Equifax: What’s the Score

Equifax: What’s the Score

Matt Konda No Comments
  Application Security Strategy

Introduction

Late last week (around 9/15) it was reported that the CIO and CSO at Equifax “resigned”.  Equifax stock is down by around 30%.  The FTC is launching an investigation and findings and settlements are likely to be in the $100’s of millions or more.  Clearly there are going to be short and medium term impact to Equifax’s security bumbling.  In this post, we’re going to present a longread with our thoughts about Equifax.

Malaise

One of the first reactions people had was to talk about this Atlantic article and ask the question:  “Isn’t our data already out there?  What can we actually do?”  

Consumer data breaches have become so frequent, the anger and worry once associated with them has turned to apathy. So when Equifax revealed late Thursday that a breach exposed personal data, including social-security numbers, for 143 million Americans, public shock was diluted by resignation.

I think this article is bordering on irresponsible.  Yes, your data may be out there.  Yes, you should not be shocked by another breach.  But absolutely, it is incumbent upon us to watch our credit and work to improve security so that this doesn’t continue to be expected.

There is a term I like to use for where we are as an industry:  technical debt.  In Agile development projects, technical debt is the term we use for work we put off in order to get the main project done faster.  It could be something like testing, or refactoring to ensure we are building a more robust system.  We know we’re prioritizing delivering the system and cutting some corners.  Those corners we cut are technical debt that we may have to circle back and do.  Often this happens (we circle back and deal with debt) when a company gets acquired or partners with a larger firm.  Many times, this technical debt never actually gets paid back.  I would argue that in most corporations, the vast technical debt waiting to be paid off represents one of the biggest overall security issues.

Another way to look at this is through the lens of budgets.  If a company increases its IT budget 5% each year, it may seem to be growing and investing.  After 20 years, if the IT Security Budget starts to grow at a pace of 2x the regular IT budget (so 10% each year) then the leadership of a company feels that they are being aggressive and strongly supporting security.  But from a security perspective, we were underinvesting all along so even incremental 10% increases in budget are leaving us woefully underinvested to truly provide security.

We need to be able to come up with an independent model for what we should be doing for security and then fund the right work.  Usually that’s going to cost a lot more than people want.

What Can Consumers Do?

Consumers can do a lot to keep themselves safe – but it will be a fair amount of work and takes time, energy and money.

  1. Consumers can be smart about what services they use.  Ultimately, when we put our information online – especially for free – we should know that we are trusting a company with information that can be used against us.  So … maybe don’t let your phone know where you are all the time for any application … don’t give arbitrary numbers of companies your social graph …
  2. Watch your statements.  From a pure financial perspective, there’s no substitute for your own due diligence and fast reporting.  Use a credit card that has known and favorable process for addressing claims of false charges.
  3. Lock your credit.  If you want to try to ensure that the data Equifax had can’t be used to open new accounts in your name, you can lock your credit.  It is unfree and and time consuming.  A good writeup that explains the overall ecosystem is here:  http://www.kalzumeus.com/2017/09/09/identity-theft-credit-reports/

The FTC following this is a good sign for consumers because it suggests that Equifax and other companies handling this type of data will expect to see punishments (fines) that are likely to spur them to invest more in security.

Far be it from me to say this – but it is possible that the whole credit reporting system should be re-envisioned.  Not to mention identity and SSN.

What Can Companies Do?

For companies, some key takeaways from the Equifax breach include:

  • Incremental improvement (10% budget increases) may not be enough.  IT and Security leadership are clearly vulnerable in case of failure.
  • Security should be baked into SDLC and product delivery processes.  Your products are living works and need to be maintained – security needs to be part of that.
  • Keep an inventory of your applications to avoid surprises and make sure you don’t lose account of technical debt.

If we address security from the beginning and as a first class part of every project, we can design for security, test for security, write requirements for security and ultimately deliver more secure applications.

As incidents like Equifax show, consumers and regulators expect us to be thinking about privacy and security.

A significant part of Jemurai’s business is trying to help companies reshape their application delivery to be secure.  Every client is different.  But we see a surge in demand for security that is only increasing.

What Was the Issue?

From what we can tell, the root issue was an application built with an old version of Struts.  So the immediate action Equifax could have taken would have been to keep their libraries up to date.  Of course, whenever the answer is “to patch” it suggests an underlying vulnerability that is interesting in its own right.

Behind the immediate action of staying up to date, the vulnerability had to do with remote code execution.  In layman’s terms, that means the vulnerability allowed a user to get code to run on the server.  There are a variety of ways that this happens in the real world these days … sometimes people take strings (a bunch of characters) and process those without checking that they fit certain rules.

For more detail, check out our previous blog post and video.

Qualifications

Another swirling discussion has been about the CSO who’s LinkedIn page cited a music degree as qualifications.  Many folks questioned that as a qualification.  I think this is basically a red herring argument.  The CSO may have been qualified and may not have been qualified, but the academic background is unlikely to have factored in the result.  Many great programmers come from music backgrounds – it is actually something some companies look for.

The more important question here is how the Equifax CEO and Board have responded to requests for funding for security.

Likely Long Term Impact

It is very hard to say what the long term impact of the Equifax breach will be.  In the case of Target, if we look at the stock chart it is hard to even know when the infamous breach occurred.  If we look closely we can see a dip around December 2013 but changes in the stock price are largely unrelated to security events and it certainly didn’t destroy the value of the company the way many thought that it might.

Equifax on the other hand, is at least in some sense specifically responsible for consumer’s security.  There could be no doubt that Equifax had sensitive data that would be coveted by schemers.  It is possible that they will held accountable to a different standard than was Target.  I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The Score

As humans, it is natural to simplify events, imagine them as a game and maybe even as having an end or closure.  So, if this is the end of the game, I would say that the score is Equifax 213 – Hackers 25.  

Equifax has still been commercially doing a lot for its shareholders.  It is most likely to continue to see success as a business.  On some level, Equifax is still winning.

On other hand, this is a very significant breach.  Nobody probably would have thought that the Equifax attackers could get 25 points.  That might represent a surprising vulnerability.  Regulators will likely add to that opposing score as they impose oversight and fines.

In order to protect their lead, Equifax is going to need to spend a lot more money and time ensuring they don’t give up more scores.  The game may slow down.  The profit may decline.  This will probably have ripple effects with their immediate competitors as well.

In the scheme of things, it is a test of all of our collective will to improve and sacrifice.  If we can envision better systems for identity and more inherently secure systems for credit scoring (blockchain anyone?), there are opportunities to dramatically improve security while realizing the benefits of a continually more technology advanced and connected world.

Of course, the game will go on.  Equifax may give up a lot of points, but if they keep their business running – it is likely that they’ll still come out with a higher score and “win”.  In some ways, I just hope the game isn’t that much fun to watch.

Mitigating the Vulnerability Widely Thought to Have Caused the Equifax Breach

Keely Caldwell No Comments
  Application Security

By: Warren Chain

The recent Equifax data breach may have exposed Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on over 143 millions Americans. 

It appears that this breach was caused by a Struts vulnerability – which allows a remote user to run code on a site. This vulnerability would be categorized under #9 of the OWASP Top 10 list of the Most Critical Web Application Security Risks.

Matt Konda, Jemurai CEO & OWASP GlobalChair, created a short video training for developers, where he shares his thoughts on mitigating this vulnerability.  

Check it out.

Mitigating the Vulnerability Widely Thought to Have Caused the Equifax Breach from Jemurai on Vimeo.

Insecure About Your Apps Security?

Keely Caldwell No Comments
  Uncategorized

Here at Jemurai, we take a human based approach to cybersecurity.

So, what does that mean? Security tools catch some vulnerabilities, but not all of them. For example, tools typically miss vulnerabilities related to business logic and user authorization and authentication. Addressing these vulnerabilities requires embedding security into your software development life cycle and code.

Want to learn more about securing your code?

Our CEO and the chair of OWASP, Matt Konda, is speaking on “3 Vulnerabilities That Security Tools Can’t Catch” at our free webinar on Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 1 pm CT.

This training will be valuable to the staff and leadership of both engineering and security teams.

Get information you can use today to improve the security of your code by signing up here.

You don’t want to miss this!

Security Policies Rebooted

Matt Konda No Comments
  Security Policy

Here’s a deep dark secret:  I don’t particularly like security policy.  I don’t always follow policy.  Goodness knows that with the 50-250 page policies I’ve seen, I didn’t even understand the whole policy at a legal level – and if you don’t understand them at a legal level can you really say you’re following them?  Not to mention when one policy contradicts another.

Even at companies with very robust security programs that include policy, it is very common that I approach developers and they don’t understand their companies policy either – like for example what data they need to protect.  At a previous employer, we used to tease the folks that worked on PCI as having a “passion for compliance.”  That was not a compliment.  Policy came to sort of feel like a necessary evil at best.

Then I met and started to work with our CISO Rocio Baeza.  I didn’t know that I’d end up hiring her as an internal policy, governance and risk resource for Jemurai but I’m lucky I did.  Initially, we did policy because many of our clients that needed technical help also needed policies – some kind of rules to follow.

As we challenged Rocio to “get meta” on the problems with policy the way we try to “get meta” with the technical issues we see, she extended and then surpassed our expectations by developing an approach for Agile Governance.  She implemented policies for clients that were short, to the point, readable and in our collective judgment captured the important things they needed to think about even better than the policy “books” we saw.

Writing policy in layman’s terms, with a focus on simplicity, was something that wasn’t immediately easy to appreciate.  The shorter simple policy reads easily and doesn’t feel like it hurts the same way some policies do.  Its like the old quote from Blaise Pascal:

 “If I had more time, would have written a shorter letter.”

We worked hard to make it shorter.  Does that mean it doesn’t work?  On the contrary, we think it works even better.  In fact, it works so well that we captured the policy in a more digestible way so that people could get access to the policies without a whole consulting engagement.  You can now purchase the policy bundle, which includes the core policy, a license and a simple one page implementation guide right off of our website for less than an hour of a security pro’s time.  Check it out:  https://jemurai.com/product/general-security-policy-bundle/ and let us know what you think.

Incubator: Canary Data

Matt Konda No Comments
  Incubator

Incubator

At Jemurai, we have started incubating products.  We love security consulting and the engineering we do there, but there is something amazing about building a product.  In particular, I constantly crave the experience of pushing the limit and trying something new and a little different.  I’m even embracing marketing and failing fast.  So each month, we take an idea out of our product backlog of ideas and try pushing ourselves with it a bit.

Last month, we released a set of simple Security Policy Bundle for $249 that you can download here.  This month, we’re pushing the canary.

Canary in the Coal Mine

What is the canary in the coal mine all about anyway?  Well, miners used to take a canary with them into the mine so that if carbon monoxide levels rose enough to be dangerous, they would know.  The canary would die and they would hopefully get out before the CO caused problems for them too.

In short, the canary is an early warning signal.

How Does Canary Data Work?

The way we envision canary data working is that we provide known data that is bad.  Sounds silly, right?  Except that we track it and know who we gave it to, when and for which of their environments.  Then we search for the known bad (canary) data in increasingly sophisticated ways and when we find it, it is a strong indication that a client has had a breach (of any kind!) at a certain point in time, in a certain location, application, part of their network, cloud, etc.

By tracing which canary data shows up, we can help both notify clients early of potential issues but also pinpoint where and which parts of their operations may have issues.  Its an early warning signal.

Input?

As with any “incubator” project, we have a lot of fresh ideas about how it could work, but it will have to be tested in the wild – so we’re interested in input or anyone that would like to help us test it in the realz.  Contact me to talk further.

Glue 0.9.4 and Scout2

Matt Konda No Comments
  Engineering OpenSource

Glue

We spend a fair amount of time building and using OWASP Glue to improve security automation at clients.  The idea is generally to make it easy to run tools from CI/CD (eg.  Jenkins) and collect results in JIRA.  In a way, Glue is like ThreadFix or other frameworks that collect results from different tools.  Recently, we thought it would be cool to extend some of what we were doing to AWS.  We have our own scripts we use to examine AWS via APIs but we realized that Scout2 was probably ahead of us and it would be a good place to start.

Scout2

The fine folks at NCCGroup wrote and open sourced a tool for inspecting AWS security called Scout2.  You can use it directly, and we recommend it, based on the description here:  https://github.com/nccgroup/Scout2.  It produces an HTML report like this:

For most programmers, running Scout2 is easy.  It just requires a little bit of python setup and an appropriate AWS profile.  So it wasn’t so much the barrier to entry that made us want to integrate it into Glue so much as the idea that we could take the results and integrate them into the workflow (JIRA) that we are using for other findings from other tools.  We thought that having an easy way to pull the results together and publish them based on Jenkins would be pretty useful.

What’s Coming with Glue

Glue has been a fun project that we’ve used opportunistically.  The next set of goals with Glue is to clean it up, improve tests and documentation and prepare for a legitimate 1.0 release.  At that point, we’ll probably also try to get Glue submitted for Lab status as an OWASP project.

I Don’t Need A Security Policy…Right?

Keely Caldwell No Comments
  Security Policy

By: Rocio Baeza

At some point, security policies will become an area that you will need to address in your company. If you are reading this, you are probably rummaging the internet for security policies. It’s likely that a client or investor is conducting some type of due diligence on your company and you’re looking to give them what they need so you can close the deal. Or maybe you’ve reached the line item in your business plan to tackle security. Regardless of the reason you’re here, we hope to provide you with more information to help you figure your next step.

Let’s start out with addressing some basic areas:

 

What is a security policy?

Security policies establish your company’s position on protecting data. If you’re in a regulated industry, this is likely “required” for you to stay in business. If you’re on the cutting edge of a new idea or product, you probably want to make sure that the valuable information you are creating is well-guarded. A security policy should be a document that captures your position on securing the data you process. The intended audience for the document are those employees (and/or contractors) that are helping you run your business.

 

When do you need a security policy?

The typical security professional will argue that you need a security policy as soon as you start to collect data. In the ideal world, yes, I too would agree with that position. However, let’s be realistic. Creating a company has many moving parts. You need to create an MVP (minimum viable product) before your business is able to generate revenue from customers or raise funding from investors. If you ask us, you need a security policy when your gut tells you that you need to address this.  Some of our customers find out they need a policy when they do their first big deal.

 

Our philosophy on policy …

We do policy differently than a lot of other security companies.  Many of our bigger customers have existing huge policy sets written by a legion of consultants that were actually copy and pasted from previous clients.  The policies don’t fit and they cost an arm and a leg to develop and maintain.

We aim to make policy simple.  If anyone on the team can’t understand it, it is not serving its purpose.  If it is more than a few pages, it is not serving its purpose because people won’t read it.

 

Where do you start?

Luckily, you have several options:

Option 1: Continue to run searches on Google for free security templates. Yes, there are many out there. Go on, go ahead and download the endless pages of Word documents. **Warning: You may need some eye drops after you’re done reading those documents.

Option 2: Find a big firm that charges a ton of money for their policy templates. It’s our experience that they tend to be heavy, super long, filled with jargon, and as a result will only fit with some heavy-duty customization.

Option 3: Try our policy bundle.  Our team of experts distilled the most important security policy into the simplest possible document.  We believe you will understand and be able to apply it out of the gate.

Signal, Audit and Logging – Introduction

Matt Konda No Comments
  Engineering

At clients, we work to make sure the best information is available to:

  1. Debug an application
  2. Track what happens in an application
  3. Produce security signal for monitoring

Often, developers or security folks think of these as overlapping.  We hear:  “We’re using Log4J wrapped with SLF4J, it seems really redundant to do anything else.”

In practice, we believe the information is different and needs to be stored and reviewed in different ways by different people.  That’s why we build libraries to help integrate these things into applications easily – each as a first class piece of information.  As we examine each in further detail, we’ll call out the technology, audience involved and typical content.

Logging

Let’s start with logging because every developer knows about logging, right?  We work with some companies that log every request that they process.  That seems like a lot and should start to trigger alarm bells about what information lives in the logs – but let’s not be mad at logging.  For the most part, there are established solutions for doing it.  The logs need to get aggregated or centralized somewhere and then we can try to see what happened.

We would be remiss here not to point out that it is really important to keep sensitive data out of logs.  We’ve seen everything from card numbers to passwords to reset tokens to session ids …

But the point is, there isn’t anything wrong with a little log.debug(“XYZ”); or log.warn(“Data is stale”);.  From a maintenance and debugging perspective, this information is valuable – generally to operations.

Technology:  Typically file based, then aggregated.  Need text search.  High volume.  Retained for relatively short periods of time (weeks).

Audience:  Developers, Operations

Content:  Freeform – anything a developer might think is useful.

Audit

Some applications explicitly need to be able to produce an audit record for the objects they manage.  This might be who created it, when it changed and how – at who’s direction.  It might even be who accessed this data?  Consider the Stripe interface where they let you access your secret.  The secret is obscured and you have to take an extra action to see it.  Pretty sure they audit that so they know who saw it when.

Technically, you could write audit messages to logs.  This results in tedious work getting the detail back out of the logs and in any system where logs are not smoothly aggregated or can’t be managed at scale, this approach falls down.  Furthermore, someone looking for the messages needs to sift through lots of unrelated data.

A deeper issue is that if you want to produce a true audit record, like for a partner or a customer or an auditor, you can’t just give them all your dev logs!  We want to be able to produce a report tailored for the question they are asking and containing only data for the users they should be able to ask about.  Also, audit records need to be stored for a lot longer than log messages.

Technology:  Queryable interface, centralized long term storage, retained “for a long time”

Audience:  Compliance, Partners, Auditors

Content:  Specific object reads and changes (ideally with before / after visibility) associated to users & time.

Two deeper notes here:

  1. There is a lot more that you can do with structured auditing to be proactive, but that is Aaron Bedra magic so we’ll leave that to him to describe in some venue of his choosing.
  2. Audit information is richer and more valuable the closer it is to actions.  So we discourage general filters that indicate which endpoint got called, for example, because it can’t provide the rich context that a deeper integration can.

Signal

When I say signal, I really mean security signal.  As in, the opposite of noise.  Let’s face it, most of what is in logs is noise.  Even cutting edge technology built to collect and analyze logs produces a ton of noise.  When we get into the application and signal specific events there, we can break out of the noise and give security monitoring teams lots of rich data.

For example, we may want to know about failed logins.  A stream of failed logins looks bad.  A similar stream followed by a successful login looks worse.  (Exercise for reader)  Either way, this is information the security team probably doesn’t see right now.  Go a step deeper – what if input validation fails?  What if someone tries to do something they shouldn’t have permission to do?  Should security get notified?  Obviously the goal would be to take some defensive actions autonomously and in systems we’ve worked on, this works best when you can capture the actual events you care the most about.  Where can you do that?  In the application.

Another key thing with Signal is that it needs to go to the right place.  Often security operations teams are using their own SEIM that is different than the log collector used by developers.  That is smart.  They are optimized for different things.  But we need to help developers get the security events to the SEIM.

Technology:  Push signal to syslog + SEIM, ideally not retained for more than weeks but aggregated and processed for future context.

Audience:  Security Operations Team (The Watchers), Automated Security Response

Content:  Specific security events only.

Our Conclusion

At companies that have the capability and resources (say they have compliance and security monitoring teams) separating these application generated log stream messages has value because they are used by different people for different things in different tools.

We may circle back in the future with another post about our libraries for doing these things and some of the more extended benefits or specific examples of data to track.  Let us know if you are interested!

Automate All The Things

Matt Konda No Comments
  OpenSource

Today I gave a talk at a company’s internal security conference about automation.  The slides are on speakerdeck.  A video is on vimeo.

The point of the talk was threefold:

  1. Explain where automation works well and examples of where we use it with OWASP Glue
  2. Explain newish cool automation like cloud analysis and pre-audit preparation
  3. Talk about how really, automation can only get us so far because we need the interaction and communication to fix things

I’d be interested to hear feedback!

 

The 10 OWASP Commandments

Matt Konda No Comments
  OpenSource

Here at Jemurai, we have at least a few Hamilton fans.  OK, I might be the biggest … but I’m definitely not alone.

At our quarterly meeting in early April, we were talking about our window of opportunity and “not throwing away our shot”, and somehow we started talking about “The Ten Duel Commandments” song and how cool it would be to do a version of it for the OWASP Top 10.

After no more than a few days later, one of our key contributors, Corregan Brown, had written lyrics.  A week later we had an audio version.  Now here’s a video to back it up.  All written and produced by Corregan.  I enjoy it because it is factual, educational, clever and fun.  Thanks, Corregan!

Of course, this is just an artistic rendition to draw attention to the great work OWASP and the Top 10 project team has done.

Ten OWASP Commandments from Jemurai on Vimeo.

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