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Please don’t kill your CISO if he doesn’t know how a virus works

I came across this rant (with the usual don’t-kill-me-am-just-making-a-random-statement-and-fully-intend-to-get-away-with-it disclaimer) on LinkedIn about how CISO’s are clueless about how a virus works, even with CISA/CISM and a decade’s experience under their belt. It got me seething about how this statement is wrong on so many levels, but then I decided to marshal it in a better way and keyboard-and-mouse my thoughts (penning my thoughts would have sound a bit cliched, anyway) in a bit more structured way. I could be wrong but am willing to learn from feedback and remarks of my readers (if there are any. I am a realist).

A disclaimer first – I am not trying to promote anything here except my viewpoint.

CISO is 90% management, 10% technical post.

Let’s look at this line of thought.

Management, IMHO, is about making decisions without complete data at hand. This means that entire organization has to be put into an abstraction (nothing else will give a high level view that quickly). However, it results in a whole lot of jugglery and political skulduggery which has given a bad name to management. In an ideal world, every management guy has hands-on experience in everything that his company is doing. However, reality is different. Hence companies look for an ideal combination of practical know-how and management skills, with mixed results. Just like it is difficult for a management guy to learn technology, it is also difficult for a techie to learn management skills.

Companies seldom fail because of lack of technology. They fail due to lack of management / business sense and leadership (market disruptions notwithstanding) . It took a Steve Jobs to make Apple where it is now. It took Bill Gates’ decision making and management skills to make Microsoft where it is today.

Time for another disclaimer now.

I am not saying that Technology or techies are not needed. I am only saying that Management is also needed.

Time to look at an image that I created to illustrate my point. What I am trying to put here is the viewpoints of different roles in the information security food chain and an example of the viewpoint in action. See how abstraction builds up as roles get near to business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As per Rafeeq Rehman (someone whom I admire a lot), below are the different activities that a CISO has to perform these days (http://rafeeqrehman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/CISO_Job_v8_A0.pdf). You will notice that a lot of those activities are leadership activities and not technical. Although, technical knowledge is required, it is at an enabler level (in other words, understand what your team is saying so that you can make a decision), because CISO is essentially a decision maker / leader, sometimes a manager (if the company is small, CISO may also end up doing a bit of technical work himself). And, folks believe me when I say it – IT IS A FULL-TIME JOB.

Does a CISO need to know how a virus works? That is not the right question. The right question is –

Does a CISO need to know how a virus works in the same way as that of an incident responder under his team?

The answer is a resounding NO.

If you bring an OSCP (without the business experience) for CISO , you will suffer. And if you bring a CISA / CISM (without the necessary incident handling experience) for leading a team of incident handlers, my condolences.

CISA / CISM are technical certs, but not in the way you think.

Let me approach it in a different way.

I consider, anything that belongs to the know-how of the field, technical. So, detailed procedures on how to audit is technical stuff (related to audit). Its usage of software tools may be confined to MS Excel and Access, but it is still technical because it describes the innards of the field (e.g., how to sample, what is the meaning of audit, how is it different than assessment, how to do audit, etc.).

CISA (Certified Information System Auditors) is for auditors (present and wannabes) who audit information systems (security is a part of it). CISM (Certified Information Security Managers) is for managers (current and wannabes) who manage information security management systems. Together, they have a knowledge base that, if internalized, can help a person gain lot more insight into the field than without. That doesn’t mean everyone can stomach it. No so-called-techie can read CoBIT without falling asleep (that doesn’t mean that you claim yourself a techie just because you can’t stand CoBIT documentation), but a decision maker will immediately feel home with that documentation because it offers him a vantage point for the entire information security control landscape of an organization. Not just that, it will give him enough ammunition to oversee an existing information security system. Because the decision maker is used to see things in abstraction.

However, this also doesn’t mean that everyone who is a CISA / CISM has internalized all the knowledge that was part of the syllabus (you didn’t think I am vouching for incompetent guys, did you?). Which brings me to the next part.

Certifications are not knowledge pills, you still have to work your grey cells.

Having certifications only mean that you have cleared an exam. It doesn’t mean that you still retain, cross-reference, update, and internalize all that knowledge that was part of the syllabus, after the exam and in subsequent years. It also means that you still have to be interviewed for all those above verbs and your suitability to the role. I will stop here because this topic has been beaten so many times that it doesn’t make sense anymore to trample on the same. Just google “are information security certifications necessary” to know what I mean. Having a certification is no guarantee of job-material in this field.

Standards and Compliance are not bad things, neither are they cause of the current sad state of affairs. People are.

As far as I am concerned, all of our problems stem from increase in population. But that is for another post. Let’s focus on the current point.

Bruce Schneier made an interesting point in one of his books (I think it was “secrets and lies” but I am not sure) that firewalls got famous NOT because they were technically sound and made perfect sense, but because their absence was getting flagged as non-compliance by auditors! And you thought your CCIE made all the efforts!

With all the jokes running around compliance and ISO 27K1, I still think that the flaw is in the implementation, not in the spirit.

Security has so many facets these days that it is a full time job just to keep all the balls in air and make sure that they don’t crash. Add to it the daily pressure of selling security to top echelons so that you can keep your job lest a non-clued security director, or some other high title, decides that he doesn’t need you with all the flashy tools in place (SIEM / DLP / IDAM, once installed, must learn on its own) and you will sympathize with all the CISO’s since the term infosec was coined. Jokes apart, management needs someone who can translate the jargonic (wait, is that even a word?) aspects of security into a more manageable chunk so that they can decide where to direct the funding and oversight (in other words, tell me if it is working for business and show me how). Standards (like ISO 27001) and compliance / regulations are supposed to help a decision maker understand security in a language that they understand. But, as Ian Tibble points out so poignantly in his book “Security De-engineering”, excel masters took over and they took the whole focus away. And we have been cursing management ever since!

In other words (meaning I could have avoided all this rant and said these lines instead and still made my point): –

Security management and tech must co-exist to create a beautiful recipe that is tasteful to the business. Singular won’t work.

I published this on both LinkedIn, Peerlyst and on my Medium Publication, Trinetra


Ajin Abraham’s Interview

I recently published another interview with a security star whom i admire on my medium publication, Trinetra. Please find it below.

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Infosec has always fascinated me. After i wake up from my occasional slumber, i always look around to see if i can identify someone to admire (maybe it is the hero-worshipper in me). Off late, i have focussed on identifying people whom i like in infosec. I, then, pester them till they agree to give me an interview. I then post them questions over email, and they, well, respond over email. That’s how it works.

Today’s interview is with @ajinabraham.

I like Ajin Abraham because he hasn’t wasted much of his time in identifying his field of choice. Maybe that is the reason his body of work is so impressive (and he is young, so he has time on his side as well). So, without further ado, let’s talk to Ajin.

1. What is your online handle / real name (depending on your preferences)?

My online handles are ajinabraham or xboz in the dark past :).

2. What do you do for a living (company name not required, role / nature of work is preferred)

I am freelance security engineer, I do security engineering that includes developing security tools, security algorithms, pentesting mobile and web apps, code reviews etc. Apart form these I do applied security research and publish the outcomes at multiple security conferences. Also, I run an e-learning platform called OpSecX for security education and once in a while I do hands on live security trainings at security conferences.

3. Can you describe your journey in application security so far?

During school days, I was always curious on how games, software and os works. A teacher at school understood my fascination with computers and she taught me VB.NET. Unlike many others, I never started in C/C++ but instead in VB.NETand Microsoft Frontpage. I feel good about that now. At that age, everyone found C very boring and primitive. .NET and Frontpage offered great GUI experience and you could build a real application than printing fibonacci series.
It was applied programming that allowed me to create things that I imagine with ease. I could have never done anything better with C at that time and understand the beauty of application development if it was not for .NET. Eventually my curious mind took me to the internals of the applications where I started with reversing to understand the inner workings. The more I understand how applications work, the more I was able to use them in ways they are not intended to work. Later with the help of Google and StackOverflow, I learnt a great deal of things in Security and Engineering. I wrote security tools and published my research in the 2nd year of my Bachelors. Over years I found that there is a career that is in align with my passion and later got hired as an Application Security Engineer during the final year of B.Tech.

4. What were the challenges in your journey & how did you overcome them?

Today there are active community and security folks to guide someone in the security field. It was not like that when I started. The only help I had was Google and later StackOverflow. It was difficult for me to understand the concepts as I directly jumped into something before grabbing the fundamentals. Over time and experience I learned that I have to make my basics strong and clear. Thats when I started to learn everything from the fundamentals. It helped me a lot to understand things in depth.

5. What are the most important things that you want to focus on in coming years?

* Travel and explore the world and cultures.

* I am a petrol head, I love any thing that revs. More Drives and Rides.

* Keep my security knowledge updated. This is a rapidly changing field.

* Write more open source security tools, maintain the existing ones

* Do more application security research.

* Share what I have learned through trainings.

6. What, in your opinion, will be most in-demand things from an application security standpoint?

Skilled personal. We have everything in large quantity but the quality is not that great. Even though I am not a fan of AI, it seems like Machine Learning and AI promises a lot of advancements in this field. But we need skilled persons to implement this at the first place. In India, Application Security is always viewed from a Job perspective and most people doesn’t give importance to Applied Research and the Academics side of it.

7. What, in your opinion, should the industry focus on?

Hire people based on skills over years of experience and certifications. Also make opportunities to build up quality resource over quantity. Promote application security research and develop that culture right from college or school.

8. Where do you see the application security industry heading to?

Application Security is fairly new compared to other branches of Security domain. I don’t know what we will have in the coming future but as more and more things move to cloud, we need solutions to defend them. Eventually we will have huge data sets which will definitely help the machine learning solutions to perform better with higher accuracy. I am also excited as you are, lets wait and watch.

9. How can one become an expert in your field (not security in general, but the work that you are doing currently)?

Rule 1: Passion or Interest is what keep you forward. (Don’t start if you don’t have it)
Rule 2: Give it Time and Patience
Rule 3: Always start with the fundamentals
Rule 4. Always learn, unlearn and relearn

10. Do you think bug bounties help?

I don’t personally like bug bounties as for me I found it a waste of time.

But it has couple of sides.

The good thing is it helps companies to save a lot on their budget for security, spend less but get applications tested by a large crowd.

For the participants it’s a good way to make money.

In the security industry, there is a new bread who claim themselves as bug hunters/ security researchers/ experts by finding few low hanging vulnerabilities in web applications. Some of them doest even know how applications work. They don’t even know how the vulnerability occurs, how to fix it or how to report it professionally. Some of the bug bounty reports are hilarious (http://bugbounty.fail/).

I really admire and appreciate those 1% bug hunters who do real nice job, the guys who know their stuff. But others are pure disgrace to the industry. I am sorry to say it, but that’s the truth. This is what google says about their bug bounty program “Approximately 90% of the submissions we receive through our vulnerability reporting form are ultimately deemed to have little or no practical significance to product security,”.

11. What is your vulnerability disclosure policy (ignore if not applicable)?

I use to do aggressive full disclosures in the past but currently follows a 30 days disclosure policy with few exceptions.

12. In the wake of PRISM, and other monitoring activities that are taking place, do you think Internet usage will decline? Reasons?

I don’t think the usage will decline. The interesting fact is, most Indians don’t really care about Personally Identifiable Information (PII). I haven’t seen that culture of defending privacy in India much.

13. What, apart from your regular work, are you doing in the field of information security (any open source work, tool, etc.)?

I do a lot of open source work, you can find it here: https://github.com/ajinabraham
Also I occasionally blogs about my research outcomes here: 
https://ajinabraham.com/

14. What do you advice the newcomers who want to hop on to the information security bandwagon?

Start form the basics and fundamentals, learn how things work.

Always try to learn things by self. Ask only when you are really stuck. There is a great difference in learning and understanding by self and some one explaining it to you.
Use Google and StackOverflow.
Explore for there is no limits.


Process Myths, Busted

This article has originally been published by me on LinkedIn.

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Disclaimer:- All of what is written here is my own opinion. ‘nuf said.

Raise your hands if you have heard / said these lines before:-

  • “This is not our job, this is the job of documentation team”
  • “I’ve many important things to do and deliver, I don’t have time for process”
  • “Process, what is this? We are doing fine here without it, we don’t need process here”.

This term ought to take the cake for oft abused / misused one apart from “housewife” (that is the MOST abused term on this planet IMHO. I think they deserve a LOT more respect than they get, but i digress).

I also think that knowledge of process is an evolutionary primitive to move up the corporate ladder because nothing provides a better view of the corporate than process.

This post is an attempt to explain the term from my perspective. Suggestions, remarks, feedback are welcome.

MYTH #1 – Process means documentation

Process is a way of doing things.

That’s it.

That’s what process is – A way of doing things. Say this again, and again and again, till your mind hurts and you cannot think further.

If you are following some steps to achieve an aim and if you are following a path (Ok, any path, your path, my path, some path) you are following a process (whether you like it or not). If you dream of reams of documentation in your sleep with reference to process, then I am sorry because it was never meant to be thought of in such a way.

Let’s pick some very common processes:-

  1. The process of going from one place to another
  2. The process of translating requirements into working software
  3. The process of capturing requirements from client;
  4. The process of eating / sleeping / buying things / selling things ….. you get the drift.

Just because it has not been documented, doesn’t make it a non-process.

MYTH #2 – It’s not process if it ain’t best practice

Now, this actually hurts. Best practices have a way of hurting like no one else. We have gotten results – good results, with satisfied customers – with less-than-best-practices. Also, has anyone seen a definition of it, lately?

Practically, if it works for your team, helps you repeat the success again and again, then I guess it is a best practice, for your team.

Ok, if you insist, call it a better practice. But please, don’t call it the best, because it depends on a lot of things (# of people required to execute it, can it scale up/down, efforts required to implement it, clear ROI, etc.).

MYTH #3 – If it works for company A, it will work for company B

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

The line, when corrected, would include “may” instead of “will”.

A successful process implementation answers the following questions:-

  1. Does it account for the existing capabilities of the team (in other words, can the existing team do it, with their current skill set)?
  2. Does it provide a way to not only repeat the success, but also to record the failures?
  3. Does it take the number of people into account (in other words, process that requires 200 may not work for 20 member team, and vice-versa)?

Successful processes depend a lot on the balance between other 2 factors – people and technology (and here i was thinking that it is just for feel-good factor and CYA, meh). Which means you will not be successful if:-

  1. Technology and process is appropriate but people with required skills are not put to implement the process;
  2. Technology and people are appropriate but the process is outdated (e.g., no review mechanism, no record keeping even though technology implemented supports it, etc.);
  3. Process and people match but no technology in place to help them (e.g., a very complicated, industry-recommended and proven process to handle incidents without tools to identify them in the first place, no-IDS, anyone?);

Please let me know if these myths exist or it is just a figment of my imagination. Any feedback is welcome.


{ctrl+z} My Interview :: Here’s what I should have said

So, after a long time, i finally broke my jinx of not updating my blog! I hope to keep updating it more often now.

Life is a collection of memories. If you don’t have memories, you don’t have a life (which means you are dead. That is why Shiva – the lord of death – is also called “smarahara”. “smara” incidentally, is sanskrit word which has two meanings. One, it refers to kaamdeva – the god of love. It also means memories. Amazing language, isn’t it? But i digress). My information security career has also gifted me with many memories, one of which is this interview. I didn’t like one of my responses during the interview and i kept going back to it, for some reason.

I finally got the reason (or so i think). This LinkedIn post is an introspective attempt to articulate that reason. Please find a reproduction of the same below: –

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Being a thick skinned guy that I am, I usually don’t like to admit mistakes. Scratch that, I NEVER like to admit mistakes. However, there are instances when one, during introspective phases (I know, it is a big word, yipee-ka-yay – MS Word 2013), identifies his/her mistakes and what he could have done instead of how-could-I-do-it and wish-he-forgets-it type of things.

So, during one of those ‘aha’ moments, I realized a mistake that I happened to commit during one of my interviews.

The Question

Around the end of an interview, one of the interviewer asked me this question

“If you had unlimited budget, what would you have done to improve your organization’s security posture?”

Now, on the face of it, this is a pretty open ended question that allows you to articulate some of the key controls / strategies that you think would add value to an organization’s security posture. This question also allows an interviewer to probe the mind of the person who is being interviewed to gauge his priorities. AND, this is also the sort of question, the response of which, will open you up to scrutiny.

My Answer

When I faced the interviewer, I was on the way from a normal ISMS professional to a higher plane (by establishing a SOC or Security Operations Center). I was then struggling with handling incidents with limited resource and skill (more on skills and competencies in a later post), so my response was a reflection of my struggles:-

“Given unlimited budget, I would like to invest in a tool / technology / process which ensures that infected machines are isolated as soon as they are identified. Also, I would like to be able to analyze them faster”.

How wrong I was!

An organization’s security posture is dependent on the following 3 Ps:-

People, Process, Technology

People – The most important thing in the triad. If people

(a) don’t have an understanding of the information that they have and its value and

(b) don’t want to secure it (due to different reasons, and surprisingly, deliberate espionage doesn’t feature till the end of the list), you will not be secure no matter how many processes and technical measures you have.

Think of all the passwords that have been shared, all the intellectual properties lost due to people and you will get the drift of what I am trying to write here. Awareness sessions on information security DO’s and DON’Ts, communicating all and any process changes to all relevant people, assessments (both online and behavioral) to gauge how people treat information security when no one is watching are some of the things that an organization can do to ensure that people act their part to keep information secure while handling. All information security branding related activities would also come here. The branding activities could include posters, quizzes that includes giveaways, etc.

Process – I can never tire of saying this “The way you handle information will dictate how secure you can make it”. Please refer to this post to know more about my thoughts on this.

Technology – All technical gadgets worth their salt (e.g., DLP, SIEM, IDS / IPS, Firewall, etc.).

So, while technology is important, information security is inherently a people and business problem. It is perfectly possible to implement a cost-effective ISMS that is aligned to the business and it is equally easy to botch it by blindly implementing “best practices”.

What I should have said

“Given unlimited budget, I would invest in security awareness at all levels, coupled with good detection tools, a superb DLP tool, and a capable incident response team”.

Now that would be a better answer, don’t you think?


Akash Mahajan :: Interview

Some time back (when i was still procrastinating my way through life and looking for inspiration), a new (ok, don’t look at me like that, it is new for me even though it had existed way before i was born) idea hit me – What if i pester some of the brightest people i know and ask them for an interview (i am not high and this is not my hubris talking; i meant me taking their interview, not the other way round!)? If i pester them enough, maybe they’ll give me their time of the day and i would get to learn some things.

So here’s the first one.

Now, here’s is someone who started working in this field without fulfilling any checkpoint in a standard HR recruitment checklist. Yeah, no certification (Gods must be crazy!), However, he is famous not just for his involvement with NULL, Bengaluru (look ma, constitutionally correct pronunciation!) but also is an entrepreneur. The name – Akash Mahajan (AM).

ME – What is your online handle / real name (depending on your preferences)?

AM – Usually I use makash, in some places I use akashm. But mostly googling for Akash Mahajan will return most of the results about me.

 

ME – What do you do for a living?

AM – I help small and medium companies become secure. It starts with me supporting them in making their web apps, mobile apps secure, building internal app sec capability, usually extends to me making sure their servers and cloud networks are secure. Sometimes companies take my help in charting out long term strategy about their security choices.  For a long time I worked as a freelancer in this field but since last year I registered as a private limited.

 

ME – Can you describe your journey?

AM – So I was on my way to becoming a java programmer. Not particularly a good one. While working on java related projects there was a massive network outage in my company. The internet was basically not working for a week because of malware outage. I wasn’t affected personally because I was using a linux box. When the infection reached the team subnet I was in my project lead allowed me to take a look. I was able to isolate the malware and remove it from the system fairly quickly. Once that was done, I shared my solution with the IT team and realized that I had a lot of fun doing this. Definitely more fun than writing java code. That is what started my infosec journey. I quit my job and joined a security products company. While working there learnt a lot about network security, application security, python scripting and virtual machine automation. One day in the month of June of 2008, I decided that I should try being a freelance security consultant for all the hundreds of companies in Bangalore.

 

ME – What were the challenges in your journey & how did you overcome them?

AM – I am not an engineer. Initially I never thought about going on my own. I got rejected by a bunch of companies for not being an engineer or not having a security certification. I got myself a Certified Ethical Hacker certification because companies started demanding it. Once I had a certification it was easier.

In our industry a bigger challenge is to keep yourself updated about latest security techniques etc. I did struggle with that a lot at the beginning. Then one day on twitter I posted about asking for security communities in India and Aseem responded. They had started null – The Open Security Community sometime back in Pune and were looking for people to grow it to other cities.

Having a community full of seriously talented people doing security day in and day out makes it far easier to know what is happening in this field. Not only that we have so many folks who are doing original research, so in some cases we get to see the newer stuff even before it becomes public.

 

ME – What are the most important things that you want to focus on in coming years?

AM – Building and taking null to every state in India. Build my company to doing high quality security research and offering testing services for various levels. Personally I would like to try adventure sports. 🙂

 

ME – What, in your opinion, will be most in-demand things from a security standpoint?

AM – Automation of security testing, deployments(devsecops), user data privacy and figuring out ways on how to trust 3rd party software and services.

 

ME – What, in your opinion, should the industry focus on?

AM – Industry as a whole needs to focus on building quality solutions. Also while profits are important industry should understand that in the knowledge economy a well trained work force is not only an asset but the returns from such a work force can be exponential.

 

ME – Where do you see the security industry heading to?

AM – More automation, instrumentation of solutions, deployments. Also more and more systems will be in the cloud.

 

ME – How can one become an expert in your field (not security in general, but the work that you are doing currently)?

AM – Practice, collaborate, publish, solicit feedback. Wash rinse repeat.

 

ME – Do you think bug bounties help?

AM – Bounties do help. At the very least bounties offer a short term incentive for more people to spend their quality time in finding bugs. And humans tend to love competition. The indirect benefits of bounties are that when more and more people starting bug hunting seriously they also get serious about collaboration, sharing of knowledge and it always helps when a group of people are focused towards a common objective.

 

ME – What is your vulnerability disclosure policy (ignore if not applicable)?

AM – I don’t disclose bugs.

 

ME – In the wake of PRISM, and other monitoring activities that are taking place, do you think Internet usage will decline? Reasons?

AM – Internet usage will not decline. But yes it is possible that companies will spring up trying to get customers based on nationality etc. Governments tend to work towards exclusivity and sometimes inefficiencies get hidden due to the nature of how they operate. This will make sure that some parts of the world will be working with substandard software which if taken positively can mean better competition or a clear competitive disadvantage.

 

ME – What, apart from your regular work, are you doing in the field of information security (any open source work, tool, etc.)?

AM – Nothing at the moment. I am just trying to build the null security community, which sometimes is more hectic than even paid work that I do.

 

ME – What do you advice the newcomers who want to hop on to the information security bandwagon?

AM – There are enough and more avenues to learn, enough documentation, learning resources. What is required is that they take up a topic and get some indepth practice in that. For most things that you need to practice all you need is a virtual machine, some software and good documentation. Get started with that and they can quickly build capability in this field.

I usually tell newcomers to learn the following to get started.

1. Linux and Windows

2. TCP/IP basics

3. HTTP

4. HTML/ JavaScript

5. BASH, Python, Ruby, Java

Recently re-published this on my newsletter, trinetra on medium.


Client Data Security – Why and How

I have finally decided to break the jinx of not keeping my blog updated. I shall update it once a week. Here’s the post for this week.

In today’s fast changing business world, regulations related to security are pervasive, so much so that with every new project (whether in the same or a different geographical region as that of the client), comes a whole set of laws to carry out (to the letter) as far as client data is concerned. If there is anything that the law misses, it is covered in the contract.

The next question is – why do client put these clauses (related to their data privacy) in their contracts?
They put it there because if the information leaks/gets modified, the client is liable to suffer monetary & intangible losses (lawsuits, fines from government, damaged image, lost clients, etc.).

Hence, in order to make sure that we understand and commit to the security and privacy of client information, they put the relevant clauses in the contract.

Bottom line – client data is sacred, and any security issue related to it can come back to haunt us (legally and otherwise). Hence, it makes business sense to protect our client data.

This poses some challenges.

The challenge is – No one, in their right minds, would want to put client data at risk. However, by virtue of our work & our focus towards it, security sometimes takes a back seat. This is reflected in our activities (we can also call them habits, as they keep happening from time to time). Some of them are (the list below is indicative):-

1. Noting some crucial information on a piecec of paper and keeping it at a public place;
2. Sharing password so that any client information that you have is now easily accessible to others;
3. Not keeping your anti-virus software updated;
4. Clicking on a link in mail without checking it first;
5. Discussing/sharing sensitive client information with people who do not need it to do their work;

Human beings are creatures of habit. Habits are very important in security. If i have a habit of sharing my password, there is a high chance that people near me (with good or bad intentions) can get access to it; further, if i have a habit of not locking my machine while going away, it is possible for someone to look at a crucial information (of client or personal) & make use of it.

Below are some habits that are found to be helpful in increasing the security quotient of a project, and should be used by all to ensure that we do not compromise the security of client information:-

1. Secure your passwords
While it is not always practically possible to remember a password that resembles Garnier Fructis (Long and Strong), one should understand that once you put a sensitive information like password somewhere other than your brain, you should protect it, lest it get into someone else’s hands.

2. Do not share your passwords
Once a password is shared, it is no more yours. If you have to share it (due to project requirements), make sure that you do not re-use that password for any other purposes and that you change it as soon as possible.

3. Keep your anti-virus software updated
While anti-virus software usually are put on auto-update by default, it pays to be vigilant and update it manually if the update gets failed (e.g., due to bad network conditions).

4. Be careful while clicking a link
Most of the bad code (virus/trojan/worm, etc.) require your effort (unknowingly, of course) to get onto your machine. We do so by clicking on some link without checking it first, thereby getting a bad code on our machine.
Always check a link (by putting your mouse over it, not clicking) before clicking it. If the link is pointing to a direction (e.g., an IP address or some mis-spelt address), do not click it.

5. Do not share client information with anyone who does not need it
Now this is tricky! How to find out if the person who is asking it needs it? A rule of thumb is – if the person does not belong to your project and is not authorized by your respective manager / superior, he/she should not have that information.

6. Lock your machine while leaving it unattended
Leaving your machine un-attended is a dangerous habit as almost all the access rights/privileges are attached to our machine identities. As one moves up the corporate ladder (and sometimes depending on the project requirements), one gets access to information that is confidential in nature. This habit of leaving the system/desktop/laptop unattended & unlocked may prove disastrous (Think someone-stealing-a-file-that-your-VP-sent-for-your-eyes-only)!


Bait for Your Identity

I overheard this interesting talk last sunday while harassing some poor developer to close an NC, have a dekko. But before that, a very short intro of the characters.

 

Character #1 – Baba Gyandev, aka if-google-had-a-body-this-would-be-it, BG in short

Character #2 – Baby Busy, aka this-will-never-happen-to-me, BB in short, BG’s follower#1

Character #3 – Paranoid Pandu, aka even-my-breadth-should-be-encrypted-to-save-it-from-sniffing, PP in short, another follower of BG

 

Context – BG & his disciples are in a very good mood (thanks partly to the planetary alignments – for BG, recent appraisals – for BB, and the latest encryption software that he purchased – for PP), but mostly because of the royal seafood meal that they just had.

 

BB – This place is good, we should come here more often.

BG (after a big gurgling sound that emanated from the deepest corners of his intestine, making everyone else in the restaurant look for cover) – Yeah, fish is good.

BB – I don’t know why some people have devoted themselves to anti-fishing causes on Internet, it is not if we are trying to finish all the fishes!

PP – That was not this fish, BB, it is called Phishing, and it is very dangerous.

BB (with some alarm on her face) – Oh!

 

BG – PP, please do not terrorize her. BB, while it is true that phishing is a concern, it can be managed by some very easy-to-do things.

BB – Baba, please tell me more about this. What is this about?

PP – It is about stealing your identity.

BB – My identity? What identity?

 

BG – Bhaktjano, we are not going to talk about the identity that all of us are always looking for, inwardly (who am i? What am i on this earth for, stuff like that). That talk will come if you treat me seafood in Taj Banjara. The identity that we are talking about is that of us on the information superhighway called Internet.

BB – Identity on Internet? What is my identity on the Internet?

PP (with some irritation) – Don’t you have a facebook account? Or yahoo/aol/hotmail/gmail ID? Or any other ID on any other website (irctc/icici/sbi/any-other-bank)?

BB – So what? Those are just login IDs, not my identity, mr.-know-it-all!

 

BG – Please don’t fight, kids. BB, in today’s online world, everything is connected to everything else on the Internet. You can share content of one website on another, e.g., share an online article or a review of latest movie that was put on some other news site, on your facebook account; you do a lot of financial transaction online. All of this requires that those sites know you. They give you login IDs so that they can recognize you, the next time you logon. So, all these IDs that we have online constitute our online identity. It is what we are and how people will recognize us when online.

 

BB – Yeah, i remember opening a recurring deposit account online in ICICI. They neither made me write a letter nor call me for an approval. I started it online and it automatically deducts money from my account every month.

PP – That was because they knew it were you, because they knew the login ID belonged to you.

 

BG – Correct. But now, the issue is – Crime always follows money. Bad people have realized that many (if not all) of the transactions are happening online now, it makes more sense if we can somehow get those IDs and passwords.

BB – Hmmm….. Baba, how do these people do it? Where does Phishing comes into picture?

BG – They will create copies of the well-known websites, with similar spellings, and put them online. Then they wait for you to land there.

PP – They do not always wait for your to come, they try to lure you to it. Remember that LinkedIn invitation that you said you had got from me? And the facebook invitation from your husband?

BB – Yeah, i do. I also remember that you had a look and then asked me to delete them and not to click on any link in that mail.

PP – Because it was a SPAM, meant for anyone who would believe and click on them, thereby landing on the fake site. The person will provide his actual user ID and password, and then, la-la land!

 

 

BB – How to stop it?

PP – These people are a reason why i am very skeptical while online. I don’t trust Internet!

 

BG – PP, in that case, stop buying house because land mafia may take it over, stop buying gold or silver ornaments because they can be stolen, stop carrying money in pocket because they can be , well, picked up. And while you are at it, stop living (PP looks at BG in shock) because there are criminals out there who murder for living.

 

BB starts laughing.

 

BG (with increased calmness) – Just because there are some issues with a technology or a facility, you don’t stop using it. Atleast not when you get so much benefits from it. More so, when you can save yourself using some common sensical tips.

 

BB – Please tell me some tips so that i can save my identity online.

 

BG – the first step is, don’t click on any link blindly. Check it first. Is it pointing to what it says it would.

PP – A link to facebook should not go to some random site like gimme-your-password.com

BG – True. In the lower left hand corner of most browsers users can preview and verify where the link is going to take them. Always check them before clicking.

PP – Also, look at the language of the mail. e.g., look at the mail below (credit – Microsoft):-

Phishing Example from MS Site

BG – In other words, do not click on links within emails that ask for your personal information.

PP – True. Actually, no organization in its right mind would ask for it in mail. If it does, there is something ‘phishy’ there.

 

BG – Never enter your personal information in pop-up windows.

BB – What is wrong with pop-ups if it comes up after the original site has loaded? It means it has come from the site, right?

PP – Not necessarily. Sometimes a phisher will direct you to a real company’s, organization’s, or agency’s Web site, but then an unauthorized pop-up screen created by the scammer will appear, with blanks in which to provide your personal information. If you fill it in, your information will go to the phisher. Legitimate companies, agencies and organizations don’t ask for personal information via pop-up screens. Install pop-up blocking software to help prevent this type of phishing attack.

BB – Means, i should never give confidential information in pop-ups.

BG – Correct. Also, phishing doesn’t always need Internet.

BB – ?????

 

BG – You may get a call from someone pretending to be from a company or government agency, making the same kinds of false claims and asking for your personal information.

PP – If someone contacts you and says you’ve been a victim of fraud, verify the person’s identity before you provide any personal information.

BG – In other words, don’t give (or offer to give) your account ID and password to some guy over phone just because he claims to be from IT-Support. I know you did that yesterday.

BB (blushing) – that was because i needed some document very badly but was not able to logon to my machine. I had raised a ticket too.

PP – How do you know that this guy had called because of that ticket? I was there, too and you did not verify his identity.

BB (getting a little angry) – There is nothing interesting in my account, even if the user gets the password.

PP – yeah, true, but you re-use passwords, right? Which means one password of yours can open many accounts of yours !

BG – Actually, it is not just a matter of having something interesting in your account. Once your account is compromised, it will be used by bad people to lure your friends and contacts.

PP – For example, if i get your twitter / facebook / gmail ID, i can just ask your friends from little money (i can guess who are your friends by looking at your past activities), and if they are like you, they will transfer money first and then call. And that is just for starters.

 

BB is silent.

After some time, BB breaks the silence.

 

BB – So what should i do to stop it from happening?

 

BG – Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information. It could be in any format (online or offline), but ultimately, you have the responsibility over your information, Keep it secure!

PP – You can also keep changing your passwords regularly and use security features available with major sites (like two factor authentication of gmail, privacy features of facebook, etc.).

BG – Keep your browser and operating system updated and secure because many phishing attempts are hidden in viruses and other bad code.

 

BB – Baba, what if i accidentally gave some information? What should i do then?

BG – Contact related officials immediately and inform them.

PP – for example, if you accidentally gave your banking related information, then contact the bank immediately. In case of an online account, change the passwords immediately and notify the website.

 

BB – Thank you, BG and PP.


OpenSAMM – Part 01

This is part of a series of presentations that i am going to create for explaining an open secure SDLC maturity model, called SAMM aka OpenSAMM. Click here to view the presentation.

Disclaimer – This is NOT an original work. I have taken help from the official presentation and some other articles/presentations available on internet. I regret that because i forgot to keep track of the sources, i cannot credit them properly in the presentation. However, if i get any information about the source, i will update this presentation with the credits. Would request people to get back to me if they have information on the sources.

Although it is generally believed that security should be in-built and not a patch after development, very few companies give it a try for one or more of the reasons:-

  1. There is little explicit demand (after all, my customers are not saying they want security, why should i bother? If i put some investment and cannot get it back, it’ll be bad for business, won’t it?);
  2. As a corollary to the above point, clients probably worry that if they demand security, maybe they have to pay for it (in terms of additional efforts and hence cost);
However, with SEC demanding that companies disclose “potential” security breaches (and this usually means that apart from companies to take notice of this fact, us compliance professionals can take little sadistic respite in the fact that we would be in little more demand 😉 ), i think companies better start demanding security in their applications (at-least those that come under purview of SEC).
OpenSAMM (or SAMM) is a maturity model that helps gauge the maturity of secure SDLC implementation in an organization. It also provides a benchmark against which similar efforts from different organizations can be judged. In retrospect, isn’t this how ISO propagated (capitalism, anyone?). Business wise, i think it makes perfect sense to demand security from a service provider, and then benchmark it against those of other vendors, makes ROI sense.
I gave this presentation at an OWASP Chapter Meet. Hope to finish the entire series in a couple of months. Watch this space for more!

ISO 27001 : A Business View

Hi People,

I am back after a strong lethargic break. Before i go back to hibernation (i can promise that i will be regular from now onward, but people who know me will differ – and i don’t blame them, either – but i digress), let me share a presentation that i did for a NULL meeting (what? You don’t know NULL? Shame on you!, go back and Google; on second thoughts, read this please and then go back, coz i am not sure if you will come back!).

Please visit this Google Presentation and share the feedback. My take is:-

ISO 27001 is a standard which provides a structured and step-by-step approach in solving many security problems , most of which do not involve technology.

I have tried to take some examples to illustrate some events that technology will need some years to solve. However, using a methodology such as ISO 27001 helps us in securing, and maintaining the same, the information and infrastructure supporting it.


Sach Ka Samna – Some InfoSec. Myths, Busted

OK, I am not Rajeev Khandelwal, but like our world, information security has its own share of myths, that, over a period of time, have quite a collection of believers behind them, masking the truth. This article is an attempt to rationalize their bust.
Long passwords means secure system
Long passwords means one thing – I will write it somewhere!
No seriously. How else would I remember it ?
Does that mean we should shorten our passwords? Not really. The God is (as has always been) in detail.
What it means is that we have to be careful while choosing a password. Keep it easy to remember, yet tough for others to guess (yeah, all the best!). It also means that everytime we chose to write it somewhere, we are on our way to make our system insecure.
Oh, I almost forgot the mother of all password mistakes – sharing it with others!
Security is a trade-off. Be careful what you trade it for!


Keeping anti-virus updated will save me from viruses
Anti-virus industry is like cops. We all know the probabilities and outcome of a cop vs. thief. Cop has to win everytime, thief only once. What it means is, if you have a paid version AND the anti-virus that you use currently, is the market leader (tough to determine), you can sleep on weekends (in night, sometime).
Does that mean we should shut our systems down and dust our papers and pens off?
Update your anti-virus daily (and keep a licensed copy of it, please. Kaspersky has gone cheap. And no, I have not yet received any commission from them!), and while you are at it, keep a backup of your important data. On a separate media (not on a separate partition on the machine).
Also, think about firewall and getting it installed on your machine.


SSL is secure
Nothing is 100% secure. That small padlock icon means that the data between the client (your browser) and the server (where the website is stored) is encrypted. But it doesn’t mean that people cannot sniff the data (if the server is compromised, or if there sniffed the initial cryptographic key – classic Man In the Middle).


If I don’t access Internet from my machine, my data is secure
True. But then you have to stop using USB sticks, stop using CDs/DVDs. In other words, stop using your computer.
Bottom line, there are more ways to get into your machine than there are hair on my head (I am not bald!). What it takes to secure your machine is a collection of good security practices (including some boring work like patching your machines, changing your password regularly, not sharing your password, etc.)


Linux is more secure than Windows
While I personally like Linux (because of its power), it is also true that mis-configured (or one that is not configured at all) linux is no better than windows.
So, should we dump all our Windows systems and migrate to Linux? The answer to most of us is NO.  One, we will have a hard time finding proper versions of everything that we require for our business. Two, the work associated with migration (including testing, and training) doesn’t make it a viable solution.
A possible solution could be to use Linux for some servers (like file and mail servers) while keeping Windows for clients.


Information Security Standards & regulations are just pain-in-u-know-where
I couldn’t agree more! However, regulations are there because they are response to some real pain that business had been facing for quite some time. Regulations like HIPAA, HITECH, SOX evolved out of a business need to secure customer data. Traditionally, they shouldn’t be present. Corporations/enterprises should have included security as part of their SDLC. More on that later, however.


We have to be worry about hackers
Reports have shown that internal threats are more dangerous than outside ones. After all, we know the loopholes, right? Problem is, not everyone is un-professional. People don’t do these kind of things very often (even in a cut-throat world like ours). However, the cost of one incident is so great (IP loss, loss of image, etc.) that organizations have to consider this threat as real. Where there is money, there will be criminals (real or virtual).
Further, increasing reliance on contractors, consultants, and outsource vendors increase the exposure.

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