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 »

Wanted: Some SCAP Wranglers

Posted May 18th, 2009 by

So I was doing my usual “Beltway Bandit Perusal of Opportunities for Filthy Lucre” also known as diving into FedBizOps and I found this gem.  Basically what this means is that sometime this summer, NIST is going to put out an RFP for contractors to further develop SCAP using ARRA funds.

Keeping in mind that this isn’t the official list of what NIST wants done under this contract, but it’s interesting to look at from an angle of where SCAP will go over the next couple of years:

  1. Evolution of the SCAP protocol and specifications thereof
  2. Feasibility studies, development, documenting, prototyping, and road-mapping of SCAP expansions (e.g., remediation capability) and analog protocols (e.g., Network Event Content Automation Protocol
  3. Implementation and maintenance support for the Security Automation Content Validation Program
  4. Maintenance support for the SCAP Product Validation Program
  5. Pilot, beta, and production support for SCAP and security automation use-cases
  6. Content development, modification, and testing
  7. Infrastructure and reference implementation development in JAVA, C++, and C programming languages
  8. Data trust models and data provenance solutions.

So how do you play?  Well, the first thing is that you respond to the notice with a capabilities statement saying “yes, we have experience in doing what you want”–there is a list of specifics in the original notice.  Then sign up for FedBizOps and follow the announcement so you can get changes and the RFP when it comes out.

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Posted in NIST, Outsourcing | 5 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 »

NIST and SCAP; SCAP @ Large Part 2

Posted October 2nd, 2008 by

There is another challenge that SCAP addresses without it being officially on the SCAP program’s agenda.  With the advent of SCAP we now have a common reporting criteria by which we can now judge SCAP certified products.  If you have ever used an automated vulnerability scanner as part of a penetration test or security audit, you know that not all vulnerability scanners are created equal.  Some have much lower false positive alert and reporting rates than others.  Likewise, it is known that false negative alert and reporting rates vary.  And, because of the various technical approaches taken by the scanners, some provide much more consistent results. The challenge has been that without a common criteria to test against, it is difficult for a small or even fairly large security organization to find the resources to effectively test these products in a fair apples to apples test.

This is where NIST has a real opportunity on its hands.  With the release of the SCAP protocol, we have the criteria by which performance comparisons can be made.  What we are lacking is a common test environment.

Benchmark photo by bzo.

Let me veer off-topic for a moment to provide some background.  In the last few years the Linux community has created various “live distributions” for various specialized requirements.  What live distributions are, are CD, DVD or Flash-media-based operating systems that are executed upon boot.  That is to say that they boot and run directly from CD or DVD.  So, by using a Linux live distribution, you can run Linux off of you home Windows-based laptop without ever installing Linux to your hard disk.  This has opened up a world of specialized possibilities for this community.  One of them is the standardized training environment.  For example, security testers have created DVL (damn vulnerable Linux  DVL is a live distribution that with well documented security vulnerabilities, this distribution is used as a training aid for teaching vulnerability assessment and mitigation. There are other similar efforts created with the same intent such as the excellent DE-ICE training targets (

NIST could follow-up on the release of the SCAP protocol by also building and releasing a common testing environment based perhaps on live distribution technology. Such an environment with well documented vulnerabilities would allow for the creation of objective benchmarks to be created to rate the accuracy, reproducibility, completeness of the results of SCAP certified vulnerability testing and reporting products.  This would aid government agencies, businesses and even individuals in their purchasing decisions.  It would also allow provide vendors with an objective and common test environment in which they can test and improve their products.  I admit this would be a significant undertaking for NIST.  However, I would suggest that such a test environment could be designed in such a manner that it could be built and released as a series of inter-operable modules based on live distribution technology.  The initial release might only offer a relatively modest set of tests but with the release of each module building on the results of previous releases, a highly demanding and sophisticated test environment could soon be realized.  Because of the importance and utility of such a project, industry and outside security experts might want to participate in and contribute to such an endeavor.


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Posted in NIST, Technical, What Works | No Comments »

NIST and SCAP; Busting a cap on intruders Part 1

Posted October 1st, 2008 by

I was attending a conference at NIST (the National Institute of Standards) concerning the SCAP program (Security Content Automation Protocol; pronounced ESS-cap).  SCAP is focused on providing the Federal government with automated, common,  interoperable security solutions.  Specifically the SCAP program has developed a common set of standards for reporting security vulnerabilities for use in automated security scanners, security appliances and reporting systems.

Well, why do we need SCAP?  If we use the Godfather of all vulnerability management tools, the NESSUS vulnerability scanner as an example, we have seen that industry has produced a number of similar products.  Each has its own strengths and rich feature set.  However, none of them use the same “language” for detecting or describing or reporting a potential vulnerability.  This not only means that these various products can only be used to operate with each other with some measure of difficulty but, trying to aggregate and manage the result of reports from these systems can be tedious.

“Tim Bray at XML 2005” photo by Roland.

As a result of these efforts and vision of the dedicated employees at NIST, industry is already scrambling to get their related products SCAP certified.  And, Federal agencies are also specifying in contracts that products must be SCAP certified in order to be qualified for purchase.  This is real progress and great news for the tax payer who will get real better value for their tax dollar.  But, it is not a revolution — yet.  Where I see the revolution emerging is in six-month to a year time frame when industry takes note of the SCAP program and we begin to see SCAP certified and SCAP interoperable products being ordered.  It will not be long after that that we may see the SCAP protocol used in even consumer-level products like personal firewalls.  This ability to give us all a common language will significantly reduce the cost of building and supporting vulnerability scanners and vulnerability reporting tools.  This cost reduction will allow resources to be freed up to address prevention and mitigation concerns in a more meaningful manner.

For example, industry has tools that enable network and security support professionals to detect a mis-configuration in a desktop machine in their network and correct it.  But, only the largest and most well funded security IT security departments have such tools.  With the advent of SCAP, these kind of services will be much more affordable and supportable and thus more common.  In fact, because much of this can be automated, I can even envision the McAfee, Symantec, and others who are well placed in the vulnerability scanning market to offer support services over the wire to smaller businesses and to consumers.  Moreover, as this technology improves and becomes commoditized, I can see ISP’s offering security scanning and mediation as a service to their customers.

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Posted in NIST, Technical, The Guerilla CISO, What Works | No Comments »

SCAP in Lulz

Posted September 25th, 2008 by

Since it’s SCAP week here inside the beltway, I thought that it would be a fitting theme for today’s IKANHAZFIZMA.

funny pictures

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Posted in IKANHAZFIZMA | 2 Comments »

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