Tag Archives: Security

Who watches the watchers?

From the Orlando Sentinal is this report about police abusing the FL DMV database. The is more about it at the Reason blog.

Government databases will always be abused. That’s the nature of man and there is no use fighting it. Which is why massive government databases should not be created to begin with, unless there is no alternative.

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We have met the security team and they is us!

John Fontana writes about a new idea called People Centric Security. The idea is to loosen enterprise security policies so that security decisions are made by those directly responsible for business area rather than a central security team.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Pogo: We have met the security team and they is us!

For better or worse I think this actually reflects the current state rather than some new idea. For all the work security teams do, users just work around them to do what they need to do.

Who many times have you heard these conversations:

  • The mail server blocked your attachment. Can you send it to my gmail account?
  • I can’t reach your website. Let me disconnect from the VPN and try again.
  • Our machines disallow USB storage devices, but I can upload the files to DropBox.

Your company’s security already depends on your users. They are just pretending it doesn’t.

Security via obscurity failed… in 1903

This is a wonderful story about the hacking of Marconi’s wireless system in 1903. Marconi touted the security of his system based on a tight (and presumably not publicly disclosed) frequency bandwidth. Of course it was hacked in a public and humiliating fashion.

Security via obscurity, as effective in 1903 as it is today.

Hat tip to Bruce Schneier.

Rise of SaaW?

There are a couple of interesting articles on Stuxnet out recently. This article poses the astonishing possibility that it was a directed attack at the Iranian Bushehr nuclear plant. The arguments given, however, are highly circumstantial.

This article also puts forth the notion that Stuxnet was likely created by some government.

Is this the first instance of SaaW, software as a weapon?

Stealing the keys to the kingdom

There are some interesting tidbits coming out about the Chinese hack of Google. Apparently the source code to Google’s SSO technology was a target (although this is misstated in the headline as a “password system”). It’s unknown at this point what source code (if any) was taken, but this highlights the nightmare scenario of the SSO world.

If a vulnerability is found in your token generation code such that someone can spoof a token, then your SSO system and every system connected to it is compromised.

Of course just having the source code is not in itself a problem. Typically there is a private key that is used to encrypt or sign the token. But protecting that private key is the issue and that is where the source code is key. If you think your key has been compromised you can replace it. But the code that authenticates the user and generates the token needs to get the private key to do the encryption (or signing (or both)). If the secret algorithm to access that key is compromised, then the attacker can then attempt to penetrate the system where that key lives and get the key. With the key and token generating code in hand the attacker can then access any SSO protected system.

And here is an ugly secret. If the SSO technology is public key encryption, they key on needs to exist where the token is initially generated. If it’s based on symmetric key encryption then the key has to exist on every server in the SSO environment.

So just use public key encryption, that solves the problem right? Not so fast. One critical aspect of SSO is inactive session timeout. That requires the token to be “refreshed” when used so that it expired based on inactivity. Refreshing the token at every server in the SSO system (every PEP if you will) requires either that server to have the key, or it make a remote calls to a common authentication service to refresh the token.

There are pluses and minuses to both approaches. One puts the keys to the kingdom in more locations but the other adds overhead to the token refresh. When security and performance collide, who do you think usually wins?

These kinds of trade offs are what make SSO so interesting to me.

Note that I am not talking about federated SSO (SAML or openid) or intranet SSO (Kerberos) as they present a different set of challenges.

I thought xauth was a Unix command…

Axel Nennker is calling out Google and Meebo for the privacy aspects of the new XAuth spec.

Peter Yarid has some thoughts here, but criticizes it more from a business than privacy standpoint.

Techie-buzz has this candidate for the understatement award:

There are of course privacy implications because not every user would want every website in the world to know what social networks it uses.

Gee, you think?

You have already agreed to be monitored

Steve Chapman poses the question, “would you volunteer to carry a device that lets the police monitor your location 24×7, every day?” He then lets you in on a secret, you already have. In fact chances are you have the locator on your person at this very moment.

It’s called a cell phone.

Just think of the privacy implications here. The government can tell if you spend the night at someone elses house, visit a red light district, attend a political rally, drive too fast, or get a medical procedure. They can know where you are at all times, both when you are out in public or when you are in a private residence.

Oh, and the current administration (like the last one) doesn’t think a warrant should be required for any of this.