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Tag Archives: encryption

In 2011, we saw a large increase in web site exploits that exposed private user data as well as a breakdown in the trust of SSL (for various reasons) and the introduction of real malware on to the OS X scene. If there were just three things I could ask Mac users to do in 2012 to help protect themselves (‘cuz if your a Windows user it’s been game-over for years for you already) these are what they would be.

Secure & Diversify Your Web Credentials

Just like companies have lost paper files—and then laptops—containing private data, web sites have and will continue to leak your information like a sieve. While you should choose carefully which ones you let have very sensitive data (like credit card numbers, government id numbers and health information), you really do need to ensure that you at least use different and “strong” passwords at each site you have an account at to avoid having hackers replay your credentials at other sites.

The easiest way to do this is to use a utility like 1Password (@1Password & usually $50 but is on sale for $30 for a short time) by AgileBits which works with practically every browser and will let you create and use diverse passwords at the click of a button. It even works on your mobile device, so you don’t have to worry about remembering the (necessarily) ugly passwords they end up creating. You can even use 1Password to store secure notes to yourself (say, in the event you need to use complex credentials on systems you cannot install 1Password).

By using 1Password, you will avoid being the in the 60-70% of users who have their credentials stolen and have to worry or scramble because they used the same ones on an array of popular web sites. Windows users can also take advantage of this tool (and there’s a bundle price if you need it for both platforms).

You can do this without 1Password (e.g. keep a text file or spreadsheet in a secure disk image), but the ease of use is worth the price of 1Password. If you do decide to use a more manual approach, generating secure passwords with tools like this one will also help you be a bit more secure than your brain’s “random” sequence generator.

Know What’s Going On With Your System

While the Mac App Store can help ensure you aren’t loading “bad apps” onto your system, the advent of web-born malware for the Mac was seen for real this year and 2012 may prove to be the year we see the Mac becoming more of a target. There’s no guarantee that Mac App Store apps are non-malicious and you really have no idea what the ones you download from third-party sites contain, even if they do the task you want them to. Some apps that you “know” you trust may be sending out “phone home” signals or other non-user-initiated or informed-of Internet communications with unknown payloads.

This is where a cool little utility called Little Snitch (@littlesnitch and $30) by Objective Development can really help open your eyes as to what applications and processes (programs you may not be able to “see” easily without tools like the Mac Activity Monitor app) are trying to do on your network. Their own information page says it better then I could paraphrase:

Little Snitch informs you whenever a program attempts to establish an outgoing Internet connection. You can then choose to allow or deny this connection, or define a rule how to handle similar, future connection attempts. This reliably prevents private data from being sent out without your knowledge. Little Snitch runs inconspicuously in the background and it can also detect network related activity of viruses, trojans and other malware.

Again, you could monitor your Mac firewall logs by hand with the OS X Console application and tweak your own firewall rules, but Little Snitch won’t forget to watch out for you.

Secure Your Public & Untrusted WiFi Connections

While Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and other sites have SSL (https) options (some using it by default), you really need to take control of your own transmission security when not on networks you trust. Why? Well one example is that you may be at a restaurant (as I was with my kids in November) where they terminate all SSL sessions at their border gateway (meaning they could read all the data that should have been encrypted). You also cannot be sure when Facebook is going to mindlessly toggle their SSL settings or when a Facebook application causes the SSL settings to be disabled. Even though SSL is relied upon by pretty much everyone to “just work”, it’s not a given or a panacea.

When on unfamiliar, public or other untrusted networks, it’s truly necessary to take control of the encryption as best as you can and use some type of Virtual Private Network : VPN : setup. While running your own is the only real way to know what’s happening at the VPN termination point, there are reputable services out there who can provide security and that you should be able to trust (at least better than SSL in a Starbucks). One of them—and I believe the most user-friendly one—is Cloak (@getcloak and FREE to $8-$15/month) by Bourgeois Bits.

Once installed, Cloak will detect when you’re on a public WiFi connection and automatically kick in a VPN session. You can start up a VPN session at any time with a single click in the OS X menu bar and also define more granular rules (if you want to). With Cloak, you have no excuse to not take an added measure of security when you’re out and about with your Mac.

You could do this for free (provided you trust your home Internet provider) with many modern routers or even a simple Linux/BSD or OS X box providing VPN services, but it would still not be as simple as using Cloak.

With these three simple steps/apps (less than $100), you will be far less at risk than you (probably) currently are as you run naked & blind across the internet with your password stapled to your forehead.

If you have any suggestions for similar/competing tools or have additional resolutions you think would be helpful to Mac users (or any computer user), drop a note in the comments.

If you are concerned about the Dropbox design flaw exposed by the dbClone attack, then have we got a link for you!

The intrepid DB devs have tossed up a forum release which purports to fix all the thorny security issues. You can no longer just copy a config file to a separate machine to clone a filesystem and the file itself is now also encrypted. (Forum builds do not automagically download like standard Dropbox updates)

Given the fact that Dropbox did not prompt me for any credentials when I started the new version, I’m still a bit skeptical that it has truly fixed the problem. Given my schedule today, I doubt I’ll have time to poke at it before someone else does, but the thoroughness of this fix does need to be independently validated. The local Dropbox client has to be getting the encryption key/passphrase from *somewhere*, and if it’s not prompting me on start, then it’s stored online or locally and that’s a recipe for another hack.

There is nothing overt in the application bundle (looking on OS X) or quickly discernable from a dump of a few of the app’s .pyc files. Granted, a bit of obfuscation will stop the current hack and dissuade some other sophomoric attempts, but I can almost guarantee that the passphrase (or the algorithm one needs to discern the passphrase) will be found by folks.

The new build replaces your local configuration file with a new, encrypted one (now named config.dbx). I didn’t see signs of either SQLiteEncrypt, SEE, SQLCipher or SQLiteCrypt but haven’t had time to dig more thoroughly. It’s completely possible the Dropbox devs just built an encryption layer over the Dropbox calls themselves (which is not a difficult task).

Please note that forum builds are not necessarily stable and that this is a pretty major architecture change. I had no issues on OS X, but I suspect that any micro-errors in your SQLite config.db may cause some heartache if you do attempt the upgrade. Best to wait for a full production release if you do not have your Dropbox backed up somewhere.

Had to modify the latimes URL in the post due to a notice from Wordfence/Google

I was reviewing the – er – highlights? – from the ninth ERM Symposium in Chicago over at Riskviews this morning and was intrigued by some of the parallels to the current situation in enterprise security risk management (the ERM symposium seemed to be laser-focused on financial risk, which is kinda sad since ERM should make security/IT compliance risk a first class citizen). Not all topics had a 1:1 parallel, but there were some interesting ones:

  • Compliance culture of risk management in banks contributed to the crisis :: While not necessarily at crisis levels yet, the compliance culture that is infecting information security is headed toward this same fate. Relying on semi-competent auditors to wade through volumes of compensating controls and point-in-time reviews to deliver ✓’s in the right boxes is not a recipe for a solid security program that will help mitigate and respond effectively to emerging threats.
  • Banks were supposed to have been sophisticated enough to control their risks :: I’ll focus on medium-to-large enterprises for this comparison, but I’m fairly confident that this is a prevalent attitude regarding information security in corporations across the globe (“We manage information risk well“). Budgets seem to be focused on three fundamental areas that non-security-folk can conceptually grasp: firewalls (stop), traditional anti-virus (block) and endpoint disk encryption (scramble). By now, with a decade of OWASP failures [PDF, pg 28], a multi-year debate about anti-virus efficacy and ample proof that vendors suck at building secure software as evidence, you’d think we’d be focusing on identifying the areas of greatest risk and designing & following roadmaps to mitigate them.

    This may be more of a failure on our part to effectively communicate the issues in a way that decision makers can understand. While not as bad as the outright lying committed by those who helped bake the financial meltdown cake, it is important to call out since I believe senior management and company boards would Do The Right Thing™ if we effectively communicated what that Right Thing is.

  • Regulators need to keep up with innovation and excessive leverage from innovation. :: The spirit of this is warning that financial regulators need to keep a sharp eye out for the tricky ways institutions come up with to get around regulations (that’s my concise summary of “innovation”). Think “residential mortgage-backed securities”. The “excessive leverage” bit is consumers borrowing way too much money for over-priced houses.

    I’m not going to try to make a raw parallel, but just focus on the first part: Regulators need to keep up with innovation. The bad guys are getting more sophisticated and clever all the time and keep up with hot trends faster than we can defend against them…due in part to our wasted time testing controls and responding to low-grade audit findings. When even the SOX compliant security giants can fall hard, you know there’s a fundamental problem in how we are managing information security risk. Regulators & legislators need to stop ( http:// articles. latimes. com /2011/feb/11/business/la-fi-0211-privacy-20110211 ) jerking knees and partner with the best and the brightest in our field to develop new approaches for prescribing and validating security programs.

  • ERM is not an EASY button from Staples :: I’m *so* using that quote in an infosec context this week
  • Many banks and insurers should be failing the use test for ERM regulation to be effective. :: More firms need to fail SOX and PCI and [insert devastating regulation acronym here] checks or SOX & PCI requirements need to change so that we see more failing. Pick one SOX and PCI compliant company at random and I’ll bet they have at least one exploitable Internet-based exposure or that custom-crafted malware can get through. If we start making real, effective, and sane regulations, we’ll start contributing to the betterment information security in organizations.
  • Stress testing is becoming a major tool for regulators. :: What if regulators did actual stress testing of our security controls versus relying on point-in-time checks? I know that the stress tests for banks end up being a paper exercise, but even those exercises have managed to find problems. Come in, pick three modern exploit vectors and walk-through how company defenses would hold up.
  • Regulators need to be able to pay competitive market salaries :: we need smarter rule-makers and examiners. There are good people doing good work in this space, just not enough of them.
  • Difficult for risk managers to operate under multiple constraints of multiple regulators, accounting systems. :: Just domestically, 42 states with separate privacy regulations, SOX for public companies, PCI compliance for those who process credit cards and independent infosec auditing standards across any third-party one needs to do business with make it almost impossible to stop spinning around low-level findings and focus on protecting critical information assets. We need to get to a small number of solid standards that we can effectively understand and design solutions to meet.
  • Nice tree/forest story: Small trees take resources from the forest. Large trees shade smaller trees making it harder for them to get sunlight. Old trees die and fall crashing through the forest taking out smaller trees. :: This made me think of the rampant consolidation of the security tech industry. Savvy, nimble & competent boutique vendors are being swallowed by giants. The smart people leave when they can and the solutions are diluted and become part of a leftover stew of offerings that don’t quite fit together well and are not nearly as effective as they once were.
  • Things that people say will never go wrong will go wrong. :: “We’ll never have a SQL injection. Our mobile devices will never get malware on them. Those users will never figure out out to do [that thing], why should we spend time and resources building it correctly?”
  • Compliance should be the easy part of ERM, not the whole thing :: So. True.
  • Asking dumb questions should be seen as good for firm. 10th dumb question might reveal something that no one else saw. :: This needs to be a requirement at everyone’s next architecture meeting or project initiation meeting. At the very least, do something similar before you let someone open up a firewall port.
  • There is a lack of imagination of adverse events. US has cultural optimism. Culture is risk seeking. :: Can be easily seen in our headstrong rush into consumerizing IT. I find that architects, engineers and application developers tend to see 1-2 “security moves” out. We need to do a better job training them to play Go or Chess in the enterprise.
  • People understand and prefer principles based regulation. But when trust is gone everything moves towards rules. :: If firms had been Doing The Right Thing™ in information security when they had the chance, we wouldn’t be in the state we are in now. I can’t see us getting [back] to principled-based regulation any time soon.
  • Supervisors need to learn to say no :: How many firewall port opens, disk-encryption exclusions, anti-virus disables and other policy exceptions have you processed just this past week? How many defenses have you had to give up during an architecture battle? Non-infosec leaders absolutely need to start learning how to say “no” when their best-and-brightest want to do the wrong thing.
  • Caveat Emptor :: Don’t believe your infosec vendors
  • A risk metric that makes you more effective makes you special. :: We have risk metrics? Seriously, tho, if we can measure and report risk effectively, our infosec programs will get better.

I may have missed some or got some wrong. I’d be interested in any similarities or differences other saw in the list or if you think that I’m overly cynical about the state of affairs in infosec risk.