All posts by F Khan

About F Khan

Tech-junkie, with a special affection for security issues as they relate to telecom and enterprise, mobile, standards, social media, and gadgets.

Three ‘Mission Critical’ Practices for any Development Team

Your company could (and should) be coding like NASA. That’s right – space-surfing, rocket-propelling, humanity-advancing, NASA. Whether you’re developing software to go to Mars or to order pizza with your sneakers, coding should follow a standard that ensures safety and security.

Nowadays, you’re likely developing a product or service that contains Personally Identifying Information (PII) or credit card information. Either that or it controls an IoT device. The fact is, these are all sensitive materials that could harm another person or location and there are three practices to consider to make sure they remain protected.

Keep humanity in mind.

If Michael Bay’s 1998 blockbuster Armageddon gave us any indication, apocalyptic asteroids are NASA’s greatest concern. This is not true as NASA spends more time protecting astronauts from its own technology than it does training boisterous oil rig workers to save the world.

Specific to coding, NASA has 10 base principles that should be considered for every product or service your organization is developing. These principles were established by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) lead scientist Gerard J. Holzmann and written with the C language in mind. Holzmann recommends C because of its long history and extensive tool support, although the rules can be generalized for coding in any programming language.

NASA’s rules are strict and add time to development if adhered to properly. That being said, NASA can’t afford to botch a project and these days, neither can tech companies. It’s this ‘measure twice, cut once’ mentality that gives Houston a sigh of relief and will prevent your company any future hiccups.

Highlight secure design.

Secure products are created when placing importance on secure design. Secure design is one step in a larger context which includes:

  1. Threat modelling.
  2. A Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) including:
    1. Secure design.
    2. Secure coding.
    3. Secure testing and evaluation.
  3. Third party assessment of your product or service.
  4. Creation and implementation of a vulnerability disclosure and management process.
  5. Creation and implementation of an incident management process.
  6. Creation and implementation of a data breach process.

There are organizations out there that can support your company’s efforts in secure design. The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) provides world-class specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. With over twenty thousand international standards and related documents published, ISO spans across almost every industry, including technology.

Another example is the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) – a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping organizations conceive, develop, acquire, operate and maintain trusted applications.

OWASP has developed a number of tools to aid in secure design such as, the dependency check tool and ZAP proxy tool. Both tools help identify project dependencies and check if there are any known, publicly disclosed, vulnerabilities in both software and web applications.

Keep in mind that adding security at the front end of the product life cycle saves money on the back end for delivery when you’re calling your lawyer to deal with a lawsuit.

Teach safe ‘sets’.

Teaching an old developer new protocols is kind of like teaching an old dog new tricks – difficult. Many senior developers are set in their ways and find it hard to code with strict (but secure) guidelines. The same could be said for junior developers that graduate with great coding skills but poor security knowledge. Whether your development team is made up of seniors, juniors or both, training them to code securely is necessary to produce secure products and services.

Secure coding training is effective if implemented as part of the onboarding process. Your training should establish guiding principles and follow a secure design process. Providing a baseline for your developers and training grounds for testing is a surefire way to teach them how to code securely.

OWASP has developed another resource called WebGoat – a deliberately insecure web application maintained by OWASP to teach web application security lessons. It’s through these war games and hands-on security lessons where your developers will truly grasp the concept of secure coding.

Coding for the benefit of all.

When developing software for a product or service, think big and small. As you prepare your team for launch, make sure they’re equipped with the proper tools and protocols before all systems are go. Establish a proper baseline, training program and development plan before your developers start coding. Time, money and sensitive information will be saved. From here, highlight secure coding as ‘mission critical’ once a project is in flight.

This is easier said than done as the pace at which tech companies are expected to operate continues to accelerate. Set timelines with the rationale that when your organization does something, they do it right. Inform your clients there is more on the line than an unsuccessful project – human lives are often at stake.

Remember: whether it’s a rupture in a shuttle’s oxygen tank or a security breach in a piece of software, failure is not an option.

Written by: DarkKnight

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Connecting the Dots for SMBs & Cybersecurity

Does your company’s private network speed ever feel like a VPN? Did someone (other than your IT director) reset your password? Have you been reading emails from the Nigerian Prince? If you’ve answered yes, it’s possible your company has fallen victim to a cyber attack.

If you’re a multinational tech giant, you’re probably fine (probably). But if you’re a SMB, cyber attacks can destroy priceless data and ravage your bottom line.

Let’s take a look at some stats: it takes most businesses somewhere between 100 and 200 days to detect an attack and to make matters worse, most SMBs find out from a third party. That means stolen data (that’s likely long gone forever) and damaged customer relationships. In addition, SMBs only have a 40 percent probability of staying in business after a security breach which are odds Han Solo wouldn’t even take.

These days, whether you sell Apple phones or apple pies your company has an attack surface. An attack surface can be anything from the Internet, to technology, to an employee and no matter how big your company may be, you need to be prepared.

You have been compromised. Now what?

In the event that your network has been attacked, react urgently but do not panic. Instead, have a plan in place. Ideally you have developed your plan before the attack, but often that is not the case.

In 2016, more than 375 million new unique malware variants were discovered globally. Cyber criminals are continuously finding new ways to breach security systems, so make sure your plan is malleable. After a cyber attack, here is the recommended plan of action:

  1. Identify the target systems and determine the data that was compromised, hopefully you had a backup of your data to be able to restore. Now perform a full system backup at the bit level to capture all files and current system state. If possible, disconnect from your network but leave the power on to preserve the system state.
  2. Take your cloned systems disks and use them for forensics in a protected environment or hand them over to your cyber security partner for analysis.
  3. Have your operating system rebuilt from scratch. At this point, you have no idea whether or not a back door has been installed. Assume that it has.

In a cyber attack, there is both a technical and human component to its path of destruction. While you work to get the technical side under control, contact your legal team and make them aware of the situation.

Start dusting off that PR handbook.

Public relations is something often neglected by SMBs. It’s important to notify your PR team as soon as possible after an attack. If you don’t have one, get one. Whether that means hiring one full time or on contract is entirely up to you.

In any business, do not try to downplay the situation. Equifax learned this the hard way when they chalked up their massive breach to “Criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files.” In a blizzard of negative publicity, the story snowballed with the breach ultimately costing them close to $70 million in fourth quarter profits. Given time, the company’s hit to brand credibility will indicate its true losses.

Another PR mistake is deflecting liability. Many company executives have taken a stroll down ‘Blame Game Lane’, which almost always leaves them on the wrong side of the tracks. In 2016, Wells Fargo was fined $185 million for creating two million fake customer accounts and their CEO immediately took to blaming his 5,300 employees. By not admitting fault, one of the largest banks in the world put its internal and external reputation in serious jeopardy.

“The greatest victory is the one that requires no battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While larger companies typically survive, it’s no wonder SMBs go out of business so fast. Cyber attacks cost time and money, both of which SMBs can’t afford to lose. Many still fail to evaluate their cyber security risks, however, boardrooms are smartening up. It’s even been a topic in NAFTA discussions. Develop a security protocol and be proactive in testing and quantifying your risks. Businesses of all sizes should test their systems and perform ‘war games’ to prepare for an attempted breach.

Put simply, two words can save your business from a cyber attack: be proactive. The most common means of cyber incursion is social engineering – using people to voluntarily but unknowingly allow a cyber attack to occur such as providing physical access or handing over system passwords. Train your employees, learn to recognize the signs of a breach and avoid opening emails from unknown sources.

Cybersecurity is unfamiliar territory for most companies these days, but one worth exploring. As you continue to evaluate your company’s security controls, just know we can help you connect the dots.

Written by: DarkKnight

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NAFTA Cyber Security Framework

As part of the NAFTA discussions it looks like the US is looking to add a cyber security component in the mix. Finally a great idea in a trade agreement! The basis for this is quite clear given the interconnected world we live in and the fact that all Canadian Internet traffic is routed to the US. We have to ensure that one country is not in a position to bring the downfall of another due to weak security practices.

Given the current state of cyber security practices in Canada by most SMB’s this will serve as a good wake up call to get your security house in order if you want to sell to the US. Based on the current wording companies would have to demonstrate the implementation of an accepted cyber security framework within the organization.

What does these mean? From the top down, executives are responsible enough to have implemented the necessary security management system to measure and mitigate cyber risk within their respective organizations. I am not going to provide all the nuts and bolts to how to do this but would “highly” recommend you get a copy of ISO/IEC 27001/27002 and build your plan to implement a Information Security Management System (ISMS). Don’t let the information part of the name fool you, this standard has been written to fully consider the cyber elements of any organization regardless of sector.

The best place to buy this is from our friends at CSA Group in Canada. They actually offer a Security bundle that contains all the base standards to get you started at a very reason price.

When you initiate your cyber program focus on conducting your risk assessments, your action/mitigation plan and getting those policies and processes nailed down, and most of all education and awareness will be a key element of your success.

Keep in mind that this will not be easy but the benefits will help you sell your solutions to the US and will help protect your digital assets. What else could you ask for?

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IoT World 2017

I have spent the last week in Santa Clara attending the IoT World conference hoping to see what was new and exciting in the world of IoT. After tracking this sector for a while now it has been interesting to see all the new platforms (512 and counting) and startups that have popped up.

While I found the keynotes a great window on possible new products by companies I did get a sense that security and privacy did not get the air time it deserves. I attended many of the security sessions and, while interesting, they were more focused on product plugs versus real discussions on how to design and build security into a product. It was more buy my product or platform and you will be secure. That is scary proposition especially when vendor generated standards are used as guideline for self assessment. Lets be clear folks, vendors have their best interest at heart not yours when it comes to security.

I was also troubled by vendors stating that if customers just pay more they can add  security. This is the wrong view from an executive and security perspective. The right view, in my humble opinion, should be here is what we identified as the threat profile for our products and solutions and here is how we designed security and privacy into our products and services from day one. Oh and it did not significantly increase the price of the product!

I really wanted to tell some of the top brass that lawyers are attending ISO security standards meetings globally and are planning to use standards such as those in ISO/IEC SC 27 and IEC 62443 as the base line for controls that will be expected in IoT solutions. In the event of a compromise or data breach and the ensuing lawsuit, these same corporations will be held to task on how they meet these requirements and controls. So by all means keep working on your vendor association standards but realize the actual yardstick are the ISO/IEC standards.

On the more positive side of conference, I really liked that NASA is going out its way to make software freely available to community. The breadth of expertise that has gone into some of this software is quite remarkable. I was also really impressed with the Samsung Artik HW and platform and how far it has developed in a short time. It really is making its mark as a contender in IIoT, smart cities and power generation sectors. I even signed up for the developer program and plan to buy some of the dev boards so we can start evaluating this platform for some of our projects. Other notable things were the use of embedded tags and sensors on products, and how to test just about every component being designed and built. If you are in Santa Clara next year, I recommend that you attend the vendor exhibit for next year’s show to see all the development and new products. It would of been good to see Apple and other product companies show where they going in these areas but I will keep my fingers crossed for next year.

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Hive Sense Update

Well we finally got data flowing from our network and the hives. It was a long winter and while we tried to get all the components wired and tested Mother Nature had other ideas for us. That included snowing, sleet, and even rain. We also found the maximum useable temperatures for plastic conduit and other parts we used to setup the infrastructure. Not to mention on our last day we had one of our team get serious sun burned and it was 35C in May! Yet despite all of these challenges we got streaming data.

As of yesterday, we have been collecting data since 8:36 AM EST Thursday May 18th. It was interesting to realized that bees dont need to sleep and are working all night apparently. As we progress the program we will be adding new features. The beekeepers at Algonquin College (aka the professors from the Culinary program) have informed us the they will be add 5 more hives this weekend. We are looking forward to having more data points and also as different genius of bees. It will be interesting to see what differences if any to the behaviour over the summer.

One more note, we will be testing a mobile app over the summer that will provide a real time of the bee hives that you can shared your teams and bee enthusiasts. More on that later.

 

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What does the WikiLeaks announcement mean to you?

I doubt you missed it but this week but WikiLeaks announced some very serious allegations on how vulnerabilities are being used by government agencies to compromise devices then use the devices to listen to conversations and capture all data from those devices. Do I have your attention now?

If you have one of following pay attention:

a. An iPhone
b. An Android phone and/or based device (this category is very wide)
c. Windows
d. Smart TV
e. Home IoT devices
f. Fake versions of security software from McAfee, Kaspersky, and Sophos

The list goes on and on. This truly represents a significant president  that an intelligence organization has infiltrated and created a platform to compromised systems for spying. I for one am not surprised. Why????

1. Many companies do not have SDLCs that include security testing and those that do only do the minimums they are required for their particular industry.

2. Many do not threat model or conduct aggressive pen-testing that is required for many of these products.

3. Executives are more inclined to release an insecure product to get revenues versus doing the right thing and securing it from the get go. Go to many startup incubators, they only think about security and privacy when they hit several 1000 of users or larger companies start asking about the security posture. Many of the folks that fund these start-ups consider security a “patching” problem. They want their money so get the product to point where someone is going to pay big dollars for it and we can walk away.

4 .Vendors are not required to provide any assurance to their products. This is why IoT in the consumer and business markets is a bounty of either compromised or to be compromised devices that are used in pivot attacks.

So how do you protect yourself and your organization in this wild west of vulnerable software? Consider the data you collect, store and process then how it is touched by the known vulnerable products listed above. Now, start to remove your critical data from these platforms until the patches and fixes can be provided. Start asking vendors and service providers those uncomfortable questions:

a. How do you securely test and design your software or solution? Prove it!
b. Do you provide free upgraded and patches to your products?
c. When was the last time you experienced a data breach?
d. How is your source code protected and evaluated against backdoors and compromises?
e. What security training do you provide your staff on a regular basis?
f. What 3rd party evaluations have you had conducted against your products?
g. What is your vulnerability disclosure policy?

The answers to these questions are going to give you a good sense to the security posture of the vendor. If they cannot answer these immediate or have to go check. Walk away! A company that has instilled a culture of security will have the answers to all members of staff.

Additionally, I would recommend that you stay off public WiFi networks as these are used to hunt for victims. Stop making it easy for governments to gain access to your devices. This includes corporate confidential and IP data because they take that too. Harden your device as much as you can and use a IPSec VPN to project your data in transit. Finally, encrypt all your stored data. If your systems are compromise you need to have that additional level of protection.

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Our Future Security Practitioners 

Yesterday, I had opportunity to speak to the Electronic Technologist class at a local college on cyber security. It was great to see all the cool things they were building but also have an open discussion on how they can help to build the next generation of secure IoT products and solutions. It was also refreshing to hear how many of them recognize their privacy and were concerned about the amount of data collected on them. Recently, I was told that youth don’t care about their identities and protecting it — it is all about getting free access. I was really disturbed by this especially when I am teaching my kids to more vigilant about the services they use and information they share.

I spent 2+ hours with students from CEGEP and I have to say I don’t know who was more excited about the conversation them or me. It is always great talking to next generation of tech workers but with electronics a big part of my childhood I love being around breadboards, signal and power generators and multimeters.

Thank-you Marc for making this happen. I had a great time with the students yesterday. Also a big shout out to Madame Bijou who helped me on the presentation graphics. Not bad for a 10 year old!

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What Makes Industrial Control Systems a Target for Attack?

There is a great article from Trend Micro on why attackers target Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will affect it. This is worth knowing as ICS is used to describe dissimilar types of control systems and associated instrumentation, which include the devices, systems, networks, and controls used to operate and/or automate industrial processes.  ICS are used in almost every industrial sector and critical infrastructure from manufacturing, transportation, energy, and water treatment to running the power grid, regulating energy use in a building or managing the process of brewing beer.

At a presentation I gave at Cyber Security 2017: Securing the Smart City of the Future I spoke about the anatomy of an attack but didn’t get into the details as to the motivation or technicalities. ICS have been with us for more than a few years but recent modernization has created new ways for these systems to communicate with their controller. This has improved overall productivity but not security. New security issues have arisen that can be exploited by cybercriminals including:

  • Components that were not meant to be for public access are now accessible via the Internet.
  • Security and privacy features that were not considered by solution architects and engineers at design time.
  • Threat modelling not conducted either by the component manufacture or the solution provider.
  • Products that are not required to be fully tested or assessed to provide a minimum level of assurance or security.
  • Installations that were not formally evaluated for cyber risk prior to deployment.
  • An implicit trust at the systems operational level that all components are safe.

Increased aggressive targeting of these will impact many areas including smart cities, smart manufacturing, smart infrastructure projects and even our soon to be smart homes and cars unless we can get control of these issues. In many cases of these attacks data risk is the least of our worries as they could potentially result in injury or death. To deal with this comprehensively everyone in the product and service chain must play their part:

  1. Manufacturers need to ensure that their products are designed with security, privacy and safety in mind. This includes a multitude of aspects depending on the product being developed. Only through comprehensive threat modelling at design time will they fully understand how attacks can happen in the field and the necessary controls that will be required.
  1. Implementers need to conduct security testing and evaluation at all stages of the project to ensure that systems are not misconfigured or prone to attack once in the field.
  1. Customers whether they are a city manager, a building manager or an information security manager need to better understand the risks to their specific deployments including how to perform Threat & Risk Assessment (TRAs) and Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs).

Always remember that security is more than a technology you can just implement. Attempting to protect bad coding and engineering practices with a badly configured firewall will just end up in an attack succeeding.

Lastly, the authors of the article reference the NIST Security Guide for ICS, I would recommend that you also look at IEC 62443. Why? It was written so that an ICS company (vendor, implementer or purchaser) could be evaluated and tested against stringent controls for risk. This wide series of standards covers the breath of deployment and in-field issues that need to be considered and assessed against. It forces all parties involved to get their act together and ensure they have important aspects such as integrating activities across the Software Development Life Cycle (to help discover and reduce vulnerabilities early and build security in) and operational security policies and procedures. You might be surprised how many don’t.

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The Smart City Under Attack – CBoC Presentation

I recently got an opportunity to speak at the Conference Board of Canada’s Securing the Smart City of the Future. It was great to be able to speak to those dealing with the daunting challenge of managing the issues related to security, privacy and safety risks while still providing smart city services.

It is clear that the potential benefits of fully-connected smart cities fed by sensors and data are significant especially when seen in the advance of the Internet of Things (IoT). These benefits could tackle some of the greatest problems with urbanization such as traffic congestion, inefficient use of energy, and pollution. As great as these potential benefits are so are the risks and unanswered questions that the integration of new technology brings. Countries looking to implement smart city initiatives need to have a national policy that mandates aspects of security, privacy and safety. This policy should include the following as a minimum:

  • Requirements for an Information Security Management System (ISMS).
  • City breach plans for emergency services, vendors, citizens, etc.
  • Security tested components and solutions that are validated prior to release.
  • “Assurance” from solution providers and vendors for their products/services.
  • Buyers requesting that products and solutions be evaluated.
  • Demand Threat & Risk Assessment (TRAs) and Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) for all solutions prior to deployment by City Managers.
  • Respect for the privacy of citizens.

The security breaches in the recent past and the ongoing increase in cyber attacks and crime have made one thing very clear: In building the smart cities of tomorrow we need to be smart! Bearing this in mind, what is the biggest barrier to smart city entry?

The biggest barrier seems to be security and privacy of the sensors and data – the very things that make a city smart. The concern seems to be around data breach and how to minimize the exposure of the sensors in-field. However, in the past year or so there seems to have been a shift in the mind set of what is more important: a $5 sensor or the data we collect on people and objects. Clearly the data protection is more important. An example would be smart city projects in Canada that want to provide more real-time information to citizens about services and conditions. It requires them to track citizens to offer this service which means that there are substantial privacy concerns. The client can share lots of data but if it becomes compromised the city collecting it is liable under new legislation in Canada. Cities are taking the time to understand the risks and prepare for the eventuality of data breach and invasion of privacy.

You can see presentation that I gave below. As always if you have any questions about the presentation, please do not hesitate to contact us for clarification.

 

CB0C A Smart City Under Attack – TwelveDot

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