LOLCATS and #CapSec

Posted April 30th, 2009 by

If you’re a security geek in the DC area, have a go at CapSecDC.  Good folks, and if you hang around long enough, you’ll be rewarded with espresso vodka. =)

Thanks to @dallendoug, we now have an invitation to play poker with the Geeks Love Poker crowd who have graciously changed their meeting date to be more compatible with CapSecDC.

funny pictures

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 3

Posted April 30th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is part 3 in a series about S.773.  Go read the bill hereGo read part one hereGo read part two here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

SEC. 13. CYBERSECURITY COMPETITION AND CHALLENGE. This section of the bill creates a series of competitions for a range of ages and skills… with cash prizes!  Mostly it’s just the administration of competitions–cash prizes, no illegal activities, etc.

This goes back to the age-old discussions of glorification of illegal activities, giving tools to people who are too young to know how to stay out of jail.

But then again, I know why this section of the bill is in there.  If we want to grow enough security professionals to even remotely keep up with demand, we need to do a much better job at recruiting younger techies to the “security dark side”.  Competitions are a start, the next step is to get them into formal education and apprenticeships to learn from the gray-hairs that have been in industry for awhile.

Once again, the same verbiage about tasking Commerce with leading this effort… I’m not sure they’re the ones to do this.

Verdict: Already happening although in ad-hoc fashion.  I’m not sold on teaching high school kids to hack, but yeah, we need to do this.

SEC. 14. PUBLIC-PRIVATE CLEARINGHOUSE. Although the title of this sounds really cool, like super-FOIA stuff, it’s really just information-sharing with critical infrastructure owners and operators.

One interesting provision is this:

“The Secretary of Commerce–

(1) shall have access to all relevant data concerning such networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access”

In other words, all your critical infrastructure information belong to Feds.  This is interesting because it can run the range from the Feds asking power grid operators for information and getting what they get, or it can be stretched into justification for auditing of privately-owned critical infrastructure.  I’m pretty sure that they mean the former, but I can see the latter being used at a later stage in the game.

One thing I thought was interesting is that this section only refers to information sharing with critical infrastructure.  There is a big gap here in sharing information with state and local government, local (ie, non-Federal) law enforcement, and private industry.  I think other sections–most notably  section 5–deal with this somewhat, but it’s always been a problem with information dissemination because how do you get classified data down to the people who need it to do their jobs but don’t have any level of clearance or trustability other than they won an election to be sheriff in Lemhi County, Idaho? (population 5000)  Also reference the Homeland Security Information Network to see how we’re doing this today.

Verdict: Really, I think this section is a way for the Feds to gather information from the critical infrastructure owners and I don’t see much information flow the other way, since the means for the flow to critical infrastructure owners already exists in HSIN.

Capitol photo by rpongsaj.

SEC. 15. CYBERSECURITY RISK MANAGEMENT REPORT. This small section is to do some investigation on something that has been bouncing around the security community for some time now: tying security risks into financial statements, cyberinsurance, company liability, etc.

Verdict: Seems pretty benign, hope it’s not just another case where we report on something and nothing actually happens. This has potential to be the big fix for security because it deals with the business factors instead of the symptoms.

SEC. 16. LEGAL FRAMEWORK REVIEW AND REPORT. This section requires a review of the laws, national-level policies, and basically what is our national-level governance for IT security.  As weird as this sounds, this is something that needs to be done because once we have a national strategy that aligns with our laws and policies and then is translated into funding and tasks to specific agencies, then we might have a chance at fixing things.  The one caveat is that if we don’t act on the report, it will become yet another National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, where we had lots of ideas but they were never fulfilled.

Verdict: Some of this should have been done in the 60-day Cybersecurity Review.  This is more of the same, and is a perfect task for the Cybersecurity Advisor when the position is eventually staffed.

SEC. 17. AUTHENTICATION AND CIVIL LIBERTIES REPORT. This section is really short, but read it verbatim here, you need to because this one sentence will change the game considerably.

“Within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the President, or the President’s designee, shall review, and report to Congress, on the feasibility of an identity management and authentication program, with the appropriate civil liberties and privacy protections, for government and critical infrastructure information systems and networks.”

So my take on it is something like REAL-ID and/or HSPD-12 but for critical infrastructure.

My personal belief is that if you have centralized identity management, it runs contrary to civil liberties and privacy protections: the power of identification lies with the group that issues the identification.  Hence the “rejection” of REAL-ID.

If I operated critical infrastructure, I would definitely protest this section because it gives the Government the decision-making authority on who can access my gear.  Identity and access management is so pivotal to how we do security that there is no way I would give it up.

On the bright side, this section just calls for a feasibility report.

Verdict: Oh man, identification and authentication nation-wide for critical infrastructure?  We can’t even do it in a semi-hierarchical top-down world of Government agencies, much less the privately-owned critical infrastructure.

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Lolcats take on Laws, Sausage, Cyberwhatzits, and PCI

Posted April 23rd, 2009 by

I just love how the security twit community this month is turning into a bunch of public policy wonks before my very eyes.  First we have S.773, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 and then the House hearings on the effectiveness of PCI.

“To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” –Otto von Bismark (ref: Wikipedia)

funny pictures

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 2

Posted April 16th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is part 2 in a series about S.773.  Go read the bill hereGo read part one here. Go read part 3 here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

SEC. 7. LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION OF CYBERSECURITY PROFESSIONALS. This section has received quite a bit of airtime around the blagosphere.  Everybody thinks that they’ll need some kind of license from the Federalies to run nessus.  Hey, maybe this is how it will all end up, but I think this provision will end up stillborn.

I know the NIST folks have been working on licensing and certification for some time, but they usually run into the same problems:

  • Do we certify individuals as cybersecurity professionals?
  • Do we certify organizations as cybersecurity service providers?
  • What can the Government do above and beyond what the industry provides? (ISC2, SANS, 27001, etc)
  • NIST does not want to be in the business of being a licensure board.

Well, this is my answer (I don’t claim that these are my opinion):

  • Compulsory: the Government can require certifications/licensure for certain job requirements.  Right now this is managed by HR departments.
  • Existing Precedent: We’ve been doing this for a couple of years with DoDI 8570.01M, which is mandatory for DoD contracts.  As much as I think industry certification is a pyramid scheme, I think this makes sense in contracting for the Government because it’s the only way to ensure some kind of training for security staff.If the Government won’t pay for contractor training (and they shouldn’t) and the contractor won’t pay for employees to get training because their turnover rate is 50% in a year, it’s the only way to ensure some kind of training and professionalization of the staff.  Does this scale to the rest of the country?  I’m not sure.
  • Governance and Oversight: The security industry has too many different factions.  A Government-ran certification and license scheme would provide some measure of uniformity.

Honestly, this section of the bill might make sense (it opens up a bigger debate) except for one thing:  we haven’t defined what “Cybersecurity Services” are.  Let’s face it, most of what we think are “security” services are really basic IT management services… why should you need a certification to be the goon on the change control board.  However, this does solve the “problem” of hackers who turn into “researchers” once they’re caught doing something illegal.  I just don’t see this as that big of a problem.

Verdict: Strange that this isn’t left up to industry to handle.  It smells like lobbying by somebody in ISC2 or SANS to generate a higher demand for certs.  Unless this section is properly scoped and extensively defined, it needs to die on the cutting room floor–it’s too costly for almost no value above what industry can provide.  If you want to provide the same effect with almost no cost to the taxpayers, consider something along the 8570.01 approach in which industry runs the certifications and specific certifications are required for certain job titles.

SEC. 8. REVIEW OF NTIA DOMAIN NAME CONTRACTS. Yes, there is a bunch of drama-llama-ing going on between NTIA, ICANN, Verisign, and a cast of a thousand.  This section calls for a review of DNS contracts by the Cybersecurity Advisory Panel (remember them from section 3?) before they are approved.  Think managing the politics of DNS is hard now?  It just got harder–you ever try to get a handful of security people to agree on anything?  And yet, I’m convinced that either this needs to happen or NTIA needs to get some clueful security staffers who know how to manage contracts.

Verdict: DNSSEC is trendy thanks to Mr Kaminski.  I hate it when proposed legislation is trendy.  I think this provision can be axed off the bill if NTIA had the authority to review the security of their own contracts.  Maybe this could be a job for the Cybersecurity Advisor instead of the Advisory Panel?

SEC. 9. SECURE DOMAIN NAME ADDRESSING SYSTEM. OK, the Federal Government has officially endorsed DNSSEC thanks to some OMB mandates.  Now the rest of the country can play along.  Seriously, though, this bill has some scope problems, but basically what we’re saying is that Federal agencies and critical infrastructure will be required to implement DNSSEC.

Once again, though, we’re putting Commerce in charge of the DNSSEC strategy.  Commerce should only be on the hook for the standards (NIST) and the changes to the root servers (NTIA).  For the Federal agencies, this should be OMB in charge.  For “critical infrastructure”, I believe the most appropriate proponent agency is DHS because of their critical infrastructure mission.

And as for the rest of you, well, if you want to play with the Government or critical infrastructure (like the big telephone and network providers), it would behoove you to get with the DNSSEC program because you’re going to be dragged kicking and screaming into this one.  Isn’t the Great InfoSec Trickle-Down Effect awesome?

Verdict: If we want DNSSEC to happen, it will take an act of Congress because the industry by itself can’t get it done–too many competing interests.  Add more tasks to the agencies outside of Commerce here, and it might work.

Awesome Capitol photo by BlankBlankBlank.

SEC. 10. PROMOTING CYBERSECURITY AWARENESS. Interesting in that this is tasked to Commerce, meaning that the focus is on end-users and businesses.

In a highly unscientific, informal poll with a limited sample of security twits, I confirmed that nobody has ever heard of Dewie the Webwise Turtle.  Come on, guys, “Safe at any speed”, how could you forget that?  At any rate, this already exists in some form, it just has to be dusted off and get a cash infusion.

Verdict: Already exists, but so far efforts have been aimed at users.  The following populations need awareness: small-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), end-users, owners of critical infrastructure, technology companies, software developers.  Half of these are who DHS is dealing with, and this provision completely ignores DHS’s role.

SEC. 11. FEDERAL CYBERSECURITY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT. This section is awesome to read, it’s additions to the types of research that NSF can fund and extensions of funding for the existing types of research.  It’s pretty hard to poke holes in, and based on back-of-the-envelope analysis, there isn’t much that is missing by way of topics that need to be added to research priorities.  What I would personally like to see is a better audit system not designed around the accounting profession’s way of doing things.  =)

Verdict: Keep this section intact.  If we don’t fund this, we will run into problems 10+ years out–some would say we’re already running into the limitations of our current technology.

SEC. 12. FEDERAL CYBER SCHOLARSHIP-FOR-SERVICE PROGRAM. This is an existing program, and it’s pretty good.  Basically you get a scholarship with a Government service commitment after graduation.  Think of it as ROTC-light scholarships without bullets and trips to SW Asia.

Verdict: This is already there.  This section of the bill most likely is in to get the program funded out to 2014.

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Posted in NIST, Public Policy, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 2 Comments »

Lolcats Protect the End Users

Posted April 15th, 2009 by

Apparently, one of the G-CISO staff forgot to tell the IKANHAZFIZMA lolcats that you can’t actually hear the evil hakker kittehs.  And yeah, we know the “Packin’ da K” Kaspersky crew will like this.

funny pictures

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 1

Posted April 14th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is such a long blog post that I’m breaking it down into parts.  Go read the bill hereGo read part two hereGo read part three here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

So the Library of Congress finally got S.773 up on  For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, this is the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 and is a bill introduced by Senators Rockefeller and Snowe and, depending on your political slant, will allow us to “sock it to the hackers and send them to a federal pound-you-in-the-***-prison” or “vastly erode our civil liberties”.

A little bit of pre-reading is in order:

Timing: Now let’s talk about the timing of this bill.  There is the 60-day Cybersecurity Review that is supposed to be coming out Real Soon Now (TM).  This bill is an attempt by Congress to head it off at the pass.

Rumor mill says that not only will the Cybersecurity Review be unveiled at RSA (possible, but strange) and that it won’t bring anything new to the debate (more possibly, but then again, nothing’s really new, we’ve known about this stuff for at least a decade).

Overall Comments:

This bill is big.  It really is an omnibus Cybersecurity Act and has just about everything you could want and more.  There’s a fun way of doing things in the Government, and it goes something like this: ask for 300% of what you need so that you will end up with 80%.  And I see this bill is taking this approach to heart.

Pennsylvania Ave – Old Post Office to the Capitol at Night photo by wyntuition.

And now for the good, bad, and ugly:

SEC. 2. FINDINGS. This section is primarily a summary of testimony that has been delivered over the past couple of years.  It really serves as justification for the rest of the bill.  It is a little bit on the FUD side of things (as in “omigod, they put ‘Cyber-Katrina‘ in a piece of legislation”), but overall it’s pretty balanced and what you would expect for a bill.  Bottom line here is that we depend on our data and the networks that carry it.  Even if you don’t believe in Cyberwar (I don’t really believe in Cyberwar unles it’s just one facet of combined arms warfare), you can probably agree that the costs of insecurity on a macroeconomic scale need to be looked at and defended against, and our dependency on the data and networks is only going to increase.

No self-respecting security practitioner will like this section, but politicians will eat it up.  Relax, guys, you’re not the intended audience.

Verdict: Might as well keep this in there, it’s plot development without any requirements.

SEC. 3. CYBERSECURITY ADVISORY PANEL. This section creates a Cybersecurity Advisory Panel made up of Federal Government, private sector, academia, and state and local government.  This is pretty typical so far.  The interesting thing to me is “(7) whether societal and civil liberty concerns are adequately addressed”… in other words, are we balancing security with citizens’, corporations’, and states’ rights?  More to come on this further down in the bill.

Verdict: Will bring a minimal cost in Government terms.  I’m very hesitant to create new committees.  But yeah, this can stay.

SEC. 4. REAL-TIME CYBERSECURITY DASHBOARD. This section is very interesting to me.  On one hand, it’s what we do at the enterprise level for most companies.  On the other hand, this is specific to the Commerce Department –“Federal Government information systems and networks managed by the Department of Commerce.”  The first reading of this is the internal networks that are internal to Commerce, but then why is this not handed down to all agencies?  I puzzled on this and did some research until I remembered that Commerce, through NTIA, runs DNS, and Section 8 contains a review of the DNS contracts.

Verdict: I think this section needs a little bit of rewording so that the scope is clearer, but sure, a dashboard is pretty benign, it’s the implied tasks to make a dashboard function (ie, proper management of IT resources and IT security) that are going to be the hard parts.  Rescope the dashboard and explicitly say what kind of information it needs to address and who should receive it.

SEC. 5. STATE AND REGIONAL CYBERSECURITY ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM. This section calls for Regional Cybersecurity Centers, something along the lines of what we call “Centers of Excellence” in the private sector.  This section is interesting to me, mostly because of how vague it seemed the first time I read it, but the more times I look at it, I go “yeah, that’s actually a good idea”.  What this section tries to do is to bridge the gap between the standards world that is NIST and the people outside of the beltway–the “end-users” of the security frameworks, standards, tools, methodologies, what-the-heck-ever-you-want-to-call-them.  Another interesting thing about this is that while the proponent department is Commerce, NIST is part of Commerce, so it’s not as left-field as you might think.

Verdict: While I think this section is going to take a long time to come to fruition (5+ years before any impact is seen), I see that Regional Cybersecurity Centers, if properly funded and executed, can have a very significant impact on the rest of the country.  It needs to happen, only I don’t know what the cost is going to be, and that’s the part that scares me.

SEC. 6. NIST STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT AND COMPLIANCE. This is good.  Basically this section provides a mandate for NIST to develop a series of standards.  Some of these have been sitting around for some time in various incarnations, I doubt that anyone would disagree that these need to be done.

  1. CYBERSECURITY METRICS RESEARCH:  Good stuff.  Yes, this needs help.  NIST are the people to do this kind of research.
  2. SECURITY CONTROLS:  Already existing in SP 800-53.  Depending on interpretation, this changes the scope and language of the catalog of controls to non-Federal IT systems, or possibly a fork of the controls catalog.
  3. SOFTWARE SECURITY:  I guess if it’s in a law, it has come of age.  This is one of the things that NIST has wanted to do for some time but they haven’t had the manpower to get involved in this space.
  4. SOFTWARE CONFIGURATION SPECIFICATION LANGUAGE: Part of SCAP.  The standard is there, it just needs to be extended to various pieces of software.
  5. STANDARD SOFTWARE CONFIGURATION:  This is the NIST configuration checklist program ala SP 800-70.  I think NIST ran short on manpower for this also and resorted back to pointing at the DISA STIGS and FDCC.  This so needs further development into a uniform set of standards and then, here’s the key, rolled back upstream to the software vendors so they ship their product pre-configured.

Now for the “gotchas”:

(d) COMPLIANCE ENFORCEMENT- The Director shall–

(1) enforce compliance with the standards developed by the Institute under this section by software manufacturers, distributors, and vendors; and

(2) shall require each Federal agency, and each operator of an information system or network designated by the President as a critical infrastructure information system or network, periodically to demonstrate compliance with the standards established under this section.

This section basically does 2 things:

  • Mandates compliancy for vendors and distributors with the NIST standards listed above.  Suprised this hasn’t been talked about elsewhere.  This clause suffers from scope problems because if you interpret it BSOFH-stylie, you can take it to mean that anybody who sells a product, regardless of who’s buying, has to sell a securely-configured version.  IE, I can’t sell XP to blue-haired grandmothers unless I have something like an FDCC variant installed on it.  I mostly agree with this in the security sense but it’s a serious culture shift in the practical sense.
  • Mandates an auditing scheme for Federal agencies and critical infrastructure.  Everybody’s talked about this, saying that since designation of critical infrastructure is not defined, this is left at the discretion of the Executive Branch.  This isn’t as wild-west as the bill’s opponents want it to seem, there is a ton of groundwork layed out in HSPD-7.  But yeah, HSPD-7 is an executive directive and can be changed “at the whim” of the President.  And yes, this is auditing by Commerce, which has some issues in that Commerce is not equipped to deal with IT security auditing.  More on this in a later post.

Verdict: The standard part is already happening today, this section just codifies it and justify’s NIST’s research.  Don’t task Commerce with enforcement of NIST standards, it leads down all sorts of inappropriate roads.

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Posted in Public Policy, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 7 Comments »

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