Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hacking tool targets SSL vulnerability

By Steven Musil, CNET News, 25 October, 2011 09:47


Hackers have released a program they say will allow a single computer to take down a web server using a secure connection.

The THC-SSL-DOS tool, released on Monday, purportedly exploits a flaw in Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) renegotiation protocol by overwhelming the system with multiple requests for secure connections. SSL renegotiation allows websites to create a new security key over an already established SSL connection.

A German group known as Hackers Choice said it released the exploit to bring attention to flaws in SSL, which allows sensitive data to flow between websites and individual user's computers without being intercepted. "We are hoping that the fishy security in SSL does not go unnoticed," an unidentified member of the group said in a blog post.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Criticality Of Risk Assessments: FISMA, HIPAA, And Other Regs

Risk assessments are a critical part of regulatory compliance, but many organizations don't implement them well Sep 04, 2011 | 09:19 AM | 3 Comments By Richard E. Mackey, Jr. Dark Reading One of the most important components in any security program is the risk assessment process. Regulations like FISMA, HIPAA, Red Flag Rules, and state privacy regulations require organizations to methodically assess risk and select security controls based on that assessment. The problem is that many organizations do not understand what it means to assess risk through a formal method. Worse yet, many IT people have a hard time understanding the practicality of formal assessments. What is a formal risk assessment? Formal risk assessments are processes that consider the value of the assets that are at risk, the business and technical threats to the assets, and the effectiveness of the business and technical controls that are designed to protect the asset. In the end, a risk assessment gives the organization an objective measure of the risk to an asset. The process forces the organization to acknowledge and accept the risk, eliminate the risk by terminating a business practice (e.g., stop offering access to the asset via the Web), transfer the risk by outsourcing or insurance, or, more often than not, select additional more effective business or technical controls to reduce the risk. Benefits Of Formal Risk Assessments Conducting formal assessments within a risk management program offers a number of benefits: 1. requires business and technical representatives to reason about risk in an objective, repeatable, way 2. requires consistent terminology and metrics to discuss and measure risk 3. justifies funding for needed controls 4. identifies controls that can be eliminated 5. provides documentation of threats that were considered and risks that were identified 6. requires business and IT to acknowledge the responsibility for ownership of risk 7. requires organizations to track risks and reassess them over time and as conditions change There is a good reason for so many regulations to include a requirement for risk assessment. It is only sensible that a regulatory body cannot dictate the controls that are necessary in every environment. What might be appropriate for a large company with a significant Web presence could be overkill for small organization with a few customers. If the threats are different and the environment is different, then it stands to reason that the controls might be different. It is interesting to note that even the most prescriptive standards (e.g., PCI DSS) require risk assessments to determine the need for and effectiveness of controls. On the less prescriptive side of the regulatory spectrum, HIPAA and FISMA have very few required controls but expect the entire program to be risk-based. This approach makes sense when one standard needs to apply to everyone. Choosing A Risk Management Framework If your organization needs to comply with FISMA, then your risk management approach should be based on NIST Special Publication 800-39. This document provides an overall description of the risk management life cycle. Risk assessment, which is one part of the risk management program, is described in NIST Special Publication 800-30 (which is being revised). SP 800-30 provides a stepwise method for assessing risk that can be customized for a given organization. Another good source of risk management documentation is provided by the OCTAVE project developed at Carnegie Mellon University. Both NIST and OCTAVE provide excellent sources for building a risk management program that helps organizations meet their security and regulatory requirements. Richard Mackey is vice president of consulting at SystemExperts Corp.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The SSL certificate industry can and should be replaced

October 12, 2011 The SSL certificate industry can and should be replaced A new alternative, called Convergence, is picking up steam By Ellen Messmer | Network World The SSL certificate authorities like Comodo that have had their security undermined by hackers shouldn't be trusted, and in fact, the way the entire SSL certificate industry of today works can and should be replaced with something better, says Moxie Marlinspike, a security expert who's come up with a plan he says will do that. Marlinspike's plan, unveiled last August at the Black Hat Conference, is called "Convergence," and it's gaining some momentum, particularly after the shocking hacker attacks on DigiNotar, GlobalSign, Comodo, and other SSL certificate authorities of late that resulted in fake certificates coming into use on the web, including a fake Google certificate, since revoked. Marlinspike's Convergence is radically different from the situation today where the Web of trust is based on a SSL server certificate signed by a certificate authority and recognized by the user's browser, based on recognition of the certificate authority that's programmed in by the browser vendors. Marlinspike thinks this whole system -- which props up the multi-million-dollar certificate authority business today -- should be dumped in favor of the idea of the user more directly controlling how the browser trusts certificates based on so-called Convergence "notaries" proving online feedback about what to trust. To work, the user needs to have Firefox browser plug-in for Convergence that Marlinspike makes available. "Originally, I was the only notary," says Marlinspike, noting that today there are more than 50 Convergence notaries, including Electronic Frontier Foundation and security vendor Qualys. The idea is that the Convergence notaries, based on the user's own selection of which ones they prefer, electronically inform the user if the SSL certificate is considered valid. Marlinspike says there are 30,000 active Convergence users today. Marlinspike's ideas are starting to get some support from the security industry. Qualys Director of Engineering Ivan Ristic says the research Qualys has done shows Convergence is a "viable alternative" to the general way the SSL ecosystem works today, "but in order for it to be successful, it will also need a critical mass." "We have been researching the SSL ecosystem for some time now — publishing our tools and documentation on the SSL Labs web site — so it was only natural that we took interest in Convergence, which aims to solve some of the inherent security issues in the way we currently determine trust," Ristic says. Instead of trying to fix today's weaknesses by "keeping existing arrangements," Ristic says, Convergence "is different; it's a proposal to try something completely different." Qualys wants to "play our part and assist in its growth, and give it a chance," he adds. Marlinspike, CTO at Whisper Systems, says Convergence is his personal project and he doesn't have expectations about how it can be a revenue-generating business. But he's scornful of the current arrangement in which browser vendors have somewhat "hardwired" in their support for the certificate authorities, particularly the big ones like VeriSign, Entrust, Thawte and Comodo. After the DigiNotar hack, for example, Microsoft made much of changing its browser to no longer support DigiNotar. DigiNotar itself was forced to declare bankruptcy as a direct repercussion of being hacked. Comodo is one-quarter to one-fifth of certificates on the Internet, and removing support for Comodo in the browser would be hugely disruptive operationally in this current system. But the underlying security for it all is just "an illusion," according to Marlinspike. He pointed out, "We've made a decision to trust Comodo forever, regardless of whether they continue to earn that trust." Marlinspike continued, "What happened to DigiNotar is the kind of thing that happens every day. It was an accident anyone ever noticed. If the hackers hadn't been stupid, no one would have ever noticed." Marlinspike points out that Convergence is "totally backward compatible" with the current SSL certificate system and the "user experience is exactly the same as now." It's simply in the Convergence model, the notaries you contact tells you if they believe the certificate is valid or not. Through multiple answers to that question, there's an increase in the validation through consensus. Business can keep getting signed certificates if they want, but the validation for them changes according to what the user trusts. Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section. Network World is an InfoWorld affiliate.