Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Veterans Day Message

It's Veterans Day, and instead of my normal blog, I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge the vets, and the vet interns that we've brought into our small company.  We're small, but we pitch in where we can, and we very much enjoy training returning vets to do what we do. 

So first, to our team. These guys are the mentors, peer analysts, and instructors:

  • Me? USN and USCG
  • Chris: USA 
  • Liz: USAF
  • Bill: CGIS (Ret) - Heads up our Veteran program (Thank you!)
  • Mac: USMC-R
  • John: USAF (Ret)
  • Pedro, USMC (Introduced through Audrey at the VA, and full scholarship recipient at SNHU)
  • Brent, USMC (Introduced through Audrey at the VA)

And to our interns — Some did 15 weeks for credit, others have been here much longer. Some decide to stay even after the semester. To Audrey at the Manchester VA Hospital,  the myriad of people in the Veteran and placement offices at Southern NH University, and Peter at Manchester Community College; Thank you for helping us help returning vets:
  • Jeremy (and buddy!), USMC (Former Wapack Analyst and full scholarship recipient at MCC)
  • Chris, USA (and SNHU student)
  • Jessica, USA (and SNHU student)
  • Phil, USN (and SNHU student)
  • Shannon, USA 
  • Matt, US?? (and SNHU student)
  • Travis, USA
  • Inbound in January: Thomas, USMC and Manchester Community College
Thank you!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Reducing complexity!? Small business?

A few minutes ago I heard a security pro giving an interview on television. He says that one of the best things that a company can do is reduce complexity. I don't disagree. However… the graphic shown here is VERY old, but I love it. The story it tells is amazing…

I consider myself an expert in IT risk. I think about it often. I think about the complexity that's built into our own computing and the things that hide either just below the surface, or sitting just outside the fence waiting for someone to leave a door open, even a little bit. I used to give a talk.. it was about an hour long and one slide. This one slide talk discusses how in any given environment, if you follow any one of the standards (NIST, SANS Top 20, ISO), there are at least 100 things that you need to do right every minute of every day —and if you miss one? The door's left open and those automated threats are always there; always standing by the ready waiting to pounce.

So let's think about this for a moment… lets frame the scenario.  Let's say you're a small business; a 20 person company with public facing internet, an online ordering system, and you produce something that's distributed digitally or in a storefront.  Your computing environment might look like this:

  • 20 employees, each with two (or more) devices (computer and mobile phone).. 40 devices
  • Servers and storage —handling digital data, processing work product, etc… 30 devices
  • You probably have some kind of cloud environment.. maybe your hosted in one?
  • You'll likely use several Software as a Service providers one or more of your internal needs —Google Corporate Apps, Microsoft Office, or something else. 
  • VPN access into remote areas for sensitive work
  • VPN access into the company for remote workers
  • Externally facing operations —public facing web servers, databases, etc.
  • Externally facing customer touchpoint —registration pages, shopping carts, etc.
Immediately, you can see, you have 40 user endpoints, plus 30 server/storage endpoints, plus the network infrastructure that connects them… 

You've got cloud infrastructure, customer facing infrastructure, email in the cloud. You're probably processing credit cards, and for all of this, you have absolutely no idea how many additional endpoints you've got data passing through or sitting on. 

And then, you've decided to implement your security standard… remember that 100 number that I talked about? It's probably conservative, but for even your small company, you only have direct visibility and control over a small portion of your total computing environment!

AND your stuff is probably in a cloud that HOSTS bad stuff —because they all do,  but that's a story for another blog! 

As well, buy any computer today —Mac or PC, and default storage is in the cloud. Wow! And if you try and turn it off, it gives you a warning that you'll lose access to your stuff! 

So, where do we reduce complexity? It seems to me like it's built into the process. It's one of the reasons that I love the intelligence and risk roles so much. I'm like the weather man.. I don't (and won't) be right all of the time, but if I'm right more times than not, it's good. As a defender, you've got to be right every time. And the owner has to be able to pay for it all… and it's not cheap.

I get the question almost every time I speak in public —"What do you guys do?" We are a small company, and as an intelligence company, obviously we're targeted. We've set up controls but we must also stand guard. We trust some things in the cloud but not others. Our sensitive stuff is moated off —sometimes multiple times, and with few exceptions, passwords are dead to us. We require two factor authentication for just about everything. And as important as everything else? We know where the highest priority threats are coming from. 

Want to know more? Join us. I'll give you a presentation and show you how we do it!

Reduce complexity? I'm not sure that's even possible anymore, but I am sure that there are ways to offset it. 

Intelligence is one of the best value items that money can buy… It shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg. It should save you reading time. It should save you stress.  It should tell you what to protect from today, next week, and maybe next year; and you should be able to buy it from someone who doesn't want to sell it to you to get you to buy their box. 

Information sharing is the other. The latest buzz phrase seems to be 'trusted circles'. Find a group —Red Sky Alliance, the Financial Services ISAC, the Maritime ISAO, or one of the others that are out there.  Asking questions of others in a trusted, non-governmental environment is HUGE. Why non-governmental? Nobody wants to talk about themselves when there's a chance a regulator might be in the room. Use information sharing to learn how to fix your stuff —and then decide how you want to work with the government. Privacy is important. 

Climbing off my horse…
Until next time,
Have a great weekend!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

CTAC Attack! Fridays

How many times have you walked into the office, only to find your boss looking for answers to the threat of the day —you know what I mean. I saw this on the news this morning. What's it mean? or Hey boss, we just got hit with this and now you have to explain it (and fast!).

If you've ever been in one of these situations read on...

Every Friday afternoon at 2:00, we hold a short form training session called CTAC Attack! CTAC is short for Cyber Threat Analysis Center, and its desktop of tools that we provide to our subscribers for their own analytics. CTAC Attack! goes like this…

The idea is that in 20 minutes or less, a presenter will show a group of analysts -virtually via webinar, how they use a specific tool, or in combination, tools, to solve analytic problems.  20 minutes is usually more than enough time to show the tool, describe how the analysts uses it to solve a problem, and then leave 10 minutes for Q&A. Presenters earn CTAC Attack T-Shirts, and attendees are entered into a drawing to win one.

So this week instead of my authoring an opinion piece, I've recorded a short, two minute video summation of one of the sessions that I do. This is a tool that we bought from a startup. It was built to create books, but we liked it more as a search and answer tool, so we hired the founder to make sure we got it right, and after some slight modifications, this quickly became one of my favorite tools.

THIS, is information sharing. We created a dashboard of our favorite tools. I love (LOVE) Pagekicker. Most of the other guys loves CyberChef. We all love Kibana, and we share notes in real time via Slack.

Enjoy the video. Interested in seeing more? Drop me an note.

Until next time,
Have a great weekend!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sometimes you just need to talk to someone!

I've used the VA for my healthcare since leaving the Navy in 2001. In my opinion, it's one of the best deals going.  One of the things that you see from the minute that you walk in, are magnets, handouts, and wallet cards —seemingly everywhere —all designed for one thing; they give a vet a place to call when they're in crisis. Maybe that applies more to some than others, but for that one, who finds themselves in crisis, it could mean everything.

I was having dinner with Liz last night. Liz is the head of our intelligence team. We talked about the idea that since starting Red Sky Alliance back in 2012, people, laws, and trends have really changed. In Red Sky for example, once fertile two-way communication has become more the place where we get RFIs from members, deliver PIRs and get asked questions about the intelligence we push through.

So in talking with Liz last night, who's given talks to over 1000 people in the last three weeks —her audience largely bankers, with the majority being smaller --all on fraud; a subject we know well, She says, you know what? These companies just want a place where they can ask questions, not necessarily share a bunch of information.

"They're not all big companies" she says. The majority of those she's talked to haven't built an internal, 200 person infosec team (like many of our original members), nor do they have dedicated intelligence. They have Directors of IT who, many times find themselves double, even triple-hatted —CIO, CISO, Analyst, Fraud person, privacy, and general go-to person for anything wrong with the IT. They participate in free groups and pull down as much information as they can, and make due with it as best they can, but when they get stuck… they want to talk with someone.

And for the last four years, this is exactly what Red Sky Alliance has been. Red Sky Alliance is a place talk to an analyst. Not only can you talk to a Wapack analyst, ask the RFI, or get your intelligence, but Red Sky still today maintains roughly 40% month over month participation —not including my own analysts. Companies come in when they want to talk —when in crisis and they get expert feedback from folks dedicated to monitoring the chatter, pulling apart code, and tracking the fraud. And when we don't know the answer, someone else usually does. Did I mention 40% participation? Yeah, someone else usually knows.. it's called crowdsourcing… and it's amazing.

And in the coming weeks, we're making it easier than ever to talk to someone. We've been on Jive since the start, and realized the need is for more tactical communications. We're moving to a Slack-based platform starting November 1st. Tactical, mobile, and always on. Need to talk to an analyst? Compare notes? We're here; and so are about 60 of your closest friends. This isn't a group of 2000+, it's small trusted, and smart.

I think Liz stumbled onto our new marketing message. Talk to an analyst. 

She's dead on.


This week was the week for fraud. Liz has delivered three talks in the last two weeks to over a thousand people, is preparing to do another one this week, and will give a talk on cryptocurrencies in fraud next week at the MacKenzie Institute in Toronto. 

We published several pieces of analysis, one originally appearing to be a simple smash and grab leading us down another analytic path only to believe (still a WIP) that it may turn out to be a major data loss breach and even more, ongoing fraud —for over a year. 

Me? I'm speaking at ISC2 in New Hampshire on Tuesday and heading off to ZeroDay Con in NY later in the week. I'm looking forward to seeing some of you.

So until next time,
Have a great weekend!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

RiskWatch and Suspicious Activity Reporting

In the last 30 days we've sent approximately automated 25,000 suspicious activity reports from a new application that we call RiskWatch.  While our 'open' numbers appear strong, we're still building trust in the recipients of those. You see, we compete in victim notifications with bad guys who've been sending "You're infected" emails to users for years in attempts to sell fake AV.

So today I'm going to do a bit more socializing.

What is it we're doing? The process is simple --and patent pending ;)

For a while now, we've been sending polite victim notifications to those where we identify (ahem) suspicious activity. Of course, this suspicious activity is rarely just suspicious. We send notifications in which we break out malicious (high probability compromise) and suspicious activity (maybe a compromise but needs a look). And why do I say polite? We're complimented by many as not using scare tactics to sell subscriptions and services. Polite means that we normally handle victim notifications like I'd like it handled if someone were calling me… I call them, and send them a report. Many times, I didn't charge —only to be put under NDA, or blown off, or simply, not answered —and then we watch as the victims continue to be victimized, and those connecting to them do as well. The numbers of victims have grown exponentially in the last two years.

For months, we've been sending suspicious activity reports to the maritime community, and last week I hired a person who'll begin authoring victim reports for the banking and finance industry. This person will be doing nothing but mining our collections for information suggesting bankers, financiers, or insurance companies are notified when we see activities.

What do these things look like? Here's one for the .gov space —of course, this isn't a full report and it isn't in our template or letterhead yet, but I'm sure you get the picture. This shows a small sample of state governments but one from a survey site at Government folks aren't allowed in the Red Sky portal, but they can pull subscriptions from us. This snippet is, of course, sanitized, but I'll be posting the report in its entirety in our online storefront.

Sorry folks. I realize this isn't my typical sassy Saturday morning blog, but this stuff is important, and those who can't afford a good security shop —which includes many of the states we live in, still need to have the information presented to them. This isn't a 60 page in-depth study. It's down and dirty, short, and in a completely actionable format. This report, when finalized post-QA will be available on via our online storefront at

Moving forward, we're making the automation available for supply chain management. Please feel free to reach out for more information.

Until next time,
Have a great weekend.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Free email systems are not secure. This is easy button.

I'm tuning a presentation that I'll be giving at the National Defense Transportation Association's Fall meeting in St. Louis next week. I'll be on the podium on Tuesday, and as I think through the flow, and I have my first cup of coffee for the morning, I think about the new Yahoo breach numbers —3 billion, and the fact that the Equifax CEO is no more. And as I run through my deck and consider my blog, I have to wonder.. how many email accounts show up in our own data sets?

Anytime we see a password in our collections we substitute the word "redacted".

I queried one data set only. This specific dataset goes back to only April of last year.  In that dataset, the word "redacted" appears 650,472 times and was recorded in 11,227,687 records of attempted uses, meaning, someone tried to log into something with the credentials and we recorded data about the attempt.

Figure 1 - Victim Counts, Government and Logistics
Last year, in front of the four star and his staff, in front of hundreds of transportation company representatives, in two different talks, I told to them about the "Daily Show" campaign that we've been following since roughly 2014. Daily Show is the theft of credentials (using key-loggers) from the transportation and logistics sectors —primarily ports and maritime, but now extending out to anything supporting logistics —air, money movement, transactions, vessel traffic monitoring, and more.  I put up the big maps, and I showed a few passwords, and I scared the bejesus out of many of them. I went for volume instead of specificity —and the volume was enormous.

This year, I'm going to update the victim count. Figure 1 shows the victim counts in the government and logistics sectors from the data set I mentioned above. They are not on the top of the victim count list, but certainly they're high on that list. By way of reference, the entire list in Figure 1 represents 3779 victims -a small fraction of the total 650,472, but remember, they are already victims. It starts with one and spreads.

Now consider this.
Figure 2 - Victim Counts, Totals

Of that list 650,472 mentions of the word 'redacted' and 11,227,687 records of attempted uses, there are several that we have not been able to characterize by industry or type, but of those that we can, the top four are Email, Search Engines, Social Networking and Financial Management. Yahoo email accounts alone account for 38,764 compromises in our data set. How many of those are used from ships at sea? That's a great question.

But wait, there's more. 3854 victims appear from free email services (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, etc.), accounting for over 3,562,444 records (recorded uses) in this one, singular, dataset.  So what? 32% of the victims came from free email services. 

We keep chasing the really hard stuff… we're going to hear talks of advanced persistent threats, fighting through the cyber, and talks about why this stuff is really hard —and it is really hard, but there's also easy stuff.

Why are ships at sea allowed to use free email services? And if they want to allow them (there are probably many reasons why they would —crew changes, shared computers, etc.), why not do so on machines not connected to other devices? Why are these same computers used for email, surfing porn (yes, we see a ton of that too), shipboard logistics, and communicating between the ports, masters, agents, etc.?

Don't get me started in minimum manning, integrated bridge systems connected to engineering, and the push toward both connected and autonomous ships? This scares the heck out of me.

A much simpler concept. Free email systems are not secure. This is easy button stuff folks.

There are plenty of reasons why commercial logistics operators would want a free email system —crew changes make it impossible to keep up with the moves, adds, and changes or new crews and the required provisioning. These email accounts are used to connect with the wife and kids, surf porn for those lonely guys/gals, and buy Christmas presents on Amazon. I get it all. But, when one infected user on a shared computer onboard ship gets infected, they all get infected.

Do I care that 3 billion yahoo accounts were stolen? You bet I do, but in every place where I've worked, where they take security seriously, one of the top things that they all do is block free web based email systems.

I've not discussed search engines, social media use, or financial, but you get the point. One user spreads to many compromises. In one (a story I'm going to tell next week), we authored a report in which one compromised payment processor had over 35 pages of transaction records —each record per transaction. Why? Because a shared machine was compromised.

OK folks. My family will be up soon and I'm behind on posting. I hope to see you in St. Louis next week. Stop by and buy me a beer! :)

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Why is security hard? (or maybe, If it Bleeds, it Leads?)

It appears Equifax has had its fifteen minutes of fame. It came and went as fast as the the winds shifted in Washington and another shiny story caught the eye of the press. But it made me think...

Anyone else remember Fred Giesler? Fred was a cool old guy that taught the information warfare program at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair. 

Fred ran a class on full spectrum information operations, and one of my favorite speakers was a CNN reporter that operated his own refurbished C-130 gunship, in which he operated cameras instead of guns in the side doors… and the quote I'll remember forever from this guy, and Fred, was "if it bleeds it leads"

And so it comes to Equifax. I saw this headline in an online security publication that I used to read often —today not as much, but this brought back a vidid memory of my days in information warfare training ..."if it bleeds it leads". I'm not sure who took advantage of who, but...

"Lawmaker rips Equifax for eschewing DHS's Automated Indicator Sharing program"

"Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, chairman of the House Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee, slammed Equifax, still reeling from a breach that affected 143 million Americans, for not taking advantage of the Department of Homeland Security's Automated Indicator Sharing program, designed to facilitate the sharing of threat indicators between government and the private sector."

According to a 2015 US Census Bureau report, 99% of the companies in the US are less than 500 employees. If that's the case, 1% (or less) of the security folks in the US know what it feels like to manage security operations (i.e. patching) in companies larger than 500 —right? And even a smaller, much smaller percentage operate in larger enterprise companies —of which Equifax is one with roughly 10,000 employees. 

I'd like to take a moment and offer a small education for Rep. Ratcliffe:

There is a ton of noise out there. You can't swing a dead cat without someone selling, pushing, or dumping indicators of compromise on you, and the DHS AIS program, while probably good enough for most, is, I would argue, likely not as good as the intelligence processed by the Equifax team today. In fact, I've had conversations with them in the past. I'm jealous of their malware processing capabilities. Even if Equifax had participated in DHS's AIS program, they would have had to sift through the noise to get to the good stuff… and my bet is, they probably had it already.

Assuming DHS had given them information on Struts (I'm certain they probably included it in their subscription, and I did see it in Infragard reporting), patching in large distributed enterprise environments is to say the least, difficult. Why?
    • Almost no company has full visibility into every computer on their network. Why? As companies grow, either through acquisition or organically, tools change, people change, and requirements for IT change —usability, storage, operational requirements, etc. Security must change too. Unfortunately, one can simply not reengineer the entire security posture with every change. Virtualization and cloud processing brought massive requirement changes for security but, even if the tools existed to manage all of these new advances in IT, budgets did not, and could not keep up. 
    • Assuming they had both full visibility and ability to reach every computer, in global companies, it still takes time to push. And since we know assuming makes and "ass of u and me", it's a safer bet that they probably didn't have full visibility. Full viz is nearly impossible.. In fact, I'd say it probably is.
    • There's a real shortage of skilled labor - Actually, maybe not a shortage of labor but a shortage of skilled labor —with all of those cloud, virtualization, and deep technical capabilities needed to operate in todays environment, there are no more one-size-fits-all security folks.
    • The Fog of War - Let's do some simple math. Equifax has ~10,000 employees. On any given day there will be 3-5% moves, adds, and changes. That equates to roughy 400 computers in motion every day. Add in those compromised, plus mobiles, plus tracking those in motion, and then dealing with the multitudes of alerts from the many technologies used to defend them. The numbers are staggering. This is absolutely nuts. Now let's go back to number one… almost no company (I'd argue large, or small) has full visibility and control into every computer on their network. I say again -staggering. The Fog of War changes everything —how you see the problems(s), which one(s) you handle first, and figuring out best how to use the limited resources that you do have.
    • Inadequacy of tools - Nearly every tool is Windows based. Unix, Linux, Solaris, BSD all require higher degrees of manual processing. While not impossible, accounting for patches, updates, system outages, and even simple inventories require higher levels of due diligence and manual processing.

I could do this all day. There are no less than 300 reasons that could have cost a simple miss —one that on that particular day, at that particular moment, something went wrong, leaving a hole exposed.

I do not fault Equifax.  I've said this many times in past blogs. I know exactly what it feels like to be a security operator in a large enterprise company. And, I know exactly what it feels like to be a security operator in a very small company. This is a hard business and I'd throw the bull sh*t flag at anyone who tells me that they have perfect security and could have prevented this. I'd throw the bigger bull sh*t flag at the person who says that by being a member of DHS's AIS program, the Equifax breach could have been stopped. Heck, my own marketing people urged me to write a blog that said that we'd seen information that would have stopped the breach. I could not, and would not. Others? Maybe. Not me. The Internet was not built to be secure, and adding layers upon layers upon layers of tools and technologies on top of this insecure foundation will eventually cause a massive failure. The fact that we trust it with nearly everything is a fools game.

I rarely pay attention to the security news anymore. There are a few to whom I will talk, but even then, I watch with one squinty eye to see if I'll be misquoted —and if I am, I don't talk to them again. The magazine that quoted Ratcliffe? I stopped reading them in 2002 when I was a new Cisco employee and they misquoted me; I took a real blistering from my co-workers for that one.  For some reason, every now and again, one of their stories pop up on my radar. I generally pass it by but this one? For whatever reason, I couldn't let it pass. I was compelled to write about it. 

In the mean time, nearly every time I see one of these headlines, my butt clinches and I smile. I think of Fred Giesler… if it bleeds it leads.

For Rep. Ratcliffe? Send me your computer. I'll bet a dollar it's not up on its patches :)

I have to laugh.