Saturday, February 23, 2008
Security training for application developers is an under-funded activity in most of the organizations that build software. Fixing security defects in custom applications remains an underfunded activity, even after defects are identified. Why does this continue to be the case? It can be easier to find defects for a customer in a security penetration test than it is to convince the customer that the problem is serious enough to fix. Sometimes this is because the incentives are messed up. I'm not the only person who has observed that the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) seem to have given Federal agencies a much higher incentive to find problems and write lengthy, complicated reports on those problems, than to fix them. Other times, managers may not understand the technical details of various vulnerabilities, or may be interested in a certain category of defects, while wearing blinders to other types of defects, particularly outside their comfort zone. If the manager is familiar with viruses and worms from their experiences running their PC at home, then they might understand and be more interested in network configuration defects. This might come at the expense of less attention to application design or coding defects, like those that expose an application to SQL Injection attacks. Occasionally the problem, unfortunately, is a more active dismissal of some threats. People sometimes say things along the lines of, "if I don't understand it, it must be too difficult to exploit in practice, so it can't be much of a real risk." I've even heard managers lambast their security advisers while trying to look cool, tossing in the MTV phrase, "Keep It Real". Well, folks, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but even allegedly unscripted reality television is sometimes scripted. Just like exploits to complicated security defects. It only takes one person with the right combination of skills and maliciousness to write an exploit, and give it away. Suddenly the exploit is "zero cost" for the next attacker, and the flood of attackers after that. Exploits are "scalable" in this sense, or, as an economist or MBA might say, the marginal cost of each additional use of an exploit, after it is developed, approaches zero arbitrarily close. We see this pattern clearly in remotely exploitable buffer overflows, which might not be noticeably exploited for years after a product ships, and for months after the defect is discovered and publicized. Then, "suddenly" an exploit pops up. Within days there are dozens of worm or botnet variants exploiting the same defect. (We'll ignore for now the issue that some defects actually were exploited before the defect was publicized.) The same pattern applies to other types of defects that may not be exploited with quite the same high visibility. This type of scalability is inherent in software. If you're having trouble convincing your manager do devote resources to sanitizing your web facing application, or having trouble getting a budget to train your developers in secure coding techniques, consider sharing some of these links with your manager. This first one is a very clever web article by Gustavo Duarte, which demonstrates the attack using a simple online application built into the essay. Here you can see both the ease with which such defects can be exploited, and the relative complexity of the issues facing the defender. Hands-on SQL Injection Here is some additional information on SQL Injections. SQL Injection Attacks by Example Finally, here's an amusing cartoon that you can use to bring up the subject again, if you were given the smack down last time. Exploits of a Mom (Little Bobby Drop Tables)
Friday, February 15, 2008
If you haven't noticed, somehow lately computer keyboards and laptops in the Windows PC world are sporting a little pad for reading fingerprints.
Notice the fine print at the bottom of this page, which I'll quote here in case it goes away:
Microsoft Fingerprint Reader
"The Fingerprint Reader should not be used for protecting sensitive data such as financial information, or for accessing corporate networks. We continue to recommend that you use a strong password for these types of activities."
Why do you suppose Microsoft and all those hardware makers would go to all the trouble to add a fingerprint reader to laptops and keyboards, and then advise you not to use it?
Probably because they know something that the average consumer probably doesn't: these devices can be spoofed.
It's only a matter of time before there are clear, step by step instructions available on the internet for lifting a fingerprint and applying it to a model finger for spoofing purposes. Heck, there might be some online now, and I just haven't seen it yet.
Biometric Devices and Fingerprint Spoofing
Faking fingerprint readers (or other biometric devices) - a collection of links and papers
Failure of fingerprint locking system in prison in 2005
If you think about these things for a minute, you would never touch one without wearing a glove. Where is the digital fingerprint stored? That's right, on the same rootkit infested Windows PC prone to worm and virus attack.
Will rootkits soon be intercepting the fingerprint data and adding that to your stolen profile information in that giant hacker database in the sky? You can bet they will, because you can be assured that not everybody read the fine print. These devices are so common on laptops now that there are undoubtedly some juicy bank accounts "protected" by the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader.
The bad guys will have your biometric data in a database long before the FBI gets it done, because the bad guys do all this stuff with the lowest possible overhead. They just add another routine to their worm / virus / trojan / rootkit package and it flows out to all the zombie pc systems on the net that day. Since their data flows are mostly encrypted now-a-days, it might already be happening and we just haven't proven it yet.
Friends don't let friends use fingerprint readers. At least not today, when they are so clearly pandering a false, and perhaps even criminally negligent, sense of security. The people selling these things ought to know better. Oh, that's right. They do know better. Hence the fine print.
NOTE: Thanks to my good friend Joe S. in Tucson, Arizona for asking me, "would you touch one of these without a glove?"
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I haven't seen the original paper, but this article claims that researchers at Google and Georgia Institute of Technology estimate that there are 68,000 rogue DNS servers on the net. Use of Rogue DNS Servers on Rise Rogue DNS is one of the services provided by the zillions of malware, virus, worm, and rootkit infested zombie PC systems on the internet at any given time. The interesting part of this trick is that zombie PC systems might get "cleaned up" after an infestation has been detected, but their DNS configuration might (OK, probably does in nearly every case) remain pointing to a rogue DNS server, which occasionally, but not always, provides fraudulent data back to requesting clients. This is yet another reason why infested PC systems must be re-installed from clean original media whenever possible, in case you didn't have enough reasons already. The paper: Corrupted DNS Resolution Paths: The Rise of a Malicious Resolution Authority David Dagon, Chris Lee, Wenke Lee - Georgia Institute of Technology; Niels Provos - Google Inc. was presented today at the annual Network and IT Systems Symposium: NDSS 2008. Better get cracking on DNSSec. DNSSEC - DNS Security Extensions
Monday, February 11, 2008
Several publications are running stories this week about Swatting, an extension of a prank phone call, which has the aim of eliciting response from emergency response teams, including SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams. The prank calls are made to 911 operators, who are tricked into dispatching SWAT, police, or other response units on the basis of false information. Obviously social engineering is peformed as well, operators are told of bomb threats, killings or hostages. According to some accounts, some type of caller id spoofing might be used in some of the Swatting calls, which have been directed at 911 operators in over 60 cities by the five people arrested thus far. Several stories make a point to state that 911 systems are not defective, such as this otherwise excellent story, Swatting - a dangerous new game by KSBW TV in California which reports that the masochistic pranksters are not "exploiting any real technical flaws in the 911 system" and that these systems "are actually OK". It isn't necessary to know the intimate details to make a pretty safe bet that serious defects in the security of these systems do exist. Many of the calls were apparently placed using the assistance of computer systems, and the 911 operators were led to believe that the calls were local, despite their origin hundreds of miles away. That sure waddles and quacks like a defect. It's certainly possible that the defects exploited are in the underlying telephony systems, such as the Caller ID system, and not in the 911 system itself. However, if it can result in the 911 operator being unable to reliably determine the local vs. non-local origin of the call, it's a defect directly relevant to the 911 system as a functioning whole, and certainly a defect with the potential of being significantly reduced or eliminated, given some thought and effort. See this Wikipedia article for more information about Caller ID Spoofing. According to widely publicized accounts, FBI agent Kevin Kolbye in Dallas indicated that Swatting seems at present to be a game played for bragging rights. The FBI and the Justice Department arrested and indicted folks a few months ago in Dallas, and made another announcement today. DOJ - Swatters plead guilty to conspiracy FBI Catches Five Swatters Swatting has the potential to be much more dangerous. As it stands, innocent people might be killed if they open their door to investigate suspicious noises with a weapon in their hand. It's a very short step from Swatting as a misguided or perverted game, to Swatting as a Denial of Service attack on emergency response units. A terrorist attack or other illicit activity might be coordinated with Swatting attacks, designed to slow response to the actual emergency, and thereby maximize damage, injury, and death from the attack, or increase the chances of a successful heist. I'm reminded of a scene from the movie Air Force One, where POTUS (President of the United States) played by Harrison Ford, must use an ordinary phone line to call into the White House from an "outside" line into the public switchboard. The operator doesn't believe it is the POTUS and he finally convinces her not of his identity, but to run her "standard" security procedure and trace the call, which works in record time and reveals that he is in fact calling from Air Force One. In our current telephony universe, things don't always work quite that smoothly. Imagine how much more difficult 911 calls would be, if you needed to convince the operator of your identity, location, and the fact that the emergency was real, before assistance was dispatched. Some of my colleagues design and build 911 systems. Undoubtedly Swatting will soon join the ranks of all-too-familiar terms in the field of information security.