Tag Archives: DHS

DHS Says Federal Networks Susceptible to Attack

DHS released a report this week regarding BOD 16-02.  A BOD or Binding Operational Directive is DHS’s way of telling executive branch agencies that they have to do something.  Like really.

In this case the issue is that hackers were abusing bugs in Internet routers, specifically Cisco routers.  Why Cisco?  Because they are the biggest gorilla in the game.  If you can successfully attack Cisco, the world is your oyster.

The report dates back to 2016, but it wasn’t released until this week.  The bugs date back to 2014 and 2016.  Cisco has patched the bugs.  Many agencies had not applied the patches.  Hence the BOD.  Get off your butts and apply the patches.

OK, so what does this  mean to you?

In general, your Internet gateway is the drawbridge to your medieval castle.  Leave the drawbridge down and the bad guys can get across the moat.

Even in medieval days, the drawbridge was only one defense.  Today, the firewall is also only one layer of defense.  Still, it is an important layer.

For many businesses (and especially consumers), patching their Internet gateway (router or firewall) and patching their WiFi router (sometimes the same device but sometimes different devices) is not something they do, and if they do, they don’t do it regularly.

All patching is important, but patching any Internet facing device is critical because the attacker doesn’t need to get inside your network before launching the attack.  They start from outside and they work their way in.

One important thing to know.  At least with Cisco, and probably some other vendors, if you are not paying for an annual support contract, they will not give you the security patches that they have released to fix the bugs that should not have been there in the first place.  My answer to that?  Pick a different vendor – there are lots.  Juniper, Sonicwall, Ubiquiti, Fortinet, Baarracuda, Palo Alto, pfSense.  Different vendors make sense for different users, but there are lots of choices.

So what is an Internet facing device?

Firewalls.

Routers.

WiFi Access Points.

Webcams that can be accessed from the Internet.

And likely other devices inside your home or business,

Start out by doing a careful inventory of anything that has a network cable or is connected to your WiFi.  Then see which ones of these devices can connect to the Internet.  Those are the high priorities.

There is one thing that you can do, going forward.  Buy devices that automatically update themselves.

Like the Ring Video Doorbell.  There was a vulnerability discovered recently (like in the last 6 months or so).  Ring fixed and patched every doorbell ever sold in roughly 48 hours. 

The Google Home Wifi controller is another example.

Do your research BEFORE you buy.  Ask questions.  And, if you don’t get the right answers, move on.  Vote with your wallet.  Eventually, that will get manufacturer’s attention.

Information for this post came from Federal Computer Weekly.

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DHS Issues New Rules For Searching Electronic Devices

In 2015 some 380 million international travelers arrived in the U.S. and only 8,503 of those travelers had their electronic devices searched – only .002 percent.  That is a pretty small number.

In 2016 there were 390 million international arrivals and CBP examined the devices of 19,033 of them – a little more than double the number from the prior year.  Still it is a very small number.

In the first half of FY 2017 14,993 travelers had their devices searched.   Assuming the second half of the year matches the first half, just about 30,000 travelers will have their devices searched.  That will be about 350% of the 2015 numbers.

Of course there is no way to extrapolate what that means for 2018, but if the trend continues, it will likely increase.

One of the complaints that people have expressed is that there are no obvious rules governing whether a device can be searched.  With all kinds of personal and sometimes embarrassing content on people’s phones and computers, DHS has decided to publish some general guidelines.  Far from rules, but better than what was known before.

The Supremes have ruled in the past that Customs does not need either a warrant or reasonable cause to search your devices.  If you are a U.S. citizen you can’t be denied entry into the country if you refuse to unlock your device, but if you NOT a citizen, they could send you back to from where you came.

In both cases they can detain you for a while – no definite time, which may encourage you to cooperate.

And, they can also search your device when you leave the country, but I suspect that is much less frequent.

The right to their arbitrary searches is rooted in the Constitution and was based on the concept of looking through your luggage for contraband.  Extending that to your phone seems like a bit of a stretch, but the Supremes have weighed in and said it is OK.

Under the new rules, agents can search information stored ON the device, using the software on the device.  This, in theory, says that they can’t read your GMail by opening your Mail app since that is not stored on your phone – or maybe it is.  The way they have decided to deal with that is either CBP agents will ask you to put the phone in Airplane mode or if they don’t trust you to do that, they will do it for you.

Unless they have reasonable suspicion – whatever that means.  Then they can use advanced search techniques – which I assume means that they can use forensic tools.

They can ask you for your passcode and detain a device that is encrypted (and, I assume, that you won’t decrypt).

The document also says that agents should take care not to make changes to the device.  I assume that the first thing someone would say if CBP claims they found something incriminating is that it was planted.  Advanced searches should be done in the presence of a supervisor, if available.  Searches should also be done in the presence of device owner unless there are reasons not to allow this.

If the device owner says that information on the devices is protected by attorney-client privilege, the agent is supposed to ask for clarification as to what specific files or folders contain that information.  Prior to searching  those folders, the agent has to contact the CBP assistant chief counsel, who will coordinate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on how to proceed.  While they will still search that information, they will segregate it so that it might, possibly, be better protected.

At the completion of the CBP review, any copies of information will be destroyed unless they need to be preserved in accordance with a litigation hold.

All of this process needs to be documented on specific CBP forms.  That alone will probably discourage agents from poking around.  Filling out government forms is no fun.

Business confidential and trade secret information needs to be protected as well.

All of that information can still be shared with other agencies as long as they have processes in place to protect it – undefined processes.

If they ask for your passcode and you give it to them, they may keep those passcodes in case they need them later.  Another reason not to reuse passwords.

If the device owner will not unlock the device, CBP can try to break into it.

Officers may detain devices and/or information on them for a reasonable period, usually 5 days, but that can be extended for a week at a time with approval, if needed.

If CBP keeps your device, they need to give you a receipt.

If CBP needs to get assistance from another agency for breaking into the device or evaluating the information on it, they need to get a supervisor’s approval and they need to tell the owner unless the purpose for sharing is counter-terrorism related.

So what should you do?

That kind of depends on your level of paranoia and what is stored on your device.

In general, try to avoid taking sensitive or embarrassing information across the border.  For many companies, that means issuing burner phones and burner laptops (this is actually a more common practice than you might think).  Upload encrypted data to the cloud before crossing the border in any direction and wipe and overwrite the files off the local device.

If CBP retains the device or takes it out of your sight, depending on your level of paranoia and the sensitivity of your mission, assume the device is compromised or bugged and treat it accordingly.

Mostly, it depends on your view of what is on the device and how much you trust or distrust the government.

Given the government’s inability to keep much of anything confidential, I would not assume that the government should be counted on to protect anything that they observe or copy.  This is not because they are evil, but because they are part of a large bureaucracy.  Large scale operations have some benefits, but privacy is not one of them.

Overall, it is a good, small, step forward that they have documented these rules, but there are a lot of loopholes in them.

Remember that this coming from someone is who way more paranoid than the average bear, so take that into consideration.

Information for this post came from CBP and CNN.

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DHS and FBI Announce Threats to Energy and Critical Infrastructure

In what is an unusual move by the FBI and DHS, CERT released a security bulletin saying that attackers were going after government entities and critical infrastructure and had been doing so at least since May.

They said this is a multi-stage attack, going after low security and small networks and then moving inside those networks to attack other higher value assets.

Since at least May, the attackers have been going after critical targets like energy, water, aviation, nuclear and critical manufacturing.  In addition, they are also targeting government entities.

The attacks start by going after “staging targets” – possibly suppliers or other vendors with less secure networks and use those compromised networks to target the ultimate target.

Using the standard cyber kill chain attack model, there are five phases to the attack:

  1. Reconnaissance – gather information on the organization and potential weaknesses of, in this case, specific, targeted organizations.
  2. Weaponization – use spear phishing emails (in this case) get into the target’s organization
  3. Delivery – Once inside the organization, use the beach head they have created to create a persistent base for further attacks.
  4. Exploitation – Once the beach head is established, use the base to exploit the organization – such as stealing credentials.
  5. Installation – Now that the network is fully compromised, download additional tools to expand the attack and use that company to launch attacks against other companies.

The FBI admitted, with no details, that some of the attacks have been successful.  The fact that they are issuing a very public announcement as opposed to a much quieter memo, say via Infragard, says that (a) the attacks have been more successful than they might want to admit, (b) that the attacks are going after smaller, less sophisticated organizations that have less sophisticated defenses and (c) the attacks are ongoing.

This means that organizations need to be on higher alert than they might be otherwise.  To steal a term from the Department of Defense, if your organization was at Defcon 4 before (the second LOWEST level of alert), now might be a good time to go to Defcon 3 or 2 (the second highest level of alert).

The bulletin provides specific IOCs (indicators of compromise) for each target industry segment.

If you need assistance, please contact us.

 

Information for this post came from CERT.

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Newsbites: GoToMyPC, Carbonite, DHS and CISA and the FBI

Carbonite: Carbonite sent out an email to all customers to reset their passwords.  They claim that they have not been hacked but that they are seeing a large number of attempts to log in by third parties.

They say that based on their security review, they have no evidence that they have been hacked.

If none of these attempts to get in was successful, then why force millions of people to change their password?  Likely, at least some of these attempts were successful.

Source: Carbonite web site.

GoToMyPC:  GoToMyPC, a division of Citrix that allows users to remotely access their PCs, is also forcing all of their users to change their passwords.

Apparently so many users decided to do this at the same time that Carbonite had effectively performed a denial of service attack on their own web site.

Citrix provided little additional information about the situation.

Source: BBC News.

Both of these events point to the fact that as hundreds of millions of passwords are compromised every year, users are being forced to up their game.  Some recommendations are:

  1. Use a password manager so that you don’t have to remember all those passwords.  Many of them, such as LastPass, will automatically log you in, making the password step easier.  While this is a security risk in itself, it is likely less of a risk than using simple passwords.
  2. DO NOT reuse passwords across important sites like online backups, banking, email and remote access.  Unique passwords combined with a password manager is not just a best practice, it is a survival tip.
  3. For any important web site, such as banking, Amazon and others, use two factor authentication.  I know it adds an extra step to the login process, but it makes stealing passwords much less useful.

DHS and CISA:  DHS released the final rules for the data sharing rules of engagement that were part of the CISA bill that was sneaked into the Defense appropriations bill last year.  The bill created a voluntary system trying to encourage businesses to share threat data with the government.  The system has two automated tools, STIX or Structured Threat Information Exchange and TAXII or Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information to scrub and categorize the data.  Out of the 30 million or so businesses in the United States, so far 30 are using it.  That would be .0001 percent.  I think it is going to need some more users to be effective.  To be fair, it is, pretty much, a new thing and around 70 more companies are planning to participate.

Source: IAPP.

FBI:  The FBI, by way of those super secret National Security Letters or NSLs, has been asking for the kitchen sink and leaving it up to companies to tell them no.  Big companies with lots of expert attorneys such as Microsoft, Google, Apple and Yahoo, have told them to have a nice day, but small tech companies don’t have an army of lawyers and likely have given the government whatever they asked for.

Michael German, of the Brennan Center said “there’s a behind the curtains push” to get information from “groups who either don’t want to fight or are otherwise inclined to help the FBI get the records they want.  And it’s all happening in secret.”

The FBI also keeps any data that it is illegal for them to ask for if uninformed companies give it to them.  The DoJ Inspector General said that at least one company turned over email messages including images, which is expressly prohibited in the statute.

Now they (the FBI) are going to have to pick a fight in Congress to get the law changed if they want to get more data from companies and Congress-critters are unlikely to approve that in an election year.

Source: IAPP

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Hacker Claims To Have Hacked DHS

A hacker has contacted Motherboard and claims to have hacked into a computer at DHS and downloaded 200 GB of data including employee contact information such as names, phone numbers, email addresses and such.

The hacker claimed in a conversation with Motherboard that they got a userid and password but could not get past the two factor authentication.  The hacker contacted the DHS help desk and told them he was a new employee.  The help desk, being helpful, gave the hacker their token to get into the portal.  At that point the hacker was in and had access to a terabyte of data.

Information on about 9,000 DHS employee was posted this afternoon and the hacker says that he has information on 20,000 FBI employees as well.

DHS downplays the attack, but there are some issues –

  1. The DHS helpdesk was apparently socially engineered.
  2.  What else was in the 200 GB of data that the hacker claims to have taken?
  3. DHS is the repository for all of the data that private businesses share under the CISA law passed last year.  And, under the law, you can’t sue businesses that share your private data with the gov, even if the gov gets hacked.  Which, apparently, is not hard to do.

Stay tuned as this unfolds.  It may be significant in terms of the data compromised, it may not be, but in turns of us trusting DHS to store our data securely – this is clearly a black eye.

Information for this post came from Motherboard and The Guardian.

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More Fallout From OPM Breach

While the OPM continues to muddle around in dealing with their breach and telling the public what happened, more news stories are coming out.  First, the White House ordered agencies to tighten things up in a security sprint.  While using agile terminology is nifty, my guess is that most of these agencies are more familiar with COBOL than agile.  Ignoring that, what have they been asked to do (see article)?

Agencies must report their progress to OMB and DHS in 30 days.  What happens if their “progress” after 30 days is “no progress” is not explained.

Agencies are supposed to deploy “indicators”set by DHS regarding threat actors techniques, tactics and procedures.  What this means in English is that they should look for the same methods the Chinese used to break into OPM at other agencies and report to DHS if they find anything.

Agencies should also reduce the number of privileged users, the length of time they can be logged in and the functions they can perform when using these accounts. Agencies should also limit what administrators can do remotely and examine privileged user activity logs regularly.  In English, again, this means that the agencies, other than the NSA, did not learn anything from Edward Snowden and need to reduce the size of this security hole.

Finally, agencies should implement two factor authentication, especially for privileged users.

A team made up of DHS, OMB, NSC and DoD will review the government’s existing policies, procedures and practices in the next 30 days.  After that, Tony Scott, the government’s CIO will make recommendations and action plans.  Remember, this is the same government which was not allowed to block user’s from accessing personal webmail, no matter if it compromises government security, without first negotiating with the relevant union (see article).

In case I am coming across as sarcastic and annoyed, I am.

These are things that organizations should have been doing years ago and many (but far from all) private organizations are doing.  There are no deadlines – just report back in 30 days, no consequences and vague terms like “should” and “reduce”.

In another article, the GSA IG is reporting that contractors had access to personal information of soldier’s families and children without the required background checks, training or even getting non disclosure agreements – as worthless as those are – signed (see article).

Turning a ship as big as the government – even if we are just talking about the executive branch  – is a hard thing to do and absent money, people and consequences, is likely an impossible task.

Just my two cents.

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