Security Bytes


November 8, 2007  2:53 PM

Hot security times in the chilly Second City

David Schneier David Schneier Profile: David Schneier

I am just getting back into the swing of things after returning from our Information Security Decisions conference, which was held in Chicago Monday and Tuesday. I’ve always liked this conference more than just about any other on the annual schedule (I even attended it before I worked for TechTarget), mainly because the attendees are all security professionals who deal with the topics we cover every day and it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from them and see what they’re dealing with at the moment. The speaker lineup was pretty amazing, including Chris Hoff, Dave Dittrich, Joel Snyder, David Litchfield and a dozen others. I also had the privilege of moderating a panel on the future of security that featured Bruce Schneier, Howard Schmidt and Eugene Spafford. As at many conferences, some of the best conversations happen after hours and away from the sessions themselves. Here’s a list of some of the things I learned from those conversations:

  • Dave Litchfield is not only one of the top database security experts in the world, he also is an absolute savant when it comes to history. Despite being Scottish, Litchfield knows more about American history than anyone this side of Will Hunting. He quickly settled a barroom disagreement over how many U.S. presidents have been assassinated by not only naming the four unfortunate chief executives, but also the others who had had assassination attempts against them.
  • Hoff has more energy than any one man should. In addition to giving a great talk on disruptive technologies in security and running the security show at Unisys, he somehow finds time to write 1,500 words a day on his excellent Rational Security blog.
  • The security industry as it stands right now is on the endangered species list. Schneier and Schmidt both said during our panel discussion that a few years down the road, the industry will either be absorbed into the general technology industry and security will be part of the fabric of whatever products we buy (Schneier), or will collapse into a handful of large players (Schmidt).
  • The threat of fines for failing to comply with regulations such as HIPAA and PCI DSS is no threat at all. The tiny number and amount of fines levied against violators is not motivating CSOs to comply.
  • More and more CSOs and CISOs are moving–either voluntarily or otherwise–out of the IT department and into a variety of other business units, including risk management, legal or compliance.

November 8, 2007  2:00 PM

PCI DSS application standard will boost security

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

Bill BrennerThere was a major development on the PCI DSS front this week, and it’s good news for anyone who has to swipe a credit card at the cashier counter or punch in a credit card number during online purchases. In other words, it’s good news for just about everyone.

To force more security into the payment application development process, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council announced Wednesday that it’s adding a new provision to the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) called the Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) — based on Visa’s Payment Application Best Practices (PABP).
The standard is meant to pressure software vendors and others into developing secure payment applications that do not store such prohibited data as the full magnetic stripe, CVV2 and PIN data. Security Blog Log

Reaction in the blogosphere is largely positive, with industry practitioners agreeing better application security is a necessity.

Tyler Hannan writes in his Reflections on Emergent Commerce and Technology blog that the news represents a major change in how data is protected when processed via software applications.

“If I read correctly, this means that all applications MUST be PA-DSS compliant in just over two years,” he writes. “As such, the time is now for software companies (and their merchants) to start making decisions about how to improve their application, and associated processes, to meet PA-DSS compliance.

In his PCI DSS Compliance Demystified blog, Michael Dahn writes that by turning the best practice document into a standard and then enforcing it with hard deadlines for compliance, the industry is delivering a one-two punch to the insecure systems, helping eliminate fraud in the smaller merchant arena.

“It is important to focus on this area as it shows a strong push towards the security of smaller merchants,” he writes. “It is widely known that many small merchant use similar point of sale (POS) technology and that the greatest risk to those merchants is from the compromise of those systems that store sensitive authentication information.”

Everything that’s come from my reporting in recent months tells me these guys are on the mark. There are two factors that make it clear that the council’s move if necessary.

First, point-of-sale technology is one of the weak links in the retail security chain. Many of the systems we use to swipe credit cards at the checkout counter are storing too much transaction data, and that’s what the bad guys are after. Several IT administrators have told me that they’ve had to upgrade their point-of-sale systems as part of their PCI DSS compliance for that very reason.

Second, we’ve seen that business applications in general are in a sorry state because security is at the bottom of the priority list for developers.

The only way to change the situation is to train developers to be more security conscious, and the only way they will get that training is if their bosses are pressured into offering it. The need for more security in the application development process has been a major theme at the Computer Security Institute (CSI) 2007 conference in Arlington, Va., which I attended earlier this week.

That it was a major CSI theme speaks to just how big a security issue payment application security has become.

It’s good to see the PCI Security Standards Council is taking it seriously.

About Security Blog Log: Senior News Writer Bill Brenner peruses security blogs each day to see what’s got the information security community buzzing. In this column he lists the weekly highlights. If you’d like to comment on the column or bring new security blogs to his attention, contact him at bbrenner@techtarget.com.


November 7, 2007  1:14 PM

Social networking backlash

Marcia Savage Marcia Savage Profile: Marcia Savage

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace aren’t very popular in the corporate world, according to a study by Barracuda Networks.

Analyzing data from businesses using its Web filtering appliance, the company found that 44 percent block MySpace while 26 percent block Facebook. More than 50 percent block one of those sites or both.

“It was interesting to us to see such a significant backlash in the corporate environment, with 50 percent blocking the social networking sites. And that number will go higher,” Dean Drako, Barracuda president and CEO, said in an interview. “Customers that weren’t blocking but were monitoring social networking sites … a significant percentage expect they’ll be blocking those sites soon.”

Customers said they were concerned about the sites being a productivity drain, Drako said. They also were worried about offensive content on MySpace.

A separate survey of 228 IT professionals by Barracuda showed that the top reason businesses restrict employee Web surfing overall is to block viruses or spyware. Productivity was the second biggest reason.


November 6, 2007  11:19 AM

Microsoft privacy guru: Cyberspace needs CardSpace

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard anyone talk about Windows CardSpace, the Microsoft client software Bill Gates has pushed as the best way to do away with passwords. But at the CSI 2007 conference in Arlington, Va., Tuesday, attendees got an in-depth look at what CardSpace is about from none other than Kim Cameron, the software giant’s chief privacy guru.

Windows CardSpace allows users to provide their digital identity to online services in what Microsoft calls a “simple, secure and trusted way” and is what Cameron calls an identity selector.

The Microsoft Web page on CardSpace explains: “When a user needs to authenticate to a Web site or a Web service, CardSpace pops up a special security-hardened UI with a set of “information cards” for the user to choose from, he explained. Each card has some identity data associated with it — though this is not actually stored in the card — that has either been given to the user by an identity provider such as their bank, employer or government or created by the user themselves.”

Cameron offered CSI attendees a very detailed breakdown of the concept and ended by declaring, “We need an ID metasystem that’s open, inclusive and protects the user’s privacy.” CardSpace is the answer, he said.

The crowd seemed receptive to his argument and I’m not surprised. In all my reporting about identity and access management, the common complaint among IT administrators has been that passwords are a very weak link in the security chain.

The CardSpace concept is a solid one, most seem to agree, but those who have to manage the technology have expressed concern over Microsoft’s ultimate execution. My colleague Mike Mimoso captured that concern at the RSA conference back in February, writing that while some security managers accept the notion that, at a high level, Gates’ vision is solid, execution may be another matter.

“We’re seeing the need for everything he talked about, but executing and converting it all to reality; that’s the difficult part,” David Porubovic, security engineer with Marriott International, told Mimoso at the time. “It’s the right direction, provided that it can be implemented, it’s cost effective, transparent to the user and easy to manage. That’s the big headache.”

The pros and cons of CardSpace is something I plan to write more about in the next couple weeks, and I’m looking for some IT administrators to share their experiences on the matter. Offer some initial thoughts in the comment section of this blog and we can go from there.


November 5, 2007  5:10 PM

Cyber Jihad on Nov. 11? Um, probably not

Eric Parizo Eric Parizo Profile: Eric Parizo

Numerous reports have surfaced regarding what’s being described as an al-Qaeda plot to hatch a cyber jihad Nov. 11, directed at numerous Web sites. According to the initial report by the online publication DEBKAfile, the attack is expected to begin by targeting 15 western, Jewish, Israeli, Muslim apostate and Shiite Web sites, and expand from there.

Have no fear. Johannes Ullrich, Chief Research Officer of the SANS Internet Storm Center and one of this team’s most trusted sources, says there’s no need to cancel your Nov. 11 dinner plans. In a post today on the SANS ISC blog, Ullrich says it’s likely that the attack will never come to fruition, noting similar past claims that went nowhere and that the date Nov. 11 is often known for hoaxes.

“So in short: stay calm, focus on best practices and you don’t have to do anything special on November 11th,” Ullrich says. Well, that is, unless you were planning something special already.


November 5, 2007  2:00 PM

Destroying that disk isn’t always enough

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

This morning at the CSI 2007 security conference in Arlington, Va., attendees got some insight into the future of criminal investigations in the cyber world from Jim Christy, director of futures exploration at the Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3).

Specifically, he was there to discuss the “power and real-world challenges of digital forensics and e-discovery today.” He also spent some time talking about the National Repository for Digital Forensics, which DC3 is developing with Oklahoma State University.

But what seemed to interest the audience most was his tale about how, during a murder investigation, he and his partners were able to extract damning evidence from the pieces of a shredded disk that they managed to piece back together with tape. The data outlined how a man had upped his wife’s insurance policy and then had her murdered.

But as he told his tale, I couldn’t help but think of the advice we’ve heard about how one way to keep sensitive data out of malicious hands is to destroy the disks and other storage devices where its kept. Misplacing or forgetting about storage tools that are no longer needed by their owners is one way the bad guys have come across data they could sell on the black market or commit other kinds of fraud.

Destroy the disk and the crook can’t extract the data, the advice goes.

But as Christy’s tale points out, sometimes juicy data can be extracted even if the storage device housing it has been shredded, smashed or crushed.

Granted, Christy’s team had to go through an enormous amount of trouble to retrieve the information and they were motivated by the need to catch a killer. But with so much money to be made off stolen data these days, I think it’s plausible that organized criminal outfits will resort to hiring hotshots capable of similar data retrieval tactics.


November 2, 2007  10:08 AM

Salesforce.com and the debate over SaaS security, email confidentiality

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

Bill BrennerSoftware as a Service (SaaS) is growing in popularity, and along with it comes the inevitable debate over the security implications.

Driving the debate is recent news about a security breach affecting clients of SaaS vendor Salesforce.com, including Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) — one of the nation’s biggest payroll and tax services providers — and SunTrust. Security Blog Log

The Washington Post had an item on the Salesforce.com incident a couple weeks ago, reporting that a database of email addresses and names for SunTrust and ADP employees was pilfered from Salesforce.com. The data was apparently exploited for a phishing scheme urging would-be victims to download a .pdf in reference to an identity theft claim. Thousands of email addressed were reportedly compromised, and about 500 people apparently received phishing emails.

Arieanna Schweber writes in the Absolute Software Laptop Security blog that the issue at hand is not phishing, since it’s a fairly universal problem now, but whether or not people should be notified if their email address is compromised.

That said, I want to use this week’s column to solicit feedback not only on the question of whether compromised email addresses should be treated like compromised credit card and Social Security numbers, but on the issue of SaaS security in general.

First, a little background on SaaS, courtesy of my friends at WhatIs.com and SearchCRM.com: Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet. SaaS is becoming an increasingly prevalent delivery model as underlying technologies that support Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) mature and new developmental approaches, such as Ajax, become popular. Meanwhile, broadband service has become increasingly available to support user access from more areas around the world. SaaS is closely related to the ASP (application service provider) and On Demand Computing software delivery models. IDC predicted SaaS would make up 30% of the software market this year and will be worth $10.7 billion by 2009.

Benefits of the SaaS model include:

  • Easier administration
  • Automatic updates and patch management
  • Compatibility: All users will have the same version of software.
  • Easier collaboration, for the same reason
  • Global accessibility.

The question for some is whether or not a SaaS vendor can secure those Web applications better than its clients could on their own.

Rational Survivability blogger Christofer Hoff believes in SaaS in general, but isn’t so sure using it means better security.

“I believe in SaaS [and] encourage its use if it makes good business sense,” he writes. “I don’t, however, agree that you will automatically be more secure.”

Hoff wisely notes that as SaaS adoption grows, driven by compliance, outsourcing, or efficiencies of a leveraged business model, we’re going to have to pay more attention to what it means to have our data spread out beyond the supposedly ironclad perimeter companies have spent so much time and money on.

“It means making sure your policies extend and are applicable outside the castle,” he writes. “It means potentially engaging a third party to test the assertions the company makes about their posture.”

The Salesforce.com security breach is a good example of why this is necessary, Hoff says. There’s a secondary market for stolen data and once the information is loose, the lost trust can mean lost business, he notes.

The other question, of course, is whether email addresses should be treated as confidential data.

Schweber presented both sides of the argument in her blog entry: Some would argue that email addresses are available in the public sphere, she says, but others would argue that some remain private and that access to emails in list form increases the risk for phishing scams and potential identity theft incidents.

Jack Dunning, keeper of The Dunning Letter blog, writes that email addresses are just like Social Security numbers — everywhere and fairly easy to access.

“The big difference,” he says, “is the connection between the address and a company which lends it the necessary credibility, and that is why we need to begin to secure this medium before this newest hoax gets out of hand.”

What do you think? Can SaaS vendors provide their clients with better security? Should emails be treated as confidential data?

I ask the readers to opine.

About Security Blog Log: Senior News Writer Bill Brenner peruses security blogs each day to see what’s got the information security community buzzing. In this column he lists the weekly highlights. If you’d like to comment on the column or bring new security blogs to his attention, contact him at bbrenner@techtarget.com.


November 1, 2007  7:14 PM

Cisco snaps up Securent

Marcia Savage Marcia Savage Profile: Marcia Savage

Cisco Systems on Thursday said it agreed to buy security software maker Securent for about $100 million.

Cisco described Securent’s policy management software as allowing enterprises to administer, enforce, and audit access to data, communications, and applications in heterogenous IT environments.

“As enterprises shift to service-oriented architectures and adopt technologies such as unified communications and Web 2.0 based collaboration, there is a rising need for control over access to distributed enterprise resources,” Don Proctor, senior vice president of Cisco’s collaboration software group, said in a prepared statement.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Securent was founded in 2004 and has 57 employees with development operations in India. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of Cisco’s fiscal year 2008.

Scott Crawford, research director at analyst and consulting firm Enterprise Management Associates, wrote in a recent report that the need to more closely manage resource access for more effective governance and risk management is spurring innovation in the identity management market.

He added that “the elaboration of XACML, the XML Access Control Markup Language, has factored centrally in the emergence of Securent’s distinctive entitlements management offering.”


November 1, 2007  4:10 PM

Bit9 releases top 10 vulnerable apps for 2007

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt

The folks at endpoint security vendor Bit9 Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., released their list of top vulnerable applications for 2007. Most of the apps on the list can be downloaded by users and many have updates making them more secure. We’ll probably see a number of security vendors come out with lists like this in the next couple of months.

  1. Yahoo! Messenger 8.1.0.239 and earlier
  2. Apple QuickTime 7.2
  3. Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.6
  4. Microsoft Windows Live (MSN) Messenger 7.0, 8.0
  5. EMC VMware Player (and other products) 2.0, 1.0.4
  6. Apple iTunes 7.3.2
  7. Intuit QuickBooks Online Edition 9 and earlier
  8. Sun Java Runtime 1.6.0_X
  9. Yahoo! Widgets 4.0.5 and previous
  10. Ask.com Toolbar 4.0.2.53 and previous


October 30, 2007  4:55 PM

McAfee buys ScanAlert

Marcia Savage Marcia Savage Profile: Marcia Savage

On the heels of its acquisition of SafeBoot, McAfee on Tuesday said it’s buying ScanAlert, a supplier of Web site security certifications, for $51 million.

Napa, Calif.-based ScanAlert audits and certifies the security of more than 75,000 Web sites. Its Hacker Safe certification is displayed by big-name brands like Guess and Petco. McAfee will integrate ScanAlert’s service into its SiteAdvisor Web rating system, which warns users about malware-infested or otherwise risky Web sites.

If certain performance targets are met, the deal will cost McAfee another $24 million. The acqusition is expected to close in the first quarter of 2008. McAfee will integrate ScanAlert into its Web Security Group.

Earlier this month, McAfee acquired data encryption and access control vendor SafeBoot for $350 million to boost its endpoint security product offerings. In a report, Andrew Braunberg of CurrentAnalysis wrote that the deal made sense from a product development direction but added that the price tag seemed steep.

Interestingly, while McAfee continues in an acquisitive mode, Braunberg recommended in a separate report that the vendor should seriously consider any offers to be acquired.

“With the recent acquisitions of RSA and ISS, the security market has entered a new phase of consolidation and appreciation by the larger IT infrastructure vendor community,” he wrote. “McAfee would be a smart acquisition for any number of players including identity management, systems management, or network management vendors. Again, while the possibilities are many, two examples are HP and Novell.”



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