Category Archives: Security Practices

“Smart Cities” Need to be Secure Cities Too

For hundreds of years, government has been the domain of the quill pen and parchment or whatever followed on from that.

But now, cities want to join the digital revolution to make life easier for their citizens and save money.

However, as we have seen, that has not always worked out so well.

Atlanta recently was hit by a ransomware attack – just one example out of hundreds.  It appears that was facilitated by the city’s choice to not spend money on IT and IT security.  Now they are planning on spending about $18 million to fix the mess.  Atlanta can afford that, smaller towns cannot.

We are hearing of hundreds of towns and cities getting hit by hackers – encrypting data, shutting down services and causing mayhem.  In Atlanta, for example, the buying and selling of homes and businesses was shut down for weeks because the recorder could not reliably tell lenders how much was owed on a property being sold or record liens on property being purchased.

But what if, instead of not being able to pay your water bill, not having any telephones working in city hall or not being able to do things on the city’s web site – what if instead, the city owned water delivery system stopped working because the control system was hacked and the water was contaminated?  Or, what if, all of the traffic lights went green in all directions?  Or red?  What if the police lost access to all of the digital evidence for crimes and all of the people being charged had to be set free?  You get the general idea.

As cities and towns, big and small, go digital, they will need to upgrade their security capabilities or run the risk of being attacked.  Asking a vendor to fill out a form asking about their security and then checking the box that says its secure does not cut it.  Not testing software, both before the city buys it and periodically after they buy it to test for security bugs doesn’t work either.  We are already seeing that problem with city web sites that collect credit cards being hacked costing customers (residents) millions.  Not understanding how to configure systems for security and privacy doesn’t cut it either.

Of course the vendors don’t care because cities are not requiring vendors to warranty that their systems are secure or provide service level agreements for downtime.  I promise if the vendor is required to sign a contract that says that if their software is hacked and it costs the city $X million dollars to deal with it, then the vendor gets to pay for that, vendors will change their tune.  Or buy a lot of insurance.  In either case, the city’s taxpayers aren’t left to foot the bill, although the other issues are still a problem.  We have already seen information permanently lost.  Depending on what that information is, that could get expensive for the city.

In most states governments have some level of immunity, but that immunity isn’t complete and even if you can’t sue the government, you can vote them out of office – something politicians are not fond of.

As hackers become more experienced at hacking cities, they will likely do more damage, escalating the spiral.

For cities, the answer is simple but not free.  The price of entering the digital age includes the cost of ensuring the security AND PRIVACY of the data that their citizens entrust to them as well as the security and safety of those same citizens.

When people die because a city did not due appropriate security testing, lawsuits will happen, people will get fired and politicians will lose their jobs.   Hopefully it won’t take that to get a city’s attention.

Source: Helpnet Security

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Coworking and Shared Work Spaces Are A Security and Privacy Nightmare

Coworking and shared office spaces are the new normal.  WeWork, one of the coworking space brands, is now, apparently, the largest office space tenant in the United States.

Who are in these coworking spaces are startups and small branches (often 1 or 2 people) of larger companies, among others.

Most of these folks have a strong need for Internet access and these coworking spaces offer WiFi.  Probably good WiFi, but WiFi.  And WiFi is basically a party line, at least for now.

Look for WiFi 6 with WPA 3 over the next couple of years – assuming the place that you are getting your WiFi from upgrades all of their hardware and software.  And YOU do also.

A couple of years ago a guy moved into a WeWork office in Manhattan and was concerned about security given his business, so he did a scan.  What did he find but hundreds of unprotected devices and many sensitive documents.

When he asked WeWork if they knew about it, the answer was yes.

Four years later, nothing has changed.

Fundamentally, it is a matter of money.  And convenience.

But, if you are concerned about security, you need to think about whether you are OK with living in a bit of a glass house.

For WeWork in particular, this comes at a bad time because they are trying to do  – off and on  – an initial public offering and the bad press from publications like Fast Company on this security and privacy issue don’t exactly inspire investor confidence.

Fundamentally, using the Internet at a WeWork office or one of their competitors is about as safe as using the WiFi at a coffee shop that is owned by the mob  and is in a bad part of town.  Except that you are running your business here.

In their defense, WeWork does offer some more secure options (although you might be able to do it yourself for less).  A VLAN costs an extra $95 a month plus a setup fee and a private office network costs $195 a month.  That might double the cost of a one person shared space (a dedicated desk costs between $275 and $600 a month, depending on the location).

And clearly they do not promote the fact that you are operating in a bit of a sewer if you do not choose one of the more expensive options.  The up sell here is not part of their business model.

For users of shared office spaces, like WeWork (but likely anywhere else too, so this is not a WeWork bug), they need to consider if they are dealing with anything private or whether they care whether their computer is open to hackers.  If not, proceed as usual.

If not, then you need to consider your options, make some choices and spend some money.  Sorry.  Source: CNet.

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Windows 10 Offers New Anti-Ransomware Feature

Back in May Microsoft released Windows 10 Build 1903, AKA the May 2019 update.  Suffice it to say, Microsoft has had more than its share of problems with 1903, so if you are not there yet, I would not install it.  It is quite embarrassing for Microsoft that more than 90 days after the release, it is still not ready for prime time.

However, one they get things figured out, they have got a new feature in 1903 that seems very cool and that is an anti-ransomware feature.

Given how pervasive ransomware has become, anything that you can do the reduce the attack surface seems like a good idea.

One feature that I am not going to talk about today called Windows Sandbox, which is a lightweight virtual machine that you can use to run untrusted software.  More on that another day.  (FYI, none of my machines have updated themselves to 1903.  I threw caution to the wind and forced an update on one machine.  Have my fingers crossed).

In the meantime, I am going to talk about Ransomware Protection.

This feature comes in two parts and, FYI, as is usually the case with new features, this feature comes DISABLED by default.

Part one is called CONTROLLED FOLDER ACCESS.  If Controlled Folder Access is turned on, all changes to any folders that you specify will be blocked, unless you specifically allow it.  This means that if some malware tries to write to, say, your Windows folder, it will be stopped cold.

Part two is called RANSOMWARE DATA RECOVERY.  This backs up your files to One Drive so that you can recover an older version from Microsoft’s cloud.

To turn on Ransomware Protection, click on START and then type WINDOWS SECURITY in the search box.

Security app

Then click on VIRUS & THREAT PROTECTION.

Security app

Scroll down to ransomware protection.

Ransomware

And click on manage ransomware protection.

Enable ransomware

Turn on Controlled Folder Access and also log in to One Drive.

Ransomware protection enabled

You can now configure Controlled Folder Access.

Given this is somewhat complicated, you may want to ask your IT person to help you with this.

In the end, however, this seems like a great feature.

Source: Bleeping Computer.

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Security News for the Week Ending September 6, 2019

Cisco: Critical Bug Allows Remote Takeover of Routers

Cisco rated this bug 10 out of 10.  For users of Cisco 4000 series ISRs, ASR 1000 series aggregation routers, 1000v cloud routers and integrated services virtual routers, an unauthenticated user can gain full control just by sending a malicious HTTP request.  So yet another reminder that patching your network gear is critical.  For Cisco, that means having to purchase their maintenance agreement every year.  Source: Threatpost.

USBAnywhere – Especially Places You Don’t Want

Eclypsium announced a vulnerability in the Baseband Management Controller (BMC) in Supermicro motherboards that allow any attacker anywhere, without authorization, to access the BMC chipset and mount a virtual USB device, wreaking all kinds of havoc as you might imagine.  Like stealing your data, installing malware or even disabling the server entirely.  The researchers found 14,000 servers publicly exposed, which is a small number, but as soon as a hacker compromises a single user’s computer anywhere in the enterprise, public equals private – no difference.  Part of the problem is that almost no one knows who’s motherboard is inside their server.  The only good news, if there is any, is that Supermicro has released patches, but you have to figure out if your boards are vulnerable and patch them manually.  Isn’t that exciting?  Source: The Hacker News.

Remember When we Thought iPhones Were Secure?

Apparently that myth is beginning to get a little tarnished.  In fact, Android zero days are worth more than iPhone attacks.  Why?  Because, exploit broker Zerodium says, iPhone exploits, mostly based on Safari and iMessage, two core parts of the iPhone, are FLOODING the market.

I don’t think that users need to panic, but I think that they need to understand that iPhones are computers running software and software has bugs.  All software has bugs.  Practice safe computing, no matter what platform you are using.  Source: Vice.

Unencrypted Passwords from Poshmark Breach For Sale on the Dark Web

When Poshmark put up a information free notice last year that some user information had been hacked (turns out it was 36 million even though they didn’t say so), but that no financial information was taken, so they didn’t feel too bad about it, most people said, another day, another breach.

The 36 million accounts were for sale for $750 which means that even the hacker didn’t think they were valuable.  But now there are reports that one million of those accounts are available with the passwords decrypted, likely at a much higher price.  Does this mean they are working on the other 35 million?  Who knows but if you have a Poshmark account, you should definitely change that password and if the password was used elsewhere, change that too.  Source: Bleeping Computer .

Researchers Claim to Have Hacked the Secure Enclave

CPU makers have created what they call a “secure enclave” as a way to protect very sensitive information in the computer.  Intel calls their feature SGX.  Researchers claim to have created an attack based on Intel’s and AMD’s assumption that only non-malicious code would run in a secure enclave.  If this all proves out, it represents a real threat and reiterates the fact that you have to keep hackers out, because once they are in, nothing is safe.  Source: Bruce Schneier.

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Top Threats To Cloud Security – The Egregious Eleven

The cloud has become an important part of every companies IT solution.  Whether you are using a third party software as a service or building your our solutions in the cloud, the cloud is not risk free.  Just ask Capital One if you have any questions about that.

So what are the things that you need to consider?  The Cloud Security Alliance has done a great job of laying that out.  Here is what they are saying:

1. Data Breaches – this is the most public negative consequence of not properly securing your cloud infrastructure.

2. Misconfiguration and inadequate change control – this could lead to a breach (see Capital One, again) or it could lead to downtime.

3.  Lack of cloud security architecture and strategy – It is a REALLY bad idea to pick up the solution that you have in your data center and drop it in the cloud.  In fact, it could be a disaster.

4. Insufficient Identity and Access Management (IAM).  Again, See Capital One.  Because if you do this wrong, your systems are exposed to anyone, anywhere in the world.

5. Account hijacking – If the security of the service accounts is compromised things can go downhill fast.

6 – Insider threat – The cloud is no different that any other system and if you have a disgruntled or more likely careless internal user, they can easily expose the entire network to attack.

7 – Insecure APIs and Interfaces – Since the systems are inherently much more public in the cloud, all APIs and interfaces need to be very, very secure.

8 – Weak control plane – A weak control plane means the person in charge—either a system architect or a DevOps engineer—is not in full control of the data infrastructure’s logic, security, and verification.  Leading to a breach.

9 – Metastructure and applistructure failures –  Cloud providers reveal operations and security precautions at the “waterline” –  the line between when the provider is responsible and when the customer is responsible.  If that is not well implemented and well understood, the result can be a disaster.

10 – Limited cloud usage visability – without adequate usage visibility, the organization can’t tell the difference between authorized use and hackers.

11- Abuse and nefarious use of cloud services – I think this one is obvious.  Could be an insider or a hacker, but the cloud service is not being used in an authorized manner.

For a 40 page manual on this subject from the Cloud Security Alliance, check out this article (registration required).

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Wireless Home Security – Good Theater, Bad Security

Alarm companies like wireless alarm sensors because they cost less to install and are prettier since there are no wires.  They are also remarkably less secure.

It is useful to understand that you neighborhood junkie might not be able to pull off the attack, but any serious burglar would not have a problem.

In this particular case, a lawyer who has an interest in security was able to buy a signal jammer for $2 that disabled the SimpliSafe alarm system in his house.

While the alarm company disputed his claim with statements like “this is not practical in real life:, the lawyer stands by his claim.

To me, the attack is obvious.  If you can jam the signal, the alarm will not go through.

SimpliSafe says that they will detect what they call interference and the lawyer agreed that it did, but only sometimes.  He also said that the interference never actually triggered an alarm.

People often purchase an alarm for peace of mind, but if the alarm is jammable, is the peace of mind justified.

If you really care about your personal security, demand that all of the sensors are hardwired to the control panel.  If the alarm company can’t or won’t do that, find a different company.

Of course, if the alarm is just for appearances, a wireless system will be just fine.

The second half of the problem is the communication between the alarm and the monitoring station.  Some alarms use your internet; others use a cell modem.

The Internet based alarm is easy to defeat as the wire for your internet connection is typically exposed in a plastic box outside your house for the convenience of your internet provider.  All it takes is a wirecutter to defeat it.  For cell based alarms, a cell jammer does the trick.

In general, you want two different communications paths back to the monitoring station.

All of this depends on how serious you are about your alarm system protecting you.  Most consumer alarms are really designed to lull you into thinking you are secure and it works because most people don’t have the security knowledge to understand what the weaknesses are.

To watch a video of the hack, additional recommendations on being safer and more details of the attack, go to the article on the Verge.

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