IKANHAZFIZMA’s take on Security Appliances

Posted June 25th, 2009 by

Why sell security software when you can bundle it with pre-installed hardware and operating system and sell it as an appliance?  We took some of our best lolcats and put them to work building us something we could “productize” and this is what they came up with….

funny pictures

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Posted in IKANHAZFIZMA | No Comments »

NIST Framework for FISMA Dates Announced

Posted April 10th, 2009 by

Some of my friends (and maybe myself) will be teaching the NIST Framework for FISMA in May and June with Potomac Forum.   This really is an awesome program.  Some highlights:

  • Attendance is limited to Government employees only so that you can talk openly with your peers.
  • Be part of a cohort that trains together over the course of a month.
  • The course is 5 Fridays so that you can learn something then take it back to work the next week.
  • We have a Government speaker ever week, from the NIST FISMA guys to agency CISOs and CIOs.
  • No pitching, no marketing, no product placement (OK, maybe we’ll go through DoJ’s CSAM but only as an example of what kinds of tools are out there) , no BS.

See you all there!

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Posted in NIST, Speaking | 1 Comment »

Analyzing Fortify’s Plan to “Fix” the Government’s Security Problem

Posted April 1st, 2009 by

So I like reading about what people think about security and the Government.  I know, you’re all surprised, so cue shock and awe amongst my reader population.

Anyway, this week it’s Fortify and a well-placed article in NextGov.  You remember Fortify, they are the guys with the cool FUD movie about how code scanning is going to save the world.  And oh yeah, there was this gem from SC Magazine: “Fortify’s Rachwald agrees that FISMA isn’t going anywhere, especially with the support of the paper shufflers. ‘It’s been great for people who know how to fill out forms. Why would they want it to go away?'”  OK, so far my opinion has been partially tainted–somehow I think I’m supposed to take something here personal but I’m not sure exactly what.

Fortify has been trying to step up to the Government feed trough over the past year or so.  In a rare moment of being touch-feely intuitive, from their marketing I get the feeling that Fortify is a bunch of Silicon Valley technologists who think they know what’s best for DC–digital carpetbagging.  Nothing new, all y’alls been doing this for as long as I’ve been working with the Government.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Fortify makes some good products.  I think that universal adoption of code scanning, while not as foolproof as advertised, is a good thing.  I also think that software vendors should use scanning tools as part of their testing and QA.

Fortified cité of Carcassonne photo by http2007.

Now for a couple basic points that I want to get across:

  • Security is not a differentiator between competing products unless it’s the classified world. People buy IT products based on features, not security.
  • The IT industry is a broken market because there is no incentive to sell secure code.
  • In fact, software vendors are often rewarded market-wise because if you arrive first to market with the largest market penetration, you become the defacto standard.
  • The vendors are abstracted from the problems faced by their customers thanks to the terms of most EULAs–they don’t really have to fix security problems since the software is sold with no guarantees.
  • The Government is dependent upon the private sector to provide it with secure software.
  • It is a conflict of interest for the vendors to accurately represent their flaws unless the Government is going to pay to have them fixed.
  • It’s been proposed numerous the Government use its “huge” IT budget to require vendors to sell secure projects.
  • How do you determine that a vendor is shipping a secure product?

Or more to the point, how do I as a software vendor reasonably demonstrate that I have provided a secure product to the government without a making the economics infeasible for smaller vendors, creating an industry of certifiers ala PCI-DSS and SOX, or dramatically lengthening my development/procurement schedules?  Think of the problems with common criteria, because that’s our previous attempt.

We run into this problem all the time in Government IT security, but it’s mostly at the system integrator level.  It’s highly problematic to make contract requirements that are objective, demonstrable, and testable yet still take into account threats and vulnerabilities that do not exist today.

I’ve spent the past month writing a security requirements document for integrated special-purpose devices sold to the Government.  Part of this exercise was the realization that I can require that the vendor perform vulnerability scanning, but it becomes extremely difficult to include an amount of common sense into requirements when it comes to deciding what to fix.  “That depends” keeps coming back to bite me in the buttocks time and time again.  At this point, I usually tell my boss how I hate security folks, self included, because of their indecisiveness.

The end result is that I can specify a process (Common Criteria for software/hardware, Certification and Accreditation for integration projects) and an outcome (certification, product acceptance, “go live” authorization), leave the decision-making authority with the Government, and put it in the hands of contracts officers and subject-matter experts who know how to manage security.  Problems with this technique:

  • I can’t find enough contracts officers who are security experts.
  • As a contractor, how do I account for the costs I’m going to incur since it’s apparently “at the whim of the Government”?
  • I have to apply this “across the board” to all my suppliers due to procurement law.  This might not be possible right now for some kinds of outsourced development.
  • We haven’t really solved the problem of defining what constitutes a secure product.
  • We’ve just deferred the problem from a strategic solution to a tactical process depending on a handful of clueful people.

Honestly, though, I think that’s as good as we’re going to get.  Ours is not a perfect world.

And as for Fortify?  Guys, quit trying to insult the people who will ultimately recommend your product.  It’s bad mojo, especially in a town where the toes you step on today may be attached to the butt you kiss tomorrow.  =)

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Posted in Outsourcing, Technical, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 2 Comments »

Ed Bellis’s Little SCAP Project

Posted March 19th, 2009 by

So way back in the halcyon days of 2008 when Dan Philpott, Chris Burton, Ian Charters, and I went to the NIST SCAP Conference.  Just by a strange coincidence, Ed Bellis threw out a twit along the lines of “wow, I wish there was a way to import and export all this vulnerability data” and I replied back with “Um, you mean like SCAP?

Fast forward 6 months.  Ed Bellis has been busy.  He delivered this presentation at SnowFROC 2009 in Denver:

So some ideas I have about what Ed is doing:

#1 This vulnerability correllation and automation should be part of vulnerability assessment (VA) products.  In fact, most VA products include some kind of ticketing and workflow nowadays if you get the “enterprise edition”. That’s nice, but…

#2 The VA industry is a broken market with compatibility in workflow.  Everybody wants to sell you *their* product to be the authoritative manager. That’s cool and all, but what I really need is the connectors to your competitor’s products so that I can have one database of vulnerabilities, one set of charts to show my auditors, and one trouble ticket system. SCAP helps here but only for static, bulk data transfers–that gets ugly really quickly.

#3 Ed’s correllation and automation software is a perfect community project because it’s a conflict of interest for any VA vendor to write it themselves. And to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t a dozen skunkwork projects that people will admit to creating just in the comments section of this post. I remember 5 years ago trying to hack together some perl to take the output from the DISA SRR Scripts and aggregate them into a .csv.

#4 The web application security world needs to adopt SCAP. So far it’s just been the OS and shrinkwrapped application vendors and the whole race to detection and patching. Now the interesting part to me is that the market is all around tying vulnerabilities to specific versions of software and a patch, where when you get to the web application world, it’s more along the lines of one-off misconfigurations and coding errors. It takes a little bit of a mindshift in the vulnerability world, but that’s OK in my book.

#5 This solution is exactly what the Government needs and is exactly why SCAP was created. Imagine you’re the Federal Government with 3.5 million desktops, the only way you can manage all those is through VA automation and a tool that aggregates information from various VA products across multiple zones of trust, environments, and even organizations.

#6 Help Ed out! We need this.

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Posted in Technical, What Works | 4 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 »

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