Blog Archives

Three reasons why IPS and WAF won’t converge anytime soon

Continuing on the IPS vs WAF theme, one might consider the notion that WAF will just converge with IPS. I wanted to point out three reasons why I think this will NOT happen anytime soon. The reasons center around demand, performance, and implications, and feed into each other.

It’s akin to Chris Rock’s joke about driving a car with your feet: You can drive your car with your feet if you want to, that don’t make it a good __ idea!
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WAF vs IPS (or Four Things Your IPS Can’t Do)

I see this often and I am always amused at the topic. I have worked with IDS/IPS for 8 years, so I know IPS when it was just a flavor of IDS that no one wanted to enable for fear of blocking access to users and customers. I chuckle at the thought of WAF being a glorified IPS. My how times have changed.
Here are four things that your WAF can do that your IPS can’t. I tried to keep this vendor agnostic.

Please feel free to pile on or comment, just no flames please!

Web Application Firewalls, as the name implies, work with web applications almost exclusively. Most WAF are often not best-of-breed traditional firewalls, and should not be implemented in place of a traditional network firewall. Typical WAF deployments feature SSL decryption of web application traffic and blocking of web-based threats after the WAF reassembles each web session. This is possible because the WAF operates at the application layer where HTML, XML, Cookies, Javascript, ActiveX, Client requests, and Server responses live.
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Five Classic Web Attacks

While reading through my blog inbox and writing up my 2010 Wishlist for work, I thought I’d drop a quick post to highlight five web security ‘problem areas’ that still exist after at least a decade of patches, pleas, and regulatory requirements.

  • SQL Injection
  • Hack the Web Server
  • Cross Site Scripting
  • Cookie Tampering
  • Session Hijacking

I often find myself explaining what these are and providing examples, in order to garner support for remediation.
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Top 4 WAF Protections

The traditional network security approach to securing your web servers and database servers is more than likely going to get you in trouble some day. Think about it. Network Security preaches deny everything and permit only what you need. Great, open up port 443 and send encrypted traffic to your web server. KaBOOM gotcha!

Think about your Web Application Firewall and the reasons for your investment in web application security.
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Getting more from your WAF (Sensitive URL Tracking)

I have had the fortune to support a few Imperva installations, alongside other WAF solutions. I would like to illustrate one use for logs available on the Impervaplatform that can be leveraged to augment website trend reports and monitor “exposure” on key URL’s.

If you’re not familiar with the Imperva platform, it is possible (as with other WAF vendor’s products) to build custom policies that must match specific criteria and upon triggering these events can feed data into various syslog feeds. The entire purpose of a WAF is to protect your web application from threats, although some argue this point, so it stands to reason there may be facets of a given web application that are more sensitive than others.

Take for example the check-out page for an online retailer where the customer enters credit card data and confirms their billing information. This location of a web application might benefit from heightened logging under certain conditions by a Web Application Firewall, such as: forced browsing, parameter tampering, XSS, Server Errors, etc. The application may be vulnerable to fraud activities, the business may want to keep a tab on who’s accessing these URLs, or there some other risk criteria than can be measured using this approach.

Traditional webserver logs will provide: client information such as user agent info, username, source ip, method, access URL, response time, response size, and response code. The logged data sits in the access log file on the specific web server by default, but this information is for the entire website.

The Imperva SecureSphere can provide some of the same information: username, IP, Port, user-agent info, accessed URL, response size, response time, etc – but in addition, the Imperva can track whether the session was authenticated, correlated database query (if you have Imperva database protection deployed), SOAP information, security details relevant to the specific policy. The kicker is that this can be sent in a format configured by the admin to a syslog listener in a format supported by web trend tools or SIEM products without engaging professional services.

I’m not advocating the replacement of web server logs for trend analysis, but I am suggesting the deployment of targeted logging for sensitive areas inside an application where this information would prove useful either in a fraud capacity, security monitoring capacity, or even in an end-to-end troubleshooting capacity where a WAF would have visibility beyond traditional network tools from the frontend of a N-tier web application. Deviations in response times, excessive response sizes, and unauthenticated access attempts to sensitive URLs are ideas that come to mind for leveraging the visibility a WAF can bring to the table.

Is YOUR HelpDesk hurting you?

In recent weeks I have had the misfortune of dealingwith a number of malware incidents, not necessarily all these were at work. What I found interesting was the reason for the call to me and how easily the call could have been avoided.

It isn’t the Helpdesk’s fault.

See… I am a Network Security guy. I don’t do Desktops; in fact, you don’t want me doing desktop support! Calling me in for a virus or malware issue, is along the lines of bringing a Vulcan cannon to a diplomatic dispute – i.e. not the most appropriate solution, until things escalate.

In this age of technology and Al Gore’s Internet (don’t laugh I’m from Tennessee), everyone runs an updated anti-virus software package (enough with the laughs already). Most of the anti-virus software will detect a high percentageof the garbage you’re likely to encounter (no laughing!); unless you are a retailer and someone wants your credit card data! So if the software detects the threats and takes action, what is the problem?

I have been called on a number of occasions lately to find out why a number of computers are running slow (is Vista actually a trojan?) or the firewall logs show strange Internet traffic, or the developer’s laptop won’t shutdown properly, etc. After I suggest a pre-boot scan of the system or an external scan of the suspicious system’s hard-drive, it seems the on-host AV scanner wasn’t working and now we’re picking up 10’s, maybe 100’s of malware instances. What happened?

Funny thing about malware and automated processing by most AV engines. The AV solutions on the market today will either delete or quarantineany infected files they encounter, as a default when the infection cannot be cleaned. This is a great start, unless you wanted to have a look at the deleted software or the AV deleted a perfectly legitimate file. This is where the problemcomes in for the Helpdesk, remember the Helpdesk lives and dies by procedure and process.

AV software had its hayday back in the days of Melissa and the plethora of other Word macro viruses. Everyone was into this email thing (is email dying?) and everyone had Microsoft Word, so the bad guys loved nothing better than to send out a piece of garbage and see who all it took down. Granted the solution was rarely as simple as deleting the offending / infected Word file, this deletion process became the pat answer: if you have an infected Word file, don’t mess with it, just DELETE IT.

This solution survives today, but “Word” has been removed such that the solution to any detection of an infected file is to delete it. Your AV solution happily does that for you. So when the AV solution deletes the file but malware is already memory resident, you have yourself a problem. The Helpdesk is not going to respond to a single AV detection of Trojan.Backdoor; that is too resource intensive and often fruitless.

The Helpdesk’s response to single incidents is the cause for larger problems because although they can’t possibly react to a slow, steady stream of one or two infections per location over a week or two, those infections are laying the groundwork for a larger problem. No one asks the question, HOW did this infected file get on here or WHY is this infected file on here? Those questions aren’t the Helpdesk’s mission, instead their mission is keep tickets resolved, answer support calls, and meet SLA’s. Someone needs to be able to answer THOSE questions and take appropriate action.

Your Helpdesk, my Helpdesk, anyone else’s Helpdesk has a set of procedures they follow. Any AV solution worth its annual subscriptionfee (now start laughing), will feature centralized logging and reporting, so the Helpdesk and IT can be notified upon infections – mass infections, that is. One or two infections and those files being deleted isn’t going to raise suspicion in most organizations. Which leads me back to my opening paragraph…

All it takes is one piece of malware to get into memory. It isn’t a joke and it isn’t hypothetical. If you want to be next, just keep ignoring those “deleted” infected files your AV solution keeps finding! My hourly rates aren’t as bad as a front-page headline.

Still laughing?

IRS Exempt from Security?

It’s TAX TIME! or is it HACK TIME?

It comes as no surprise an organization as large as the IRS is lacking some security controls, but from the material provided in several news articles it appears the IRS is lacking some fundamental elements or the application of Security Policies and standard IT Management processes is spotty at best. This is a major issue given recent news that sensitive information for the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates was leaked by contractors.

The report findings about the IRS are items that most other organization are apparently already required to meet, according to various sources: the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, the Payment Card Industry’s Digital Secrity Standards, and even the Health Information Portability and Administration Act

Overall security for an organization is made up of the sum total of all the piece, parts, polices, and process surrounding the organization. For the IRS, security seems less than what it should be. Specifically of concern are the following passages in the article, which were likely quoted directly from a report provided to the AP:

  • [MSNBC] … system administrations circumvented authentication controls by setting up 34 unauthorized accounts that appeared to be shared-use accounts, the report found
  • [] more than 84 percent of the 5.2 million occasions that employees accessed a system to administer and configure routers, they used “accounts” that were not properly authorized
  • [MSNBC] A review found that the IRS had authorized 374 accounts for employees and contractors that could be used to perform system administration duties. But of those, 141 either had expired authorizations or had never been properly authorized.
  • [] … there was no record that 55 employee and contractor accounts had ever been authorized.
  • [] In addition, nine accounts were still active, even though the employees and contractors had not accessed the system for more than 90 days, the report says.
  • [] The report does not say whether taxpayer information was misused, but says it is continuing to review security to see whether changes made to the computer system were appropriate or warranted.

Unauthorized accounts made unknown, untracked, and potentially unauthorized changes to systems and networks at the IRS? Multiple users share the same administrative account for making changes to multiple systems? Accounts were unused and still active after 90 days of inactivity? Log reviews are not conducted?
We are talking about the Internal Revenue Service, right??

For any organization reading this thinking, we have those same issues – what’s the big deal?

  1. Unauthorized accounts making potentially unauthorized changes = a potential security breach
  2. Multiple users sharing administrative account access = inability to determine who made what change
  3. Unused accounts still active after 90 days = even Microsoft gets this one right!
  4. No Log Reviews = no proof that a breach happened, no notice that a breach is in progress, and no idea how wide spread an attack is/was

A popular statistic among security professionals is that most security incidents are caused by insiders violating security protocols, policies, or processes; percentage is over 70% of all security incidents are caused by insiders. Given the IRS’ report findings, this is again a serious issue.

The underlying problem at the IRS is likely the same problem that other businesses face, how to be secure without security getting in the way? The simple answer: Security is a mindset. Either management gets it and supports it or they don’t and authorize exceptions to policy under the guise of “Just get it done.” This “get it done” approach completes projects on-time, often avoids cost-overruns due to last minute security bolt-ons, and usually leaves system or process gaps that can be taken advantage of by disgruntled or otherwise motivated employees.

What’s the solution?

A realistic hard look at how an organization views security, how management feels about the impacts of security, and ultimatley what costs an organization is willing to pay for security. In the case of the IRS, “The IRS issued a statement Monday saying it had “taken a number of steps to improve the control and monitoring of routers and switches.” — [MSNBC]

Security sells too!

Security has become sexy and it has become widely accepted. TV shows sport trendy security speak and security gadgets. Forensics is so popular that all the major networks have shows based in some part on forensics. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) starred in a movie named, oddly enough, Firewall. I thought Firewall was a much better movie than Swordfish with John Travolta and Halle Berry, even though Berry is much cuter than Ford. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention 24 or CSI:Everywhere.

For all the marketing, awareness, and research being poured into Security one might think we would be able to solve the rampant Security problems of the current era: Data Loss, Fraud, and Identity Theft. Unfortunately, there are two competing dichotomies undermining or taking advantage of security visible in the following observation: businesses often fail to embrace security, because of perceived costs or rigidness, until after it is too late, because criminals find security, or rather the lack of security, a very profitable proposition.

Looking at one aspect of why things are where they are:

Business: The Flaw with Consensus
In a perfect world, businesses map out their business model, identify their assets, determine their risks, and implement policies and measures to mitigate or accept those risks. Most businesses pick and choose security models inside their company based on their access needs and use of the data in these electronic storehouses. Security is always a balancing act because it gets in the way of a business’s bottom line and exceptions to newly implemented policy are often needed in order to continue business operations. As long as security is ruled by consensus, these compromises will leave lasting effects that can be leveraged by the bad guys.

The Security Landscape ends up being the sum of compromises instead of the artifact of Security Policies and Practices.

Enter The Bad Guys:
Unfortunately, the bad guys often have more interest, resources, and desire to exploit security than their would-be targets have to protect themselves. In fact, Organized Crime has more money to spend on and to be made from gaining access to electronic record storehouses than the businesses that own these electronic record storehouses typically invest in securing these storehouses. Sadly, the bad guys don’t care if their target is a Fortune 500 company or not.

Small businesses make as good a target as any major brand or corporation and because of the dependence on the Internet, more and more companies are exposing their information to more and more of the world. This exposure is universal and provides a virtual play ground for the bad guys to take advantage of these businesses through network probes, phishing, pharming, and botnet attacks.

If this weren’t enough, for a given business that manages to place adequate security in place, to thwart electronic trespassing, there is always the human factor.  Disgruntled, under-paid employees litter the landscape of every organization on this planet who would welcome an unexpected payday for sharing their password or other sensitive information. its more efficient to probe the network defenses of a company than identify these disgruntled employees.

What can we do?
Know your business, identify the risks associated with how the business works, and carefully consider how to mitigate these risks. Take the time to understand the technology, people, and processes used in your business. Map out a security strategy that compliments the business.

It isn’t necessary to spend a fortune on security or have the latest and greatest widget from Cisco, IBM, or Microsoft. A good technology or security consultant can be worth their weight in gold. If your business is going to rely on technology, it would be wise to retain and listen to staff that fully understand said technology versus relying on product vendors who are notorious for over-promising ad under-delivering.

 The saying is very true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.