Executing an Effective Security Program

In today’s global Internet connected and reliant IT environment, the issue of corporate networks becoming compromised is a fact. Defense in depth is still and important design pattern, but organizations with even relatively mature capabilities are relying on detection since prevention is simply not enough anymore. Whereas several years ago we used to speak about prevention of externally facing application attacks through coding flaws that lead to SQL Injection and buffer overflow attacks, now successful attackers have moved onto the weakest link: users. Compromise of user credentials now comprises 96% of the successful attacks on organizations. Why go through the brute force and difficult path of application compromised when the attackers can simply conduct a successful spear phishing attack on individuals in the organization?

This is where advanced detection comes in. User and Entity Behavior Analysis leads to high quality alerts regarding anomalous behavior that is exhibited by accounts where the user has been successfully compromised. Same detection capability exists for detecting users that are exceeding their authority, typically classed as Insider Threat – as well the machine learning can also detect systems (entities) that are behaving in a way that is antithetical to it’s normal behavior. Think of Point of Sale or healthcare Internet of Things devices that have been compromised and there aren’t specific user identities that can be used to profile normal behavior.

Of all these technologies that can be deployed, the foundation must be a sound information security program that puts policies, standards, guidelines and procedures in place that authorizes and supports the controls. The Security, Cyber, and IA Professionals (SCIAP.org) group have pulled together a concise document that outlines how to build an Effective Security Program.

BlockSync Project

Welcome to the BlockSync Project

This project aims to provide an efficient way to provide mutual protection from deemed bad actors that attack Internet facing servers. The result will be an open source set of communication tools that use established protocols for high speed and light weight transmission of attacker information to a variable number of targets (unicasting to a possibly large number of hosts).


There are many open source firewall technologies in widespread use, most based on either packet filter (pf) or netfilter (iptables). There is much technology that provides network clustering (for example, OpenBSD’s CARP and pfsync; netfilter; corosync and pacemaker), however it’s difficult for disparate (loosely coupled) servers to communicate the identity of attackers in real time to a trusted community of (tightly coupled) peers. Servers or firewalls that use state-table replication techniques, such as pfsync or netfilter, have a (near) real-time view of pass/block decisions other members have made. There needs to be a mechanism for loosely coupled servers to share block decisions in a similar fashion.

Our goal is to create an open source tool for those of us that have multiple Internet facing servers to crowd source information that will block attackers via the firewall technology of choice (OpenBSD/FreeBSD pf/pfSense, iptables, others).

Project Page

All project files are still private yet, but when we publish to GitHub or SourceForge, this section will be updated.


We have published a GoFundMe page to acquire more lab equipment here at gofundme.com/BlockSync

Trade offs of the terrible syslog protocol

syslog is a very old message transmission protocol that transmits system messages across a network. The first versions of this protocol were drafted into RFC 5426. Some assumed updating the transmission to use TCP would make things better, and the IETF released RFC 6587 describing syslog over TCP. The problem is, that is inherently unreliable as well, since the application (syslog) has no mechanism to ensure that all messages transmitted were actually received, regardless of the network level transport protocol used to convey the messages.

Rainer Gerhards wrote a blog post on the unreliability of using plain TCP to transmit syslog event data.

An attempt to create a reliable syslog protocol is described in RFC 3195, the problem is that very few vendors have adopted that standard (BEEP).

There is a movement to find a more reliable system message delivery mechanism, as described in this Wikipedia post, however the problem is not only one of a technically feasible mechanism – one that relies on the application itself to validate and guarantee message integrity and completeness – but also on wide spread adoption by the 10’s or 100’s of millions of devices that send their system logs via syslog UDP.

That will take decades, so best is to use mechanisms that can collect the event messages in native syslog UDP format as close to the generating source as possible then use an application oriented framework to convey those messages to their destination. HP ArcSight SmartConnectors are a good way to accomplish this, with their application level event queuing on input, persistent caching output, compression, encryption, bandwidth throttling, filtering, aggregation and event QoS policies.

IT Security Topics

Malware Investigation Tools and Notes

Investigating possible malware involves both detection and identification phases. Here are some notes regarding the tools I commonly use for these two phases .. note this is intended to be a living document so may change as I learn of new resources or as older resources become stale or no longer very useful.

WARNING: Links shown below may lead to sites with active malware. Do not navigate to any site or link unless you know what you are doing.


Tools like HP TippingPoint IPS do a good job of detecting vulnerabilities (versus exploits) and also use vulnerability research and lighthouse sensors across the world to confirm infected systems (by IP) and sites (by domain).


Both Google and Scumware have good domain and URL status reporting data.  URL shortening services are notorious for masking domains that have become infected, although there may be a large percentage of legitimate sites to which they refer. An example is the WordPress site wp.me:



 Broad industry trends and general knowledge of attacks, outbreaks and other relevant news can be found on various blog sites:



Securing Apache web servers

Great article by Pete Freitag on Securing Apache Web Servers
(20 ways to Secure your Apache Configuration)

Here are 20 things you can do to make your apache configuration more secure.

Disclaimer: The thing about security is that there are no guarantees or absolutes. These suggestions should make your server a bit tighter, but don’t think your server is necessarily secure after following these suggestions.

Additionally some of these suggestions may decrease performance, or cause problems due to your environment. It is up to you to determine if any of the changes I suggest are not compatible with your requirements. In other words proceed at your own risk.

First, make sure you’ve installed latest security patches

There is no sense in putting locks on the windows, if your door is wide open. As such, if you’re not patched up there isn’t really much point in continuing any longer on this list.

Hide the Apache Version number, and other sensitive information.

By default many Apache installations tell the world what version of Apache you’re running, what operating system/version you’re running, and even what Apache Modules are installed on the server. Attackers can use this information to their advantage when performing an attack. It also sends the message that you have left most defaults alone.

There are two directives that you need to add, or edit in your httpd.conf file:

ServerSignature Off
ServerTokens Prod

The ServerSignature appears on the bottom of pages generated by apache such as 404 pages, directory listings, etc.

The ServerTokens directive is used to determine what Apache will put in the Server HTTP response header. By setting it to Prod it sets the HTTP response header as follows:

Server: Apache

If you’re super paranoid you could change this to something other than “Apache” by editing the source code, or by using mod_security (see below).

Continue reading

90 Day Plan for New IT Security Managers

You’ve just taken over as an information security director, manager, or architect at an organization. Either this is a new organization that has never had this role before or your predecessor has moved on for some reason. Now what? The following outlines steps that have been shown to be effective (also based on what’s been ineffective) getting traction and generating results within the first three months. Once some small successes are under your belt, you can grow the momentum to help the business grow faster or reduce the risk to their success (or both).

Now what do we do?

Apply a tried and true multi phase approach .. assess current state, determine desired target state, perform a gap analysis, implement improvements based on priority. Basically we need to establish current state, determine what future state should be, and use the gap analysis as the deliverables of the IT security program. There may be many trade-offs that are made due to limiters like political challenges, funding constraints and difficulty in changing corporate culture. The plan you build with the business gives you the ammunition needed to persuade all your stakeholders of the value in the changes you’ll be proposing.

1. Understand the Current Environment

For a manager or enterprise architect to determine where to start, a current state must be known. This is basically an inventory of what IT security controls, people and processes are in place. This inventory is used to determine what immediately known risks and gaps from relevant security control frameworks exist. The known risks and gaps gives us a starting point to understand where impacts on the business may originate from.

Take the opportunity to socialize foundational security concepts with your new business owners and solicit their input. What are the security related concerns they have? If there has been any articulation of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT), obtaining that review can also give you an idea of weaknesses or threats that are indicative of missing controls. In the discussions with your new constituents, talk to the infrastructure managers and ask them what security related concerns keep them awake at night – there is likely some awareness but they don’t know how to move forward. Keep in mind most organizations will want a pragmatic approach versus an ivory tower perfect target state.

Some simple questions can quickly give you a picture of the state of security controls. For example, in organizations I’ve worked with, the network administrators could not provide me a complete “layer three” diagram – a diagram that shows all the network segments and how they hang together. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to, the diagrams simply didn’t exist. With over 1,500 network nodes over two data centers and two office complexes, the network group had the topology and configuration “in their heads”. Obvious weaknesses and threats include prevention of succession planning or disaster recovery, poor security transparency, and making nearly any change to the environment higher risk than necessary.

Continue reading

Resetting user passwords in Mac OS X Leopard without Administrator

For those odd times where you need to reset the password for a user on a Mac (OS X 10.5 Leopard) and you don’t have access to the / an administrator account, this is a procedure that will work if you have physical access to the system and can reboot it. No boot DVD is needed if you can boot the system off the internal hard disk.

We boot into single user mode off the internal hard disk, then reset the target user password.

  1. Boot into single user mode (press Command-S at power on)
  2. Check the root filesystem first
    fsck -fy
  3. Mount up the root filesystem
    mount -uw /
  4. Load system directory services
    launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.DirectoryServices.plist
  5. Edit user information
    dscl . -passwd /Users/username password (replace username with the targeted user and password with the new password)
  6. Reboot then sign in with the new password.

Phishing attacks getting better .. iTunes Receipts

So I get a call this morning from a family member who is freaking out over a six hundred dollar iTunes invoice. Fortunately I knew this person didn't have an iTunes account (they use mine), so I knew right away it was a fraud. On inspecting the invoice, there were so few errors it's chilling. If this had of been an invoice from the (Acme Widget Company) that I do have an account with .. it's possible it may have worked. 

This is particularly evil, since it's associated with the Zeus trojan that steals banking credentials

The quality of phishing emails have dramatically improved as the quality assurance by malware miscreants improves. 

iTunes phish

On closer inspection, there were three very subtle errors made on this iTunes phishing attack:

  1. No street address was shown.  iTunes receipts always have your street address listed and spamming dirt bags don't have that (we hope).
  2. Receipts (that I've paid attention to) come with an American style date format .. month / day / year.  Canadian or European formats are typically day / month / year or year / month / day.  This one is  day / month / year.
  3. Modern corporate invoicing systems don't include leading zeros. Also the quantity and dollar amounts don't add up.

Every web hyper-link in this invoice except for the Apple Store Support and the Apple Legal links point to a non-Apple site.  All the links in iTunes invoices point to Apple.  In this case, the infected domain was  medicineni.com . This is particularly evil, since it's associated with the Zeus trojan that steals banking credentials. Bogus LinkedIn invites have also been confirmed to be coming from the Zeus botnet.

We still need to stay awake to the attacks by these malware miscreants, because they are getting better by the month.

Security tools

This is a (non-comprehensive) list of the various security tools I have used. I started this list to keep track of tools that I've tried out and the level of satisfaction with them. Obviously there are hundreds of tools that any IT security professional uses throughout their career, so I'm just starting to put down the most recent, interesting or particularly effective. As I have time, I'll update and add comments/reviews/examples as well as break this into categories as the list grows.

Assessment / Attack Tools

Web Application Attack and Audit Framework (w3af)  w3af.sourceforge.net

IBM Rational AppScan  www-01.ibm.com/software/awdtools/appscan

Samurai Web Testing Framework samurai.inguardians.com

Visualization Tools

SecViz Security Visualization (davix) www.secviz.org/node/89

Password Tools

L0phtcrack  www.l0phtcrack.com


V3RITY Oracle Database Forensics (www.v3rity.com/v3rity.php)  – "V3RITY is a tool that can be used in an Oracle forensics investigation of a suspected breach. It is the first of its kind and is currently in the beta stages of development."

w3af web security assessment tool gets support from Rapid7

Rapid7, which purchased the Metasploit attack framework last year, has agreed to sponsor the open source w3af web assessment and exploit project. This is fantastic news for web application development teams, since it shows the open source (and hence more affordable) tools they can use to improve the security of their applications are maturing.

Websites like sectools.org maintain lists of various security tools and point to numerous open source web application fuzzing and testing tools, including BurpSuite, Nikto, WebScarab, Whisker and Wikto. Although each of the open source tools I use have various strengths, w3af is IMHO the first reasonable challenger to commercial web application testing tools like IBM’s AppScan.

Can we please get rid of bad input validation errors now??

For a commercial IT security professional that wants to help an internal web application development team improve the security of their applications, tools like IBM’s AppScan and Acunetix WVS can save valuable time by generating reports that include not only the vulnerable URI but also include vulnerability background information (CVSS, OWASP, WASC), the specific HTTP request/response strings and suggested code fixes. This is particularly valuable to a security architect or operations role that is pressed for time (an army of one anyone?).

The w3af support from Rapid7 will enable this excellent tool to mature more quickly and improves the capability for any web development team, regardless of funding, to improve their security. Can we please get rid of bad input validation errors now?? My recent thesis illustrated the downright depressing numbers of SQL injection flaws that continue to exist. With tools like w3af, there is no excuse left for web developers to press applications into production with these injection flaws that are trivial to avoid. At the very least a survey of the NIST National Vulnerability Database does show the number of SQL injection flaws starting to drop. Unfortunately they still substantially outnumber traditional memory corruption flaws such as buffer overflows.

Explosion of SQL buffer errors

Explosion of SQL buffer errors

As you can see, the story up to 2008 was pretty grim for web applications – SQL injection flaws increased by over 1,500% in the same time buffer overflow errors increased by just over 500%.

Although it looks like there has been a reversal of the shocking explosion of SQL injection flaws, the sheer volume of these web application flaws is astonishing .. especially since injection flaws have been around for about 10 years. Not exactly a problem that has recently snuck up on us.

Web developers that still turn out applications that contain SQL or command injection errors and most cross site request forgery errors are simply guilty of gross negligence.

Despite the web development industry knowing these errors exist and good developers designing and coding to avoid these issues, there is still a need to build sufficient forensics around externally facing (publicly accessible) applications to enable reconstruction of attacks. In my next post, I outline a summary of my thesis “Effective SQL injection attack reconstruction using network recording”.

How to secure your home PC

Whether you have a Mac or a Windows PC, there are some basic steps you can take to reduce the risk and personal impact of a malware infection.  This advise is especially impactful when you have just purchased a new Mac or Windows system. There are several steps that you can take to protect your new investment and more importantly your information. In the following detail, I mainly focus on Windows as that’s the main technology that my non-IT type friends ask about.

Basically what you should be doing is:

  1. Ensure that a hardware firewall/router is in between the internet and the PC (I’ll just call it a firewall from now on)
    • Use a recognized brand name like Linksys, avoid the no-name generics as they often have bad defaults and don’t implement the stateful-packet-inspection that you want to filter out most of the cruft on the Internet from reaching your PC
  2. Ensure all default passwords on the firewall and PC have been changed
    • When you initially turn on the power to your PC and to your firewall, do NOT have them connected to your cable or DSL modem initially.  Do the setup of your firewall and PC first in order to ensure malware doesn’t have a chance to get at your shiny new PC before you’ve turned on the needed protection
    • Point a browser to your firewall (likely or and change the default administrator password.  This is very important, as some malware will seek out your firewall and try to use the manufacturer default password to change things like your DNS server settings – inserting the bad guys in between you and the rest of the Internet (eg. forcing your traffic to them first before it goes to your bank)
  3. All normal accounts used for day-to-day business on the computer should NOT have administrator privilege (see my post on running without admin privileges)
    • On Windows XP, Vista (and I think 7), the default “user” that accesses the PC has full administrative privilege, that enables software  installation and configuration changes.  This is very dangerous, as malware that you come in contact with from infected emails or websites use this privilege to install their spyware, keyloggers, backdoors and other nasty stuff on your PC – without your explicit permission
    • Set a password for your Administrator account
    • Create a new user right away, before you setup your email, music, photos, documents, etc; ensure that new user is NOT a Computer Administrator
    • Always login with this non-Administrator username for your day-to-day use; only use the Computer Administrator username for software installation and configuration changes.
  4. Never surf the Internet with an account that has administrative privilege
  5. If this is a common PC for a business, ensure employees accounts are individually assigned (if practical). Ensure those employee accounts are not administrators (unless there is a need and a high degree of trust)
  6. Run a good commercial anti-virus program with annual software support (or a subscription)
    • There are some good free AV packages (AVG, Clamwin, Avast) .. Google them for the links
    • Sophos makes a good Mac AV package .. yes, Macs are vulnerable to malware as well; it’s just not as prevalent
  7. Finally ensure regular (daily) backups are being run to protect your business, financial, customer information from loss if there is a problem with the PC
  8. For setup of your wireless access point (if you have one .. sometimes it’s built into the router/firewall)
    • Chose wireless encryption of at least WPA or WPA2 .. never use WEP or no encryption
    • There is no significant increase in security by obscuring your network name (SSID)
    • Don’t use any personally identifiable information in your network name

If you are unsure of how to do any of these steps, get one of your computer knowledgeable friends to help you.  Of course if you are purchasing a new system right now, I’d strongly recommend you check out Apple’s Mac products.  They’re not immune to malware, but the architecture and core are by design much less vulnerable to the types of malware that plague Windows.

Building a web security lab (with VMware Fusion)

Problem: VMware machines load boot loader immediately, no BIOS banner, so can’t get into BIOS to alter boot settings.
Solution: Edit the vm’s .vmx file and add the line:

bios.bootDelay = "5000"

which adds a 5000 millisecond (5 second) delay to the boot, or add:

bios.forceSetupOnce = "TRUE"

to make the VM enter the BIOS setup at the next boot.

Problem: VMware Fusion 3.0 doesn’t give a way to edit the virtual network settings via the GUI.
Solution: To change the subnet used by the NAT or HostOnly networks, go root in Mac OS X and edit

/Library/Application Support/VMware Fusion/networking

and set the following lines to the subnets desired:


To add additional custom isolated host only VLANs, also edit the networking file and add additional VNET definitions. There can apparently only be 8 VLANs with VLAN 1 and 8 already pre-defined.

answer VNET_2_DHCP no
answer VNET_3_DHCP no
answer VNET_4_DHCP no

Now create your vm with as many network interfaces as you have separate VLANs (vnet) then edit the node.vmx vm configuration file and change the interfacename.connectionType to custom, and define the VLAN (vnet) that interface will attach to:

#ethernet0.connectionType = "nat"
ethernet0.connectionType = "custom"
ethernet0.vnet = "vmnet3"

Also realize that VMware will take the .1 host address on each vmnet – so you cannot assign .1 to any of your VMs.

Problem: Ubuntu 9.10 persistent network configuration (stores the MAC address of network adapters), so if you copy a machine, by default Ubuntu will setup a new logical adapter (eth1) since the MAC address has changed (when you answer I Copied It in VMware).
Solution: Tell VMware you copied the machine, so it will chose a unique MAC address. Boot Ubuntu into single user mode (another article on that to follow) then edit the MAC address associated with eth0.

sudo vi /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-net.rules

find the stanza of the network interface in question (NAME=”eth0″) and set the following ATTR tag to the new MAC address:


Electronic Health Records in Alberta

Thinking of the challenges associated with creating electronic healthcare records for all healthcare users in Alberta. Typical government projects don’t have the best track record for maintaining proper security architecture, much less implementation. Starting to dig into this for my next paper, and I’m somewhat underwhelmed with what I see. Do we have a choice to opt out? Is there any way to ensure our health records don’t get compromised and exposed publicly? I guess I’ll be searching for some answers.

Info Sec and IT Sec books and articles of interest

Start of my InfoSec article journal and book list

Not really blog worthy, but I decided to start a journal of interesting information security articles or books that I’ve found to be particularly valuable. Not all of them are publicly available, but where I can, I’ll add some links. Really this is just a list of my dog-eared books in no particular order. (-:


Security Controls That Work; Information Systems Control Journal; Volume 4, 2007

Information Security Standards Foucs on the Existence of Process, Not Its Content; Communications of the ACM; August 2006, Volume 49, Number 8

FrankenSOA; Network Computing; 06/25/07; Page 41


Chris McNab, Network Security Assessment, Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2004 – Describes a technical assessment methodology which can be used to understand the “threats, vulnerabilities, and exposures modern public networks face.”

Andrew Jaquith, Security Metrics: Replacing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2007 – Information security has been largely justified by fear over the last many years. This book is the single best book I have seen yet which provides a pragmatic guide to using effective metrics in infosec programs and communication with stakeholders. I think that organizations which adopt this type of approach will fare well when infosec spending starts to level off or dry up.

Stephen Northcut, Lenny Zeltser, Scott Winters, Karen Kent & Ronald Ritchey, Inside Network Perimeter Security, Indianapolis, Indiana: Sams Publishing, 2005 – excellent multi-layer book which describes appropriate techniques to layer differing strategies together to provide stronger perimeter defense
.  “Defense in depth is a primary focus of this book, and the concept is quite
simple: Make it harder to attack at chokepoint after chokepoint.”

High availability firewalls with OpenBSD, pf and CARP

One can now inexpensively build a fault tolerant firewall cluster that removes any single point of failure in the security policy enforcement points at your security zone boundaries. Synchronous firewall state table updates and an open source version of virtual router redundancy protocol (CARP) gives the ability to seamlessly insert or remove firewalls from a cluster. No more patching firewalls at 2am hoping for the best (or not patching because it’s too hard).


Linux iptables notes

Add local redirection of low port to unpriv high port

Remove any existing entries:

iptables -t nat -D PREROUTING –src 0/0 -p tcp –dport 25 -j REDIRECT –to-ports 11025 2> /dev/null
iptables -t nat -D PREROUTING –src 0/0 -p tcp –dport 80 -j REDIRECT –to-ports 8080 2> /dev/null

Add new redirects:
iptables -t nat -I PREROUTING –src 0/0 -p tcp –dport 25 -j REDIRECT –to-ports 11025
iptables -t nat -I PREROUTING –src 0/0 -p tcp –dport 80 -j REDIRECT –to-ports 8080

Reducing malware risk by removing local Administrator privileges

Running day-to-day with a Windows account that has Administrator privileges is a recipe for disaster.  Casual browsing of a website that is infected or inadvertent opening of infected attachments can result in an infection through the user’s Administrator privileges.  Something like 92% of Microsoft critical vulnerabilities announced in 2008 could have been mitigated by operating day-to-day as a normal user.  Splitting your accounts into a normal account and admin account is a good idea, but it can lead to some headaches when the normal user needs to run temporarily as Administrator.

Fortunately there are some work arounds that can be used to temporarily elevate the user’s privileges to Administrator.  Most of these involve the RUNAS command:

File explorer
If you’re running IE7 under WinXP, in order to run Windows Explorer with the runas command, it must be run as a separate process. A quick way to do this, without having to change your Folder Options settings, would be to run an instance of Explorer with the undocumented parameter /separate, like this:

runas /user:domain\username "explorer /separate"

Command Line Prompt
You can add a shortcut on the task bar with the following syntax to get an Administrator cmd prompt:

%windir%\system32\runas.exe /user:yourdomain\a-someuser cmd

yourdomain is the name of your AD domain if you have one, if not, leave it out.  a-someuser is a suggested naming convention for the Administrator account associated with the user named someuser.