Friday, August 22, 2014

Security: Hard to Get Right!

Couple of interesting articles doing the rounds this week, which are worthy of a quick comment!

Heartbleed: the bug that keeps on giving
Reports suggest that the Heartbleed vulnerability was involved in a breach of over 4 million records from a health provider in the US — we won't see many of these, as identifying the culprit as Heartbleed is really difficult in most cases. That instances like this are still cropping up reminds us of the need to ensure we're patched, and not just in the obvious places like a web server. This time it seems to have been SSL VPN at the heart of the issue, so to speak.

Passwords: why are we still so rubbish at this?
Apparently 51% of people share a password. This is properly daft. Really, crazier than a box of weasels. Even if you trust the other person, there's no telling what accidents might occur, or where they may re-use that password themselves. I always get gyp from my wife that I won't tell her my passwords, but I won't — and believe me, I do pretty much everything else she tells me!

EU "right to be forgotten" rule still here, still a waste of time?!
Internet numptys are still asking Google to remove them from searches in their droves. Happily the BBC is kind enough to reveal who they are by linking us to the relevant articles. When will people realise that once you publish something on the Internet, it is there forever. Unless it's that really useful document you bookmarked last week, which now 404s and was never in the Internet archive. Yes, that one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

For an Internet of Things, We Are Going to Need Better Things

There's a lot of hype around at the moment about "The Internet of Things" (IoT), which, I suppose, is all about attaching, uh, things to the Internet. By "things", it seems we are supposed to be thinking household goods, vehicles; basically anything with electrical current running through it is a candidate for the "internet of things".

While setting up a cheapo DVD player last week, I couldn't help thinking of Chief Brody in the film "Jaws"... "You're going to need a bigger boat", he says, on seeing the enormous shark. We're going to need a bigger mindset on security if we are to survive the onslaught of "things". The firmware in the kind of devices we are already routinely connecting up is drivel. I mean some of it is absolute garbage. I know there are exceptions, but most of it is badly built, and almost none of it is ever updated.

Each of these devices is likely perfectly capable as a host in a botnet - for DDoS, for sending SPAM, SPIM and SPIT (OK, we are yet to see much in the way of unsolicited Internet Telephony... but with the IoT, devices built to make calls/send texts are likely to get hijacked), so each of these devices has a value to the Internet's vast supply of wrongdoers.

Researchers at Eurcom recently completed a study showing up vulnerabilities in the 30 thousand or so firmware images they scraped from vendor websites. Apparently one image even contained a linux kernel whose age had just hit double figures. Ouch. The "Nest" next-gen thermostat hasn't been without issues either, a high profile target, at least we can expect firmware updates from them!

Synology's NAS storage devices are among the early victims of malware attacking non-traditional computing devices, and may be an indication of IoT issues to come. Users of these storage devices have found themselves victim of a crypto-ransomware attack: their files are encrypted, and the encryption keys offered for sale back to them! Other early warnings come in the form of attacks on SCADA industrial control systems. These are all places that traditionally, little or no emphasis has been placed on security.

What can we do to help ourselves here? My advice is be careful before you buy anything you're going to add to your network. Look to see if the vendor has a firmware download, and if there's a recent-ish update. If they're the fire'n'forget types, you're probably not going to want to deploy it.

Footnote: Gartner appears to believe the Internet of Things to have reached "peak hype". Reminds me of an old saying about those dwelling in vitreous abodes launching masonry...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Of Wikipedia and vandalism.

Wikipedia is regarded as a bastion of factual accuracy and impartiality.

If you have no idea what Wikipedia is, please step blinking into the sun and let me explain:
It's an online encyclopaedia that anyone can contribute to. Literally anyone. There are no pre-requisites, no background checks and exactly one hoop to jump through: bothering to post the edits.

Fantastic idea isn't it? A platform for the entirety of human knowledge to be collected in a single shining pantheon, stripped of journalistic bias and sensationalism, and laid bare for all to marvel at. Enshrining almost 60 times more information that the Encyclopaedia Britannica. A beacon of knowledge and wisdom through collaboration and communal spirit!

Except this is the internet, a place which at times can be a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

From Wikipedia:
Vandalism is any addition, removal, or change of content, in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia. Examples of typical vandalism are adding irrelevant obscenities and crude humor to a page, illegitimately blanking pages, and inserting obvious nonsense into a page. 
Wikipedia has an entire team and comprehensive guidelines for dealing with vandalism.
As of April 2014, there were 4,500,000 articles on Wikipedia. That's potentially 4,500,000 blank canvases for anyone with the inclination and an email address to put their mark on. Repeated transgressions will result in the user or their IP being banned from editing anything on Wikipedia. This is fine for Vandal A sitting at home trolling, but becomes a problem when an entire organisation's connection is blocked. They don't like to, but Wikipedia can block an entire IP range if the need arises. Jobs have been lost due to irresponsible Wikipedia edits (in Government, no less) — there are very real risks.

Here at Smoothwall, we've had more than one request for the ability to make Wikipedia read only in an effort to prevent this issue getting that far. Tomorrow this goes live and is in a similar vein to our previous work on Facebook and Twitter, albeit a little more niche. It's also not a blanket on/off switch, it's applicable the same way as any policy is — to whomever, whatever and whenever you like.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2 Weeks To Secure Your Networks... Starting...

Well, roughly 2 weeks ago. Apparently, there's a malware storm a-comin' - batten down the hatches, man the barricades, etc.

Yawn. Look, if you're not ready for this influx of malware, you're not ready to plug in your router. Surviving on the Internet during this coming malware bonanza is like surviving in a 'phone booth with 2 angry brown bears. If I said, hey, let's go with one angry brown bear instead, you wouldn't fancy your chances any better.

Ursine analogies aside, if we do get the proposed storm (and here I'm going to suggest that we're looking at a level of likelihood similar to that of weather forecasting), keep doing what you're doing. It's always a good time to start doing what you're doing better, but to make changes for this - fairly generic - incident that you're not willing to keep in place full-time is a second rate scheme.

My advice, pick one thing you've been looking to improve about your IT security for a while, and use the press coverage to justify your budget spend - but don't show the bean counters this article.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Passwords - At it again?

The recent eBay hack got me thinking about passwords, for about the 5th time this year. After Heartbleed, I did a bit of an audit on the passwords I was using, and I hope you did too. I then moved house, and had to change a bunch of address details, and in the process, I found a few more places I had passwords set up that I didn't know I had. One of these places emailed me a reminder with the password in plain text. This means they are storing my password, on their server, in the clear. I'm not mean enough to name names, and indeed I have offered to help them fix it, and given a few pointers - I'm nice like that, you see!

There's a moral to this tale, however. I should be concerned that Company X's servers may be compromised, and my password released, because they stored it badly. If that was the case, I would want to change my password as soon as I heard of the breach, as an attacker would immediately be able to access my account. My best defence would probably be that my name's likely to be right in the middle of the list, and any attacker is probably working his way past Archibald Atkins up there at the top of the user list - I hope I can get to reset my creds before the bad guys get to "N"!

However, I hope that eBay are smarter (not that there's any direct evidence that this is the case: they've been a bit evasive on how they stored our passwords). Despite this, I immediately changed my eBay password too. Why? because even a hashed password is cracked fairly easily these days, and that crack is getting easier every day.

Given a 6 character password (still accepted by many sites), hashed with MD5, it is possible to check every possible password in less than a minute on standard hardware.

So: sites are still storing passwords plaintext. For a while, MD5 was the go-to hash function. How many people do you think are still using that? SHA-1? Not much better apparently. Salt-per-password - better odds, but not unbeatable. While there's so much that a site could do "wrong" that would mean your password is brute forced in no time, there's a bunch you could do wrong too, like picking a dictionary word, or something nice and short. Be aware that the bad guys are finding ways to crack passwords orders of magnitude faster, such as using CUDA/GL setups.

What can we do to protect ourselves against the disparity between the ability of wrong 'uns to crack passwords, and the slow uptake of more secure hashing?

You can never ever re-use a password. I am pretty sure I still am - probably on accounts I should have closed years ago, but tidying up your passwords is worse than changing your postal address! It's really difficult. You will need a password manager. I chose Lastpass personally, some of my colleagues use passwordsafe and keep the file in dropbox - pick the one that's right for you.

A password manager is essential to keep up with the large number of passwords you will need - however, I would advocate keeping your key passwords out of any manager - eggs, basket, and all that. So email, financial services, that sort of thing, probably should stay in your head!

Finally, any sites which offer 2 factor authentication, please do take them up on the offer. That way you're less likely to suffer a breach while the organisation decides on the best way to tell you your password has gone walkies.

TL;DR - three things you need to remember about your passwords:

  • Two factor Where You can
  • Password Manager for the Many
  • Remember the Few

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Statement: OpenSSL "Heartbleed" and Smoothwall

Some of our customers have been asking about Smoothwall's vulnerability to the "Heartbleed" issue in OpenSSL. We can confirm that our version of OpenSSL is not vulnerable to this issue, and our version of GnuTLS has also been upgraded as of update73 to resolve another possible, but unrelated, SSL vulnerability, of which OpenSSL's is the latest of 3 recent issues in SSL implementations.

Smoothwall users are protected from Apple's recent bug (link below) by browsing through the web filter, however they are not immune to the "Heartbleed" issue where present on other web sites and services (though a MITM filtered connection is perhaps marginally harder to attack).

More information on each issue can be found here:
OpenSSL "Heartbleed"
GNUTLS issue
Apple "Goto fail"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Safer Internet Day: 4 Things You Might Not Realise Your Webfilter Can Do

Since it's Safer Internet Day today, I thought i'd use it as an excuse to write a blog post. Regular readers will know I don't usually need an excuse, but I always feel better if I do.

Yesterday, I was talking to our Content Filter team about a post on the popular Edugeek forum, where someone asked "is it possible to block adult content in BBC iPlayer?". Well, with the right web filter, the answer is "yes", but how many people think to even ask the question? Certainly we hadn't thought much about formalising the answer. So I'm going to put together a list of things your web filter should be capable of, but you might not have realised...

1. Blocking adult content on "TV catch up" services like iPlayer. With use of the service soaring, it's important that any use in education is complemented with the right safeguards. We don't need students in class seeing things their parents wouldn't want them watching at home. There's a new section of the Smoothwall blocklist now which will deal with anything on iPlayer that the BBC deem unsuitable for minors.

2. Making Facebook and Twitter "Read Only". These social networks are great fun, and it can be useful to relax the rules a bit to prevent students swarming for 4G. A read-only approach can help reduce the incidence of cyber-bullying and keep users more focused.

3. Stripping the comments out of YouTube. YouTube is a wonderful resource, and the majority of video is pretty safe (use Youtube for Schools if you want to tie that down further — your filter can help you there too). The comments on videos, however, are often at best puerile and at worst downright offensive. Strip out the junk, and leave the learning tool - win win!

4. Busting Google searches back down to HTTP and forcing SafeSearch. Everybody appreciates a secure service, but when Google moved their search engine to HTTPS secure traffic by default, they alienated the education community. With SSL traffic it is much harder to vet search terms, log accesses in detain, and importantly force SafeSearch. Google give you DNS trickery to force the site back into plain HTTP - but that's a pain to implement, especially on a Windows DNS server. Use your web filter to rewrite the requests, and have the best of both.