Denmark is Dangerously Unprepared – Are You?

Denmark is not prepared for IT disasters and attacks. The state auditors have chosen 13 out of the approx. 4,200 public IT systems and looked at their recovery plans and procedures. A few were fairly well prepared, most were not, and one system was completely unprepared for anything to go wrong.

None of the recovery plans were adequately tested, and five systems had not tested their recovery plan at all in the last three years. For outsourced systems, half of the contracts did not require testing the recovery plan (!).

But at least the Danish state has an office that examines these things and issues a report. Who is responsible for evaluating the disaster recovery plans for critical systems in your organization? You cannot leave that to the individual system owners.

Are You Sure Your Backup System Works?

Why did all the trains in Denmark stop on Saturday? Russian hackers may or may not have been involved, but Danish incompetence was.

The Danish State Railways (DSB) has digitized all the paper that a train driver used to carry. That’s temporary speed restrictions, track works, and deviations from the standard schedule. They have also outsourced their digital solution to an amateurish vendor, and neither the vendor nor DSB had a backup solution. So when the vendor shut down the system due to an unspecified “security issue,” the trains stood still.

I’ve boarded a Delta Airlines flight with a hand-written boarding card on a scrap of paper. A professional organization continues to run, though slower, without its computers. An unprofessional organization like DSB is paralyzed. Are you like Delta Airlines or like the Danish State Railways?

The Problem is the Humans, Not the Technology

The weakest link is the human. Microsoft does keep the software in their Azure cloud up to date with the latest patches but still managed to lose 2.4 terabytes of data belonging to 65,000 customers in 111 countries. The reason is that someone at Microsoft misconfigured a storage container.

This story became public because a security company wanting to sell its scanning solution posted it. They also informed Microsoft, who quickly secured the container. But for every white-hat hacker scanning the internet for unsecured storage, there are ten black-hat hackers siphoning off your secrets and selling them.

By buying a high-level cloud service from a reputable vendor, you can be sure that it runs on well-patched servers without known vulnerabilities. But you’ll have no idea when your cloud vendor fails to secure some lower-level service until you read about it in the news.

Can You Trust Your Vendor?

Did you invite the hackers in yourself? Hundreds of German companies are waking up to the revelation that “German” cyber-security company Protelion is a front for a Russian company with links to Russian intelligence.

The hapless boss of the German IT Security agency even invited Potelion to sit on the German Cybersecurity Council. He is facing an unceremonious sacking…

Being able to roam freely inside the firewall and install agents with admin privileges is the dream of any hacker. There are at least one million devices running Protelion’s “security” software and the companies who invited Protelion in face a wholesale scrubbing of their entire IT infrastructure.

How do you plan to ensure that your security audits do not worsen your security?

It’s Expensive to Try to Get By With the Cheapest Resources

Talent is expensive. Not paying for talent is more expensive. Microsoft gets that. The U.S. Department of Defence doesn’t.

The Microsoft bug hunting program has a maximum payout of $250,000, and they did pay out $200,000 this year. You would think a crucial national defence vulnerability would merit a bigger bounty that finding a flaw in the Microsoft hypervisor, wouldn’t you? The DoD pays out $500 for a high-severity bug, and a whopping $1,000 for a critical issue.

Your developers are rewarded for shipping functionality. They don’t have the mindset to find the vulnerabilities. To build secure systems, you need to offer a bug bounty, or hire outside experts to do security review, or create your own internal white-hat hacker team. It does cost money. But security breaches cost much more.

Who is in Charge of Outside-the-Box Thinking?

Everyone can track your license plate – not just the cops. A Belgian security researcher noticed that most parking apps do not validate that you actually own the license plate you add to your app. That means a stalker can add his victim’s license plate to his app and immediately be notified whenever that person parks anywhere…

This is another example of the inside-the-box thinking that developers are prone to. The developers of the Kryptonite bike lock had made it out of extra reinforced steel. Too bad a weakness in the lock allowed a hacker to open it with half of a ballpoint pen.

Finding holes in a system is not just securing the login and checking the encryption. It involves examining the system and its environment and users. That is a skill most developers lack. You need a “red team” who can find the holes before you roll out something embarrassingly insecure.

How Bank Customer Data Ended up at Auction

“But I thought the drives were encrypted!”
“Only if you turn encryption on”

An American bank got off lightly, getting only a $35 million fine. For five years, they simply hired a moving company to get rid of old computers. That company then sold Morgan Stanley’s used hard drives at auction. Too bad that the drives still included information about 15 million customers. The drives did contain an encryption feature, but nobody turned it on…

The whole debacle came to light accidentally when an IT consultant bought a used hard drive for backup and discovered it was full of confidential data.

Organizations keep losing data. It costs money and reputation each time. You must address this problem with employee security awareness, internal procedures, and external security audits. Tell the story of Morgan Stanley at your next IT meeting. It just might remind someone of something they really ought to fix…

The Wrong Way to Use Open Source

The glass is less than half full, and that is worrying. One of the focus areas in the 2022 State of Data Science report was enterprise adoption of open source. On every important metric, less than half the respondents gave the answer I was hoping for. For example, “We use a managed repository” got 43%, and “We use a vulnerability scanner” got 36%.

With such a low security maturity, it is obvious that the Log4j debacle and recent hacktivism has dented open source adoption. 40% report scaling back the use of open source in the past year.

Open Source gives you transparency that proprietary software doesn’t. That means you have the ability to verify that it works as promised instead of simply trusting vendor promises. But if you don’t make use of this transparency and instead simply download something because it’s free, you are setting yourself up for problems. Is your organization found in the more than half-empty part of the glass?

How to Avoid Hardwired Credentials

“We’ll add security later,” the developers said.

“We have to ship,” the manager said.

And that’s how 1000s of apps came to be released with hardcoded AWS passwords. That means that hackers can take these credentials and get full access to the AWS back end behind the apps, including reading and changing data for all users. The large number of vulnerable apps does not indicate that thousands of developers have hardcoded credentials. It shows that a smaller number hardcoded AWS credentials into their libraries, and thousands of developers uncritically used these libraries.

We see this kind of IT library supply chain problem all the time. It is much less likely to happen if you have a security QA gate in your workflow. Every system needs to have a security review signed off by an internal employee. It doesn’t help to contract this out. Your security consultant will be long gone when the vulnerability comes to light. The review has to be done by someone whose job is on the line.

Thanks to Kim Berg Hansen for pointing me to this story.

Are you Depending on Luck or Skill?

If you can buy anything in 7-eleven today, count yourself lucky. Here in Denmark, the entire chain is shut down because hackers got into their Point-of-Sale terminals.

Through luck or skill, 7-eleven seems to have managed to limit the damage to Denmark. If they were lucky, each country simply runs its own network and are not interconnected. If they were skillful, they had segmented their network so the malware couldn’t spread. Remember that Maersk Lines had not sufficiently segmented their network, and were laid low when malware targeting Ukrainian companies spread from their Ukrainian subsidiary to their entire global operation.

Is your network appropriately segmented so one hacker cannot kill your entire operation?