Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Advent, Advent Calendar…

It has become a tradition for us to share a security tip or jolly every day of Advent and this year is no different.  Here it is, all ready for the start of Advent, tomorrow…Advent Security calendar

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Cyber Monday top tips

Cyber Monday is upon us again.. or should I say #cybermonday. Anyway, I asked our Security Consultants to come up with some top tips to help you shop a bit more securely for your Christmas gifts and decorations. Thanks to Chris Cope and Del Brazil for this.

  • HTTPS (other online vendors are available)   Always check for the padlock or green URL to confirm the ID of the website. If your security software is highlighting a problem then don’t ignore it;
  • Use secure passwords on websites you set up accounts with;
  • Pay on credit card if possible to gain on insurance;
  • Use reputable websites, sites that look too good to be, true usually are;
  • Be wary of being transferred to another webpage –Don’t follow links emailed to you, visit the website yourself;
  • Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder capturing your card details etc;
  • If there are any issues then remember to complain promptly. Consumer rights cover the internet but don’t leave it too long to complain if goods aren’t what you expected. 

Wishing you a secure Cyber Monday experience…

Trident vulnerable to hacking?

By Julia McCarron with contribution from Chris Cope.

There have been a number of press stories in the last few days that could have us searching for our 3 pronged spears to protect these shores because, if the news is to be believed, the missile version of Trident could be rendered useless or obsolete from a cyber-hack.

I don’t know about you but I viewed these articles with some skepticism as I can’t believe that the MOD and Government haven’t thought to test the technical vulnerabilities of such a critical system before now, especially one with such far reaching consequences if it were breached?

As I understand it from those who have knowledge of MOD workings, all military systems, including Trident and its associated communications networks, are assured via the Defence Information Assurance Services (DIAS) Accreditors.  This assurance process takes into account the likely threats and resulting risks that apply to those systems, including hacking and other forms of cyber-attack.  There is a stringent policy of assessment and review for all major systems, and Trident will be one of the most assured systems due to its importance.  Clearly, though details of this assurance are highly unlikely to ever be released into the public domain; information on risks and counter measures taken against them will be very closely guarded. And I would hope so too!

The MOD will employ a number of safeguards to protect its most important systems.  Many of these will be familiar to the wider information security field and it’s no surprise that ISO27001 features heavily.  The greater the risks to the system, and the more critical it is, the more stringent the controls in place. Many high level MOD systems are effectively air-gapped and have no connection to the internet, even via a controlled gateway. That means they are effectively isolated from other communications networks, even the authorised users are heavily constrained in what they can and cannot do; use of mobile media for example is highly regulated.  Given Trident’s role as a potential counter-strike weapon, the communications to the deployed vessels receive very careful attention.  Not only will there be good level of assurance against the normal range of attacks, but there will be significant redundancy in place, just in case one fails.  Trident is carried by the Vanguard class submarine, which is designed to operate virtually undetected.  Commanders of these vessels have clear direction from the Prime Minister on what to do if there is evidence of a nuclear attack and all communication from the political leadership in the UK fails.

The comments made by a former Defence Secretary about potential vulnerabilities around the Trident system make interesting reading in light of recent concerns over cyber-attack, but the timing of these comments is telling. The House of Commons is due to vote on the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent … there I go being skeptical again but as my hero Leroy Jethro Gibbs often says, Rule 39# There’s no such thing as a coincidence…

Email Insecurity

At Symbol

This time of year, there is an upsurge in phishing and other malicious emails for us to contend with. From phony delivery notices to hoax PayPal problem emails, our inboxes are awash with attempts to invade, defraud and otherwise cause us chaos or loss. So the news that people are not taking the threat from email seriously after all the years of phish and spam, is worrying to say the least. Advent IM Security Consultant, Dale Penn, takes a look at the facts.

For far too many people, email security isn’t an issue until it suddenly is. Often, people won’t take threats against email seriously, believing that data breaches only happen to large companies as these are the only breaches that are reported in the news.

Alternatively, companies tend assume that email security is just something that’s already being taken care of as they have purchased the most up to date  technical defences such as anti-virus firewalls, Data loss prevention software etc etc, and it’s true that these can help in a layered approach however one large piece missing from the puzzle is education and awareness.

SC magazine reports that 70% of Brits don’t think that email is a potential cyber threat. And almost half admit opening non work related or personal emails at work.

Corporate Email Vulnerabilities

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

This refers to the practice of employees to bringing personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and smart phones) to their workplace, and to using those devices to access privileged company information and applications.  This corporate ‘bring your own device’ trend is on the rise, according to a new study.

Ovum’s 2013 Multi-Market BYOD Employee Survey found that nearly 70% of employees who own a smartphone or tablet choose to use it to access corporate data.

The study surveyed 4,371 consumers from 19 different countries who were employed full-time in an organisation with over 50 employees.

Computer bugs red greyThe study has discovered that 68.8% of smartphone-owning employees bring their own smartphone to work, and 15.4% of these do so without the IT department’s knowledge. Furthermore, 20.9% do so in-spite of a BYOD policy.

These statistics are quite alarming as uncontrolled devices accessing corporate information represent a significant vulnerability.

Uploading to Personal Email account or Cloud Account

It doesn’t matter how strong your security standards are, or how much money you’ve dumped into the fanciest, most secure cloud storage systems, often employees won’t use them preferring to bypass red tape and send the information to uncontrolled home accounts therefore bypassing any company security.

Risk - Profit and LossWe’d all like to think that those that hold upper management positions in our businesses have higher standards, especially when it comes to security, but the statistics don’t lie. In a Stroz Friedberg survey, almost three-quarters of office workers admitted to uploading their business files to personal accounts and senior managers were even worse, with 87% of them failing to use their company’s servers to store sensitive company documents.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that the general security culture of the UK is not as it should be. The public in general (and many organisations) are unaware of, or not interested in applying, the most basic security principles to protect their personal information

Recognising this culture is the first step in treating it. Individuals still treat cyber-attacks with a degree of separation and the view that “it will never happen to them”.  Few people realise that a cyber-attack could potentially be as invasive and disruptive as a physical home invasion. Few people leave their house without taking appropriate security steps. We need to introduce awareness to the masses and embed the culture that has them locking there cyber door as well as the ones at home.

Top email Security tips

  1. Share your e-mail address with only trusted sources.
  2. Be careful when opening attachments and downloading files from friends and family or accepting unknown e-mails.
  3. Be smart when using Instant Messaging (IM) programs. Never accept stranger into your IM groups and never transmit personal information
  4. Watch out for phishing scams. Never click on active links unless you know the source of the email is legitimate.
  5. Do not reply to spam e-mail.
  6. Create a complex e-mail address as they are harder for hackers to auto generate.
  7. Create smart and strong passwords using more than 6 characters, upper and lower case, numbers and special characters i.e. £Ma1l5af3

The threat of radicalisation in schools

Advent IM Security for Schools

Senior Security Consultant for Advent IM, Mark Jones, takes a pragmatic look at the area of radicalisation in schools, the new legislation and the resulting expectation placed on schools.

SCHOOLS & RADICALISATION 

Schools are increasingly seen as being on the front-lines of the battle to prevent extremism. Their duty to prevent extremism has now been set in law as part of the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act which came into force on July 1st, and which requires that schools have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Indeed, recently on the BBC Breakfast TV Programme Sir Peter Fahy, the national policing lead for preventing radicalisation, said the police were working with schools, local authorities, social services and community groups to try to identify people at risk and that teachers were well-placed to spot signs of radicalisation in the classroom.

The duties under the act are discussed in a UK…

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Morrisons staff suing over data breach. Del Brazil takes a look at what we know and what it might mean.

Advent IM Security Consultant, Del Brazil discusses some of the questions raised by the legal action from Morrisons employees over a data breach that led to their private information being leaked…

It has been reported in Computer Weekly that thousands of Morrisons staff are planning to sue the retailer over a data breach in which a disgruntled former employee published the bank, salary and National Insurance details of almost 100,000 employees, online.

Did Morrisons fail to prevent the data leak that exposed tens of thousands of its employees to the very real risk of identity theft and potential loss?  Only a fully and thorough investigation will reveal the answer along with exactly how the breach was committed and over what period of time the breach occurred.

Any investigation will highlight the security measures deployed at the time of the incident.  A decision will then be made by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) or other investigative body, as to whether the measures implemented were in line with the Data Protection Act and that any measure was correctly configured, managed and/or monitored.

Advent IM Data Protection ConsultantsThe Data Protection Act 7th Principle says that: “Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.”

So in simple terms each and every organisation that stores, processes or handles personal data should be able to establish whether they can reasonably do more to protect the personal data they hold.  If the answer raises eyebrows or poses further questions then the simple answer should be yes; however all organisations should be consistently and regularly reviewing their security measures in order to highlight potential weaknesses or areas for improvement. What may be appropriate and adequate at one time, may not always remain the same, so the need for review and testing is key.

iStock_000018385055SmallIn the event that personal data is stolen, changed or misappropriated, then the repercussions to the individual could be devastating.  There is a possibility that their information may be sold on to a third party for spamming purposes or sold on to a criminal organisation with the intent of identity theft. The resulting financial losses to individuals are not only unfair and criminal, on a wholesale basis, but frequently go to fund other criminal and terrorist activities.  Sadly, there is a frequently a somewhat relaxed attitude towards the loss of personal data from an individual’s perspective as they believe that it won’t happen to them. However there is always a risk to your personal information being used for purposes that you are not aware of.  No one should ever be afraid to question an organisation or employer how they protect their information and what measures they are taking to ensure its security.  If there are resulting concerns about levels of protection or safeguards, then the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) may be contacted as they may investigate these concerns further.

Individuals can be quick to pass on their details to organisations/companies for genuine reasons; we all live a digital and data-driven life, in the belief that this information will be adequately protected.  Arguably, in some cases you have no choice than to share personal information especially from an employment perspective and it would reasonable to expect your employer to take sufficient care of your information to prevent it being accessed or passed to individuals/organisations intent on committing some form of illegal activity. Being aware of how our information is protected is not unreasonable and employees have a perfectly reasonable expectation that their employers will consider this part of their duty of care.

stick_figure_pointing_north_america_image_500_clrThe UK can sometimes follow the US culturally and the question has been raised as to whether the culture of litigation is one we can expect to see expand in the UK, particularly with this kind of high profile legal action. There are numerous incidents in the US where companies/organisations have been sued for failing to protect personal information, but can we expect this to become part of our corporate life? This is a very tricky question to answer, as the laws governing the protection of data in the US differ from those in the UK; although they do deliver the same message.  Each and every personal data breach is unique but the re-occurring question in any investigation will always be whether the individual, company and/or organisation took sufficient care to protect personal information by the deployment of appropriate technical, physical and procedural measures and what was the impact to individual concerned?  So whilst the regulation may differ, the spirit of the regulation is consistent and whether this is the future for the UK too will remain to be seen. Certainly we are seeing growing numbers of breaches and it is unlikely that this growth will continue without some kind reaction from the victims.

Advent IM Information Security AuditWhat is the likelihood that the Morrisons legal action is successful?  This would depend on the outcome of the ongoing investigation and as to whether Morrisons was deemed to have adequately protected their employee’s data.  Should the legal bid be upheld then the repercussions may potentially have a massive impact on all organisations storing and/or processing personal information.  There is a likelihood that organisations may go massively overboard with extra or increased measures in an attempt to defeat any possible threat of an insider attack without first reviewing and/or assessing the result of the findings of the ongoing Morrisons case.

The Morrisons data breach does raise a few questions though; what measures are deemed to be appropriate and sufficient to detect and/or deter an insider attack?  There is a fine balance between organisations having a high level of protective monitoring that gives employees the ‘Big Brother’ impression or such a low level that pretty much no monitoring takes place.  A very similar tone could be taken to staff vetting as at what point does vetting no longer be seen as an assurance practice but more of an intrusion into personal life?  These are questions that will continuously trouble both employers and employees.

Organisations are generally over reliant on technical solutions for protective monitoring to provide a quick fix rather than looking at the problem and identifying an appropriate solution.  There are a whole raft of technical solutions available, all of which require an element of physical monitoring and response.  It is an organisational decision as to whether to use a more technical solution with little staff interaction to maintain the system, as opposed to relying more heavily on human inspection of various logs; however consideration should also be given to allowing/ensuring that there are sufficient staff available to respond to alerts or discrepancies that may be detected in whichever solution is deployed.  Organisations should also ensure that they have a tried and tested plan in place to maximise their ability to understand, contain and respond to the ever increasing threat to personal information.

It is the opinion of the author that organisations should employ comprehensive protective monitoring procedures, which when coupled with a degree of staff vetting and a good security awareness programme should demonstrate to any governing body an organisation’s commitment to deterring or detecting insider threats.

Unfortunately the insider threat will never go away and with the value and importance of information increasing rapidly so the temptation for employees to sell personal information also increases.  Every level and type of industry relies upon information, no matter what form it takes and as such, every industry should keep an eye on this case as it develops.

Although organisations should pay close attention to this ongoing legal case raised by Morrisons employees and/or organisations shouldn’t be overly concerned until the full details of the investigation and the outcome of the legal case are made public.

Every organisation should ensure appropriate measures are in place (technical and non-technical) to secure and protect personal information to the best of their ability, including continually educating, training and making their staff aware of the insider threats.

“Five Eyes” intelligence document leak – Australian Defence bureaucrat off to jail

This week saw the news that the junior bureaucrat from the Australian Department of Defence, has been jailed for one year, following his guilty plea in the ACT Supreme Court to posting a secret Defence Intelligence Organisation, to an online forum. Julia McCarron gives her take on this quite staggering series of events.

Not a ‘Gooday’ for the Canberra APS

Surprise!

Well this a strange one for sure. So, Michael Scerba, a former junior Defence bureaucrat has been jailed in Australia for uploading secret information online. He downloaded a 15 page document from a secret Defence Intelligence report, burnt it to disk, took it home and posted the first two pages on an on-line forum. The post was viewed and commented on by a dozen people and re-posted but disappeared an hour after its original post.

This is bad on so many levels …

When they say he was a junior bureaucrat, he was actually a 21 year old Department of Defence (DoD) graduate … with only 8 months on the job behind him and a secret (negative vetting level one) clearance … and apparently “his mental health had impaired his judgement”. I accept that the article does not expand on these mental health issues or when these issues occurred, and I am in no way implying that mental health of any kind should be a barrier to employment as I do not believe it should in general. However, we are talking about a position in National security here with access to secret information, so assuming his issues occurred pre-employment. So first question: Why was a 21 year old graduate with mental health issues given a level of clearance high enough to enable access to, and the capability to download, information relating to National security?

You've got to have a system.

Something has to have gone wrong with the vetting process and/or the employment process where access rights and privileges are determined and applied. If he had underlying mental health issues surely these should have been detected prior to his employment or during the induction process. I would presume DoD staff have to go through stringent mental stability checks checks for security clearance purposes to minimise the risk of coercion or subversion? This seeming lack of procedure demonstrates the importance of a robust vetting process, particularly in a role so critical to the security of the nation. It also demonstrates the need to ensure privileges are granted relevant to the job role and on a ‘need to know’ basis. Did he really need to access to information that revealed the identity of intelligence sources, gathering methods and classified aspects of strategic partnerships between Australia and other countries?

Advent IM Cyber SecurityIt also opens up the question of removable media access and control in sensitive areas. Second question: Did he really need to be granted the ability to burn information to disk or USB at the level he was working at? Are there not search facilities at access points a la ‘Spooks’ that detect unauthorised media? I would have thought again that some sort of policy would have existed that meant staff were only allowed use of authorised removable media and that no media was allowed to be removed from the premises?

And finally, the claim by the Judge that, “Scerba had not intended to compromise national security, although he knew the disclosure could cause harm”. I find this claim quite astonishing. So he’s employed in a DoD job, with access to information pertinent to National security and he didn’t know the disclosure could cause harm or compromise National security? Really? Question 3: What kind of induction training was the DoD providing? I can’t believe they do not put employees through extensive security training highlighting how to handle data at various classification levels, the importance of data classification and handling and the consequences of failing to comply with policy. If they don’t then some serious questions need to be asked!

I think I’m with retired Lieutenant General Peter Leahy on this one though; jail time was definitely required for this serious National security data breach. But 12 months with only 3 served does not send out a good message to others employed by the DoD who, like Scerba, believe Julian Assange is their hero. This could just be the beginning unless changes to process are tightened up.

Post comment based on an online article in the Canberra Times dated 5th November 2015.