Tag Archives: Security

When is a hack all-white?

From Chris Cope – Advent IM Security Consultant

hacker_d70focus_1What’s the difference between a ‘white hat’ security researcher and a hacker?  As a general rule of thumb, if  someone discovers a vulnerability on your system and informs you (without undertaking any unauthorised or unlawful activity in the process) then a ‘thank you’ is generally considered to be in order.  There are numerous ‘white hat’ researchers who trawl software and internet sites, detecting vulnerabilities and alerting the appropriate owners or developers.  Many companies have benefited from a quiet advisory and it’s reasonable to suggest that without ‘white hats’, the policy of releasing software and patching later, adopted by many vendors, would be severely undermined.

advent IM data protection blog

oops there goes the sensitive data

So why is a white hat researcher, Chris Vickery to be precise, in the news?  Mr Vickery discovered a database on a website.  The website belongs to a company called uKnowKids, this provides a parental monitoring service for your technology savvy children.  The database contained an array of information that the company did not want to be made public, including in the words of the BBC ‘detailed child profiles’.  However, the company claims that the information was not personal data and no customer information was at risk.  Mr Vickery was able to access the data base and take screenshots, which were sent to the company as proof of the vulnerability.  However, rather than thank him, the company accused Mr Vickery of risking their continued viability and claimed that his access was unauthorised.  By Mr Vickery’s account, the database was in a publicly accessible area and had no access controls in place.

Since the notification, uKnowKids has patched the vulnerability.

So what can we take from this?  UKnowKids obviously intended for the database to remain private.  Under UK law, Intellectual Property rights provide protection for confidential information, but there is one pretty fundamental requirement – the information needs to be protected.  Placing a database on a publically accessible internet page, without protection is, however, akin to leaving a sensitive file in paper format on a train.  Organisations shouldn’t be surprised if information left in such a public and insecure state is read by unintended third parties. 

Before protecting information, an organisation needs to understand what information it holds, and what needs protecting.  Once that is established, there are a variety of means that can be used to protect it; physical controls on physical copies, labelling of information, educating staff so they understand the required handling measures and routine audits all form part of the basic protections required for all types of information.  For electronic information, then one needs to consider technical measures such as access controls and encryption.  When a database, containing sensitive information, must be placed in an area where it is accessible from outside the organisation, then access to it must be very carefully controlled.

iStock_000014878772MediumIn this instance, the reputation of a company, which holds intelligence on children, could have been seriously undermined if a hostile breach had occurred, even without the loss of personal information.  If personal information was lost, then the financial implications could have been severe; increasingly so as new EU legislation on data protection comes into effect.  So make sure that you fully understand your assets (including information) and what level of protection they require and, when designing controls, its important to ensure that the full range of counter measures, including physical, personnel, procedural and technical, are considered, properly implemented and integrated.  And if you do come across a publicly spirited individual who warns you of a potential breach in your security, remember to say ‘thank you’.

Data Protection Day 2016!

As it is Data Protection Day, we thought we would take a look at the current state of play when it comes to business impact from data breach and its not pretty reading…

With increasing levels of data being collected every year, now more than ever we need to ensure very high quality processes and practice in our businesses. It is certainly not something to be taken lightly and the changes to EU DP regulations which could result in penalties of  5% of global turnover for serious data breaches, it could actually mean some of the worst offenders face a very uncertain future.

If you are unsure or need some support with Data Protection, don’t leave it to chance; get some proper guidance. Data Protection done well can be a business-enhancing function; raising everyone’s game and awareness of security. It can also mean closer examination of the need to keep all of the data a business currently stores in order to comply with the Data Protection Act.

Here are some of the latest findings on the cost to UK of Data Breach.

data protection day 2016

Affinity Gaming and Trustwave legal action

A post from Chris Cope CISM, CISSP, MInstISP, CESG Certified Professional, PCBCM, ISO27001 Lead Auditor  and Advent IM Security Consultant

It had to happen at some point;  a cyber security company is being sued by a customer for not delivering the goods.  Las Vegas based Affinity gaming has initiated legal proceedings against Chicago firm Trustwave for making representations that were untrue and for carrying out work which was ‘woefully inadequate’.  The point of contention was a hack on the casino’s payment card system in 2013.  Affinity allege that Trustwave concluded that the intrusion had been contained and dealt with, but the casino operators later suspected this was not the case and engaged another security consultant, Mandiant, to confirm.  The breach had not, allegedly, been contained and now Affinity is looking to obtain damages from Trustwave.

This is not the place to suggest what did or didn’t happen; that will be discussed, at considerable length I suspect, in the American courts.  Rather, a better topic for discussion is that of contractor liability.  This lawsuit is a bit of a first for the cyber security industry, although the concept of suing contractors for damages is by no means new.  Countless companies and individuals have been sued for breaches of contract or for tort damages.  I suspect it was only a matter of time before our industry saw similar action.  But this should be taken as a wake up call.

In English Law, a consultancy firm is seen as providing a service to the customer. The 1982 Supply of Goods and Services Act, Section 13  states that ‘In a contract for the supply of a service where the supplier is acting in the course of a business, there is an implied term that the supplier will carry out the service with reasonable care and skill’.  The key term here is reasonable; what would a reasonable person judge to be a service that was carried out in a competent fashion? Note, the law does not require that a contractor provides the perfect service; there is a realisation that contractors are human and to expect perfection is unreasonable.

So how then can a cyber security contractor ‘prove’ its competence and ability to deliver a reasonable service?  Whilst the emphasis remains on the accuser to prove incompetence, it doesn’t hurt to ensure that a good, pro-active defence is in place.  First of all, the competence of employees must be evaluated and baselined.  There are a plethora of cyber security qualifications available, drawing comparisons between qualification awarded by different bodies can be difficult, but it remains perfectly possible to ensure that consultants are qualified for the tasks they are expected to perform, and perhaps most importantly of all, maintain those qualifications.  Secondly, cyber security is a very broad field and being an expert in every area is almost impossible, therefore assigning consultants to tasks which suit their skills sets is hugely important.  The supervision of less well qualified personnel must also be taken into account; junior staff members must be able to develop their skills, but for the customer’s sake, they must be supervised properly in the process. It’s worth companies remembering that they are responsible for the actions of their employees whilst delivering a contract, via vicarious liability.  Their mistakes will come back to haunt the employer unless sufficient care is taken.  We must also ensure that we appropriately manage the expectations of our customers.  No venture is ever risk free and there is no one piece of technology which will solve every problem; our goals should be clearly stated that we intend to reduce the risk to an acceptable level, not eradicate it completely.  If we promise too much then it’s no surprise that customers expect too much.  Finally, whilst the above is correct for English Law, other jurisdictions have different rules; companies that work globally would be wise to ensure they understand the local environment properly before signing a contract.

The cyber security profession is evolving and it is only to be expected that practitioners will face greater scrutiny.  Rather than adopt the position that companies like Affinity are looking for a scapegoat for their own failures, we must ensure that we are able to consistently deliver a good enough service.  This may be the first such action, but I doubt it will be the last.

Incident Management – an explanation and example

Advent IM Security Consultant, Del Brazil, offers some guidance on best practice in Incident Management.

Incident Management is defined by the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is ‘To restore normal service operation as quickly as possible and minimise the impact on business operations, thus ensuring that agreed levels of service are maintained.’  Although this definition is very much aligned to the service delivery element of IT, organisations should translate it to all areas of the organisation to form the basis of any incident management strategy.

Any Incident Management process should include:-

Incident detection and recording – Ensuring that sufficient and appropriate means of both detecting and reporting of incidents is critical, as failure to report incidents can have a serious impact upon an organisation.  There maybe a legal requirement for incidents to be reported such as incidents associated with the loss of personal data or security breaches related to protectively marked information, although not applicable to every organisation.  Ensuring that an incident is correctly reported will facilitate the correct actions are taken in line with the incident management plan and thus ensure the correct allocation of resources.

An example maybe that an individual receives an email from an untrusted source and without realising any inherent risk, opens an attachment, which in turn causes their terminal to become unresponsive.  The individual contacts the IT department in the first instance in order to initiate some form of containment measures, whilst also documenting down how the incident occurred.

Classification and initial support – There are various levels of severity associated with different types of incident and ensuring that they are correctly classified will mean that the appropriate resources or emergency services are tasked accordingly.  These levels of severity range from low impact/minor incident requiring a limited number and type of resources, through to a major incident, which has the potential to impact on the whole organisation and requires a substantial amount of resources to manage or recover from.  In the early stages of any incident the support provided by a designated incident response team is vital as their initial actions can have potentially massive implications on the organisations ability to resume normal operations.

Following on from the previous example the incident may be classified as a low priority at this stage as only one terminal/user has been affected.  The IT department may have tasked a limited number of resources in tracking down the suspicious email on the mail server and then taken the appropriate quarantining and/or deleting procedures.

Investigation and diagnosis – Further and ongoing investigations into the incident may identify trends or patterns that could further impact on the organisation, once normal operations have been resumed.

Keeping in mind the example previously discussed, should the initial findings of the IT department reveal that the email has been received by a large number of users, then further impact analysis should be undertaken to establish the impact or effect on services before any additional resources are dedicated to resolving the issue.  This further investigation requires an organisation-wide broadcast, highlighting the incident and what actions should be taken in the event that users received suspicious emails or attachments.

Resolution and recovery – Ensuring that the correct rectification method is deployed is paramount, as no two incidents are the same and as such any incident management plan should have a degree of flexibility to accommodate potential variations.

Using our example scenario, the correct rectification solution in this instance would be to purge the mail server of any copies of the suspicious email and then to execute the scanning of the mail server with an anti-virus and/or anti-spam product.  Consideration should be given as to whether to take the mail server off line to perform the relevant scans, however any potential down time may impact on the output of the organisation.  In the event that the mail server is taken off line, it is imperative that communication is maintained with all staff, contractors, customers and third party suppliers etc.

Incident closure – The closure of an incident should be clearly communicated to all parties involved in managing or effecting rectification processes as should a statement stating ‘Business has resumed to normal’ to clearly indicate to all concerned that normal operations can continue.

In our example , it’s essential that all persons involved or impacted by the incident are informed accordingly which formally closes the incident.  This also reassures any interested parties that normal service has been resumed thus preventing any additional business continuity plan being invoked.

Incident ownership, monitoring, tracking and communication – An Incident Manager/Controller should take clear ownership of any incident so that all relevant information is communicated in an effective way to facilitate informed decisions to be made along with the correct allocation of resources.

As always, good communication is vital not only with staff, emergency services and the press but also with key suppliers and customers, as these may have to invoke their own business continuity plans as a result of the incident.  Business continuity plans ensure critical outputs are maintained but the invoking of a plan comes at a cost, whether it be financial or an impact to operational outputs.  It is therefore imperative that once an incident has been deemed formally closed then key suppliers and customers should be informed accordingly, this will  enable them to also return to normal operations.  Post incident analysis or ‘Lessons learnt’ meetings should be held after any incident to highlight any weaknesses or failings so that rectification measures can be introduced accordingly.  Likewise, should there be any good practices or solutions highlighted during the incident, then these should also be captured as they may be used in other areas of the organisation.

Now our example has been correctly identified, treated and business has returned to normal it is imperative that an incident ‘wash up’ meeting takes place to clearly identify those areas for improvement and those that performed well.  The correct allocation of resources during the initial stages of the incident to address what was deemed to be initially a minor incident, resulted minimal impact to not only business outputs, but also to customers or third party suppliers.  The findings of the ‘wash up ‘ meeting should be correctly recorded and analysed for any trends or patterns that may indicate a weakness in security.  In this instance the mail server’s spam filters may have been incorrectly configured or not updated resulting in a vulnerability being exploited.

Any incident management plan should be suitably tested and its effectiveness evaluated with any updates/amendments implemented accordingly.  It would be prudent to exercise any incident management plan annually or when there is a change in the key functions of the organisation.  It is also additionally recommended that all users are reminded of how to report incidents during any annual security awareness education  or training.

As organisations become ever increasingly reliant on internet and IT services, it is imperative that an effective, appropriate and fully tested, Incident Management Procedure is embedded within the organisation.  Failure to ensure this may result in an organisation struggling to deal with or recover from any kind of security incident.

The cyber-buck stops in the boardroom…

Advent IM Security Consultant, Del Brazil gives us his view of some of the comments and take-outs that ALL boards need to be aware of, following Dido Harding’s appearance before a parliamentary committee on the TalkTalk Breach.

The TalkTalk security breach continues to roll on with the TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding telling a parliamentary committee on 23.12.15 that she was responsible for security when the telecoms firm was hacked in October. Although there was indeed a dedicated security team in place within TalkTalk it is unrealistic to place the blame solely at the feet of the security team as security is a responsibility of the whole organisation.  It is fair to assume that in the event of an security related issue, as in this case, one person must take overall responsibility and be held to account for the potential lack of technical, procedural measure that may have prevented the breach occurring.

It is a fair assumption to make that in the event that the security breach can be attributed to a single individual then that is an internal disciplinary matter for TalkTalk to resolve unless there is a clear criminal intent associated with the individual concerned.

It is worth noting that although every effort maybe taken to implement the latest security techniques or measures that there is always the possibility that a hacker, like minded criminal organisation or even a disgruntled member of staff may find a way through or around them.

As long as an organisation can demonstrate that they have taken a positive approach to security and considered a number of possible attacks and taken steps to mitigate any potential attack, this may satisfy the ICO that the one of the key principles of the DPA has been considered.

Organisations should always consider reviewing their security measures and practices on a regular basis to ensure that they are best suited to the ever changing threat.  It is appreciated that no one organisation will ever be safe or un-hackable but as long as they conduct annual threat assessments and consider these threats in a clear documented risk assessment they can sleep at night knowing that they have taken all necessary steps to defeat, deter and/or detect any potential attack.

advent IM data protection blog

The TalkTalk security breach has highlighted a number of failings, in the opinion of the author and although they are deemed to be of a serious nature praise should go to the TalkTalk team for being open, honest and up front from the onset.  This has resulted in quite a lot of bad press from which TalkTalk are still feeling the effects from; although some people say that ‘all publicity is good publicity.’  It is clear that TalkTalk are taking the security breach very seriously and are fully engaged with the relevant investigation bodies whilst making every effort to bolster their current security posture.

It is very easy for board members to assume to the role of Director of Security without fully understanding the role or having any degree of training or background knowledge.  Any organisation should ensure that it employs or appoints staff with the correct level of knowledge and experience to specific posts thus facilitating the ‘best person for the best role’ approach.  Currently security, but more specifically IT Security, is seen as a secondary role that can be managed by a senior person from any area within an organisation; however it is finally becoming more apparent to organisations that the IT Security role warrants its own position within the organisational structure of the organisation. Pin Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the author’s opinion it is the organisations that have yet to report security breaches that are more of a concern as no one knows what level of security is in place within these organisations.  It’s not that the author is skeptical that there is an insufficient amount of security in place within these organisations but the fact that they do not report or publicise any cyber security related incidents that is of concern.  No one organisation is that secure that a breach of cyber security or at least a cyber related security incident doesn’t occur.  It’s far better for organisations to highlight or publish any attempted or successful attacks to not only assist other organisations in defeating or detecting attacks but it also shows a degree of transparency to their customers.

Round-up: Top posts of 2015

2015 is almost over and we have been pleased and delighted to welcome many new followers and contributors to the Advent IM Holistic Security blog. It’s hard to wade through all the content but we thought it would be nice to present you with a list of some of our most popular posts this year, by month. (This is based upon what people read and not necessarily when they were published.)

jAN 2015In January, we warned you to watch out for phishing emails if you had nice shiny new devices for Christmas. We were recognised as Cyber Security Solution Suppliers to Her Majesty’s Government and we enjoyed a visit from The Right Honourable Francis Maude to talk all things CyberSec.

 

In FFEB 2015ebruary, we had a visit from James Morrison MP to talk about how cyber attacks affect local and national businesses, we launched Whitepaper on CCTV in schools and discussed the key ‘watch-outs’ in off-shoring data in relation to Data Protection

 

MAR 2015In March, we were exhibiting and speaking at the Security & Policing Event at Farnborough (we will be at the next one too, watch this space for details!) Mike Gillespie’s quote in The Sunday Times, talking about SMEs and Cyber Security back in 2014 suddenly shot back up the blog statistics, as people explored some of our older posts.

 

april 2015In April, law firms were in the sights of the ICO and we blogged about it and people looking for Senior Information Risk Owner Training found their way to the blog. Of course, if you do want to book training you need to go via the website

mAY 2015

In May, Ransomware was on everyone’s radar, including ours.  A lot of readers also sought out an old post on mapping the control changes in ISO 27001 2005 vs. 2013 and we were glad they found our tool to help them with this. We think that more businesses will want to think about this standard in 2016 as security awareness continues to grow and the common sense reveals the huge commercial benefits.

JUN 2015In June, the changes to EU Data Protection regulations had a lot of people talking. Dale Penn gave a no nonsense post, explaining what it meant and it was very well received. We had a Risk Assessment methodology post from Del Brazil, talking, Attack Trees. A post that was also very well read came from Julia McCarron who discussed the risk in continuing to run Windows XP

JUL 2015In July, Social Engineering was a key topic and one of our blog posts was very well visited, The Best Attack Exploit by Dale Penn is still receiving visits. Dale also wrote about hacking Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with clarity, as well as the coverage this kind of hacking was receiving.

AUG 2015In August, we heard about Hacking Team being hacked and it revealed some very risky security behaviour. Dale Penn wrote about this event and other security specialists being targeted. In August, a very old blog post started to get some traffic again as people wanted to read about secure destruction of hard drives and a guest post from Malcolm Charnock got hoisted back into the charts.

SEP 2015In September, TOR was in the press sometimes as a hero, but usually as a villain…well perhaps not a villain but certainly suspicious. We tried to throw some light on what TOR is for the uninitiated and explain why and how it is deployed by a variety of users. It came courtesy of Del Brazil. Another very old post on USBs also got raised from the archive – The Ubiquitous Security Breach.

OCT 2015In October, traffic to the blog doubled and we welcomed many more new readers. All of the posts mentioned here were read but far and away the winner was Crime of Our Generation from Chris Cope, talking about TalkTalk’s disastrous breach.  Marks and Spencers were discussed by Julia McCarron in light of their own security failure. Attack of the Drones discussed a variety of drone-related areas, uses and unintended consequences. A nuclear power plant worker was found researching bomb making on a laptop at work and the EU Safe Harbour agreement melted away. It was a very busy month…

NOV 2015In November, The Bank Of England expressed some firm opinion on cyber security requirements in the Financial sector. Morrisons staff took to the courts to sue over the data breach that exposed their personal information. Australia jailed a former junior bureaucrat who leaked defense material onto the notorious 4Chan website. The previous posts on TalkTalk, M&S, BoE, Safe Harbout and EU DP Regulations were also extensively read in November.

dEC 2015And finally, December…Well the Advent Advent Calendar has been a festive fixture for three years now so we had to make sure it was included and it has, as always,  been well trampled and shared. We also added a new festive bit of fun in the form of the 12 Days of a Phishy Christmas and some Security Predictions from the team for 2016. Why would anyone hack the weather? was a look at how attacks can be intended for other parts of a supply chain. Finally TalkTalk popped up in the news and a conversation again, as it emerged that Police had advised the firm not to discuss their breach.

Christmas card 2015

Security Predictions for 2016

As 2015 draws to a close, we asked the Advent IM Staff to ponder the challenges for next year. 2015 saw some huge data and security fumbles and millions of people had their personal information exposed as hack after hack revealed not only how much this activity is on the increase, but also how  the security posture of some businesses is clearly unfit for purpose.

Over to the team…

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Dale Penn – I predict that with the recent introduction of Apple Pay and Google’s Android Pay we will see a large upswing in mobile device targeted attacks trying to get at our bank accounts.

Del Brazil – Attacks will be pushing in from the Siberian peninsular coupled with additional attacks from the orient- this will bring a chill to the spines of organisations.  These attacks are likely to be followed by sweeping phishing scams from the African continent.  There is also the likelihood that attacks towards HMG assets from Middle Eastern warm fronts will further identify/expose weaknesses within organisations. Closer to home is the ever increasing cold chill developing within organisations as the realisation that the threat from insiders is on the rise. In summary it’s going to be a mixed bag of events for a number of wide ranging organisations. However on the whole, as long as organisations grab their security blanket they will be best placed to ward off the majority of attacks.

Chris Cope – If 2015 saw a significant number of high profile information security breaches, then expect 2016 to be more of the same.  Attackers are getting cleverer at exploiting weaknesses; most notably those presented by people.  I confidently predict that a significant number of incidents in 2016 will feature poor security decisions made by employees.  I also predict a significant challenge for many organisation which hold personal data.  The forthcoming EU regulation on data protection will provide significant challenges on the protection of personal information of EU citizens.  With a significant increase in financial sanctions highly likely, the importance of safeguarding personal data has increased dramatically for any organisation, even those who were not challenged by the penalties previously awarded by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).  Could this be the start of a wider regulatory drive to improve information security – probably not, at least not yet. Finally, with continuing uncertainty across key areas of the globe, particularly the Middle East, we will also see more examples of ‘cyber warfare’ as this nascent capability continues to be exploited.  This will lead to a flurry of reports on how cyber war is about to doom us all or is irrelevant (depending on one’s viewpoint); surely an opportunity to educate the wider populace, and key decision makers, on what information security, and its potential consequences, could actually mean?

Mark Jones – I predict…

  • Cloud security becomes even more important as more and more businesses move services there – more demand for ISO27017
  • Related to the above, more Data Centre Security certifications due to contractor (customer) requirements
  • More BYOD-related security incidents with more mobile malware found on all platforms with China the main source – mobile payments being a prime target
  • Cyber Essentials leads to more demand for ISO27001 certifications from SMEs
  • Privileged insider remains the main Threat Source & Actor
  • More incidents relating to online cyber-extortion / ransomware
  • With increasing demand for infosec specialists and/or DPOs organisations will find it more difficult to recruit than ever
  • More incidents relating to the Internet of Things – smart devices such as drones falling out of the sky causing harm; more car computers hacked resulting in more car theft

Ellie Hurst – Media, and Marcomms Manager – I predict the growth of ransomware  in business.  Ransomware, is mainly (though not exclusively) spread by phishing and given the success of phishing as an attack vector and that one in four UK employees don’t even know what it is (OnePoll for PhishMe), I think it will continue to be the most likely form of ransomware proliferation. Of course, it can also be spread by use of inappropriate websites and so businesses that do not have, or enforce a policy or exercise restrictions in this area, will also find themselves victims of this cynical exploit.

A word from our Directors…

Julia McCarron

Julia McCarron – Advent IM Operations Director – I predict a RIOT – Risks from Information Orientated Threats.

 

 

Mike Gillespie_headshot

 

Mike Gillespie – Advent IM Managing Director – I predict an escalation in the number and severity of data breach in the coming year. Recent failures, such as TalkTalk, VTech and Wetherspoons highlight that many businesses still do not appreciate the value of the information assets they hold and manage. Business needs to increase self-awareness and looking at the Wetherspoons breach, ask the difficult question, “Should we still be holding this data?”

I think the buzz phrase for 2016 will be Information Asset Owners and if you want to know more about that, then you will have to keep an eye on what Advent IM is doing in 2016!