our Guerilla-CISO heroes most likely will not be going to Shmoocon due to that “work thing” that always gets in the way, we will be sending a legion of LOLCATS to play.

funny pictures

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Posted in Hack the Planet, IKANHAZFIZMA | No Comments »

Inside the Obama Administration’s Cyber Security Agenda

Posted January 28th, 2009 by

Interesting article in Security Focus on President Obama and cybersecurity.  Yes, I complained on twitter because the “document on homeland security” is not really any kind of a solution, more like a bullet list of goals that sound suspiciously like a warmed-over campaign platform.

Guess what?  Every President does this, they put out their agenda for everyone to see.  With the last administration, it was the 5-point President’s Management Agenda.

Let’s be honest here, as Bubba the Infantryman would say, “There are only a couple of ways to suck an egg, and this egg has been around for a long time.”  Any cybersecurity strategy will harken back to the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace because the problems are the same.  If you remember back to when the NStSC was first released, a horde of critics appeared out of the woodwork to say that there wasn’t enough implementation details and that the strategy wouldn’t be implemented because of that.  Well, they were partly right.

And now there’s the President stating his agenda with the same ideas that people have been saying for 6 years in more detail than what and suddenly it’s new and innovative.  That’s politics for you, folks.  =)  Bubba, in a rare fit of wisdom would say “The way you can tell the true pioneers is that they have arrows sticking out of their backs” and it might seem apropos here, if maybe a little bit cynical.

Hidden Agenda Eats Agenda photo by emme-dk.

Let’s go through each of the points with a little bit of analysis from myself:

  • Strengthen Federal Leadership on Cyber Security:Declare the cyber infrastructure a strategic asset and establish the position of national cyber advisor who will report directly to the president and will be responsible for coordinating federal agency efforts and development of national cyber policy.

  • Great idea.   Between OMB, NIST, DHS, DoD, DOJ, and a cast of thousands, there is a huge turf war over who really owns security.  Each of these groups do a phenomenal job doing what it is they do, but coordination between them is sometimes more like a semi-anarchist commune than a grand unified effort.  I seem to remember saying at one point that this was needed.  Granted, I was specifically talking about the internal side of the InfoSec Equitites Issue, so the scope here is a little different.

    The Cyber Czar is literally buried deep down inside DHS with no real authority, a presidential advisor like is in the agenda would report directly to the President. 

  • Initiate a Safe Computing R&D Effort and Harden our Nation’s Cyber Infrastructure:Support an initiative to develop next-generation secure computers and networking for national security applications. Work with industry and academia to develop and deploy a new generation of secure hardware and software for our critical cyber infrastructure. 

  • We have a very good R&D plan in place (.pdf caveat), it just needs to be adopted and better funded.  For those of you who need a project, this is like a wishlist on things that some very smart Government guys are willing to fund.

  • Protect the IT Infrastructure That Keeps America’s Economy Safe: Work with the private sector to establish tough new standards for cyber security and physical resilience.

  • Ouch, I cringe when I read this one.  Not that it’s needed because when it really comes down to it, every CISO in the US is dependent on the software and hardware vendors and their service providers.

    Something the world outside the Beltway doesn’t understand is that “standards” are roughly equal to “regulation”.  It’s much, much better if the Government goes to industry groups and says “hey, we want these things to be part of a standard, can you guys work to put it all together?” There might be some regulation that is needed but it should be kept as small as possible.  Where the Government can help is to sponsor some of the standards and work along with industry to help define standards.

    Maybe the best model for this is the age-old “lead the horse to water, demonstrate to the horse how to drink, hold the horses mouth in the water, and you still can’t get them to drink.”  We’ve tried this model for a couple of years, what is needed now is some kind of incentive for the horse to drink and for vendors to secure their hardware, software, firmware, and service offerings.

  • Prevent Corporate Cyber-Espionage: Work with industry to develop the systems necessary to protect our nation’s trade secrets and our research and development. Innovations in software, engineering, pharmaceuticals and other fields are being stolen online from U.S. businesses at an alarming rate.

  • Maybe this gets down to political beliefs, but I don’t think this is the Government’s responsibility to prevent corporate cyber-espionage, nor should you as a company allow the Government to dictate how you harden your desktops or  where you put your IDS.  If you are not smart enough to be in one of these high-tech industries, you should be smart enough to keep your trade secrets from going offshore, or else you’ll die like some weird brand of corporate darwinism.

    Government can prosecute evildoers and coordinate with other countries for enforcement efforts, which is exactly what you would expect their level of involvement to be.

    Yes, in some cases when it’s cyber-espionage directed at the Government by hacking contractors or suppliers (the military-industrial complex), then Government can do something about it with trickle-down standards in contracts, and they usually do.  Think ITAR export controls scoped to a multi-national corporation and you have a pretty good idea of what the future will hold.

  • Develop a Cyber Crime Strategy to Minimize the Opportunities for Criminal Profit: Shut down the mechanisms used to transmit criminal profits by shutting down untraceable Internet payment schemes. Initiate a grant and training program to provide federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies the tools they need to detect and prosecute cyber crime.

  • This point is interesting to me.  We already have rules to flag large transactions or multiple transactions, that’s how Elliot Spitzer got caught.  Untraceable Internet payment schemes sounds like pulp-fiction stuff and income tax tracking to me, I would like to know if they really exist.

    On the other hand, law enforcement does need training.  There really is a shortage of people with the law enforcement and technical security backgrounds who can do investigations.

  • Mandate Standards for Securing Personal Data and Require Companies to Disclose Personal Information Data Breaches: Partner with industry and our citizens to secure personal data stored on government and private systems. Institute a common standard for securing such data across industries and protect the rights of individuals in the information age.

  • National data breach law == good, because it standardizes all of the state laws that are such a hodge-podge you need a full-time staff dedicated to breaking down incidents by jursidiction.  We have something like this proposed, it’s S.459 which just needs to be resurrected and supported by the Executive Branch as part of their agenda.

    A common standard could be good as long as it’s done right (industry standards v/s Government regulation), see my comments above.


    Note some key points I want you to take away:

    Nothing is new under the sun.  These problems have been around a long time, they won’t go away in the next 4 years.  We have to build on the work of people who have come before us because we know they’ve looked at the problem and came to the same conclusions we will eventually come to.

    Partnership is emphasized.  This is because as much lip-service we give to the Government solving our problems, the American Way (TM) is for the Government not to be your Internet Nanny.  Government can set the environment to support private information security efforts but it really is up to the individual companies to protect themselves.

    Industry needs to solve its own problems.  If you want the Government to solve the nation’s information security problems, it means that we take US-CERT and have them monitor everything whether you want them to or not.  Yes, that’s where things are heading, folks, and maybe I just spilled the beans on some uber-secret plan that I don’t know about yet.  Trust me, you don’t want the transparency that the Government watching your data would provide.

    Be careful what you ask for.  You just might get it.  When it comes to IT security, be extra careful because you’ll end up with regulation which means more auditors.

    Agenda Grafitti photo by anarchosyn.

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    Posted in Public Policy, Rants | 5 Comments »

    A Perspective on the History of Digital Forensics

    Posted January 27th, 2009 by

    Back in 1995 the junior high school students around the world were taken in by a sensationalized and carefully marketed hoax film called Alien Autopsy. Alien Autopsy was in fact a cheap film purporting to be actual footage of an actual autopsy of the cadaver of an extraterrestrial. The film was marketed as footage shot during the famous 1947 Roswell incident.

    Alien Autopsy photo by jurvetson.

    Well, back in 1995 I was in a mood for a good laugh so I popped up some popcorn, chilled a six-pack of Mountain Dew and kicked up my feet for a little silly entertainment. A couple of friends came over just in time for the show. So, I popped more popcorn, chilled more drinks and we all had a great time giggling, guffawing, and generally acting like a bunch of nitwits having some good clean fun.

    Then in 2005, my wife asked if I could sit down with her to watch something called Grey’s Anatomy. Thinking that I was about to relive a guilty pleasure from ten years before, I readily agreed. Let’s face it, a show called Grey’s Anatomy could only be a sequel to the 1995 Alien Autopsy.

    Well, having been fooled, I shared my mistake and agony with the guys at work the next day. To say the least, they were amused at the story but entirely at my expense. Some mistakes in life should just never be mentioned again.

    I hope that is not the case with today’s comments. Today, I’d like to encourage you all to down load and read my paper on the History of Digital Forensics (.pdf caveat applies). It is based on a paper I presented at NIST’s annual digital forensics conference. However, since the slides from briefings do not read well, I converted the presentation to prose. Dissect it as you think appropriate. That is to say, let me know what you think.

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    Posted in NIST, Technical | 2 Comments »

    LOLCATS and Firewalls

    Posted January 8th, 2009 by

    It’s a sad tale we all know too well:  our poor CISOs are tied down with red tape while the attackers have all the time in the world.  My only regret is that the hakker kitteh isn’t a siamese.  =)


    funny pictures

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    Posted in Hack the Planet, IKANHAZFIZMA | 1 Comment »

    Could the Titanic have changed course?

    Posted January 6th, 2009 by

    Rybolov really struck a note with me (as he usually does) with his blog entry with his decision that S.3474 was a bad thing. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend recently. Basically she ask me why bad thing happen even after smart people put their heads together and try to deal with the problem before facing a crisis. Intrigued with her question, I asked her what specifically she was asking about. She shared that she had been thinking about the tragedy of the Titanic sinking.

    Of course she was referring to the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Titanic on the evening of 14 April 1912. She made two points, first that the experts declared that the ship was “unsinkable” – how could they be so wrong. Second, she wondered how the ship could be so poorly equipped with boats and safety equipment such that there was such great loss of life.

    The Titanic’s Disaster photo by bobster1985.

    Little did she know that I have had an odd fascination with the Titanic disaster since childhood and have basically read much of the common public material about the event. So, I replied that that no expert had ever declared her unsinkable, that it was basically something that was made up by the press and the dark spineless things that hang around the press. However, I added the designers and owners of the ship had made much of her advanced safety features when she was launched. A critical feature was including water-tight bulkheads in her design. This was something of an advanced and novel feature at the time. What it meant was that you could poke a pretty big hole in the ship, and as long as the whole was not spread over several of these water-tight compartments she would stay afloat. The problem was that the iceberg that she hit (the Titanic, not my friend), ignored all of this a tore a big gash along about a third of the length of the ship.

    So, my friend pressed again about the lack of safety equipment, especially lifeboats. I told her that the problem here was that the Titanic indeed did meet all of the safety requirements of the time. And that a big part of the problem was that the safety requirements were drafted in 1894 at a time when there were rapid changes and in the size and design of ships of this kind. Those regulations indicated that all passenger ships over 10,000 tons required 16 life boats, and that’s how many the Titanic had. At the time the regulations were written there were hardly any ships over 10,000 tons in size. However, when Titanic was launched she was designed to be over 50,000 tons when fully loaded. The fact was that if each of these lifeboats was fully loaded they could barely hold half of the of the passengers and crew of the ship if fully loaded. What is worse, when the ship did sink, not all of the boats were usable because of speed and angle in which the ship began sinking.

    So, the bottom-line was that when the Titanic was reviewed by the safety accountants, they took out their check-list and went over the ship with a fine tooth comb. When the day was done the ship fully met all the safety criteria and was certified as safe.

    This is where I see the parallels between root causes of the Titanic disaster and the odd situation we find ourselves in today in terms of IT security. Security by checklist –especially out of date checklists—simply doesn’t work. Moreover, the entire mental framework that mixes up accounting practices and thoughts with security discipline and research is an utter failure. Audits only uncover the most egregious security failures. And, they uncover them at a point in time. The result is that audits can be gamed, and even ignored. On the other hand, formal reviews by experienced security professionals are rarely ignored. Sometimes not all of the resources are available to militate against some of the vulnerabilities pointed out by the professionals. And sometimes there is debate about the validity of specific observations made by security professionals. But, they are rarely ignored.

    Interesting enough, because of the mixed IT security record of many government agencies, Congress is proposing – more audits! It seems to me what they should be considering is strengthening the management of IT security and moving from security audits often performed by unqualified individuals and teams toward security assessments conducted by security professionals. And since professionals are conducting these proposed assessments, they should be required to comment on the seriousness of deficiencies and possible mitigation actions. An additional assessment that the professionals should be required to report on is the adequacy of funding, staffing and higher management support. I don’t really see any point in giving a security program a failing grade if the existing program is well managed but subverted and underfunded by the department’s leadership.

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    Posted in FISMA, NIST, Risk Management, The Guerilla CISO | 4 Comments »

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