Monday, December 31, 2007

Sguil Status

One of you wrote recently to ask about the status of the open source Network Security Monitoring suite called Sguil. You noticed the last release of Sguil (0.6.1) occurred in February 2006. I can assure you Sguil is not dead. In fact, just last week I wrote an article for a new BSD magazine about installing the sensor and server components of Sguil 0.7.0 (from CVS on FreeBSD 7.0.

To keep up with development read the sguil-devel mailing list and visit #snort-gui on irc.freenode.net.

I expect to see Sguil 0.7.0 released before 13 February 2008 to avoid hitting the two year mark.

Last Book Reviews of 2007 Posted

Amazon.com just published my five star review of Ajax Security by Billy Hoffman and Bryan Sullivan. From the review:

Ajax Security was the last book I read and reviewed in 2007. However, it was the best book I read all year. The book is absolutely compelling and every security professional and Web developer should read it. It's really as simple as that.

I am not a Web developer. I was not very familiar with Ajax (beyond its buzzword status and a vague notion of functionality) when I started reading Ajax Security. I attended the authors' Black Hat 2007 talk and was thoroughly impressed and disturbed by the security implications they presented. I expected Ajax Security to be a good book, but one can never be sure if talented hackers and presenters can transfer their skills to the written word. Ajax Security gets the job done.


Ajax Security is my Best Book Bejtlich Read in 2007 award winner. Amazon.com will soon publish my four star review of Geekonomics by David Rice. From the review:

I really, really liked Geekonomics, and I think all security and even technology professionals should read it. Why not give the book five stars then? The reasons are twofold: 1) the book fails to adequately differentiate between safety and security; and 2) the chapter on open source demonstrates fundamental misconceptions that unfortunately detract from the author's message. If you are kind enough to keep the
thoughts in this review in mind when reading Geekonomics, you will find the book to be thoughtful and exceptionally helpful.

It is important to remember that Geekonomics is almost exclusively a vulnerability-centric book. Remember that the "risk equation" is usually stated as "risk = vulnerability X threat X impact". While it is silly to assign numbers to these factors, you can see that decreasing vulnerability while keeping threat and impact constant results in decreased risk. This is the author's thesis. Rice believes the governing issue in software security is the need to reduce vulnerability.

The problem with this approach is that life is vulnerability. It is simply too difficult to eliminate enough vulnerability in order to reduce risk in the real world. Most real world security is accomplished by reducing threats. In other words, the average citizen does not reduce the risk of being murdered by wearing an electrified, mechanized armor suit, thereby mitigating the vulnerability of his soft flesh and breakable neck. Instead, he relies on the country's legal system and police force to deter, investigate, apprehend, prosecute, and incarcerate threats.
Finally, Amazon.com published my three star review of The Book of Pf by Peter N.M. Hansteen. From the review:

I was excited to see a new book on Pf on the market. Three years ago I read and reviewed Building Firewalls with OpenBSD and PF (BFWOAP) by Jacek Artymiak and gave it five stars. I hoped The Book of Pf (TBOP) would acknowledge the best ideas in BFWOAP and expand into Pf developments of the last three years. TBOP is strong when it addresses how to install or use Pf on operating systems other than OpenBSD. Elsewhere, the book is too weak to merit more than three stars.

Hopefully by the time you read this all of the links will be working and the reviews will be posted.

Best Book Bejtlich Read in 2007

Last year I posted my first year-end ranking of books I had read and reviewed in 2006, titled Favorite Books I Read and Reviewed in 2006. I decided to continue the tradition this year by posting my 2007 rankings, and awarding Best Book Bejtlich Read in 2007 (B3R07).

2007 was not my most productive year in terms of reading and reviewing books. I read 17 in 2000, 42 in 2001, 24 in 2002, 33 in 2003, 33 in 2004, 26 in 2005, and 52 in 2006. This year I read and reviewed 25 books, several during the last week. My ratings can be summarized as follows:

  • 5 stars: 9 books

  • 4 stars: 11 books

  • 3 stars: 4 books

  • 2 stars: 1 book

  • 1 star: 0 books


The competition for the B3R07 award was intense. Keep in mind these are all five star books.

And, the winner of the Best Book Bejtlich Read in 2007 award is... 1. Ajax Security by Billy Hoffman and Bryan Sullivan (Addison-Wesley). Ajax Security was the last book I read and reviewed in 2007. However, it was the best book I read all year. The book is absolutely compelling and every security professional and Web developer should read it. It's really as simple as that.

If you'd like to read a very thorough and technically perceptive review of the book, I recommend this post by Dre: Ajax Security opens up a whole new can of worms.

Let me conclude by saying the competition for the top slot was very tight. I really loved all top five books, and the bottom four were excellent too. There are even some good four star books, but a book must rate five stars in order to be considered here.

Congratulations to No Starch for placing 4 books in my five star list. Addison-Wesley was the runner-up with 2 books, but the publisher also produced the B3R07 award winner.

Happy reading in 2008!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Long Live Emerging Threats

If you haven't noticed, availability of Bleeding Threats has been lousy recently. If you read Matt Jonkman's recent post you'll notice the arrival of Emerging Threats. I am currently getting my copy of the Bleeding ruleset there; I am no longer using Bleeding Threats.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Snort Report 11 Posted

My 11th Snort Report on Snort Limitations has been posted. From the start of the article:

In the first Snort Report I mentioned a few things value-added resellers should keep in mind when deploying Snort:

1. Snort is not a "badness-ometer."
2. Snort is not "lightweight."
3. Snort is not just a "packet grepper."

In this edition of the Snort Report, I expand beyond those ideas, preparing you to use Snort by explaining how to think properly about its use. Instead of demonstrating technical capabilities, we'll consider what you can do with a network inspection and control system like Snort.


The editors titled this piece "Snort Limitations" -- I didn't.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Predictions for 2008

For the last five years I've resisted the urge to write year-end predictions (thanks Anton). However, I'm seeing indications of the following, so maybe this is more about highlighting trends than taking wild guesses.

Here are my five predictions for 2008.

  1. Expect greater government involvement in assessing the security of private sector networks. I base this item on what's happening in the UK following their latest data breach. The article Data watchdog seeks dawn-raid powers states the following:

    The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which polices the security of the nation’s data, is to be given the power to raid Government departments suspected of breaching protection laws.

    The move, announced today by Gordon Brown, comes in response to the loss by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) of personal details of some 25 million Britons. The Prime Minister said the ICO would be given extra powers to carry out “spot checks” of government departments.

    However, it is unclear whether the new powers will extend to companies - something that Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, is pressing for.

    "Alarm bells must ring in every boardroom," Mr Thomas said today.

    He added: "For some time I have been pressing the government to give my Office the power to audit and inspect organisations that process people’s personal information without first having to get their consent."

    Mr Thomas also repeated a call for the law to be "changed to make security breaches of this magnitude a criminal offence."
    (emphasis added)

    Security raids would be an amazing event. I think it would significantly alter the way security is managed by every major company.

  2. Expect greater military involvement in defending private sector networks. I base this item on reporting by the Baltimore Sun, no longer posted on their site but repeated elsewhere:

    In a major shift, the National Security Agency (NSA) is drawing up plans for a new domestic assignment: helping protect government and private communications networks from cyberattacks and infiltration by terrorists and hackers, according to current and former intelligence officials.

    From electricity grids to subways to nuclear power plants, the United States depends more than ever on Internet-based control systems that could be manipulated remotely in a terrorist attack, security specialists told The Baltimore Sun.

    The plan calls for the NSA to work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies to monitor such networks to prevent unauthorized intrusion, according to those with knowledge of what is known internally as the "Cyber Initiative." Details of the project are highly classified.

    Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, a former NSA chief, is coordinating the initiative. It will be run by the DHS, which has primary responsibility for protecting domestic infrastructure, including the Internet, current and former officials said.

    At the outset, up to 2,000 people -- from the Department, the NSA and other agencies -- could be assigned to the initiative, said a senior intelligence official who spoke to The Baltimore Sun on condition of anonymity.


    I know nothing about this outside of what I just posted, and the story House panel chief demands details of cybersecurity plan discussing activities of the US House Committee on Homeland Security.

  3. Expect increased awareness of external threats and less emphasis on insider threats. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but the recent attention on botnets, malware professionalization, organized criminal cyber enterprises, and the like seems to be helping direct some attention away from inside threats. This may be premature for 2008, but I expect to see more coverage of outsiders again.

  4. Expect greater attention paid to incident response and network forensics, and less on prevention. This could also be wishful thinking, but I am seeing a lot of movement in the commercial space involving effective incident response processes and tools. I've been speaking to several vendors while I build my IR and forensics lab for work and 2008 will see some very cool capabilities arrive, particularly in live response and remote forensic assessments. Several vendors will aggressively ship network forensic systems in 2008 with increased tie-ins to other existing products, like SIMs, firewalls, IPS, and the like.

  5. Expect talk of an "IPv6 gap," especially with respect to China. Leading up to the start of the Olympic Games in China in 2008, I am sure we will here a lot about IPv6. I mentioned this last year. Talk of an "IPv6 gap" will build upon a perceived "space gap" as China pursues its vision to put men on the moon by 2020. You will hear people say we need IPv6 because it is "inherently secure" or something similar. The China hacking stories of a few months ago embedded themselves in the IT consciousness, and that will be a continuing theme. I'm not sure if any of this will result in IPv6 being effectively deployed in 2008, 2009, or even 2010 in the US.


A year from now I'll see how these trends played out in 2008 and report back.

Two Book Reviews Posted

Amazon.com just published my five star review of Absolute FreeBSD, 2nd Ed by Michael Lucas. From the review:

Almost five years ago I reviewed Absolute BSD, Michael Lucas' first book on FreeBSD. I gave that book five stars, back when several other BSD books provided competition. On the eve of 2008, I am happy to say that Michael Lucas is probably the best system administration author I've read. I am amazed that he can communicate top-notch content with a sense of humor, while not offending the reader or sounding stupid. When was the last time you could physically feel yourself getting smarter while reading a book? If you are a beginning to average FreeBSD user, Absolute FreeBSD 2nd Ed (AF2E) will deliver that sensation in spades. Even more advanced users will find plenty to enjoy.

Amazon.com also just published my five star review of Linux Firewalls by Mike Rash. From the review:

Disclaimer: I wrote the foreword for this book, so obviously I am biased. However, I am not financially compensated for this book's success.

In the foreword I note that Linux Firewalls is a "great book." As a FreeBSD user, Linux Firewalls is good enough to make me consider using Linux in certain circumstances! Mike's book is exceptionally clear, organized, concise, and actionable. You should be able to read it and implement everything you find by following his examples. You will not only learn tools and techniques, but you will be able to appreciate Mike's keen defensive insights.


Are you seeing a trend here? In October I reviewed Security Data Visualization from No Starch and my Amazon.com Wish List has several other No Starch titles on it. Nice work No Starch!

Make Cleaning Awesome

Over three years ago I blogged about my Dyson vacuum cleaner. 99.9% of all of my posts are about digital security, but I know some of you are still looking for holiday presents for that certain someone. My wife bought me the new DC-16 for my birthday.

That's right, a vacuum for my birthday. Take a look at the picture of this thing and tell me it is not awesome. I dare you. Don't believe? Forget the perpetually clogged, nasty "filter" on my old Dustbuster. The DC-16 has a canister that I empty. The DC-16 also has a trigger, not a power button. It looks even more weaponized when the crevice tool is attached instead of the combination accessory tool (pictured above).

Don't let the crybaby Amazon.com reviewers dismay you. Sure, it would be nice to be able to have a second battery pack for swappable charging. However, if you're draining the battery regularly it's a sign you need to pull out your regular vacuum and not rely on a handheld. I've never drained the battery cleaning up after our kids.

I expect to see the DC-16 appear in homemade sci-fi videos on YouTube any time now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

After Five Years, NSM Is Still More Than IDS

I've received a series of questions relating to Network Security Monitoring (NSM) recently, via email, blog comments, IRC questions, and so on. Just over five years ago (2 Dec 02) Bamm Visscher and I recorded a Webcast for SearchSecurity.com titled Network Security Monitoring Is More Than IDS. That URL links to a series of questions submitted in response to the podcast.

I still have a copy of our slides, which I just exported to .pdf and uploaded as bejtlich_visscher_techtarget_webcast_4_dec_02.pdf. Remarkably, I would hardly change any of the content. All of the arguments we made back then still hold today. The only real changes involve replacing one or two defunct Web sites.

Anyone who is trying to understand NSM will enjoy this presentation. Please post questions here, and I will either answer the comments directly or save them for a follow-on blog post. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Does Failure Sell?

I often find myself in situations trying to explain the value of Network Security Monitoring (NSM). This very short fictional conversation explains what I mean. This exchange did not happen but I like to contemplate these sorts of dialogues.

NSM Advocate: I recommend deploying network-based sensors to collect data using NSM principles. I will work with our internal business units to select network gateways most likely to yield significant traffic. I will build the sensors using open source software on commodity hardware, recycled from other projects if need be.

Manager: Why do we need this?

NSM Advocate: Do you believe all of your defensive measures are 100% effective?

Manager: No. (This indicates a smart manager. Answering Yes would result in a line of reasoning on why Prevention Eventually Fails.)

NSM Advocate: Do you want to know when your defensive measures fail?

Manager: Yes. (This also indicates a smart manager. Answering No would result in a line of reasoning on why ignorance is not bliss.)

NSM Advocate: NSM will tell us when we fail. NSM sensors are the highest impact, least cost way to obtain network situational awareness. NSM methodologies can guide and validate preventative measures, transform detection into an actionable process, and enable rapid, low-cost response.

Manager: Why can't I buy this?

NSM Advocate: Some mainstream vendors are realizing a market exists for this sort of data, and they are making some impact with new products. If we had the budget I might propose acquiring a commercial solution. For the moment I recommend pursuing the do-it-yourself approach, with transition to a commercial solution if funding and product capabilities materialize.

Manager: Go forth and let your sensors multiply.


Now you know that it's fiction.

Notice the crux of the argument is here: Do you believe all of your defensive measures are 100% effective? As a statement, one would say Because prevention eventually fails, you should have a means to identify intrusions and expedite remediation. A manager hearing that statement is likely to respond like this.

Manager: Do you mean to tell me that all of the money I've spent on firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, anti-virus, network access control, etc., is wasted?

NSM Advocate: That money is not wasted. It's narrowed the problem space, but it hasn't eliminated the problem.

This is a tough argument to accept. When I worked at Foundstone the company sold a vulnerability management product. Foundstone would say "buy our product and you will be secure!" I worked for the incident response team. We would say "...and when you still get owned, call us." Which aspect of the business do you think made more money, got more attention, and received more company support? That's an easy question. How is a salesperson supposed to look a prospect in the eye and say "You're going to lose. What are you going to do about it?"

Many businesses are waking up to the fact that they've spent millions of dollars on preventative measures and they still lose. No one likes to be a loser. The fact of the matter is that winning cannot be defined as zero intrusions. Risk mitigation does not mean risk elimination. Winning has to be defined using the words I used to explain risk in my first book:

Security is the process of maintaining an acceptable level of perceived risk.

This definition does not eliminate intrusions from the enterprise. It does leave an uncomfortable amount of interpretation for the "acceptable level" aspect. You may have noticed that most of the managers one might consider successful are usually self-described or outwardly praised as being risk-takers. On the other side of the equation we have security professionals, most of whom I would label as risk-avoiders.

The source escapes me now, but a recent security magazine article observed that those closest to the hands-on aspects of security rated their companies as being the least secure. Assessments of company security improved the farther one was removed from day-to-day operations, such that the CIO and above was much more positive about the company's security outlook. The major factor in this equation is probably the separation between the corner office and the cubicle, but another could be the acceptable level of risk for the parties involved. When a CIO or CEO is juggling market risk, credit risk, geo-political risk, legal risk, and other worries, digital risk is just another item in the portfolio.

The difference between digital risk and many of the other risk types is the consequences can be tough to identify. In fact, the more serious the impact, the least likely you could be to discover the intrusion.

How is that possible? What causes more damage: a DDoS attack that everyone notices because "the network is slow," or a stealthy economic competitor whose entire reason in life is to avoid detection while stealing data?

Without evidence to answer the question are you secure?, managers practice management and defense by belief instead of management and defense by fact.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Feds Plan to Reduce, Then Monitor

According to OMB directs agencies to close off most Internet links, by June 2008 the Federal government plans to reduce the number of Internet connections it maintains, and then monitor them more closely:

The Office of Management and Budget's Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative likely is to be the last publicized program in the Bush administration's stepped-up focus on cybersecurity, some experts say. More importantly, the new initiative requires agencies to implement real-time gateway monitoring, which has been a deficit in federal network protection.

The TIC initiative mandates that officials develop plans for limiting the number of Internet connections into their departments and agencies. OMB officials want to reduce the number of gateways from the more than 1,000 to about 50, said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology.
(emphasis added)

This sounds promising. The story continues:

The initiative also asks chief information officers to develop a plan of action and milestones for participating in the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team's Einstein initiative. The program offers agencies real-time gateway monitoring capabilities and helps them react more quickly to security incidents. About 13 agencies voluntarily participate in the Einstein program.

"The reduction of access points to trusted Internet connections will improve our situational awareness and allow us to address potential threats in an expedited and efficient manner," Evans said. "While we optimize and improve our security, it is also our goal to minimize overall operating costs for services through economies of scale."


Reduction of gateways + enhanced monitoring = better, stronger, faster -- and cheaper.

The story With Internet gateways, less is more adds:

A June deadline for agencies to consolidate their Internet connections coincides with another OMB deadline. June is also when agencies must upgrade their backbone networks to run the next-generation Internet protocol, IPv6...

“The [TIC] initiative is saying, ‘We have to know what we own in order to protect it,’ ” Evans said. “We also must know we are managing risk at an acceptable level.”

Evans said the federal government has more than 1,000 gateways to the public Internet.

The target number is 50, but that is not an absolute number, she said. “We know 1,000 or more is not the way to do it. At a minimum, 50 is two per department.”

Fifty gateways is a reasonable number, Evans said, adding that the Defense Department has reduced its Internet gateway count to 18. The Homeland Security Department expects to have only two Internet gateways after it completes its OneNet initiative.

“The 50 or so points of presence [would] become the perimeter of the federal government,” Evans said.
(emphasis added)

Kudos to Karen Evans. I am hopeful that someone who realizes FISMA Is a Joke has begun steering the Federal government away from worthless documentation and towards real network security operations.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Incident Severity Ratings

Much of digital security focuses on pre-compromise activities. Not as much attention is paid to what happens once your defenses fail. My friend Bamm brought this problem to my attention when he discussed the problem of rating the severity of an incident. He was having trouble explaining to his management the impact of an intrusion, so he asked if I had given any thought to the issue.

What follows is my attempt to apply a framework to the problem. If anyone wants to point me to existing work, please feel free. This is not an attempt to put a flag in the ground. We're trying to figure out how to talk about post-compromise activities in a world where scoring vulnerabilities receives far more attention.

This is a list of factors which influence the severity of an incident. It is written mainly from the intrusion standpoint. In other words, an unauthorized party is somehow interacting with your asset. I have ordered the options under each category such that the top items in each sub-list is considered worst, and the bottom is best. Since this is a work in progress I put question marks in many of the sub-lists.

  1. Level of Control


    • Domain or network-wide SYSTEM/Administrator/root

    • Local SYSTEM/Administrator/root

    • Privileged user (but not SYSTEM/Administrator/root

    • User

    • None?


  2. Level of Interaction


    • Shell

    • API

    • Application commands

    • None?


  3. Nature of Contact


    • Persistent and continuous

    • On-demand

    • Re-exploitation required

    • Misconfiguration required

    • None?


  4. Reach of Victim


    • Entire enterprise

    • Specific zones

    • Local segment only

    • Host only


  5. Nature of Victim Data


    • Exceptionally grave damage if destroyed/altered/disclosed

    • Grave damage if destroyed/altered/disclosed

    • Some damage if destroyed/altered/disclosed

    • No damage if destroyed/altered/disclosed


  6. Degree of Friendly External Control of Victim


    • None; host has free Internet access inbound and outbound

    • Some external control of access

    • Comprehensive external control of access


  7. Host Vulnerability (for purposes of future re-exploitation


    • Numerous severe vulnerabilities

    • Moderate vulnerability

    • Little to no vulnerability


  8. Friendly Visibility of Victim


    • No monitoring of network traffic or host logs

    • Only network or host logging (not both)

    • Comprehensive network and host visibility


  9. Threat Assessment


    • Highly skilled and motivated, or structured threat

    • Moderately skilled and motivated, or semi-structured threat

    • Low skilled and motivated, or unstructured threat


  10. Business Impact (from continuity of operations plan)


    • High

    • Medium

    • Low


  11. Onsite Support


    • None

    • First level technical support present

    • Skilled operator onsite



Based on this framework, I would be most worried about the following -- stated very bluntly so you see all eleven categories: I worry about an incident where the intruder has SYSTEM control, with a shell, that is persistent, on a host that can reach the entire enterprise, on a host with very valuable data, with unfettered Internet access, on a host with lots of serious holes, and I can't see the host's logs or traffic, and the intruder is a foreign intel service, and the host is a high biz impact system, and no one is on site to help me.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Expert Commentary on SPAN and RSPAN Weaknesses

It's no secret I am a fan of using taps instead of switch SPAN ports when instrumenting networks. Two excellent posts explain the weakness of using SPAN ports and RSPAN.

Both of these were written by Tim O'Neill, an independent consultant.

This is the simplest way for me to compare SPAN ports to taps: a SPAN port is a girlfriend, but a tap is a wife. It takes a real level of institutional commitment to install a tap, and the rewards are long-lasting. A SPAN port is a temporary fling subject to break-up (i.e., deactivation).

Furthermore, I really liked the blog post's emphasis on SPAN configuration as a change that must be allowed by the change control board in any semi-mature IT shop. The only CCB action needed for a tap is the initial installation. Any change to a SPAN port configuration should be authorized by the CCB. This is one of the reasons why very mature (and well-funded) IT shops use matrix switches for on-demand visibility, as a mentioned last year in Notes on Net Optics Think Tank.