2008-07-29

Apple gets an F

Apple needs to start paying half as much attention to security as they're paying to design. Weeks after every other major vendor has released a patch to what we affectionately call the Kaminsky DNS Flaw at work, and months after being informed of the problem, Apple still hasn't patched their implementation.

I never had a soft-and-fuzzy feeling about Apple's commitment to patching, but for them to sit on a serious, ubiquitous flaw as their competitors react responsibly for once shows in no uncertain terms that their priorities seem to lie elsewhere.

Microsoft is a great pioneer in doing things wrong - from a security perspective, anyway. You'd think Apple would do everything it could to differentiate itself and win more market share. You'd think...

2008-07-23

FlyClear passes privacy audit

In a recent press release, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. - commonly known to US air travelers as FlyClear - announced they had passed a four-month long audit of adherence to their own privacy commitments. This is a rare good-news story that acknowledges the significant concerns raised by privacy groups such as EPIC. To what end their own stated privacy commitments addresses those concerns I will leave to the advocates, but an important disclaimer from the audit report was left out of the press release.

...the projection of any conclusions, based on our findings, to future periods is subject to the risk that the validity of such conclusions may be altered because of changes made to the system or controls, the failure to make needed changes to the system or controls, or a deterioration in the degree of effectiveness of the controls.

I wouldn't even point this out if we were talking about anything but a government-sponsored program/company: periodic auditing is absolutely essential to ensure ongoing confidence in the program. The more consecutive audits passed, the greater public confidence grows. I haven't signed up for the program in part because I was concerned about the privacy of my data. This helps offset my reluctance. The effectiveness of the entire program, of course, is another topic altogether.

2008-07-16

Dan Kaminsky is NOT a hero

Before I launch into my rant about all the swirl that's resulted from Dan Kaminsky's recent disclosure of a DNS flaw, I want to make one thing clear: While I do not know him nor have I worked with him, I nevertheless hold Dan's skills in high regard and respect him as a professional. The DNS flaw behind this is indeed serious. Nothing I'm about to say should be seen as a reflection on him or his work, but rather the sometimes-OCD InfoSec community and online media outlets.

Yesterday I read a column by Robert Vamosi, linked off of C|Net, that made me vomit a little bit in my mouth. His comments on Kaminsky would make the reader think that the man just saved the entire world+dog for today and the rest of time from certain doom from some three-headed unstoppable eating machine with minty fresh breath but a bad, bad attitude. Heck, he may just be the second coming. Oh man, that means I'm going to hell for not capitalizing He. Allow me to quote from the article titled - no kidding - The man who changed internet security:

There have been other multiparty patch releases, but never has there been one on such a massive scale.

What he [...] did over the last few months was not only responsible but extraordinary.

all future vulnerability disclosures could benefit from his example.

With the DNS flaw, Kaminsky was in a very weird position. What he found wrong [...] wasn't just within one vendor's product, it cut across various products

He has changed Internet security, and done so for the better of us all.

This is a great amalgamation of all of the idolatry directed at Dan, all in one column. To categorize all of this, many people - professionals in the field (self-proclaimed or otherwise) - seem to be under any combination of the following false impressions:
  1. The scope of this issue is without precedent. This is simply not true. Especially in the late 90's and early 2000's as attackers began seriously exploring computer vulnerabilities, there have been a number of widespread service implementation problems - or problems affecting a hugely critical piece of software (think: Bind before many people used MS's DNS server). A recent example is the vulnerability in the implementation of BGP by every major router manufacturer in 2007 which could lead to a spoofed denial-of-service and ZOMG TAKE DOWN THE WHOLE INNERWEBS!
  2. Having to coordinate patches between vendors is unusual. While no doubt most vulnerabilities impact only a single vendor, it's also not uncommon to find a second vendor, perhaps borrowing from the same segment of code (I'm looking at you Unix), that is also vulnerable. For an easy example, see (1), or many vulnerabilities found in open source/GPL code over the years.
  3. This vulnerability is new and completely unexpected. While we won't know for sure until this is discussed at BlackHat, there is evidence suggesting this isn't true. People have pointed out that similar techniques to poison DNS have already been discussed. We can certainly say the severity of the exploit seems new, but beyond that, any responsible discussion on the topic needs to wait until all the facts are in front of the public for peer review. I wouldn't say this is patently false, but I would say to anyone making this assertion, "not so fast there..."
  4. Responsible disclosure is somehow novel, invented, or revolutionized by Dan Kaminsky. These people either have had their head in the ground since 2000 or so when the debate between full and responsible disclosure first erupted on BugTraq, or they never understood what the term meant. At the time of the writing of this entry, a Google search for "responsible vulnerability disclosure" returned "about" 287,000 pages.
To quote his recent blog entry, he's been "the beneficiary of what can only be described as 'redonkulous amounts of press'." To wit, there is plenty of good press discussing the vulnerability and how to fix it - that's obviously not what I'm talking about. Dan's a great professional, I hate to see fanboys like this surface and cheapen - rather than reinforce - his m4d sk1lz.

To Dan: Kudos. To all the fanboys and fangirls: Please to be redirecting your significant energy and time to something a little more productive.

2008-07-12

In case you missed it...

In the most recent SANS NewsBites, editor Brian Honan points readers to a great skit on identity theft by British sketch comedians Mitchell & Webb. Hilarious, concise, and satirical-just what you'd expect from British humo(u)r. Worth the 1:55 if you have it to spare.

2008-07-07

Malware, defined

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has released a list of 100 new words defined in their dictionary. Among them is the most commonly red-squiggly-underlined word in any document I type, malware. As reported by Die Welt:

Malware (1990): software designed to interfere with a computer's normal functioning.

2008-07-03

Differentiating CNA and CNE

The sometimes-subtle difference between espionage and attack in the electronic or digital realm is often completely glazed over in the media. This, I feel, is confusing two very different objectives of adversaries. Without such a distinction, it becomes hard to defend computers, networks, and data, as each requires a very different approach to detection and prevention. As Zach in Rage Against The Machine would tell you, "know your enemy." One must fully understand who is attempting to do what in order to properly align defenses.

This issue has annoyed me for a long time, and I've found it somewhat hard to articulate the significance of this delineation. Finally, it seems, someone is getting the word out - and in a way that's easy to understand. In a hearing before congress on May 20th of this year, Col. McAlum, director of JTF-GNO, stated the following:

I would also point out on this slide that it's really important to get the lexicon right. In the open source media and other forums, you hear the term "cyber attack" used rather liberally, and you won't hear anyone in the Department of Defense use that term in the context of cyber reconnaissance or network intrusions. What we are seeing today are network intrusions.

Some people might classify that as a form of cyber espionage. I would not have a problem with that characterization, but the terms "attack" and "intrusion" are very different and the differences are significant in many cases. So, for example, someone breaking on to an Air Force base with a camera and a backpack is a serious event, very serious, and is going to get the security forces and a lot of leadership's attention.

However, that's much different than someone breaking into an Air Force base with a satchel charge ready to plant it somewhere and blow something up. Those are sort of the nuanced differences that I think the lexicon discussion has to take into account.


This is one of many very interesting comments on this hearing, titled "CHINA’S PROLIFERATION PRACTICES, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF ITS CYBER AND
SPACE WARFARE CAPABILITIES." If you take an interest in all the recent press about these topics, you will find this a very good read.

2008-07-02

Readying children for a police state

A coworker sent me a link to this wiretap kit for children ages 10-14 being sold by Toys-R-Us. This is just terrifying on so many levels...