Pirated Software and Network Segmentation

July 17, 2017

Global financial services enterprises face a complex web of risk management challenges.
Sometimes finding the right grain for security controls can be a difficult problem.
This can be especially problematic when there is a tendency to attribute specific risks to cultures or nations.

A couple months ago I read a short article on how wannacry ransomware impacted organizations in China. Recently, while responding to a question about data communications connectivity and segmenting enterprise networks, I used some of the factoids in this article. While some propose material “savings” and “agility” enabled by uninhibited workforce communications and sharing, the global financial services marketplace imposes the need for rational/rationalized risk management and some level of due diligence evidence. Paul Mozur provides a brief vignette about some of the risks associated with what seems like China’s dependence on pirated software. Mr. Mozur argues that unlicensed Windows software is not being patched, so the vulnerability ecosystem in China is much richer for attackers than is found in societies where software piracy is less pronounced. Because of the scale of the issue, this seems like it is a valid nation-specific risk — one that might add some context to some individual’s urges to enforce China-specific data communications controls.

Again, there is no perfect approach to identifying security controls at the right grain. Story-telling about risks works best with real and relevant fact-sets. This little article may help flesh out one facet of the risks associated with more-open, rather than more segmented data communications networks.

“China, Addicted to Bootleg Software, Reels From Ransomware Attack.”

Protect Your USB

September 19, 2016

Physical and logical PC controls still matter.

Just one more reason to resist the shared madness of “bring your own device” and/or “anywhere/anytime/any-endpoint” in global Financial Services.  We hold trillions of dollars for our customers (under the guise of a broad and evolving range of relationships)!  To add value to those relationships, we turn that money into units that are inter-business (and Internet) friendly to enable complex webs of financial transactions and services.  The concentration of “cash” and its transformation into bits results in an attractive target for hostile parties of many types.  How could endpoint anarchy ever be a risk-appropriate behavior for any but a microscopically few roles within our ranks?  It seems like something we should expect to fail the “reasonable person” test.

I was just catching up on some of my random reading and bumped into this demonstration of Windows credential stealing with just 15 seconds of access to a PC’s USB port.

15 seconds of social engineering is not that hard to pull off, so all you have left are serious controls administering the use of your USB ports, physically destroying your USB ports (yes, that is a serious option), along with multi-layer physical & logical security to the location of the PC at any given time.

Take a look st the video below along with the supporting paper.  Then voice your professional opinion and conscience wherever appropriate to resist elevated risk endpoint behaviors.  And if your role permits, ensure that your Financial Services organization has the goals and resources to effectively deal with attacks like the ones enabled by this automated, USB enabled assault.


15 Second Password Hack, Mr Robot Style
Supporting Paper

Verizon Says Passwords are Not Enough

April 25, 2016

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time performing static code security assessments of web applications. That leads to working with developers and those who work around them. One thing many of them share with me is their faith in authentication infrastructure — infrastructure that generally sits “in front” of their applications and protects them from unauthorized users. Sometimes I still hear Architects talk about “security” as if it were really just authentication… In that context, the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) reviews their 2016 dataset of over 100,000 incidents, including 2,260 confirmed data breaches across 82 countries.

The full paper is worth a read, but in the context of my comments above I wanted to highlight Verizon’s recommendations concerning passwords:

“…passwords are great, kind of like salt. Wonderful as an addition to something else, but you wouldn’t consume it on its own.”

“63% of confirmed data breaches involved weak, default or stolen passwords.”

The top 6 breaches included the following steps: “phish customer > C2 > Drop Keylogger > Export captured data > Use stolen credentials”

“If you are securing a web application, don’t base the integrity of authentication on the assumption that your customers won’t get owned with keylogging malware. They do and will.”

Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)


Another Demonstration of How Mobile Phones & their Supporting Networks are Vulnerable to Abuse

April 17, 2016

Some continue to hype “bring your own device” (sometimes just BYOD) as near-term technology and business goal for global Financial Services enterprises.  At its most shrill, the argument hammers on the idea like ‘we all have a smart phone and it has become the center of our lives…‘  In this industry we are all responsible for protecting trillions of dollars of other people’s money as well as digital information about customers (individuals & companies), partners, and deals, all of which must remain highly secure, or the foundation of our business erodes.  That responsibility is wildly out of alignment with most BYOD realities.  In that context, this blog entry is an offering to help risk management teams educate their Financial Services organizations about some of the risks associated with using mobile phones for work activities.

Here is some content that may be useful in your security awareness campaign…

Financial Services executives “private” communications could be of high value to cyber criminals. So too could be your Finance staff, Help Desk, Reporting Admin, Database Admin, System Admin, and Network Admin communications. There are a lot of high value avenues into Financial Services organizations.

Under the title “Hacking Your Phone,” the 60-Minutes team have security professionals demonstrate the following in a 13 minute video:

  • Any attacker needs just their target’s phone number, to track the whereabouts, the text traffic, and the details of phone conversations initiated or received by their prey. Turning off your “location status” or other GPS technology does not inhibit this attack. It depends upon features in the SS7 (Signalling System #7) network that have been overly permissive and vulnerable to abuse for decades. These SS7 vulnerabilities appear to remain after all this time because of nation-state pressures to support “lawful interception.”
    They demonstrate their assertion in an experiment with U.S. Representative Ted Lieu, a congressman from California.
  • Attackers can own all or some of your phone when you attach to a hostile WiFi. Never trust “public” or “convenience” (for example “hotel”) WiFi. Attackers present look-alike WiFi (sometimes called “spoofing”) and then use human’s weakness for “trustworthy” names to suck targets in.
    They demonstrate this approach by stealing a target’s mobile phone number, account ID, and all the credit cards associated with– with that account, along with their email.
  • Attackers use social engineering to get their software installed on targeted devices. One outcome is that they can also monitor all your activity via your mobile phone’s camera and microphone — without any indication from the mobile device screen or LEDs, and the attacker’s software does not show up via any user interface even if you tried to find it.
    They demonstrate this approach with the 60 Minutes interviewer’s device.

Remember, not everyone employed throughout Financial Services enterprises understands the risks associated with performing business activities via mobile devices.  Use materials like this video to augment your risk awareness program.

“Hacking Your Phone.” aired on April 17, 2016

SS7, Signalling System #7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_System_No._7

Lawful interception.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawful_interception



Can Financial Services Explain How Mac OS X Security is Good Enough?

April 29, 2015

After years of attempting to generate love by claiming that a Mac “doesn’t get PC viruses. A Mac isn’t susceptible to the thousands of viruses plaguing Windows-based computers.” (apple.com 2012)”, Apple has introduced technology for at least 4 different approaches to strengthening OS X resistance to hostile malware.

These features include:

  • gatekeeper
  • xprotect
  • OS X sandbox
  • code-signing

Each of these features is an attempt to compensate for and overcome software architectures, designs, and implementations that are overly-permissive — resulting in software that too easily “trusts.”  They represent the type of “bolt on security” that Financial Services enterprises are expected to implement throughout their secure software practices.  “Secure-enough” software needs to be created or adapted with that goal in place throughout the entire SDLC and/or acquisition process and must not treat risk management as something that is applied to software only after it is finished.

There is a lot of evidence that these features are still far too little, too late. In a recent presentation at RSA, Patrick Wardle, Director of Research, Synack, described the current situation as “lots of Macs, feeble anti-malware protections, os x malware, and limited detection/prevention tools.” He then walked the audience methodically through exploits against each of the Apple OS X anti-malware protections, and then outlines a range of approaches to Mac malware persistance. Finally, he mentions a couple tools for detecting OS X malware: knockknock (ui) & blockblock.

Wardel’s presentation references OS X malware/exploit work by fG!. In one relatively recent talk at SyScan15, after 165 slides outlining OS X threat vectors and their exploit he concluded that “Apple product security strategy is reactive not proactive. If they have any strategy at all…”

These guys don’t represent an isolated fringe of the the professional risk management world.  They are serious professionals, attempting to help others “get it.”  Their work seems to be a shout for recognition that OS X malware-enabled exploits represent a foundational and (for most Financial Services enterprises) critically-important risk.

Why is this such a big deal?  Remember, each of our organizations needs to be diligent and effective at resisting attack along all vectors, while attackers need only be successful against one of them.  Attackers know that Macs are vulnerable via a number of vectors, that Mac security products are not great, and that Mac users are finding ways to “plug them into” corporate environments.

For many Financial Services enterprises, request by request, exception by exception, members of the workforce have been hosting an increasing range of business activities on Macs (on both unmanaged, and under-managed endpoints).  They are granted remote access.  They are plugged into our “trusted” internal networks.  And they get the same “trusted” access as heavily-managed, standard Windows endpoints.  Sometimes an organization has a fog of “managed” or “secured” and authorized Macs that mask this core risk management issue — which, for the most part, remains the same.

As a result, we need to help our leaders carefully think through:

  • Whether this is risk-appropriate for any given Financial Services use case,
  • What alternatives to current Mac-enabled practices exist, and should we migrate to them? Are isolation techniques “good-enough?”
  • How we are going to protect our assets and operations from the threat vector Mac endpoints pose?
  • How are we going to tell our Mac endpoints risk management story to all relevant stakeholders?


“Malware Persistence on OS X Yosemite” by Patrick Wardle (http://www.rsaconference.com/speakers/patrick-wardle).
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Session: https://www.rsaconference.com/events/us15/agenda/sessions/1591/malware-persistence-on-os-x-yosemite

Presentation: https://www.rsaconference.com/writable/presentations/file_upload/ht-r03-malware-persistence-on-os-x-yosemite_final.pdf

“BadXNU — A rotten apple!.” by fG!/@osxreverser (https://reverse.put.as/about/)



Another Remote Access-Enabled Breach

August 20, 2014

The same tools that help our workforce remain productive when outside their brick-and-mortar place of business are being exploited by cyber-criminals to break into business’s computer networks (I wrote about one facet of this issue late last week). Today we learned that this led to the theft of customer credit and debit data at 51 UPS franchises in the United States. Recently we read about it being used to hack into retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus.

In a recent report the Homeland Security Department warned that hackers are scanning Internet-accessible systems for remote access software. They appear to be omnivores, targeting platforms made by Apple, Google, LogMeIn, Microsoft, Pulseway, and Splashtop that help remote workers to access business computer networks over an Internet connection.

When the hostile actors identify targeted remote access software, they install malware and then have means to effectively ‘guess’ login credentials — or in some situations, the endpoint hosts unauthenticated remote access, requiring no password at all. Once the hostile actors acquire a foothold, they have a difficult-to-detect entry point into business networks.

Under any circumstances this is a problem, but for endpoints used by members of the workforce having elevated rights — consider database analysts, finance administrators or executives, investment pipeline or their back office settlement personnel, top-tier executives, and more (for most financial services enterprises the list goes on and on) — the potential for material harm is real and present.

In that context experts recommend:

Remote Desktop Access

  • Configure the account lockout settings to lock a user account after a period of time or a specified number of failed login attempts. This helps to resist unlimited unauthorized attempts to login whether from an unauthorized user or via automated attack types like brute force.
  • Limit the number of users and workstation who can log in using Remote Desktop. Perform risk assessments to help determine access.
  • Use firewalls (both software and hardware where available) to restrict access to remote desktop product/service listening ports (TCP 3389 et.al.).
  • Change the default ‘remote desktop’ listening port(s).
  • Define complex password parameters. Configuring an expiration time and password length and complexity can decrease the amount of time in which a successful attack can occur.
  • Require strong two-factor authentication (2FA) for remote desktop access.
  • Install and professionally-manage a ‘remote desktop’ gateway to restrict access.
  • Add an extra layer of authentication and encryption by tunneling your remote desktop through enterprise-managed IPSec, SSH or SSL.
  • Require strong two-factor authentication when accessing sensitive networks. Even if a virtual private network is used, it is important that strong two-factor authentication is implemented to help mitigate the risks associated with keylogger or credential dumping attacks.
  • Severely limit administrative privileges for remote users and applications.
  • Periodically review systems (local and domain controllers, and the rest of your directories) for unknown and dormant users.

Network Security

  • Review firewall configurations and ensure that only allowed ports, services and Internet protocol (IP) addresses are communicating with your network. This is especially critical for outbound (e.g., egress) firewall rules in which compromised entities allow ports to communicate to any IP address on the Internet. Hostile actors leverage this configuration to exfiltrate data to their IP addresses.
  • Segregate sensitive network segments from other networks.
  • Apply access control lists (ACLs) and other traffic verification technology on router configurations to help enforce defense in depth used to limit unauthorized traffic to sensitive network segments.
  • Create strict firewall rules and ACLs segmenting public-facing systems and back-end database (or other) systems that house sensitive non-public data.
  • Implement data leakage prevention/detection tools to detect and help prevent data exfiltration.
  • Implement tools to detect anomalous network traffic and anomalous behavior by legitimate users (compromised credentials).
  • Actively monitor, respond to, and follow through on security alerts.


“Checking In From Home Leaves Entry for Hackers.” By Nicole Perlroth, 07-31-2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/31/technology/checking-in-from-home-leaves-entry-for-hackers.html?_r=0

“Alert (TA14-212A) — Backoff Point-of-Sale Malware.” 07-31-2014 & Last revised on 08-18-2014 https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/alerts/TA14-212A

“United Parcel Service Confirms Security Breach.” By Nicole Perlroth, 08-20-2014. http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/bits/2014/08/20/ups-investigating-possible-security-breach/

“Another BYOD Security Challenge – User-Managed Remote Access Software.” https://completosec.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/another-byod-security-challenge-user-managed-remote-access-software/

“Another BYOD Security Challenge — User-Managed Remote Access Software.” https://completosec.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/another-byod-security-challenge-user-managed-remote-access-software/

“Keylogger Revealed in the Apple iOS Ecosystem.” https://completosec.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/keylogger-revealed-in-the-apple-ecosystem/

“BYOD = Bring Your Own Demise?” https://completosec.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/byod-bring-your-own-demise/

“Another Reason to Resist BYOD Using Consumer Mobile Devices.” https://completosec.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/another-reason-to-resist-byod-using-consumer-mobile-devices/

Another BYOD Security Challenge – User-Managed Remote Access Software

August 16, 2014

In a recent Defcon presentation three researchers demonstrated that scanning the Internet — the entire Internet — is now a practical exercise.  That idea alone should force us all to re-frame our thinking about how we measure the effectiveness of our infrastructure’s defensive posture — but that is not a topic for this post.  As part of their work, the team demonstrated the scale of unauthenticated remote access set up on business and personal endpoints accessible from the Internet.  As families acquire more and more Internet endpoints, it appears that some in each household want to access or manage some of them remotely.  This might be as simple as accessing the “office Mac” from an tablet on the couch, or as crazy as unauthenticated remote access to that home office endpoint while traveling.  The use case doesn’t matter as much as the behavior itself.  If people are setting up unauthenticated remote access (or using default or ‘easily-guessable’ passwords) on the endpoints they also want to bring to work, we all have a problem…

Regardless of how ill-conceived, BYOD experiments, even formal BYOD programs seem to be a fever without a cure.  When a financial services workforce uses non-company endpoints we inherit all the risks associated with their all-too-often unprofessional and uninformed management practices.  Now we have evidence that one facet of that behavior is the installation and use of unauthenticated remote access software.  There are a number of popular approaches.  The Defcon presentation appears to have focused on VNC (virtual network computing), but there are other popular packages used to support convenient remote access – Wikipedia lists dozens.

We need to train our workforce that they need to limit their exposure (and the organization’s via BYOD) to the risks associated with remote access software. At the very highest level, they need to understand that for any endpoint used for financial services work:

  1. Don’t run software (whatever it is) that is not really needed
  2. If your really need it, learn how to manage it and configure it to deliver only the features you need — in the context of end user-managed BYOD environments, running software you don’t understand is not risk-reasonable in the context of performing financial services business (our regulators require and our customers and partners expect that we perform our business activities using risk management practices stronger than simple ‘hope’
  3. If you need remote access exercise the principle of least privilege
    1. Install and configure the software so that by default it is not turned on (if it is not running it will not support unintended remote access)
    2. Turn on your remote access software only when you need it, and then turn it off again as soon as is practical afterword
    3. Configure the remote access software to include a risk-reasonably short session timeout
    4. Permit only uniquely-authenticated users having a strong, unique, time-limited password
  4. Restrict remote access to your endpoint as much as possible
  5. Turn off all remote access you can get away with
  6. Use multiple layers of protection to implement defense in depth
    1. Run an endpoint firewall configured to reject all inbound communications attempts except those you explicitly authorize
    2. Don’t grant apps permissions that you don’t understand
    3. Don’t grant apps permissions that would enable access to business data or business communications
    4. Run one or more anti-malware packages
    5. Use security-centric web proxies
    6. Configure your browser(s) in their most paranoid settings
    7. Turn on your search engine’s ‘recommendation’ or anti-hostility service
    8. If your operating system supports it, perform your work in the absence of administrative rights (don’t make yourself equivalent to root or the local administrator)

In addition to end user education, and before permitting even the most limited BYOD experiment, financial services enterprises should have their infrastructure configured to resist the use of virtually all known remote access software on those non-company devices.  The port-blocking and protocol recognition will not be perfect, but it will stop the unauthorized use of the most casual installations.  As a result, we also need to have our SIEM infrastructure configured to alert and then staff to deal with those alerts.  In addition, and using the same signature and/or correlation logic configured in the SIEM, those with widespread IPS infrastructure can block BYOD remote access attempts (at least in some scenarios).

All of the security measures required to deal with BYOD fever will add expense that needs to be introduced into the BYOD economic equation.  All of the new risks also need to be introduced into the overall enterprise risk management pool.  The impacts will be different for various organizations.  For some, it seems reasonable to assume that the new costs and risks will far exceed any real benefits that could possibly be delivered in a financial services enterprise environment. 


“Thousands of computers open to eavesdropping and hijacking.” By Lisa Vaas on August 15, 2014, http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2014/08/15/thousands-of-computers-open-to-eavesdropping-and-hijacking/

“Mass Scanning the Internet: Tips, Tricks, Results.” By Robert Graham, Paul McMillan, & Dan Tentler, https://www.defcon.org/html/defcon-22/dc-22-speakers.html#Graham 

“Comparison of remote desktop software.” From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_remote_desktop_software

“Principle of Least Privilege.” From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_least_privilege

“Defense in depth.” From Wikipedia,

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