The future of computer threat response

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 | Jim Cheetham | Comments Off on The future of computer threat response

Dan Geer is a voice in the IT Security world that should be listened to, and he has co-authored a short but intense article in the IEEE S&P Cleartext column that addresses the reality of the rapidly-changing threats that we all face.

Stand Your Ground” has a few key messages, which I’ll try to summarise :-

  • Minimise the number of targets; stop adding new services without effective defences, remove old services. Use the savings to fund better security for what remains.
  • Distrust the internal network; distrust any service that is not continually verified. Defend against outbound traffic as well as inbound traffic.
  • Do not assume perfection is possible; plan for failure modes that reduce services sensibly. Reduce the time-to-repair with automation instead of extending the mean-time-between-failure.

For more reading and a less technical take on these ideas, here’s another article about Dan’s thoughts from Ben Tomhave, a GRC (Governance, Risk & Compliance) consultant.

Half a million Aussie credit card numbers fly to Eastern Europe

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 | Mark Bedford | Comments Off on Half a million Aussie credit card numbers fly to Eastern Europe

In an article from Wired thieves allegedly stole half a million Australian credit card numbers. The raid on an unnamed business in Australia used keystroke logging software on POS terminals then transferred the information back to Eastern Europe. The POS terminals had default passwords and stored transaction data insecurely. They were accessed using an unsecured Microsoft Remote Desktop connection. But the notable quote is

“The network was setup by some local suppliers who didn’t understand IT security,” Det. Sup. Marden told the magazine. “It was a disaster waiting to happen.”

As is often the case in many incidents, most of the layers of defence were turned off, left with default values, or just were not considered necessary. Had any one of the following been in place this particular incident could have been averted: changed the vendors default password, forced access to the terminals via a VPN, AV software on the workstations, IDS on outward network traffic, logging and monitoring of authentication services. Lastly, had the Aussie business performed an independent information security audit these would have been identified and the costly compromise could have been avoided.

The dangers of testing in a live environment

Monday, August 6th, 2012 | Jim Cheetham | Comments Off on The dangers of testing in a live environment

On August 1 2012, the New York Stock Exchange started to record significantly unusual levels of activity at 0930, as the markets opened. Trade rates were running at 30% above normal. By the end of the day one trader alone, Knight Capital Group Inc, had burnt over $440 million. The trades damaged market values for the whole day and almost destroyed Knight completely.

Technical analysts Nanex have posted a great analysis of the pattern of trades that enabled them to identify the likely origin of the trades, and to present a reasonable theory that seems to fix the facts: Knight seem to have released an internal trade testing application onto their production servers. It tested the live NYSE market. It lost money, because making money was not a requirement for testing.

It is hard to come up with a test environment for software that acts in a realistic manner, especially when you do not want to let the software itself be aware that it is being tested (because that will change its behaviour, and then it isn’t a proper test, is it?). It is also hard to construct tests that have to change the system state, when testing things that write to databases for example. And if you do accidentally run the test in a live environment, you can always recover from backups, right?

No, not always. Not $440 million’s worth of real-world money …


Wired reviews 4 external hard drives with built in keypads

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 | Gene Teo | Comments Off on Wired reviews 4 external hard drives with built in keypads

I’ve posted before about external hard drives with built-in encryption. These devices have their own keypad to enter the password/decryption key. If you should happen to connect it to a computer infected with a keystroke logger, the key will not be revealed (although such a computer may have other malware installed on it!)

Wired have a four-way comparison of:

  • Apricorn Aegis Padlock 3
  • Rocstor Rocsafe MX
  • Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Drive
  • DataLocker DL3