RSA 2017: 5 Opportunities!

I feel incredibly grateful that RSA Conference 2017, Digital Guru and IOActive have given me so many opportunities this year to share with you, to meet you.

I will speak about the hard earned lessons that I (we’ve) gained through years of threat modeling programmes and training on Wednesday morning, February 15th. The very same day, I will give a shortened version of the threat model class that I, along with a couple of Intel practitioners, have developed. And Justin Cragin, Intel Principal Engineer and cloud guru, and I will share some of our thoughts on DevOps as a vehicle for product security on Thursday morning (see below for the schedule).

IOActive have asked me to participate in a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon at 3PM at their usual RSA event, “IOAsis“, at Elan on Howard Street, across from Moscone West. I believe that you may need to register beforehand to attend IOAsis. IOActive’s programme is always chock full of interesting information and lively interchange.

Finally, once again, I’ll sign books at 2PM on Wednesday in front of the Digital Guru official RSA bookstore. In the past, it’s been located in the South Lobby of Moscone during the RSA conference. One doesn’t need a pass to get to the book store. Please stop by just to say “hi”; book purchase not required, though, of course, I’m happy to personally sign copies of my books.

Follows, my RSA talks schedule:

Tuesday

3:00 P.M. PST – Security Plan Development: Move to a Better Security Reality
Presented by: Brad Hegrat, IOActive
IOAsis, Elan Event Venue 
Talk Description

Wednesday

Session ID

Title

Room

Start Time

End Time

AIR-W02

Threat Modeling the Trenches to the Clouds

Marriott Marquis | Yerba Buena 8

8:00 AM

8:45 AM

LAB3-W04

Threat Modeling Demystified

Moscone West | 2022

10:30 AM

12:30 PM

Book Signing, RSA Bookstore 2-2:30P

Thursday

Session ID

Title

Room

Start Time

End Time

ASD-R03

DevSecOps: Rapid Security for Rapid Delivery

Moscone West | 2005

9:15 AM

10:00 AM

Finally Making JGERR Available

Originally conceived when I was at Cisco, Just Good Enough Risk Rating (JGERR) is a lightweight risk rating approach that attempts to solve some of the problems articulated by Jack Jones’ Factor Analysis Of Information Risk (FAIR). FAIR is a “real” methodology; JGERR might be said to be FAIR’s “poor cousin”.

FAIR, while relatively straightforward, requires some study. Vinay Bansal and I needed something that could be taught in a short time and applied to the sorts of risk assessment moments that regularly occur when assessing a system to uncover the risk posture and to produced a threat model.

Our security architects at Cisco were (probably still are?) very busy people who have to make a series of fast risk ratings during each assessment. A busy architect might have to assess more than one system in a day. That meant that whatever approach we developed had to be fast and easily understandable.

Vinay and I were building on Catherine Nelson and Rakesh Bharania’s Rapid Risk spreadsheet. But it had arithmetic problems as well as did not have a clear separation of risk impact from those terms that will substitute for probability in a risk rating calculation. We had collected hundreds of Rapid Risk scores and we were dissatisfied with the collected results.

Vinay and I developed a new spreadsheet and a new scoring method which actively followed FAIR’s example by separating out terms that need to be thought of (and calculated) separately. Just Good Enough Risk Rating (JGERR) was born. This was about 2008, if I recall correctly?

In 2010, when I was on the steering committee for the SANS What Works in Security Architecture Summits (they are no longer offering these), one of Alan Paller’s ideas was to write a series of short works explaining successful security treatments for common problems. The concept was to model these on the short diagnostic and treatment booklets used by medical doctors to inform each other of standard approaches and techniques.

Michele Guel, Vinay, and myself wrote a few of these as the first offerings. The works were to be peer-reviewed by qualified security architects, which all of our early attempts were. The first “Smart Guide” was published to coincide with a Summit held in September of 2011. However, SANS Institute has apparently cancelled not only the Summit series, but also the Smart Guide idea. None of the guides seem to have been posted to the SANS online library.

Over the years, I’ve presented JGERR at various conferences and it is the basis for Chapter 4 of Securing Systems. Cisco has by now, collected hundreds of JGERR scores. I spoke to a Director who oversaw that programme a year or so ago, and she said that JGERR is still in use. I know that several companies have considered  and/or adapted JGERR for their use.

Still, the JGERR Smart Guide was never published. I’ve been asked for a copy many times over the years. So, I’m making JGERR available from here at brookschoenfield.com should anyone continue to have interest.

cheers,

/brook schoenfield

The “Real World” of Developer-centric Security

My friend and colleague, Dr. James Ransome, invited me late last Winter to write a chapter for his 10th book on computer security, Core Software Security(with co-author, Anmol Misra published by CRC Press. My chapter is “The SDL In The Real World”, SDL = “Secure Development Lifecycle”. The book was released December 9, 2013. You can get copies from the usual sources (no adverts here, as always).

It was an exciting process. James and I spent hours white boarding possible SDL approaches, which was very fun, indeed*. We collectively challenged ourselves to uncover current SDL assumptions, poke at the validity of these, and find better approaches, if possible.

Many of you already know that I’ve been working towards a different approach to the very difficult, multi-dimensional and multi-variate problem of designing and implementing secure software for a rather long time. Some of my earlier work has been presented to the industry on a regular basis.

Specifically, during the period of 2007-9, I talked about a new (then) approach to security verification that would be easy for developers to integrate into their workflow and which wouldn’t require a deep understanding of security vulnerabilities nor of security testing. At the time, this approach was a radical departure.

The proving ground for these ideas was my program at Cisco, Baseline Application Vulnerability Assessment, or BAVA, for short (“my” here does not exclude the many people who contributed greatly to BAVA’s structure and success. But it was more or less my idea and I was the technical leader for the program).

But, is ease and simplicity all that’s necessary? By now, many vendors have jumped on the bandwagon; BAVA’s tenets are hardly even newsworthy at this point**. Still, the dream has not been realized, as far as I can see. Vulnerability scanning still suffers from a slew of impediments from a developer’s view:

  • Results count vulnerabilities not software errors
  • Results are noisy, often many variations of a single error are reported uniquely
  • Tools are hard to set up
  • Tools require considerable tool  knowledge and experience, too much for developers’ highly over-subscribed days
  • Qualification of results requires more in-depth security knowledge than even senior developers generally have (much less an average developer)

And that’s just the tool side of the problem. What about architecture and design? What about building security in during iterative, fast paced, and fast changing agile development practices? How about continuous integration?

As I was writing my chapter, something crystalized. I named it, “developer-centric security”, which then managed to get wrapped into the press release and marketing materials of the book. Think about this:  how does the security picture change if we re-shape what we do by taking the developer’s perspective rather than a security person’s?

Developer-centric software security then reduced to single, pointed question:

What am I doing to enable developers to innovate securely while they are designing and writing software?

Software development remains a creative and innovative activity. But so often, we on the security side try to put the brakes on innovation in favour of security. Policies, standards, etc., all try to set out the rules by which software should be produced. From an innovator’s view at least some of the time, developers are iterating through solutions to a new problem while searching for the best way to solve it. How might security folk enable that process? That’s the question I started to ask myself.

Enabling creativity, thinking like a developer, while integrating into her or his workflow is the essence of developer-centric security. Trust and verify. (I think we have to get rid of that old “but”)

Like all published works, the book represents a point-in-time. My thinking has accelerated since the chapter was completed. Write me if you’re intrigued, if you’d like more about developer-centric security.

Have a great day wherever you happen to be on this spinning orb we call home, Earth.

cheers,

/brook

*Several of the intermediate diagrams boggle in complexity and their busy quality. Like much software development, we had to work iteratively. Intermediate ideas grew and shifted as we worked. a creative process?

**At the time, after hearing BAVA’s requirements, one vendor told me, “I’ll call you back next year.”. Six months later on a vendor webcast, that same vendor was extolling the very tenets that I’d given them earlier. Sea change?

Seriously? Product Security?

Seriously? You responded to my security due diligence question with that?

Hopefully, there’s a lesson in this tale of woe about what not to do when asked about product security?

This incident has been sticking in my craw for about a year. I think it’s time to get it off my chest. If for no other reason, I want to stop thinking about this terrible customer experience. And yes, for once, I’m going to name the guilty company. I wasn’t under NDA in this situation, as far as I know?

There I was, Enterprise Security Architect for a mid-size company (who shall not be named. No gossip, ever, from this blog). Part of my job was to ensure that vendors’ product security was strong enough to protect my company’s security posture. There’s a due diligence responsibility assigned to most infosec people. In order to fulfill this responsibility, it has become a typical practice to research software vendors’ product security practices.Based upon the results, either mitigate uncovered risks to policy and industry standards or raise the risk to organizational decision makers (and there are always risks, right?).

Every software vendor goes through these due diligence investigations on a regular basis. And I do mean “every”.

I’ve lived on both sides of this fence, conducting the investigations and having my company’s software go through many investigations. This process is now a part of the fabric of doing secure business. There should be nothing surprising about the questions. In past positions, we had a vendor questionnaire, a risk scale based upon the expected responses, and standards against which to measure the vendor. These tools help to build a repeatable process. One of these processes is documented in a SANS Institute Smart Guide released in 2011 and was published by Cisco, as well.

Now, I’m going to name names. Sorry, Google, I’m going to detail just what your Docs sales team said to me. Shame on you!

When I asked about Google Docs product security here is the answer, almost verbatim, that I received from the sales team:

“We’re Google. We can hire Vint Cerf if we want. That is enough.”

Need I point out to my brilliant readers that Dr. Vint Cerf, as far as I know, has never claimed to be an information security expert? I’m sure he knows far more about the design of TCP/IP than I? (but I remind readers that I used to write TCP/IP stacks, so I’m not entirely clueless, either). And, Dr. Cerf probably knows a thing or two about Internet Security, since he runs ICANN?

Still, I can tell you authoritatively that TCP/IP security and Domain Name Registry security are only two (fairly small) areas of an information security due diligence process that is now standard for software vendors to pass.

Besides, the sales team didn’t answer my questions. This was a classic “Appeal to Authority“. And, unfortunately, they didn’t even bother to appeal to a security authority. Sorry Vint; they took your name in vain. I suppose this sort of thing happens to someone of your fame all the time?

Behind the scenes, my counter-part application architect and I immediately killed any possible engagement with Google Docs. Google Sales Team, you lost the sale through that single response. The discussion was over; the possibility of a sale was out, door firmly closed.

One of the interesting results from the wide adoption of The Web has been the need for open and transparent engagement. Organizations that engage honestly gain trust through their integrity, even in the face of organizational mis-steps and faux pas. Organizations who attempt the old fashion paradigm, “control all communications”, lose trust, and lose it rapidly and profoundly. Commercial companies, are you paying attention? This is what democracy looks like (at least in part. But that’s a different post, I think?).

Product security is difficult and demanding. There are many facets that must compliment each other to deliver acceptable risk. And, even with the best intentions and execution, one will still have unexpected vulnerabilities crop up from time to time. We only have to look at development of Microsoft’s product security programme to understand how one of the best in the industry (in my humble opinion) will not catch everything. Do Microsoft bugs surface? Yes. Is the vulnerability level today anywhere near what it was 10 years ago? Not even close. Kudos, Microsoft.

It’s long past the time that any company can coast on reputation. I believe that Google do some very interesting things towards the security of their customers. But their  sales team need to learn a few lessons in humility and transparency. Brand offers very little demonstrable protection. Google, you have to answer those due diligence questionnaires honestly and transparently. Otherwise the Infosec person on the other side has nothing against which to base her/his risk rating. And, in the face of no information, the safest bet is to rate “high risk”. Default deny rule.

It’s a big world out there and if your undiscovered vulnerabilities don’t get’cha now, they will eventually. Beware; be patient; be humble; remain inquisitive; work slowly and carefully. You can quote me on that.

cheers,

/brook

SANS Security Architecture

There are plenty of security conferences, to be sure. You can get emersed in the nitty gritty of attack exploits, learn to better analyze intrusion logs, even work on being a better manager of information security folks (like me).

In the plethora of conferences trying to get your attention, there is one area that doesn’t get much space: Security Architecture.

While the Open Group has finally recognized the Security Architect discipline, conferences dedicated to the practice have been too few and too far between. The SANS Institute hosted one last year in Las Vegas. It was such a success that they’ve decided to do it again.

SANS Security Architecture: Baking Security Into Applications And Networks

This year’s conference is intended to bring security architecture to the practical. The conference will be chock full of approaches and techniques that you can use “whole hog” or cherry pick for those portions which make sense for your organization.

Why do security architects need a conference of their own?

If you ask me (which you didn’t!), security architecture is a difficult, complex practice. There are many branches of knowledge, technical, organizational, political, personal that get brought together by the successful architect. It’s frustrating; it’s tricky. It’s often more Art than engineering.

We need each other, not just to commiserate, but to support each other, to help each other take this Art and make what we do more repeatable, more sustainable, more effective. And, many times when I’ve spoken about the discipline publicly, those who are new to security architecture want to know how to learn, what to learn, how to build a programme. From my completely unscientific experience, there seems a strong need for basic information on how to get started and how to grow.

Why do organizations need Information Security Architects? Well, first off, probably not every organization does need them. But certainly if your organization’s security universe is complex, your projects equally complex, then architecture may be of great help. My friend, Srikanth Narasimhan, has a great presentation on “The Long Tail of Architecture”, explaining where the rewards are found from Enterprise Architecture.

Architecture rewards are not reaped upfront. In fact, applying system architecture principles and processes will probably slow development down. But, when a system is designed not just for the present, but the future requirements; when a system supports a larger strategy and is not entirely tactical; when careful consideration has been given to how seeming disparate systems interact and depend, as things change, that’s where architecting systems delivers it’s rewards.

A prime example of building without architecture is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, USA. It’s a fun place to visit, with its stairwells without destination, windows opening to walls, and so on. Why? The simple answer is, “no architecture”.

So if your security systems seem like a version of the “Mystery House”, perhaps you need some architecture help?

Security Architecture brings the long tail of reward through planning, strategy, holism, risk practice, “top to bottom, front to back, side to side” view of the matrix of flows and system components to build a true defense in depth. It’s become too complex to simply deploy the next shiney technology and put these in without carefully considering how each part of the defense in depth depends upon and affects, interacts, with the others.

The security architecture contains a focus that addresses how seeming disparate security technologies and processes fit into a whole. And, solutions focused security architects help to build holistic security into systems; security architecture is a fundamental domain of an Enterprise Architecture practice. I’ve come to understand that security architecture has (at least) these two foci, largely through attending last year’s conference. I wonder what I’ll gain this year?

Please join me  in Washington DC, September 28-30, 2011 for SANS Security Architecture.

cheers

/brook

 

Pen Testers Cannot Scale To Enterprise Need!

As reported in Information Week, several Black Hat researchers have noted that humans must qualify application vulnerability scanning results. It’s hard to find this statement as “news” since I’ve been saying this publicly, at conferences for at least 4 years. I’m not the only one. Ask the vendors’ Sales Engineers. They will tell you (they have certainly told me!) that one has to qualify testing results.

“At the end of the day, tools don’t find vulnerabilities. People do,” says Nathan Hamiel, one of the researchers. 

Yes, Nathan, this has been the state of affairs for years.

The status quo is great for penetration testers. But it’s terrible for larger organizations. Why? Pen testers are expensive and slow.

I agree with the truisms stated by the researchers. If there were 10’s of thousands of competent penetration testing  practitioners, the fact the the tools generally do NOT find vulnerabilities without human qualification would not matter.

But there are only 1000s, perhaps even less than 3000 penetration testers who can perform the required vulnerability qualification. These few must be apportioned across 10s of millions of lines of vulernable code, much of which is exposed to the hostile Public Internet.

Plus which, human qualified vulnerability testing is slow. A good tester can test maybe 50 applications each year. Against that throughput, organizations who have a strong web presence may deploy 50 applications or upgrades each quarter year. Many of the human qualified scans become stale within a quarter or two.

Hence this situation is untenable for enterprises who have an imperative to remove whatever vulnerabilities may be found. Large organizations may have 1000s of applications deployed. At $4-500/hour, which code do you scan? Even the least critical application might hand a malefactor a compromise.

This is a fundamental mis-match.

The pen testers want to find everything that they can. All fine and good.

But enterprises must reduce their attack surface. I would argue that any reduction is valuable. We don’t have to find every vulnerability in every application. Without adequate testing, there are 100% of the vulnerabilities exposed. Reducing these by even 20% overall is a big win.

Further, it is not cost effective to throw pen testers at this problem. It has to either be completely automated or the work has to be done by developers or QA folk who do not have the knowledge to qualify most results.

Indeed, the web developer him/herself must be able to at least test and remove some of the attack surface while developing. Due to the nature of custom code testing, I’m afraid that the automation is not yet here. That puts the burden on people who have little interest in security for security’s sake.

I’ve spoken to almost every vulnerability testing vendor. Some understand this problem. Some have focused on the expert tester exclusively. But, as near as I can tell, the state of the art is at best hindered by noisy results that typically require human qualification. At worst, some of these tools are simply unsuitable for the volume of code that is vulnerable.

As long as so much noise remains in the results, we, the security industry, need to think differently about this problem.

I’m speaking at SANS What Works in Security Architecture August 29-30, Washington DC, USA. This is a gathering of Security Architecture practioners from around the world. If your role includes Architecture, let me urge you to join us as we show each other what’s worked and as we discuss are mutual problem areas.

cheers

/brook

What is this thing called “Security Architecture”?

What is this thing called “Security Architecture”?

In February 2009, while I was attending an Open Group Architecture Conference in Bangalore, India, several of us got into a conversation about how security fits into enterprise architecture. A couple of the main folks from the Open Group were involved (sorry, I don’t remember who). They’d been struggling with this same problem: Is high level security participation in the process architectural, as defined for IT architecture?

Participants to that particular conversation had considered several possibilities. Maybe there is such a thing as a security architect? Maybe security participation is as a Subject Matter Expert (SME)? Maybe it’s all design and engineering?

Interesting questions.

I think how an organization views security may depend on how security is engaged and for what purposes. If security is engaged at an engineering level only,

  • “please approve my ACLs”
  • “what is the script for hardening this system? Has it been hardened sufficiently?”
  • “is this encryption algorithm acceptable?”
  • “is this password strength within policy?”
  • etc.

Then that organization will not likely have security architects. In fact (and I’ve seen this), there may be absolutely no concept of security architecture. “Security architecture” might be like saying, “when pigs fly”.

If your security folks are policy & governance wonks, then too, there may not be much of a security architecture practice.

Organizations where security folks are brought in to help projects achieve an appropriate security posture and also brought in to vet that a proposal won’t in some way degrade the current security posture of the organization, my guess is these are among the driving tasks for developing a security architecture practice?

However, in my definition of security architecture, I wouldn’t limit the practice to vetting project security. There can be more to it than that.

  • security strategy
  • threat landscape, (emerging term: “threatscape”)
  • technology patterns, blueprints, standards, guides
  • risk analysis, assessment, communication and decisions
  • emerging technology trends and how these affect security

A strong practitioner will be well versed in a few of these and at least conversant in all at some level. Risk analysis is mandatory.

I’ve held the title “Security Architect” for almost 10 years now. In that time, my practice has changed quite a lot, as well as my understanding, as my team’s understanding have grown. Additionally, we’ve partnered alongside an emerging enterprise architecture team and practice, which has helped me understand not only the practice of system architecture, but my place in that practice as a specialist in security.

Interestingly, I’ve seen security architecture lead or become a practice before enterprise architecture! Why is that? To say so, to observe so, seems entirely counter-intuitive – which is where the Open Group folks were coming from, I fear?. They are focused deeply on IT architecture. Security may be a side-show in their minds, perhaps even, “oh, those guys who maintain the IDS systems”?

Still, it remains in my experience that security may certainly lead architecture practice. Your security architects will have to learn to take a more holistic approach to systems than your development and design community may require. There’s a fundamental reason for this!

You can’t apply the right security controls for a system that you do not understand from bottom to top, front to back, side to side, all flows, all protocols, highest sensitivity of data. Period.

Security controls tend to be very specific; they protect particular points of a system or flow. Since controls tend to be specific, we generally overlap them, building our defense out of multiple controls, the classic, “defense-in-depth”. In order to apply the correct set of controls, in order not to specify more than is necessary to achieve an appropriate security posture, each control needs to be understood in the context of the complete system and its requirements. No control can be taken in isolation from the rest of the system. No control is a panacea. No control in isolation is unbreakable. The architectural application of controls builds the appropriate level of risk.

But project information by itself isn’t really enough to get the job done, it turns out. By now I’ve mentored a few folks just starting out into security architecture. While we’re certainly not all the same, teaching the security part is the easy part, it turns out (in my experience). In addition to a working understanding of

  • Knowledge of the local systems and infrastructures, how these work, what are their security strengths and weak points
  • The local policies and standards, and a feel for industry standard approaches
  • What can IT build easily, what will be difficult?
  • Understanding within all the control domains of security at least at a gross level
  • Design skills, ability to see patterns of application across disparate systems
  • Ability to see relationships across systems
  • Ability to apply specific controls to protect complex flows
  • Depth in at least 2 technological areas
  • A good feel for working with people

Due to the need to view complex systems holistically in order to apply appropriate security, the successful security architects quickly get a handle on the complexity and breadth of a system, all the major components, and how all of these will communicate with each other. Security architects need to get proficient at ignoring implementation details and other “noise”, say the details of user interface design (which only rarely, I find, have security implications).

The necessity of viewing a system at an architectural level and then applying patterns where applicable are the bread and butter of an architectural approach. In other words, security must be applied from an architectural manner; practitioners have no choice if they are to see all the likely attack vectors and mitigate these.

Building a strong defense in depth I think demands architectural thinking. That, at least is what we discovered 9-10 years ago on our way to a security architecture practice.

And, it’s important to note that security architects deal in “mis-use” cases, not “use cases”. We have to think like an attacker. I’ve often heard a system designer complain, “but the system isn’t built to work that way”. That may be, but if the attacker can find a way, s/he will if that vector delivers any advantage.

One my working mantras is, “think like an attacker, but question like a team mate”. In a subsequent post, I’d like to take this subject up more deeply as it is at the heart of what we have to do.

And, as I wrote above, because of this necessity to apply security architecturally, security architects may be among your first system architects! “Necessity is the mother of invention”, as they say.

Security architecture may lead other domains or the enterprise practice. I remember in the early days that we often grumbled to each other about having to step into a broader architecture role simply because it was missing. In order to do our job, we needed architecture. In the absence of such a practice, we would have to do it for projects simply because we, the security architects, couldn’t get our work completed. We’d step into the breach. This may not be true in your organization? But in my experience, this has been a dirty little secret in more than one.

So, if you’re looking to get architecture started in your IT shop, see if the security folks have already put their toes in the water.

In the last year, I believe that a consensus is beginning to emerge within the security industry about security architecture. I’ve seen a couple of papers recently that are attempts to codify our body of practice, the skill set, the process of security architecture. It seems an exciting and auspicious time. Is security architecture finally beginning to come of age?

The time seems ripe for a summit of practitioners in order to talk about these very issues. It’s great that SANS is pulling us together next week in Las Vegas, What Works In Security Architecture. Yours truly will be speaking a couple of times at the summit.

Please join me next week, May 24-26, 2010 in Las Vegas. Engage me in lively and spirited dialog about security architecture.

cheers

/brook

The SANS Application Security Summit

Two days, about 20 speakers, all the major tool makers, pundits, researchers, penetration testers, this summit was almost a who’s who of application security. SANS wanted to kick-off their new GIAC application coding certification. And, along with that, they wanted to take a pulse of the industry. I was privileged to be included on a couple of panels – there were frighteningly smart people speaking – country mouse playing with the city cats, definitely!

A couple of my colleagues sat for the exam. I once held GIAC Intrusion Detection certification (#104?) but I let it lapse. (It’s not really relevant to what I do now) My buddies said it was a reasonable exam. The exam covered implementing security controls from the language APIs (java – JAAS calls) and coding securely.

The larger issue is what can we make out of this certification? How much effect will it have? Will getting coders certified change the landscape significantly?

There was plenty of FUD from the toolmakers. Yes, the entire web is vulnerable, apparently. Ugh! You probably knew that already, huh?

The numbers of applications out there is staggering. Estimates were running in the 100 millions. That’s a lot of vulnerable code. And, considering that my work’s DMZ takes a 6 million attack pounding every 24 hours, it’s not too far a stretch to assume that at least a few of those attacks are getting through. We only know about the incidents that are reported or that cause damage (as pointed out in the Cenzic report released at the Summit)

And, it seems like the financial incentives for exploiting vulnerabilities are maturing? (a google search will reveal dozens of financially motivated hack reports) If so, cash incentives will likely increase the number of incidents for all of us. Another big sigh.

One of the most interesting speakers to me at the conference was Dinis Cruz, CTO of Ounce Labs. A couple of times, he pointed out that while yes, we are being hacked, there’s no blood on the floor. Nobody’s been killed from a web hack (thank goodness!) We (inductries that use the web heavily) are losing money doing damage control, making up losses (especially, the financial industry), and doing remediations. Absolutely true.

But has anyone done an analysis of what the risk picture looks like? Is web exposure worth it? Are we making more than we’re losing? So much more that, like actuaries, the risks are worth it?

I know this question may seem crazy for someone from inside the information security industry to ask? But, anyone who knows me, knows that I like to ask the questions that aren’t being asked, that perhaps might even be taboo? We security folk often focus on reducing risk until we feel comfortable. That “warm and fuzzy”. Risk is “bad”, and must be reduced. Well, yeah. I fall into that trap all too often, myself.

It’s important when assessing a system to bring its risk down to the “usual and acceptable” levels of practice and custom of one’s organization. That’s at least part of my daily job.

But appropriate business risk always includes space for losses. What’s the ratio? Dinis definitely set me to considering the larger picture.

My work organization takes in more than 90% of its revenue through web sites. As long as loss is within tolerable limits, we should be ok, right? The problem with this statement comes with a few special classes of data compromise. These can’t be ignored quite so easily (or, the risk picture needs to be calculated more wholistically)

• Privacy laws are getting tougher. How does one actually inform each of 38 States Attorneys-General first? And, the Japan law makes this problem seem trivial.
• Privacy breaches are really hard on customer goodwill. Ahem
• Internet savvy folks are afraid of identity theft (again, a personally identifying information (PII) issue). The aftermath from identity theft can last for years and go way beyond the $50 credit card loss limit that makes consumer web commerce run.

I’ve got friends working for other companies that are dealing with the fall-out from these sorts of breaches. It ain’t pretty. It’s bad for organizations. The fall-out sometimes dwarfs the asset losses.

And, if I think about it, about all the vulnerabilities out there, are we each just one SQL injection exposure away from the same? Forget the laptop on the car seat. PII is sitting on organization database servers that are being queried by vulnerable web applications.

Considering this possibility brings me back to the importance of application security. Yes, I think we have to keep working on it.

And, our tool set is immature. As I see it, the industry is highly dependent upon people like Dinis Cruz to review our code and to analyze our running applications. I don’t think Dinis is a cheap date!

So, what to do?

I’ll offer what John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, Inc., told me. (no, I don’t know him. I happened be in the same room and happened to have him take my question and answer it. Serendipitous circumstances). “Think architecturally”

That is, I don’t think we’re going to train and hire our way out of the vulnerability debt that we’ve dug for ourselves with 100 million apps on the web being vulnerable. Ahem. That’d take a lot of analysis. And, at the usual cost of $300/hour, who’d have the resources?

I’ll offer that we have to stop talking about and to ourselves about the problem and get it in front of all the stake holders. Who are those?

• The risk holders (i.e., executive management)
• Our developer communities (SANS certification is certainly a start. But I think that security has to be taught as a typical part of proper defensive programming. Just like structuring code or handling exceptions, input must be validated.)
• Security as an aspect of system design and architecture. Not that cute box along the side labeled “security” in the logical architecture diagram. Rather, we need to treat each security control as components of the system, just like the other logical functions.

Which brings me back to the SANS Summit.

My sense of this summit is that we haven’t yet reached the tipping point. I didn’t speak to everyone there. But I spoke to a fair share (I won’t call it a sample. My conversations were hardly statistical in nature!)

Most folks with which I chatted were like me, in the trenches. We had a few formidable notables in the room, and, of course, I think there were a few beginners, as well. My guess is that most branches of the industry were represented: tool makers, consultants, Information security folk, with a sprinkling of governmental folk thrown in. The folks that I spoke to understood the issues.

If I could hazard a guess, the folks who made the time to come are the folks concerned and/or charged with, or making money out of, application security. In other words, the industry. We were talking to ourselves.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m guessing that most of us have been pretty lonely out there? There’s validation and solidarity (leftists, please forgive me for using that term here – but it does fit!) when we get together. We network. We test our ideas and our programs. That’s important. And, I heard a few really great ideas that were fresh to me.

But I think we need to take this out a good deal further, to a “tipping point” if you will, in order to move the state-of-the-art. And, I don’t think we’re there yet. Consider, if you will, how many programmers are writing web code right now?

What do you think?

cheers

/brook

A Beginning

Sitting on a plane from Washington DC, USA, to my home in Oakland, California, I’m thinking about the SANS Application Security Summit that I just attended. What are the implications of this gathering, at this time? This seems like a propitious time to open a personal blog on information security. Some new winds may be bBrook, in the Netherlandslowing? Perhaps this summit is a the beginning of a sea change?

I’ve repeatedly thought that I’d like to share thoughts on the development of my industry. It’s exciting to me, certainly frustrating, sometimes even frightening.

Perhaps like many of you readers who work in Information Security, I spend my days  helping folks manage their digital risks? And probably, like you, I’m not always successful? Perhaps IT can’t field the technology required? Or, providing security requirements is seen by as an undue burden that cannot be borne at this time?

Still, when I understand that the stake holders feel that due diligence has been served, that an appropriate risk posture has been taken, it’s a good day. Small victories, even though our technologies are often immature or mis-applied, our processes insufficient, and our art, developing. And, of course, very occasionally, I help to identify and eventually close a major gap. Job satisfaction, absolutely.

Does any of this ring any bells or resonate for you?

Occasionally, a flash of incite will come to me. And clear as mud, I suddenly sense a possibility for us to perhaps advance our art just a wee bit. I’ll share those here for your consideration and comment. While I do occasionally publish papers and speak at conferences (as I did these last 2 days), I intend to use this forum for my tentative possibilities, not for my certainties, which are generally few, anyway.

Months will go by in the daily round of meetings, risk assessments, security requirements, system architectures, and design comments. During these periods, I may choose to be quiet, waiting for some inspiration to strike. Please stay tuned.

Perhaps you’ll appreciate knowing that I’m working through the same issues as you? Or, maybe you’ll comment that I’m way off course? I don’t know. I welcome the interchange, in any event. Through dialog, I learn as much, probably more, than I give.

I’ll write more about the SANS Summit in a subsequent entry. But, here’s a beginning…

cheers,

/brook