How Do You Handle Security Issues?

Over breakfast, the CEO asks you about the latest Atlassian vulnerability that he’s just read about in the Wall Street Journal. Good answers are: “That doesn’t apply to us” or “It has been addressed.” OK answers are: “We’re looking into it” or “It is being mitigated.” The horrible answer is: “What vulnerability?”

Last month, 1,973 new vulnerabilities were published. July 2022 was a quiet month – most months have over 2,000. Many of these don’t apply to you, but you need to evaluate all of them. Do you just have one guy following @CVEnew on Twitter, or do you have a real process able to handle the ever-increasing load?

Clueless Developers are Dangerous

A company used by 83% of the Fortune 500 is clueless about security. Scary. I’m talking about Atlassian, whose Confluence product was discovered to have a secret admin account with a hardwired password. It is worrying that any company would hire developers that could simply get the idea. It is more worrying that this got through code review. And it is very worrying that Atlassian doesn’t seem to have anyone who does a separate security review.

If you are an IT leader, take a look at your systems list. Make sure there is a name and a date in the “last security review” column for each and every system. If you have home-built systems without a separate security review by someone outside the development organization, you might be the next Atlassian.

Cloud Services Leak Your Data

Big Brother is watching what you write. Chinese users working on the local equivalent of Google Docs discovered that there are some things you can’t write. An author was locked out of the novel she was writing, with the system telling her that she was trying to access “sensitive content.” It didn’t matter that she wrote herself.

Of course, Google would never lock you out of your Docs or Sheets. And they claim they don’t look at your documents to sell you ads, though plenty of users report spooky coincidences. The default setting in Microsoft producs is to enable “Connected Experiences.” That means your content is being sent to Microsoft servers for analysis. Microsoft claims no human looks at it.

Do you have guidelines and technical measures in place to prevent sensitive data leaking out of your organization through cloud services?

Are You Making a Fool of Yourself?

You’d think that an official digital ID project would be subject to a careful security review. Not in Australia. The government of New South Wales in Australia has rolled out a digital driver’s license that contains no less than five different security issues. Together, these make it trivially easy to alter any data on your ID, effectively creating a fake ID. That is good news to Australian identity thieves and underage would-be drinkers. The official response is “it’s illegal to make changes to your ID.”

Are there any embarrassing security oversights in the products you roll out? How would you know?

Are Security Issues Ignored in your Organization?

Delete production database, go to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

A disgruntled Chinese sysadmin wiped his company’s servers after feeling ignored. He had complained about a lack of basic IT security, but found no understanding from his boss. He then wiped out most of their infrastructure, paralyzing a $6 billion company with 120,000 real estate brokers. He did prove his point. He was rewarded with a 7-year jail sentence.

The person with the most detailed knowledge of the vulnerabilities in your IT landscape is not the CISO. It is the database administrator or the network engineer. Do you have a process to ensure that potential security issues can be raised anonymously and will come to the attention of the CIO?

Perimeter Defense is Dead

Yet again, a critical vulnerability in commercial, high-end network equipment. This time, BIG-IP gear offers any hacker the ability to remotely access the management interface. The intruder doesn’t need authentication and can run any command. It’s rated a scary 9.8 (CRITICAL) on the CVSS scale, and it is being actively exploited.

If you still needed convincing that your network needs micro-segmenting or a zero-trust architecture, here is another piece of proof. This is not cheap consumer-grade gear. This is a highly reputable vendor of expensive equipment used by most large companies around the world. They can’t keep their devices secure, even though they are supposed to implement best practices in secure software development.

Depending on perimeter defense today is like being France in 1939 believing in the Maginot line. If you are a CIO, today would be a good day to chat with your network team about just how securely segmented your network is.   

Security is Somebody Else’s Problem

There is good reason security is invisible: It is Somebody Else’s Problem (SEP). In his geek classic “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,” author Douglas Adams describes how the secret to making something invisible is to surround it with an SEP field.

Security is not actually invisible – I’m at an event in Copenhagen with 3000 security professionals this week. But it is still considered Somebody Else’s Problem by the rest of IT. Except for basic Authentication and Authorization, security is not on the minds of developers and system administrators.

We cannot magically make people care. We already know that to get good testing, we have to add professional testers to each team. To get a good User Experience, we need to add UX professionals to each team. We won’t get improved security until we also add security professionals to each team.

Do You Trust Amazon?

The default is no trust. You shouldn’t trust a random USB stick you pick up in the parking lot, and your customers and users don’t trust you. If you want trust, you have to be transparent in a way your users understand and appreciate.

Somewhere in the Amazon terms & conditions it probably says in illegible legalese that everything you say to your Alexa smart speaker can and will be used against you. Researchers have shown that your interactions with Alexa are reported to dozens of advertisers, and Amazon says the research is flawed. Who do you believe?

Amazon have hundreds of lawyers and are probably within the law. The problem is that they are not complying with users’ expectations. If you want any kind of goodwill from your users and customers, you have to meet their actual expectations. Hiding behind reams of legalese doesn’t cut it.

Vulnerability Chains

Are you sure you own your devices? Or do you just have a temporary ability to use them that could vanish any second?

Smart home enthusiasts taken by Insteon marketing found out the hard way that their devices function at the suffering of the Insteon servers. When the company abruptly shut down, users found none of their devices worked because everything depended on a connection to servers that were no longer there.

This is an example of a vulnerability chain where the Insteaon servers proved the weakest link. Every networked device has a vulnerability chain from the client endpoint through multiple network devices until it reaches the server. Are you aware of the vulnerability chain from the card readers that control access to your building? Don’t be blindsided by a risk you hadn’t even considered.

Do You Let Convenience Trump Security?

Personal data on anyone is available from all the large U.S. social media platforms and ISPs to anyone who cares to ask. The mechanism is an Emergency Data Request (EDR). When law enforcement doesn’t have time to wait for a court order because someone’s life is in imminent danger, they send an EDR. This is simply an email from a law enforcement mail address. To send a fake EDR, you simply purchase a legitimate government email address from a hacker who has breached one of the more than 15,000 police forces in the U.S.

You would never divulge information on your customers based on just a plausible-looking email. But how do you ensure that expediency has not trumped security somewhere in your organization?