Entries Tagged "cybersecurity"

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Microsoft Signing Key Stolen by Chinese

A bunch of networks, including US Government networks, have been hacked by the Chinese. The hackers used forged authentication tokens to access user email, using a stolen Microsoft Azure account consumer signing key. Congress wants answers. The phrase “negligent security practices” is being tossed about—and with good reason. Master signing keys are not supposed to be left around, waiting to be stolen.

Actually, two things went badly wrong here. The first is that Azure accepted an expired signing key, implying a vulnerability in whatever is supposed to check key validity. The second is that this key was supposed to remain in the the system’s Hardware Security Module—and not be in software. This implies a really serious breach of good security practice. The fact that Microsoft has not been forthcoming about the details of what happened tell me that the details are really bad.

I believe this all traces back to SolarWinds. In addition to Russia inserting malware into a SolarWinds update, China used a different SolarWinds vulnerability to break into networks. We know that Russia accessed Microsoft source code in that attack. I have heard from informed government officials that China used their SolarWinds vulnerability to break into Microsoft and access source code, including Azure’s.

I think we are grossly underestimating the long-term results of the SolarWinds attacks. That backdoored update was downloaded by over 14,000 networks worldwide. Organizations patched their networks, but not before Russia—and others—used the vulnerability to enter those networks. And once someone is in a network, it’s really hard to be sure that you’ve kicked them out.

Sophisticated threat actors are realizing that stealing source code of infrastructure providers, and then combing that code for vulnerabilities, is an excellent way to break into organizations who use those infrastructure providers. Attackers like Russia and China—and presumably the US as well—are prioritizing going after those providers.

News articles.

EDITED TO ADD: Commentary:

This is from Microsoft’s explanation. The China attackers “acquired an inactive MSA consumer signing key and used it to forge authentication tokens for Azure AD enterprise and MSA consumer to access OWA and Outlook.com. All MSA keys active prior to the incident—including the actor-acquired MSA signing key—have been invalidated. Azure AD keys were not impacted. Though the key was intended only for MSA accounts, a validation issue allowed this key to be trusted for signing Azure AD tokens. The actor was able to obtain new access tokens by presenting one previously issued from this API due to a design flaw. This flaw in the GetAccessTokenForResourceAPI has since been fixed to only accept tokens issued from Azure AD or MSA respectively. The actor used these tokens to retrieve mail messages from the OWA API.”

Posted on August 7, 2023 at 7:03 AMView Comments

New SEC Rules around Cybersecurity Incident Disclosures

The US Securities and Exchange Commission adopted final rules around the disclosure of cybersecurity incidents. There are two basic rules:

  1. Public companies must “disclose any cybersecurity incident they determine to be material” within four days, with potential delays if there is a national security risk.
  2. Public companies must “describe their processes, if any, for assessing, identifying, and managing material risks from cybersecurity threats” in their annual filings.

The rules go into effect this December.

In an email newsletter, Melissa Hathaway wrote:

Now that the rule is final, companies have approximately six months to one year to document and operationalize the policies and procedures for the identification and management of cybersecurity (information security/privacy) risks. Continuous assessment of the risk reduction activities should be elevated within an enterprise risk management framework and process. Good governance mechanisms delineate the accountability and responsibility for ensuring successful execution, while actionable, repeatable, meaningful, and time-dependent metrics or key performance indicators (KPI) should be used to reinforce realistic objectives and timelines. Management should assess the competency of the personnel responsible for implementing these policies and be ready to identify these people (by name) in their annual filing.

News article.

Posted on August 2, 2023 at 7:04 AMView Comments

Commentary on the Implementation Plan for the 2023 US National Cybersecurity Strategy

The Atlantic Council released a detailed commentary on the White House’s new “Implementation Plan for the 2023 US National Cybersecurity Strategy.” Lots of interesting bits.

So far, at least three trends emerge:

First, the plan contains a (somewhat) more concrete list of actions than its parent strategy, with useful delineation of lead and supporting agencies, as well as timelines aplenty. By assigning each action a designated lead and timeline, and by including a new nominal section (6) focused entirely on assessing effectiveness and continued iteration, the ONCD suggests that this is not so much a standalone text as the framework for an annual, crucially iterative policy process. That many of the milestones are still hazy might be less important than the commitment. the administration has made to revisit this plan annually, allowing the ONCD team to leverage their unique combination of topical depth and budgetary review authority.

Second, there are clear wins. Open-source software (OSS) and support for energy-sector cybersecurity receive considerable focus, and there is a greater budgetary push on both technology modernization and cybersecurity research. But there are missed opportunities as well. Many of the strategy’s most difficult and revolutionary goals—­holding data stewards accountable through privacy legislation, finally implementing a working digital identity solution, patching gaps in regulatory frameworks for cloud risk, and implementing a regime for software cybersecurity liability—­have been pared down or omitted entirely. There is an unnerving absence of “incentive-shifting-focused” actions, one of the most significant overarching objectives from the initial strategy. This backpedaling may be the result of a new appreciation for a deadlocked Congress and the precarious present for the administrative state, but it falls short of the original strategy’s vision and risks making no progress against its most ambitious goals.

Third, many of the implementation plan’s goals have timelines stretching into 2025. The disruption of a transition, be it to a second term for the current administration or the first term of another, will be difficult to manage under the best of circumstances. This leaves still more of the boldest ideas in this plan in jeopardy and raises questions about how best to prioritize, or accelerate, among those listed here.

Posted on July 20, 2023 at 7:12 AMView Comments

Security and Human Behavior (SHB) 2023

I’m just back from the sixteenth Workshop on Security and Human Behavior, hosted by Alessandro Acquisti at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

SHB is a small, annual, invitational workshop of people studying various aspects of the human side of security, organized each year by Alessandro Acquisti, Ross Anderson, and myself. The fifty or so attendees include psychologists, economists, computer security researchers, criminologists, sociologists, political scientists, designers, lawyers, philosophers, anthropologists, geographers, neuroscientists, business school professors, and a smattering of others. It’s not just an interdisciplinary event; most of the people here are individually interdisciplinary.

Our goal is always to maximize discussion and interaction. We do that by putting everyone on panels, and limiting talks to six to eight minutes, with the rest of the time for open discussion. Short talks limit presenters’ ability to get into the boring details of their work, and the interdisciplinary audience discourages jargon.

For the past decade and a half, this workshop has been the most intellectually stimulating two days of my professional year. It influences my thinking in different and sometimes surprising ways­ 00 and has resulted in some unexpected collaborations.

And that’s what’s valuable. One of the most important outcomes of the event is new collaborations. Over the years, we have seen new interdisciplinary research between people who met at the workshop, and ideas and methodologies move from one field into another based on connections made at the workshop. This is why some of us have been coming back every year for over a decade.

This year’s schedule is here. This page lists the participants and includes links to some of their work. As he does every year, Ross Anderson is live blogging the talks. We are back 100% in person after two years of fully remote and one year of hybrid.

Here are my posts on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth SHB workshops. Follow those links to find summaries, papers, and occasionally audio/video recordings of the sessions. Ross also maintains a good webpage of psychology and security resources.

It’s actually hard to believe that the workshop has been going on for this long, and that it’s still vibrant. We rotate between organizers, so next year is my turn in Cambridge (the Massachusetts one).

Posted on June 16, 2023 at 3:07 PMView Comments

How Attorneys Are Harming Cybersecurity Incident Response

New paper: “Lessons Lost: Incident Response in the Age of Cyber Insurance and Breach Attorneys“:

Abstract: Incident Response (IR) allows victim firms to detect, contain, and recover from security incidents. It should also help the wider community avoid similar attacks in the future. In pursuit of these goals, technical practitioners are increasingly influenced by stakeholders like cyber insurers and lawyers. This paper explores these impacts via a multi-stage, mixed methods research design that involved 69 expert interviews, data on commercial relationships, and an online validation workshop. The first stage of our study established 11 stylized facts that describe how cyber insurance sends work to a small numbers of IR firms, drives down the fee paid, and appoints lawyers to direct technical investigators. The second stage showed that lawyers when directing incident response often: introduce legalistic contractual and communication steps that slow-down incident response; advise IR practitioners not to write down remediation steps or to produce formal reports; and restrict access to any documents produced.

So, we’re not able to learn from these breaches because the attorneys are limiting what information becomes public. This is where we think about shielding companies from liability in exchange for making breach data public. It’s the sort of thing we do for airplane disasters.

EDITED TO ADD (6/13): A podcast interview with two of the authors.

Posted on June 7, 2023 at 7:06 AMView Comments

The Software-Defined Car

Developers are starting to talk about the software-defined car.

For decades, features have accumulated like cruft in new vehicles: a box here to control the antilock brakes, a module there to run the cruise control radar, and so on. Now engineers and designers are rationalizing the way they go about building new models, taking advantage of much more powerful hardware to consolidate all those discrete functions into a small number of domain controllers.

The behavior of new cars is increasingly defined by software, too. This is merely the progression of a trend that began at the end of the 1970s with the introduction of the first electronic engine control units; today, code controls a car’s engine and transmission (or its electric motors and battery pack), the steering, brakes, suspension, interior and exterior lighting, and more, depending on how new (and how expensive) it is. And those systems are being leveraged for convenience or safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, remote parking, and so on.

And security?

Another advantage of the move away from legacy designs is that digital security can be baked in from the start rather than patched onto components (like a car’s central area network) that were never designed with the Internet in mind. “If you design it from scratch, it’s security by design, everything is in by design; you have it there. But keep in mind that, of course, the more software there is in the car, the more risk is there for vulnerabilities, no question about this,” Anhalt said.

“At the same time, they’re a great software system. They’re highly secure. They’re much more secure than a hardware system with a little bit of software. It depends how the whole thing has been designed. And there are so many regulations and EU standards that have been released in the last year, year and a half, that force OEMs to comply with these standards and get security inside,” she said.

I suppose it could end up that way. It could also be a much bigger attack surface, with a lot more hacking possibilities.

Posted on June 5, 2023 at 7:14 AMView Comments

PIPEDREAM Malware against Industrial Control Systems

Another nation-state malware, Russian in origin:

In the early stages of the war in Ukraine in 2022, PIPEDREAM, a known malware was quietly on the brink of wiping out a handful of critical U.S. electric and liquid natural gas sites. PIPEDREAM is an attack toolkit with unmatched and unprecedented capabilities developed for use against industrial control systems (ICSs).

The malware was built to manipulate the network communication protocols used by programmable logic controllers (PLCs) leveraged by two critical producers of PLCs for ICSs within the critical infrastructure sector, Schneider Electric and OMRON.

CISA advisory. Wired article.

Posted on May 9, 2023 at 11:20 AMView Comments

Security Risks of AI

Stanford and Georgetown have a new report on the security risks of AI—particularly adversarial machine learning—based on a workshop they held on the topic.

Jim Dempsey, one of the workshop organizers, wrote a blog post on the report:

As a first step, our report recommends the inclusion of AI security concerns within the cybersecurity programs of developers and users. The understanding of how to secure AI systems, we concluded, lags far behind their widespread adoption. Many AI products are deployed without institutions fully understanding the security risks they pose. Organizations building or deploying AI models should incorporate AI concerns into their cybersecurity functions using a risk management framework that addresses security throughout the AI system life cycle. It will be necessary to grapple with the ways in which AI vulnerabilities are different from traditional cybersecurity bugs, but the starting point is to assume that AI security is a subset of cybersecurity and to begin applying vulnerability management practices to AI-based features. (Andy Grotto and I have vigorously argued against siloing AI security in its own governance and policy vertical.)

Our report also recommends more collaboration between cybersecurity practitioners, machine learning engineers, and adversarial machine learning researchers. Assessing AI vulnerabilities requires technical expertise that is distinct from the skill set of cybersecurity practitioners, and organizations should be cautioned against repurposing existing security teams without additional training and resources. We also note that AI security researchers and practitioners should consult with those addressing AI bias. AI fairness researchers have extensively studied how poor data, design choices, and risk decisions can produce biased outcomes. Since AI vulnerabilities may be more analogous to algorithmic bias than they are to traditional software vulnerabilities, it is important to cultivate greater engagement between the two communities.

Another major recommendation calls for establishing some form of information sharing among AI developers and users. Right now, even if vulnerabilities are identified or malicious attacks are observed, this information is rarely transmitted to others, whether peer organizations, other companies in the supply chain, end users, or government or civil society observers. Bureaucratic, policy, and cultural barriers currently inhibit such sharing. This means that a compromise will likely remain mostly unnoticed until long after attackers have successfully exploited vulnerabilities. To avoid this outcome, we recommend that organizations developing AI models monitor for potential attacks on AI systems, create—formally or informally—a trusted forum for incident information sharing on a protected basis, and improve transparency.

Posted on April 27, 2023 at 9:38 AMView Comments

North Korea Hacking Cryptocurrency Sites with 3CX Exploit


Researchers at Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky today revealed that they identified a small number of cryptocurrency-focused firms as at least some of the victims of the 3CX software supply-chain attack that’s unfolded over the past week. Kaspersky declined to name any of those victim companies, but it notes that they’re based in “western Asia.”

Security firms CrowdStrike and SentinelOne last week pinned the operation on North Korean hackers, who compromised 3CX installer software that’s used by 600,000 organizations worldwide, according to the vendor. Despite the potentially massive breadth of that attack, which SentinelOne dubbed “Smooth Operator,” Kaspersky has now found that the hackers combed through the victims infected with its corrupted software to ultimately target fewer than 10 machines­—at least as far as Kaspersky could observe so far—­and that they seemed to be focusing on cryptocurrency firms with “surgical precision.”

Posted on April 4, 2023 at 10:10 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.