Entries Tagged "Department of Defense"

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The DoD Isn't Fixing Its Security Problems

It has produced several reports outlining what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. It’s not fixing them:

GAO looked at three DoD-designed initiatives to see whether the Pentagon is following through on its own goals. In a majority of cases, DoD has not completed the cybersecurity training and awareness tasks it set out to. The status of various efforts is simply unknown because no one has tracked their progress. While an assessment of “cybersecurity hygiene” like this doesn’t directly analyze a network’s hardware and software vulnerabilities, it does underscore the need for people who use digital systems to interact with them in secure ways. Especially when those people work on national defense.

[…]

The report focuses on three ongoing DoD cybersecurity hygiene initiatives. The 2015 Cybersecurity Culture and Compliance Initiative outlined 11 education-related goals for 2016; the GAO found that the Pentagon completed only four of them. Similarly, the 2015 Cyber Discipline plan outlined 17 goals related to detecting and eliminating preventable vulnerabilities from DoD’s networks by the end of 2018. GAO found that DoD has met only six of those. Four are still pending, and the status of the seven others is unknown, because no one at DoD has kept track of the progress.

GAO repeatedly identified lack of status updates and accountability as core issues within DoD’s cybersecurity awareness and education efforts. It was unclear in many cases who had completed which training modules. There were even DoD departments lacking information on which users should have their network access revoked for failure to complete trainings.

The report.

Posted on April 17, 2020 at 10:35 AMView Comments

Security Vulnerabilities in US Weapons Systems

The US Government Accounting Office just published a new report: “Weapons Systems Cyber Security: DOD Just Beginning to Grapple with Scale of Vulnerabilities” (summary here). The upshot won’t be a surprise to any of my regular readers: they’re vulnerable.

From the summary:

Automation and connectivity are fundamental enablers of DOD’s modern military capabilities. However, they make weapon systems more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Although GAO and others have warned of cyber risks for decades, until recently, DOD did not prioritize weapon systems cybersecurity. Finally, DOD is still determining how best to address weapon systems cybersecurity.

In operational testing, DOD routinely found mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities in systems that were under development, yet program officials GAO met with believed their systems were secure and discounted some test results as unrealistic. Using relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected, due in part to basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications. In addition, vulnerabilities that DOD is aware of likely represent a fraction of total vulnerabilities due to testing limitations. For example, not all programs have been tested and tests do not reflect the full range of threats.

It is definitely easier, and cheaper, to ignore the problem or pretend it isn’t a big deal. But that’s probably a mistake in the long run.

Posted on October 10, 2018 at 6:21 AMView Comments

What is the DoD's Position on Backdoors in Security Systems?

In May, Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an address at the Joint Service Academies Cyber Security Summit at West Point. After he spoke for twenty minutes on the importance of Internet security and a good national defense, I was able to ask him a question (32:42 mark) about security versus surveillance:

Bruce Schneier: I’d like to hear you talk about this need to get beyond signatures and the more robust cyber defense and ask the industry to provide these technologies to make the infrastructure more secure. My question is, the only definition of “us” that makes sense is the world, is everybody. Any technologies that we’ve developed and built will be used by everyone — nation-state and non-nation-state. So anything we do to increase our resilience, infrastructure, and security will naturally make Admiral Rogers’s both intelligence and attack jobs much harder. Are you okay with that?

Admiral James A. Winnefeld: Yes. I think Mike’s okay with that, also. That’s a really, really good question. We call that IGL. Anyone know what IGL stands for? Intel gain-loss. And there’s this constant tension between the operational community and the intelligence community when a military action could cause the loss of a critical intelligence node. We live this every day. In fact, in ancient times, when we were collecting actual signals in the air, we would be on the operational side, “I want to take down that emitter so it’ll make it safer for my airplanes to penetrate the airspace,” and they’re saying, “No, you’ve got to keep that emitter up, because I’m getting all kinds of intelligence from it.” So this is a familiar problem. But I think we all win if our networks are more secure. And I think I would rather live on the side of secure networks and a harder problem for Mike on the intelligence side than very vulnerable networks and an easy problem for Mike. And part of that — it’s not only the right thing do, but part of that goes to the fact that we are more vulnerable than any other country in the world, on our dependence on cyber. I’m also very confident that Mike has some very clever people working for him. He might actually still be able to get some work done. But it’s an excellent question. It really is.

It’s a good answer, and one firmly on the side of not introducing security vulnerabilities, backdoors, key-escrow systems, or anything that weakens Internet systems. It speaks to what I have seen as a split in the Second Crypto War, between the NSA and the FBI on building secure systems versus building systems with surveillance capabilities.

I have written about this before:

But here’s the problem: technological capabilities cannot distinguish based on morality, nationality, or legality; if the US government is able to use a backdoor in a communications system to spy on its enemies, the Chinese government can use the same backdoor to spy on its dissidents.

Even worse, modern computer technology is inherently democratizing. Today’s NSA secrets become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacker tools. As long as we’re all using the same computers, phones, social networking platforms, and computer networks, a vulnerability that allows us to spy also allows us to be spied upon.

We can’t choose a world where the US gets to spy but China doesn’t, or even a world where governments get to spy and criminals don’t. We need to choose, as a matter of policy, communications systems that are secure for all users, or ones that are vulnerable to all attackers. It’s security or surveillance.

NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers was in the audience (he spoke earlier), and I saw him nodding at Winnefeld’s answer. Two weeks later, at CyCon in Tallinn, Rogers gave the opening keynote, and he seemed to be saying the opposite.

“Can we create some mechanism where within this legal framework there’s a means to access information that directly relates to the security of our respective nations, even as at the same time we are mindful we have got to protect the rights of our individual citizens?”

[…]

Rogers said a framework to allow law enforcement agencies to gain access to communications is in place within the phone system in the United States and other areas, so “why can’t we create a similar kind of framework within the internet and the digital age?”

He added: “I certainly have great respect for those that would argue that they most important thing is to ensure the privacy of our citizens and we shouldn’t allow any means for the government to access information. I would argue that’s not in the nation’s best long term interest, that we’ve got to create some structure that should enable us to do that mindful that it has to be done in a legal way and mindful that it shouldn’t be something arbitrary.”

Does Winnefeld know that Rogers is contradicting him? Can someone ask JCS about this?

Posted on June 24, 2015 at 7:42 AMView Comments

DARPA Contest for Fully Automated Network Defense

DARPA is looking for a fully automated network defense system:

What if computers had a “check engine” light that could indicate new, novel security problems? What if computers could go one step further and heal security problems before they happen?

To find out, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) intends to hold the Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC) — the first-ever tournament for fully automatic network defense systems. DARPA envisions teams creating automated systems that would compete against each other to evaluate software, test for vulnerabilities, generate security patches and apply them to protected computers on a network. To succeed, competitors must bridge the expert gap between security software and cutting-edge program analysis research. The winning team would receive a cash prize of $2 million.

Some news articles. Slashdot thread. Reddit thread.

Posted on October 24, 2013 at 8:45 AMView Comments

NSA Job Opening

The NSA is looking for a Civil Liberties & Privacy Officer. It appears to be an internal posting.

The NSA Civil Liberties & Privacy Officer (CLPO) is conceived as a completely new role, combining the separate responsibilities of NSA’s existing Civil Liberties and Privacy (CL/P) protection programs under a single official. The CLPO will serve as the primary advisor to the Director of NSA for ensuring that privacy is protected and civil liberties are maintained by all of NSA’s missions, programs, policies and technologies. This new position is focused on the future, designed to directly enhance decision making and to ensure that CL/P protections continue to be baked into NSA’s future operations, technologies, tradecraft, and policies. The NSA CLPO will consult regularly with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence CLPO, privacy and civil liberties officials from the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice, as well as other U.S. government, private sector, public advocacy groups and foreign partners.

EDITED TO ADD (9/23): Better link here that allows new registration for prospective applicants — it’s Job ID 1039797.

Posted on September 23, 2013 at 1:14 PMView Comments

US Department of Defense Censors Snowden Story

The US Department of Defense is blocking sites that are reporting about the Snowden documents. I presume they’re not censoring sites that are smearing him personally. Note that the DoD is only blocking those sites on its own network, not on the Internet at large. The blocking is being done by automatic filters, presumably the same ones used to block porn or other sites it deems inappropriate.

Anyone know if my blog is being censored? I’m kinda curious.

Posted on July 3, 2013 at 6:02 AMView Comments

Pentagon Staffs Up U.S. Cyber Command

The Washington Post has the story:

The move, requested by the head of the Defense Department’s Cyber Command, is part of an effort to turn an organization that has focused largely on defensive measures into the equivalent of an Internet-era fighting force. The command, made up of about 900 personnel, will expand to include 4,900 troops and civilians.

[…]

The plan calls for the creation of three types of forces under the Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that undergird electrical grids, power plants and other infrastructure deemed critical to national and economic security; “combat mission forces” to help commanders abroad plan and execute attacks or other offensive operations; and “cyber protection forces” to fortify the Defense Department’s networks.

This is a big deal: more stoking of cyber fears, another step toward the militarization of cyberspace, and another ratchet in the cyberwar arms race. Glenn Greenwald has a good essay on this.

Posted on February 1, 2013 at 12:36 PMView Comments

Fake Documents that Alarm if Opened

This sort of thing seems like a decent approach, but it has a lot of practical problems:

In the wake of Wikileaks, the Department of Defense has stepped up its game to stop leaked documents from making their way into the hands of undesirables — be they enemy forces or concerned citizens. A new piece of software has created a way to do this by generating realistic, fake documents that phone home when they’re accessed, serving the dual purpose of providing false intelligence and helping identify the culprit.

Details aside, this kind of thing falls into the general category of data tracking. It doesn’t even have to be fake documents; you could imagine some sort of macro embedded into Word or pdf documents that phones home when the document is opened. (I have no idea if you actually can do it with those formats, but the concept is plausible.) This allows the owner of a document to track when, and possibly by what computer, a document is opened.

But by far the biggest drawback from this tech is the possibility of false positives. If you seed a folder full of documents with a large number of fakes, how often do you think an authorized user will accidentally double click on the wrong file? And what if they act on the false information? Sure, this will prevent hackers from blindly trusting that every document on a server is correct, but we bet it won’t take much to look into the code of a document and spot the fake, either.

I’m less worried about false positives, and more concerned by how easy it is to get around this sort of thing. Detach your computer from the Internet, and the document no longer phones home. A fix is to combine the system with an encryption scheme that requires a remote key. Now the document has to phone home before it can be viewed. Of course, once someone is authorized to view the document, it would be easy to create an unprotected copy — screen captures, if nothing else — to forward along,

While potentially interesting, this sort of technology is not going to prevent large data leaks. But it’s good to see research.

Posted on November 7, 2011 at 6:26 AMView Comments

The Security Threat of Forged Law-Enforcement Credentials

Here’s a U.S. Army threat assessment of forged law-enforcement credentials.

The authors bought a bunch of fake badges:

Between November 2009 and March 2010, undercover investigators were able to purchase nearly perfect counterfeit badges for all of the Department of Defense’s military criminal investigative organizations to include the Army Criminal Investigation Command (Army CID), Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), and the Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division (USMC CID). Also, purchased was the badge for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).

Also available for purchase were counterfeit badges of 42 other federal law enforcement agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Secret Service, and the US Marshals Service.

Of the other federal law enforcement agency badges available, the investigators found exact reproductions of the badges issued to Federal Air Marshals, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Screeners, TSA Inspectors, and Special Agents of the TSA Office of Inspector General.

Average price: $60.

Then, they tried using them:

During the period of January to June 2010, undercover investigators utilized fraudulent badges and credentials of the DoD’s military criminal investigative organizations to penetrate the security at: 6 military installations; 2 federal courthouses; and 3 state buildings in the New York and New Jersey area.

[…]

Once being granted access to the military installation or federal facility, the investigators proceeded to areas that were designed as “Restricted Area” or “Authorized Personnel Only” and were able to wander around without being challenged by employees or security personnel. On one military installation, investigators were able to go to the police station and request local background checks on several fictitious names. All that was required was displaying the fraudulent badge and credentials to a police officer working the communications desk.

The authors didn’t try it getting through airport security, but they mentioned a 2000 GAO report where investigators did:

The investigation found that investigators were 100% successful in penetrating 19 federal sites and 2 commercial airports by claiming to be law enforcement officers and entering the facilities unchecked by security where they could have carried weapons, listening devices, explosives, chemical/biological agents and other such materials.

Websites are listed in the report, if you want to buy your own fake badge and carry a gun onto an airplane.

I’ve written about this general problem before:

When faced with a badge, most people assume it’s legitimate. And even if they wanted to verify the badge, there’s no real way for them to do so.

The only solution, if this counts as one, is to move to real-time verification. A credit card used to be a credential; it gave the bearer certain privileges. But the problem of forged and stolen credit cards was so pervasive that the industry moved to a system where now the card is mostly a pointer to a database. Your passport, when you present it to the customs official in your home country, is basically the same thing. I’d like to be able to photograph a law-enforcement badge with my camera, send it to some police website, and get back a real-time verification — with picture — that the officer is legit.

Of course, that opens up an entire new set of database security issues, but I think they’re more manageable than what we have now.

Posted on January 13, 2011 at 8:00 AMView Comments

Details Removed from Book at Request of U.S. Department of Defense

From the AFP:

A publisher has agreed to remove US intelligence details from a memoir by a former army officer in Afghanistan after the Pentagon raised last-minute objections, officials said Friday.

The book, “Operation Dark Heart,” had been printed and prepared for release in August but St. Martin’s Press will now issue a revised version of the spy memoir after negotiations with the Pentagon, US and company officials said.

In an unusual step, the Defense Department has agreed to reimburse the company for the cost of the first printing, spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told AFP.

The original manuscript “contained classified information which had not been properly reviewed” by the military and US spy agencies, he said.

St. Martin’s press will destroy copies from the first printing with Pentagon representatives observing “to ensure it’s done in accordance with our standards,” Lapan said.

The second, revised edition would be ready by the end of next week, said the author’s lawyer, Mark Zaid.

EDITED TO ADD (9/30): An analysis of the redacted material — obtained by comparing the two versions — is amusing.

Posted on September 23, 2010 at 7:19 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.