Meanwhile, away from Las Vegas

Yep, Hacker or Security Summer Camp time is here. For those of us not out in Las Vegas at Blackhat, B-Sides, and Defcon, The world continues on. As it goes, the U.S. Army has a lot to learn about the world of hacking.

The Register put out a story on how the US Cyber Army got its rear whooped by reservists. This article should be scary, and for good reason. If the full time Cyber Army didn’t even know how they had been attacked, how do we expect them to defend our country, let alone attack aggressors? The simple answer is they won’t be able to, but why? Well it is actually a matter of a few things.

The military is a great institution. As such they have a great regiment, and are highly organized. Follow orders, follow procedures, be a good soldier. The higher up you are the more planning you are able to do, but still the open thinking is still limited unless under true fire. This goes against the idea of being a hacker, someone who can go out and keep directly up to date with the infosec world. the world of Zero Days, backdoors, malware and the like is ever evolving and at a breakneck pace. The amount of “Eureka” moments compared to normal military strategy “Eureka” moments is astronomical. Yes the ideas put for in The Art of War by Sun Tzu still apply but the pace of shifts, adjustments and new “weapons” one talks about is daily.

Now while both the full timer Cyber Army members and the reservists both might have an interest or passion for the world of hacking and security, the reservists have a huge advantage. According to the article a good majority of the work in the infosec field full time. Imagine how more up to date, be it from looking at darknet forums, to researching zero days, penetration testing all different sorts of systems, they are. Add on that they have gone through the training and regiment that the full time Army has. This is where the full time military failed. think about it, we all have heard of former hackers recruited by the government, and for good reason. It is straight out of Art of War, “Know thyself and know thy enemy and never in 1000 battles will you lose.” The full time Cyber Army needs that adaptation. they need to be more loose on regulations, need to be able to constantly think outside the box and be able to expand their skills and knowledge outside of a regimented system. Until that time, I hope those reservists are ready to defend the country cause the full timers are a liability.

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Security – Open Source vs. Closed: It’s a matter of eyes

For years there has been the whole what is more secure, Open or Closed source? Microsoft has and still takes a beating over this. Truth, though, is a different thing.

We all have heard of Heartbleed by now. The 2 year old security gap in OpenSSL has been all over the news. During all of this, a hole in the much loved Chrome browser that will allow websites to turn on your microphone and record what you are saying was announced. Another bug that had been around for a while (August 2013). Meanwhile, the hated entity known as Microsoft has been pretty much unaffected by these issues. Maybe it is time to remove our preconceived and ancient thought over security in the Open vs. Closed Source world.

The argument has been, from what I have heard and can tell, that Open Source is more secure because you have more eyes looking at it. The code is open and out there so people can find the issues faster and with the collaborative nature of Open Source, will be patched faster. Truth of the matter, as has been shown over the past week, is that it is not the case, and security holes can get past this set of checks and balances just as they can in any Closed Source system. The surprising thing is how long it has taken to find Heartbleed. One would think, with all those eyes looking at the code, that it would have been found much sooner. Of course this has led to the theories of the bug being an NSA backdoor. True or not, the code was still out there for everyone to see.

Chrome is a slightly different issue. Here is a bug that was found over 6 months ago, that still hasn’t been patched. It was brought to Google’s attention and they sat on it. Could this be another NSA (or insert your favorite Government agency here) backdoor? A way to spy on you without warrants? We will never know for sure, but it does show one major hole. Our thinking of Open Source and security is not completely correct. It is not the be all end all.

What has been lost in this is that Microsoft, and its Closed Source implementations of SSL have been free and clear of the Heartbleed problem. Microsoft at one time was awful with security. In this day and age though, it has gotten a lot better. It is responsive to holes, and the amount of out-of-band patches and workarounds for Zero Days is quite speedy. In fact the biggest security holes in Microsoft systems, is usually Java and/or Flash. Flash is still Closed Source, but Java was at one point more open. Java also is embedded in the web very deep. Try using NoScript at it’s tightest levels and see how much of websites get blocked, and how many websites complain about Java not being turned on. Yet through all of this, Microsoft is the one that still takes the blame, especially in the public’s eye. That is because we, the ones in the know, have done little to reeducate the public, and ourselves.

Do not get me wrong. I have nothing but love for the Open Source community. Collaborative efforts are awesome, and the community puts out some fantastic software, and alternatives to Closed Source (and overpriced) programs. It just has to be realized that it is no more secure than Closed Source. In the end it is all about the eyes on the code and the people looking for the holes. Remember Security is a process, not a destination.

Why new PCs? These are good enough!

The people that work in the IT field know about upgrading and updating computer equipment. The SMB owners.. not so much.

I’ve had a couple interesting experiences recently with clients. I was busy trying to tell them that Windows XP was no longer going to be supported and that they should get new PCs. One client wanted pricing also for upgrading their current Core2 Duo PCs. We got them quotes for both, showing a difference of $800 total between upgrading multiple PCs and just getting new ones. Now we wait to see if they make the right choice.

The other client flat out told me that his server and PCs should last them 10-15 years. Nothing I said changed that idea in his mind. I fear for this client as they already have been hacked (see my previous post about that), and of course are setting themselves up for more pain like that.

I let my clients know that every 3-5 years they should be getting new computer equipment. Not only will they get faster machines with newer OSes that should be more secure, but their efficiency will be as good if not better, and they will have machines that are back under warranty. Now I understand that in a world where big ticket purchase do tend to last a long time (Cars, TVs, Appliances, etc…), they feel that should be the same way with computers. Add on that leasing the equipment doesn’t make a lot of sense financially either. So what is one to do, outside of explain to them the reality of the situation.

First off, set a hard date for when you will stop supporting the older OSes, and let your clients know that date. This not only gives them a solid time frame for which to make the changes, but puts the pressure on them.

Second, explain how going to newer equipment makes sense. Touch on speed of the new machines, security, warranties, and that the competition won’t wait for them to catch up.

Finally, let them know that the cost to upkeep the old equipment is not worth it. In the long run they save more by staying current with their equipment, especially as parts become rare.

There is no way to force a company to purchase newer equipment. The bottom line on all of this is to get the higher ups to understand that old equipment hurts the company in the long run. Hopefully, they are willing to listen to you, after all they have brought you on as the expert.