CISA and other Political gambits

Last week, the Office of Personnel Management revealed it had been hacked. The White House and FBI are wanting backdoors in encryption. The world of politics not only wants us to be spied upon, but less secure and then complains about being hacked.

The “fun” of a bill such as CISA is how vague they wind up being. It attempts to cast a huge net without much forethought of how that net can be abused. In the case of CISA, it can create less privacy. Researchers already do what they can to share vulnerabilities that they find, and still get ignore by the companies that have them. OPM hadn’t kept up on a basic security program, such as patching, multifactor authentication and auditing.

Wait, there is more. the FBI and White House are now complaining about encryption. you know the idea of securing communication and data so it is unreadable without the proper key? They want backdoors put into it. Now how is that going to help us? It doesn’t. In fact, I would guess that if a backdoor was put into encryption standards, it would take less than 48 hours for the hackers out there to find it and start exploiting it for their own ends.

Truth be told, politicians want to look like they are doing something about a variety of things without thinking of consequences. The authors of the Patriot Act have said over the years that it is not being used how they envisioned. We have laws on the table that criminalize behavior that is trivial (remember what Aaron Swartz was arrested for), and those laws give unproportional sentence guidelines. We have laws and reforms that have been presented that could make security researchers criminals. None of this really protects us. None of it makes logical sense. A criminal is not going to follow the law. Hackers in other countries are not subject to laws here in the U.S. Making research basically illegal at worst, or a gray area at best just opens up more holes for the criminals to use.

Unfortunately this is the case in this day and age. People don’t think things through. Politicians even more so, as they listen to lobbyists and staff members, without asking help from the real experts. We want a more secure society, and one that embraces privacy? We have to pressure our politicians from local to federal to listen to us and to think things through. Best intentions often go awry. they have to think of the worst use for the wording of laws they pass.

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.