NIST Security Automation Conference

Posted September 13th, 2010 by

It’s at the end of September, check it out.  Even if you’re not in the vulnerability/patch rat race on a daily basis, it would “behoove” you to go check out what’s new.  If you’ve been paying attention to OMB Memo 10-15, you’ll notice that Cyberscope takes some SCAP input.

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Posted in FISMA, NIST, Technical | 1 Comment »

A Funny Thing Happened Last Week on Capital Hill

Posted April 1st, 2010 by

Well, several funny things happened, they happen every week.  But specifically I’m talking about the hearing in the House Committee on Homeland Security on FISMA reform–Federal Information Security: Current Challenges and Future Policy Considerations.  If you’re in information security and Government, you need to go read through the prepared statements and even watch the hearing.

Also referenced is HR.4900 which was introduced by Representative Watson as a modification to FISMA.  I also recommend that you have a look at it.

Now for my comments and rebuttals to the testimony:

  • On the cost per sheet of FISMA compliance paper: If you buy into the State Department’s cost of $1700 per sheet, you’re absolutely daft.  The cost of a security program divided by the total number of sheets of paper is probably right.  In fact, if you do the security bits right, your cost per sheet will go up considerably because you’re doing much more security work while the volume of paperwork is reduced.
  • Allocating budget for red teams: Do we really need penetration testing to prove that we have problems?  In Mike Smith’s world, we’re just not there yet, and proving that we’re not there is just an excuse to throw the InfoSec practitioners under the bus when they’re not the people who created the situation in the first place.
  • Gus Guissanie: This guy is awesome and knows his stuff.  No, really, the guy is sharp.
  • State Department Scanning: Hey, it almost seems like NIST has this in 800-53.  Oh wait, they do, only it’s given the same precedence as everything else.  More on this later.
  • Technical Continuous Monitoring Tools: Does anybody else think that using products of FISMA (SCAP, CVE, CVSS) as evidence that FISMA is failing is a bit like dividing by zero?  We really have to be careful of this or we’ll destroy the universe.
  • Number of Detected Attacks and Incidents as a Metric: Um, this always gets a “WTF?” from me.  Is the number increasing because we’re monitoring better or is it because we’re counting a whole bunch of small events as an attack (ie, IDS flagged on something), or is it because the amount of attacks are really increasing?  I asked this almost 2 years ago and nobody has answered it yet.
  • The Limitations of GAO: GAO are just auditors.  Really, they depend on the agencies to not misrepresent facts and to give them an understanding of how their environment works.  Auditing and independent assessment is not the answer here because it’s not a fraud problem, it’s a resources and workforce development problem.
  • OMB Metrics: I hardly ever talk bad about OMB, but their metrics suck.  Can you guys give me a call and I’ll give you some pointers?  Or rather, check out what I’ve already said about federated patch and vulnerability management then give me a call.

So now for Rybolov’s plan to fix FISMA:

  1. You have to start with workforce management. This has been addressed numerous times and has a couple of different manifestations: DoDI 8570.10, contract clauses for levels of experience, role-based training, etc.  Until you have an adequate supply of clueful people to match the demand, you will continue to get subpar performance.
  2. More testing will not help, it’s about execution. In the current culture, we believe that the more testing we do, the more likely the people being tested will be able to execute.  This is highly wrong and I’ve commented on it before.  I think that if it was really a fact of people being lazy or fraudulent then we would have fixed it by now.  My theory is that the problem is that we have too many wonks who know the law but not the tech and not enough techs that know the law.  In order to do the job, you need both.  This is also where I deviate from the SANS/20 Critical Security Controls approach and the IGs that love it.
  3. Fix Plans of Actions and Milestones. These are supposed to be long-term/strategic problems, not the short-term/tactical application of patches–the tactical stuff should be automated.  The reasoning is that you use these plans for budget requests for the following years.
  4. Fix the budget train. Right now the people with the budget (programs) are not the people running the IT and the security of it (CIO/CISO).  I don’t know if the answer here is a larger dedicated budget for CISO’s staff or a larger “CISO Tax” on all program budgets.  I could really policy-geek out on you here, just take my word for it that the people with the money are not the people protecting information and until you account for that, you will always have a problem.

Sights Around Capital Hill: Twice Sold Tales photo by brewbooks. Somehow seems fitting, I’ll let you figure out if there’s a connection. =)

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Posted in FISMA, Public Policy, Rants, Risk Management | 7 Comments »

Massively Scaled Security Solutions for Massively Scaled IT

Posted October 16th, 2009 by

My presentation slides from Sector 2009.  This was a really fun conference, the Ontario people are really, really nice.

Presentation Abstract:

The US Federal Government is the world’s largest consumer of IT products and, by extension, one of the largest consumers of IT security products and services. This talk covers some of the problems with security on such a massive scale; how and why some technical, operational, and managerial solutions are working or not working; and how these lessons can be applied to smaller-scale security environments.

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Posted in FISMA, NIST, Public Policy, Speaking, The Guerilla CISO, What Works | No Comments »

Save a Kitten, Write SCAP Content

Posted August 7th, 2009 by

Apparently I’m the Internet’s SCAP Evangelist according to Ed Bellis, so at this point all I can do is shrug and say “OK, I’ll teach people about SCAP”.

Right now there is a “pretty OK” framework for SCAP.  IE, we have published standards, and there are some SCAP-certified tools out there to do patch and vulnerability management.

What’s missing right now is SCAP content.  I don’t think this is going to get solved en-masse, it’s more like there needs to be an awareness campaign directed at end-users, vulnerability researchers, and people who write small-ish tools.

So I sat around at home trying to figure out how to get people to use/write more SCAP content and finally settled on “Everytime you use SCAP content, a kitten runs free”.

Anyway, this is a presentation I gave at my local OWASP chapter.

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Posted in NIST, Speaking, Technical | 4 Comments »

Federated Vulnerability Management

Posted July 14th, 2009 by

Why hello there private sector folks.  It’s no big surprise, I work in the US Federal Government Space and we have some unique challenges of scale.  Glad to meet you, I hear you’ve got the same problems only not in the same kind of scale as the US Federal Government.  Sit back, read, and learn.

You see, I work in places where everything is siloed into different environments.  We have crazy zones for databases, client-facing DMZs, managment segments, and then the federal IT architecture itself: a loose federation of semi-independent enterprises that are rapidly coming together in strange ways under the wonderful initiative known as “The TIC”.  We’re also one of the most heavily audited sectors in IT.

And yet, the way we manage patch and vulnerability information is something out of the mid-80’s.

Current State of Confusion

Our current patch management information flow goes something like this:

  • Department SOC/US-CERT/CISOs Office releases a vulnerability alert (IAVA, ISVM, something along those lines)
  • Somebody makes a spreadsheet with the following on it:
    • Number of places with this vulnerability.
    • How many have been fixed.
    • When you’re going to have it fixed.
    • A percentage of completion
  • We then manage by spreadsheets until the spreadsheets say “100%”.
  • The spreadsheets are aggregated somewhere.  If we’re lucky, we have some kind of management tool that we dump our info into like eMASS.
  • We wonder why we get pwned (by either haxxorz or the IG).

Now for how we manage vulnerability scan information:

  • We run a tool.
  • The tool spits out a .csv or worse, a .html.
  • We pull up the .csv in Excel and add some columns.
  • We assign dates and responsibilities to people.
  • We have a weekly meeting togo over what’s been completed.
  • When we finish something, we provide evidence of what we did.
  • We still really don’t know how effective we were.

Problems with this approach:

  • It’s too easy to game.  If I’m doing reporting, the only thing really keeping me reporting the truth is my sense of ethics.
  • It’s slow as hell.  If somebody updates a spreadsheet, how does the change get echoed into the upstream spreadsheets?
  • It isn’t accurate at any given moment in time, mostly because changes quicker than the process can keep up.  What this means is that we always look like liars who are trying to hide something because our spreadsheet doesn’t match up with the “facts on ground”.
  • It doesn’t compare with our other management tools like Plans of Action and Milestone (POA&M).  They usually are managed in a different application than the technical parts, and this means that we need a human with a spreadsheet to act as the intermediary.

So this is my proposal to “fix” government patch and vulnerability management: Federated Patch and Vulnerability Management through SCAP.

Trade Federation Battle Droid photo by Stéfan.  Roger, Roger, SCAP means business.

Whatchu Talkin’ Bout With This “Federated” Stuff, Willis?

This is what I mean, my “Plan for BSOFH Happiness”:

Really what I want is every agency to have an “orchestrator” ala Ed Bellis’s little SCAP tool of horrors. =)  Then we federate them so that information can roll up to a top-level dashboard for the entire executive branch.

In my beautiful world, every IT asset reports into a patch management system of some sort.  Servers, workstations, laptops, all of it.  Yes, databases too.  Printers–yep.  If we can get network devices to get reported on config info via SCAP-enabled NMS, let’s get that pushing content into our orchestrator. We don’t even really  have to push patches using these tools–what I’m primarily concerned with at this point is to have the ability to pull reports.

I group all of my IT assets in my system into a bucket of some sort in the orchestrator.  That way, we know who’s responsible when something has a problem.  It also fits into our “system” concept from FISMA/C&A/Project Management/etc.

We do periodic network scanning to identify everything on our network and feed them into the orchestrator.  We do regular vulnerability scans and any findings feed into the orchestrator.  The more data, the better aggregate information we can get.

Our orchestrator correlates network scans with patch management status and gives us a ticket/alert/whatever where we have unmanaged devices.  Yes, most enterprise management tools do this today, but the more scan results I have feeding them, the better chance I have at finding all my assets.  Thanks to our crazy segmented architecture models, we have all these independent zones that break patch, vulnerability, and configuration management as the rest of the IT world performs it.  Flat is better for management, but failing that, I’ll take SCAP hierarchies of reporting.

The Department takes a National Vulnerability Database feed and pushes down to the Agencies what they used to send in an IAVA, only they also send down the check to see if your system is vulnerable.  My orchestrator automagically tests and reports back on status before I’m even awake in the morning.

I get hardening guides pushed from the Department or Agency in SCAP form, then pull an audit on my IT assets and have the differences automagically entered into my workflow and reporting.

I become a ticket monkey.  Everything is in workflow.  I can be replaced with somebody less expensive and can now focus on finding the answer to infosec nirvana.

We provide a feed upstream to our Department, the Department provides a feed to somebody (NCSD/US-CERT/OMB/Cybersecurity Coordinator) who now has the view across the entire Government.  Want to be bold, let Vivek K and the Sunlight Foundation at the data feeds and have truly open and transparent, “Unbreakable Government 2.1”.  Who needs FISMA report cards when our vulnerability data is on display?

Keys to Making Federated Patch and Vulnerability Management Work

Security policy that requires SCAP-compatible vulnerability and patch management products.  Instead of parroting back 800-53, please give me a requirement in your security policy that every patch and vulnerability management tool that we buy MUST BE SCAP-CERTIFIED.  Yes, I know we won’t get it done right now, but if we get it in policy, then it will trickle down into product choices eventually.  This is compliance I can live with, boo-yeah!

Security architecture models (FEA anyone?) that show federated patch and vulnerability management deployments as part of their standard configuration.  OK with the firewall pictures and zones of trust, I understand what you’re saying, now give me patch and vulnerability management flows across all the zones so I can do the other 85% of my job.

Network traffic from the edges of the hierarchy to…somewhere.  OK, you just need network connectivity throughout the hierarchy to aggregate and update patch and vulnerability information, this is basic data flow stuff.  US-CERT in a future incarnation could be the top-level aggregator, maybe.  Right now I would be happy building aggregation up to the Department level because that’s the level at which we’re graded.

Understanding.  Hey, I can’t fix everything all the time–what I’m doing is using automation to make the job of fixing things easier by aggregation, correlation, status reporting, and dashboarding.  These are all concepts behind good IT management, why shouldn’t we apply them to security managment also?  Yes, I’ll have times when I’m behind on something or another, but guess what, I’m behind today and you just don’t know it.  However, with near-real-time reporting, we need a culture shift away from trying to police each other up all the time to understanding that sometimes nothing is really perfect.

Patch and vulnerability information is all-in.  It has to be reporting in 100% across the board, or you don’t have anything–back to spreadsheets hell for you.  And simply put, why don’t you have everything in the patch management system already?  Come on, that’s not a good enough reason.

POA&Ms need to be more fluid.  Face it, with automated patch and vulnerability management, POA&Ms become more like trouble tickets.  But yes, that’s much awesome, smaller, easily-satisfied POA&Ms are much easier to manage provided that the administrative overhead for each of these is reduced to practically nothing… just like IT trouble tickets.

Regression testing and providing proof becomes easier because it’s all automated.  Once you fix something and it’s marked in the aggregator as completed, it gets slid into the queue for retesting, and the results become the evidence.

Interfaces with existing FISMA management tools.  This one is tough.  But we have a very well-entrenched software base geared around artifact management, POA&M management, and Security Test and Evaluation results.  This class of software exists because none of the tools vendors really understand how the Government does security management, and I mean NONE of them.  There has to be some weird unnatural data import/export acts going on here to make the orchestrator of technical data match up with the orchestrator of managment data, and this is the part that scares me in a federated world.

SCAP spreads to IT management suites.  They already have a footprint out there on everything, and odds are we’re using them for patch and configuration management anyway.  If they don’t talk SCAP, push the vendor to get it working.

Where Life Gets Surreal

Then I woke up and realized that if I provide my Department CISO with near-real-time patch and vulnerability mangement information, I suddenly have become responsible for patch and management instead of playing “kick it to the contractors” and hiding behind working groups.  It could be that if I get Federated Patch and Vulnerabilty Management off the ground, I’ve given my Department CISO the rope to hang me with.  =)

Somehow, somewhere, I’ve done most of what CAG was talking about and automated it.  I feel so… um… dirty.  Really, folks, I’m not a shill for anybody.

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Posted in DISA, NIST, Rants, Technical | 12 Comments »

Security Automation Developers Conference Slides

Posted July 2nd, 2009 by

Eh? What’s that mean?  Developer Days is a weeklong conference where they get down into the weeds about the various SCAP schemas and how they fit into the overall program of security automation. 

Highlights and new ideas:

Remedial Markup Language: Fledgeling schema to describe how to remediate a vulnerability.  A fully automated security system would scan and then use the RML content to automagically fix the finding… say, changing a configuration setting or installing a patch.  this would be much awesome if combined with the CVE/CWE so you have a vulnerability scanner that scans and fixes the problem.  Also needs to be kept in a bottle because the operations guys will have a heartattack if we are doing this without any human intervention.

Computer Network Defense: There is a pretty good scenario slide deck on using SCAP to automate hardening, auditing, monitoring, and defense.  The key from this deck is how the information flows using automation.

Common Control Identifier:  This schema is basically a catalog of controls (800-53, 8500.2, PCI, SoX, etc) in XML.  The awesomeness with this is that one control can contain a reference implementation for each technology and the checklist to validate it in XCCDF.  At this point, I get all misty…

Open Checklist Interactive Language: This schema is to capture questionaires.  Think managerial controls, operational controls, policy, and procedure captured in electronic format and fed into the regular mitigation and workflow tools that you use so that you can view “security of the enterprise at a glance” across technical and non-technical security.

Network Event Content Automation Protocol:  This is just a concept floating around right now on using XML to describe and automate responses to attacks.  If you’re familiar with ArcSight’s Common Event Format, this would be something similar but on steroids with workflow and a pony!

Attendance at developer days is limited, but thanks to all the “Powar of teh Intarwebs, you can go here and read the slides!

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Posted in NIST, Technical | 3 Comments »

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