We DON'T Need Blinky Lights

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    I read an article By Glenn S. Gerstell (Mr. Gerstell is the general counsel of the National Security Agency) with a great deal of interest. That same article is detailed below

    The National Security Operations Center occupies a large windowless room, bathed in blue light, on the third floor of the National Security Agency’s headquarters outside of Washington. For the past 46 years, around the clock without a single interruption, a team of senior military and intelligence officials has staffed this national security nerve center.

    The center’s senior operations officer is surrounded by glowing high-definition monitors showing information about things like Pentagon computer networks, military and civilian air traffic in the Middle East and video feeds from drones in Afghanistan. The officer is authorized to notify the president any time of the day or night of a critical threat.

    Just down a staircase outside the operations center is the Defense Special Missile and Aeronautics Center, which keeps track of missile and satellite launches by China, North Korea, Russia, Iran and other countries. If North Korea was ever to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile toward Los Angeles, those keeping watch might have half an hour or more between the time of detection to the time the missile would land at the target. At least in theory, that is enough time to alert the operations center two floors above and alert the military to shoot down the missile.

    But these early-warning centers have no ability to issue a warning to the president that would stop a cyberattack that takes down a regional or national power grid or to intercept a hypersonic cruise missile launched from Russia or China. The cyberattack can be detected only upon occurrence, and the hypersonic missile, only seconds or at best minutes before attack. And even if we could detect a missile flying at low altitudes at 20 times the speed of sound, we have no way of stopping it.

    Something I’ve been saying all along is that technology alone cannot stop cyber attacks. Often referred to as a “silver bullet”, or “blinky lights”, this provides the misconception that by purchasing that new, shiny device, you’re completely secure. Sorry folks, but this just isn’t true. In fact, cyber crime, and it’s associated plethora of hourly attacks is evolving at an alarming rate - in fact, much faster than you’d like to believe.

    You’d think that for all the huge technological advances we have made in this world, the almost daily plethora of corporate security breaches, high profile data loss, and individuals being scammed every day would have dropped down to nothing more than a trickle - even to the point where they became virtually non-existent. We are making huge progress with landings on Mars, autonomous space vehicles, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and essentially reaching new heights on a daily basis thanks to some of the most creative minds in this technological sphere. But somehow, we have lost our way, stumbled and fallen - mostly on our own sword. But why ?

    Just like the Y2k Gold Rush in the late 90’s, information security has become the next big thing with companies ranging from a few employees as startups to enterprise organisations touting their services and platforms to be the best in class, and the next “must have” tool in the blue team’s already bulging arsenal of tools. Tools that on their own in fact have little effect unless they are combined with something else as equally as expensive to run. We’ve spent so much time focusing on efforts ranging from what SEIM solution we need to what will be labelled as the ultimate silver bullet capable of eliminating the threat of attack once and for all that in my opinion, we have lost sight of the original goal. With regulatory requirements and best practice pushing us towards products and services that either require additional staff to manage, or are incredibly expensive to deploy and ultimately run. Supposedly, in an effort to simplify the management, analysis, and processing of millions of logs per hour we’ve created even more platforms to ingest this data in order to make sense of it.

    In reality, all we have created is a shark infested pool where larger companies consume up and coming tech startups for breakfast to ensure that they do not pose a threat to their business model / gravy train, therefore enabling them to dominate the space even further with their newly enhanced reach.

    How did we get to this ? What happened to thought process and working together in order to combat the threat that increases on an hourly basis ? We seem to be so focused on making sure that we aren’t the next organisation to be breached that we have lost the art of communication and the full benefit of sharing information so that it assists others in their journey. We’ve become so obsessed with the daily onslaught of platforms that we no longer seem to have the time to even think, let alone take stock and regroup - not as an individual, but as a community.

    There are a number of ”communities” that offer “free” forums and products under the open source banner, but sadly, these seem to be turning into paid-for products at a rate of knots. I understand people need to live and make money, but if awareness was raised to the point where users wouldn’t click links in phishing emails, fall for the fake emergency wire transfer request from the CEO, or be suddenly tempted by the latest offer in terms of cheap technology then we might - just might - be able to make the world a better place. In order to make this work, we first need to remove the stigma that has become so ingrained by the media and set in stone like King Arthur’s Excalibur. Let’s first start with the hacker / criminal parallel. They aren’t the same thing folks.

    Nope. Not at all. Hackers are those people who find ingenious ways of getting into networks and infrastructure that you never even knew existed, trick you into parting with sensitive information (then inform you as to where you went wrong), and most importantly, educate you so that you and your network are far more secure against real attacks and real criminals. These people exist to increase your awareness, and by definition, security footprint - not use it against you in order to steal. Hackers do like to wear hoodies as they are comfortable, but you won’t find one using gloves, wearing a balaclava or sunglasses, and in some cases, they actually prefer desktops rather than laptops.

    The image being portrayed here is one perpetuated by the media, and it has certainly been effective - but not in a positive way. The word “hacker” is now synonymous with criminals, where it really shouldn’t be. One defines security, whereas the other sets out to break it. If we locked up all the hackers on this planet, we’d only have the blue team remaining. It’s the job of the red team (hackers) to see how strong your defences are. Hackers exist to educate, not infiltrate (at least, not without asking for permission first :))

    I personally have lost count of how many times I’ve sat in meetings where a sales pitch around a security platform is touted as a one stop shop or a Swiss army knife that can protect your entire network from a breach. Admittedly, there’s some great technology on the market that performs a variety of functions to protect your estate, but they all fail to take into consideration the weakest link in any chain - users. Irrespective of bleeding edge “combat platforms” (as I like to refer to them), criminals are becoming very adept in their approach, leveraging techniques such as social engineering. It should come as no surprise for you to learn that this type of attack can literally walk past your shiny new defence system as it relies on the one vulnerability you cannot predict - the human. Hence the term “hacking humans”.

    I’m of the firm opinion that if you want to outsmart a criminal, you have to think like one. Whilst newfangled platforms are created to assist in the fight against cyber crime, they are complex to configure, suffer from alerting bloat (far too many emails so you end up missing the one where your network is actually being compromised), or are simply overwhelming and difficult to understand. Here’s the thing. You don’t need (although they do help) expensive bleeding edge platforms with flashing lights to tell you where weak points lie within your network, but you do need to understand how a criminal can and will exploit these. A vulnerability cannot be leveraged if it no longer exists, or even better, never even existed to begin with.

    And so, on with the mission, and the real reason as to why I created this site. I’ve been working in information technology for 30 years, and have a very strong technical background in network design and information security.

    What I want to do is create a communication, information, and awareness sharing platform. I created the original concept of what I thought this new community should look like in my head, but its taken a while to finally develop, get people interested, and on board. To my mind, those from inside and outside of the information security arena will pool together, share knowledge, raise awareness, and probably the most important, harness this new found force and drive change forward.

    The breaches we are witnessing on a daily basis are not going to simply stop. They will increase dramatically in their frequency, and will get worse with each incident.

    Let’s stop the “hackers are criminals” myth, start using our own unique talents in this field, and make a community that

    • is able to bring effective change
    • treats everyone as equals
    • The community once fully established could easily be the catalyst for change - both in perception, and inception.

    Why not wield the stick for a change instead of being beaten with it, and work as a global virtual team instead ?

    Will you join me ? In case I haven’t already mentioned it, this initiative has no cost - only gains. It is entirely free.


  • Link vs Refresh

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    @pobojmoks Do you see any errors being reported in the console ? At first guess (without seeing the actual code or the site itself), I’d say that this is AJAX callback related

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    @qwinter very well put. Great points and I can certainly align with these. I personally don’t see no university as a barrier to progression. My old boss said that he’d take preference with anyone who had a degree because of their “ability to think logically” (I kid you not). I said “well, you hired me and I don’t have a degree…”.

    He paused for a moment realising that he’d literally dug himself a hole and fell in it. He then said “ah yes, but you’re an exception”.

    “Exception” or not - it’s still a bigoted reasoning mechanism, and elitist to put it mildly. Class distinction springs to mind here.

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    I’ve been a veteran of the infosec industry for several years, and during that time, I’ve been exposed to a wide range of technology and situations alike. Over this period, I’ve amassed a wealth of experience around information security, physical security, and systems. 18 years of that experience has been gained within the financial sector - the remaining spread across manufacturing, retail, and several other areas. I’ve always classed myself as a jack of all trades, and a master of none. The real reason for this is that I wanted to gain as much exposure to the world of technology without effectively “shoehorning” myself - pigeon holing my career and restricting my overall scope.

    I learned how to both hack and protect 8086 / Z80 systems back in 1984, and was using “POKE” well before Facebook coined the phrase and made it trendy (one of the actual commands I still remember to this day that rendered the CTRL, SHIFT, ESC break sequence useless was

    POKE &bdee, &c9

    I spent my youth dissecting systems and software alike, understanding how they worked, and more importantly, how easily they could be bypassed or modified.

    Was I a hacker in my youth ? If you understand the true meaning of the word, then yes - I most definitely was.

    If you think a hacker is a criminal, then absolutely not. I took my various skills I obtained over the years, honed them, and made them into a walking information source - a living, breathing technology encyclopedia that could be queried simply by asking a question (but not vulnerable to SQL injection).

    Over the years, I took an interest in all forms of technology, and was deeply immersed in the “virus era” of the 2000’s. I already understood how viruses worked (after dissecting hundreds of them in a home lab), and the level of damage that could be inflicted by one paved the way for a natural progression to early and somewhat infantile malware. In its earliest form, this malware was easily spotted and removed. Today’s campaigns see code that will self delete itself post successful execution, leaving little to no trace of its activity on a system. Once the APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) acronym became mainstream, the world and its brother realised they had a significant problem in their hands, and needed to respond accordingly. I’d realised early on that one of the best defences against the ever advancing malware was containment. If you “stem the flow”, you reduce the overall impact - essentially, restricting the malicious activity to a small subset rather than your entire estate.

    I began collaborating with various stakeholders in the organisations I worked for over the years, carefully explaining how modern threats worked, the level of damage they could inflict initially from an information and financial perspective, extending to reputation damage and a variety of others as campaigns increased in their complexity). I recall one incident during a tenure within the manufacturing industry where I provided a proof of concept. At the time, I was working as a pro bono consultant for a small company, and I don’t think they took me too seriously.

    Using an existing and shockingly vulnerable Windows 2003 server (it was still using the original settings in terms of configuration - they had no patching regime, meaning all systems were effectively vanilla) I exhibited how simple it would be to gain access first to this server, then steal the hash - effortlessly using that token to gain full access to other systems without even knowing the password (pass the hash). A very primitive exercise by today’s standards, but effective nonetheless. I explained every step of what I was doing along the way, and then explained how to mitigate this simple exploit - I even provided a step by step guide on how to reproduce the vulnerability, how to remediate it, and even provided my recommendations for the necessary steps to enhance security across their estate. Their response was, frankly, shocking. Not only did they attempt to refute my findings, but at the same time, dismissed it as trivial - effectively brushing it under the carpet so to speak. This wasn’t a high profile entity, but the firm in question was AIM listed, and by definition, were duty bound - they had a responsibility to shareholders and stakeholders to resolve this issue. Instead, they remained silent.

    Being Pro Bono meant that my role was an advisory one, and I wasn’t charging for my work. The firm had asked me to perform a security posture review, yet somehow, didn’t like the result when it was presented to them. I informed them that they were more than welcome to obtain another opinion, and should process my findings as they saw fit. I later found out through a mutual contact that my findings had been dismissed as "“unrealistic”, and another consultant had certified their infrastructure as “safe”. I almost choked on my coffee, but wrote this off as a bad experience. 2 months later, I got a call from the same mutual contact telling me that my findings were indeed correct. He had been contacted by the same firm asking him to provide consultancy for what on the face of it, looked like a compromised network.

    Then came the next line which I’ll never forget.

    “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in……”

    I politely refused, saying I was busy on another project. I actually wasn’t, but refused out of principle. And so, without further ado, here’s my synopsis

    “…if you choose not to listen to the advice a security expert gives you, then you are leaving yourself and your organisation unnecessarily vulnerable. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to security…”

    Think about what you’ve read for a moment, and be honest with me - say so if you think this statement is harsh given the previous content.

    The point I am trying to make here is that despite sustained effort, valiant attempts to raise awareness, and constantly telling people they have gaping holes in systems for them to ignore the advice (and the fix I’ve handed to them on a plate) is extremely frustrating. Those in the InfoSec community are duty bound to responsibly disclose, inform, educate, raise awareness, and help protect, but that doesn’t extend to wiping people’s noses and telling them it wasn’t their fault that they failed to follow simple advice that probably could have prevented their inevitable breach. My response here is that if you bury your head in the sand, you won’t see the guy running up behind you intent on kicking you up the ass.

    Security situations can easily be avoided if people are prepared to actually listen and heed advice. I’m willing to help anyone, but they in return have to be equally willing to listen, understand, and react.

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    One of many issues with working in the Infosec community is an inevitable backlash you’ll come across almost on a daily basis. In this industry, and probably hundreds of others like it are those who have an opinion. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it’s something I always actively encourage. However, there’s a fine line between what is considered to be constructive opinion and what comes across as a bigoted approach. What I’m alluding to here is the usage of the word “hacker” and it’s context. I’ve written about this particular topic before which, so it seems, appears to have pressed a few buttons that “shouldn’t be pressed”.
    alt text

    But why is this ?

    The purpose of this article is definition. It really isn’t designed to “take sides” or cast aspersions over the correct usage of the term, or which scenarios and paradigms it is used correctly or incorrectly against. For the most part, the term “hacker” seems to be seen as positive in the Infosec community, and based on this, the general consensus is that there should be greater awareness of the differences between hackers and threat actors, for example. The issue here is that not everyone outside of this arena is inclined to agree. You could argue that the root of this issue is mainly attributed to the media and how they portray “hackers” as individuals who pursue nefarious activity and use their skills to commit crime and theft on a grand scale by gaining illegal access to networks. On the one hand, the image of hoodies and faceless individuals has created a positive awareness and a sense of caution amongst the target groups – these being everyday users of civilian systems and corporate networks alike, and with the constant stream of awareness campaigns running on a daily basis, this paradigm serves only to perpetuate rather than diminish. On the other hand, if you research the definition of the term “hacker” you’ll find more than one returned.

    Is this a fair reflection of hackers ? To the untrained eye, picture number 2 probably creates the most excitement. Sure, picture 1 looks “cool”, but it’s not “threatening” as such, as this is clearly the image the media wants to display. Essentially, they have probably taken this stance to increase awareness of an anonymous and faceless threat. But, it ISN’T a fair portrayal.

    Current definitions of “the word”

    The word “hacker” has become synonymous with criminal activity to the point where it cannot be reversed. Certainly not overnight anyway. The media attention cannot be directly blamed either in my view as without these types of campaigns, the impact of such a threat wouldn’t be taken seriously if a picture of a guy in a suit (state sponsored) was used. The hoodie is representative of an unknown masked assailant and it’s creation is for awareness – to those who have no real understanding of what a hacker should look like – hence my original article. As I highlighted above, we live in a world where a picture speaks a thousand words.

    The word hacker is always going to be associated with nefarious activity and that’s never going to change, regardless of the amount of effort that would be needed to re-educate pretty much the entire planet. Ask anyone to define a hacker and you’ll get the same response. It’s almost like trying to distinguish the deference between a full blown criminal and a “lovable rogue” or the fact that hoodies aren’t trouble making adolescent thugs.

    Ultimately, it’s far too ingrained – much like the letters that flow through a stick of rock found on UK seaside resorts. It’s doesn’t matter how much you break off, the lettering exists throughout the entire stick regardless if you want that to happen or not. To make a real change, and most importantly, have media (and by definition, everyone else) realise they have made a fundamental misjudgement, we should look at realistic definitions.

    The most notable is the below, taken from Tech Target

    A hacker is an individual who uses computer, networking or other skills to overcome a technical problem. The term hacker may refer to anyone with technical skills, but it often refers to a person who uses his or her abilities to gain unauthorized access to systems or networks in order to commit crimes. A hacker may, for example, steal information to hurt people via identity theft, damage or bring down systems and, often, hold those systems hostage to collect ransom.

    The term hacker has historically been a divisive one, sometimes being used as a term of admiration for an individual who exhibits a high degree of skill, as well as creativity in his or her approach to technical problems. However, the term is more commonly applied to an individual who uses this skill for illegal or unethical purposes.

    One great example of this is that hackers are not “evil people” but are in fact industry professionals and experts who use their knowledge to raise awareness by conducting proof of concept exercises and providing education and awareness around the millions of threats that we are exposed to on an almost daily basis. So why does the word “hacker” strike fear into those unfamiliar with its true meaning ? The reasoning for this unnecessary phenomena isn’t actually the media alone (although they have contributed significantly to it’s popularity). It’s perception. You could argue that the media have made this perception worse, and to a degree, this would be true. However, they actually didn’t create the original alliance – the MIT claimed that trophy and gave the term the “meaning” it has to this day. Have a look at this

    MIT Article

    Given the origins of this date back to 1963, the media is not to blame for creating the seemingly incorrect original reference when it’s fairly obvious that they didn’t. The “newspaper” reflected in the link is a campus circulation and was never designed for public consumption as far as I can see. Here’s a quote from that article:

    “Many telephone services have been curtailed because of so-called hackers, according to Professor Carleton Tucker, administrator of the Institute telephone system.

    The students have accomplished such things as tying up all the tie-lines between Harvard and MIT, or making long-distance calls by charging them to a local radar installation. One method involved connecting the PDP-1 computer to the phone system to search the lines until a dial tone, indicating an outside line, was found.”

    The “so-called hackers” alignment here originally comes from “Phreaking” – a traditional method of establishing control over remote telephone systems allowing trunk calls, international dialling, premium rates, etc, all without the administrator’s knowledge. This “old school” method would certainly no longer work with modern phone systems, but is certainly “up there” with the established activity that draws a parallel with hacking.

    Whilst a significant portion of blogs, security forums, and even professional security platforms continue to use images of hoodies, faceless individuals, and the term “hacker” in the criminal sense, this is clearly a misconception – unfortunately one that connotation itself has allowed to set in stone like King Arthur’s Excalibur. In fairness, cyber criminals are mostly faceless individuals as nobody can actually see them commit a crime and only realise they are in fact normal people once they are discovered, arrested, and brought to trial for their activities. However, the term “hacker” is being misused on a grand scale – and has been since the 1980’s.

    An interesting observation here is that hoodies are intrinsically linked to threatening behaviour. A classic example of this is here. This really isn’t misrepresentation by the media in this case – it’s an unfortunate reality that is on the increase. Quite who exactly is responsible for putting a hacker in a hoodie is something of a discussion topic, but hackers were originally seen as “Cyberpunks” (think Matrix 1) until the media stepped in where they suddenly were seen as skateboarding kids in hoodies. And so, the image we know (and hackers loathe) was born. Perhaps one “logical” perspective for hoodies and hackers could be the anonymity the hoodie supposedly affords.

    The misconception of the true meaning of “hacker” has damaged the Infosec community extensively in terms of what should be a “no chalk” line between what is criminal, and what isn’t. However, it’s not all bad news. True meaning aside, the level of awareness around the nefarious activities of cyber criminals has certainly increased, but until we are able to establish a clear demarcation between ethics in terms of what is right and wrong, those hackers who provide services, education, and awareness will always be painted in a negative light, and by inference, be “tarred with the same brush”. Those who pride themselves on being hackers should continue to do so in my view – and they have my full support.

    It’s not their job solely to convince everyone else of their true intent, but ours as a community.

    Let’s start making that change.

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    @kurulumu-net CSS styling is now addressed and completed.

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    One thing I’ve seen a lot of over my career is the “expert” myth being touted on LinkedIn and Twitter. Originating from psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who studied the way people become experts in their fields, and then discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in the book, “Outliers“, “to become an expert it takes 10,000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of deliberate practice”. This paradigm (if you can indeed call it that) has been adopted by several so called “experts” - mostly those within the Information Security and GDPR fields. This article isn’t about GDPR (for once), but mostly those who consider themselves “experts” by virtue of the acronym. Prior to it’s implementation, nobody should have proclaimed themselves a GDPR “expert”. You cannot be an expert in something that wasn’t actually legally binding until May 25 2018, nor can you have sufficient time invested to be an expert since inception in my view. GDPR is a vast universe, and you can’t claim to know all of it.

    Consultant ? Possibly, yes. Expert ? No.

    The associated sales campaign isn’t much better, and can be aligned to the children’s book “Chicken Licken”. For those unfamiliar with this concept, here is a walkthrough. I’m sure you’ll understand why I choose a children’s story in this case, as it seems to fit the bill very well. What I’ve seen over the last 12 months had been nothing short of amazing - but not in the sense of outstanding. I could align GDPR here to the PPI claims furore - for anyone unfamiliar with what this “uprising” is, here’s a synopsis.

    The “expert” fallacy

    Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is the insurance sold alongside credit cards, loans and other finance agreements to ensure payments are made if the borrower is unable to make them due to sickness or unemployment. The PPI scandal has its roots set back as far as 1998, although compensatory payments did not officially start until 2011 once the review and court appeal process was completed. Since the deadline for PPI claims has been announced as August 2019, the campaign has become intensively aggressive, with, it would seem, thousands of PPI “experts”. Again, I would question the authenticity of such a title. It seems that everyone is doing it, therefore, it must be easy to attain (a bit like the CISSP then). I witnessed the same shark pool of so called “experts” before, back in the day when Y2K was the latest buzzword on everyone’s lips. Years of aggressive selling campaigns and similarly, years of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt - more effectively known as complete bulls…) caused an unprecedented spike that allowed companies and consultants (several of whom had never been heard of before) to suddenly appear out of the woodwork and assume the identity of “experts” in this field. In reality, it’s not possible to be a subject matter expert in a particular field or niche market unless you have extensive experience. If you compare a weapons expert to a GDPR “expert”, you’ll see just how weak this paradigm actually is. A weapons expert will have years of knowledge in a field, and could probably tell you which gun discharged a bullet just by looking at the expended shell casing. I very much doubt a self styled GDPR expert can tell you what will happen in the event of an unknown scenario around the framework and the specific legal rights (in terms of the individual who the data belongs to) and implications for the institution affected. How can they when nobody has even been exposed to such a scenario before ? This makes a GDPR expert in my view about as plausible as a Brexit expert specialising in Article 50.

    What defines an expert ?

    The focal point here is in the comparison. A weapons expert can be given a gun and a sample of shell casings, then asked to determine if the suspected weapon actually fired the supplied ammunition or not. Using a process of proven identification techniques, the expert can then determine if the gun provided is indeed the origin. This information is derived by using established identity techniques from the indentations and markings in the shell casing created by the gun barrel from which the bullet was expelled, velocity, angle, and speed measurements obtained from firing the weapon. The impact of the bullet and exit damage is also analysed to determine a match based on material and critical evidence. Given the knowledge and experience level required to produce such results, how long do you think it took to reach this unrivalled plateau ? An expert isn’t solely based on knowledge. It’s not solely based on experience either. In fact, it’s a deep mixture of both. Deep in the sense of the subject matter comprehension, and how to execute that same understanding along with real life experience to obtain the optimum result. Here’s an example   An information technology expert should be able to

    Identify and eliminate potential bottlenecks Address security concerns, Design high availability Factor in extensible scalability Consider risk to adjacent and disparate technology and conduct analysis Ensure that any design proposal meets both the current criteria and beyond Understand the business need for technology and be able to support it

    If I leveraged external consultancy for a project, I’d expect all of the above and probably more from anyone who labels themselves as an expert - or for that fact, an architect. Sadly, I’ve been disappointed on numerous occasions throughout my career where it became evident very quickly that the so called expert (who I hasten to add is earning more an hour than I do in a day in most cases) hired for his “expertise and superior knowledge” in fact appears to know far less than I do about the same topic.

    How long does it really take to become an expert ?

    I’ve been in the information technology and security field since I was 16. I’m now 47, meaning 31 years experience (well, 31 as this year isn’t over yet). If you consider that experience is acquired during an 8 hour day, and used the following equation to determine the amount of years needed to reach 10,000 hours

    10000 / 8 / 365 = 3.4246575342 - for the sake of simple mathematics, let’s say 3.5 years.

    However, in the initial calculation, it’s 10 years (using the basis of 90 minutes invested per day) - making the expert title when aligned to GDPR even more unrealistic. As the directive was adopted on the 27 April 2016, the elapsed time period isn’t even enough to carry the first figure cited at 3.5 years, irrespective of the second. The reality here is that no amount of time invested in anything is going to make your an expert if you do not possess the prerequisite skills and a thorough understanding based on previous events in order to supplement and bolster the initial investment. I could spend 10,000 practicing a particular sport - yet effectively suck at it because my body (If you’ve met me, you’d know why) isn’t designed for the activity I’m requesting it to perform. Just because I’ve spent 10,000 hours reading about something doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch of the imagination. If I calculated the hours spanned over my career, I would arrive at the below. I’m basing this on an 8 hour day when in reality, most of my days are in fact much longer.

    31 x 365 x 8 = 90,520 hours

    Even when factoring in vacation based on 4 weeks per year (subject to variation, but I’ve gone for the mean average),

    31 x 28 X 8 = 6,944 hours to subtract

    This is only fair as you are not (supposed to be) working when on holiday. Even with this subtraction, the total is still 83,578 hours. Does my investment make me an expert ? I think so, yes - based on the fact that 31 years dedicated to one area would indicate a high level of experience and professional standard - both of which I constantly strive to maintain. Still think 10,000 hours invested makes you an expert ? You decide ! What are your views around this ?

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    @crazycells I guess the worst part for me was the trolling - made so much worse by the fact that the moderators allowed it to continue, insisting that the PeerLyst coming was seeing an example by allowing the community to “self moderate” - such a statement being completely ridiculous, and it wasn’t until someone else other than myself pointed out that all of this toxic activity could in fact be crawled by Google, that they decided to step in and start deleting posts.

    In fact, it reached a boiling point where the CEO herself had to step in and post an article stating their justification for “self moderation” which simply doesn’t work.

    The evidence here speaks for itself.

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    The recent high profile breaches impacting organisations large and small are a testament to the fact that no matter how you secure credentials, they will always be subject to exploit. Can a password alone ever be enough ? in my view, it’s never enough. The enforced minimum should be at least with a secondary factor. Regardless of how “secure” you consider your password to be, it really isn’t in most cases – it just “complies” with the requirement being enforced.

    Here’s classic example. We take the common password of “Welcome123” and put it into a password strength checker
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    According to the above, it’s “strong”. Actually, it isn’t. It’s only considered this way because it meets the complexity requirements, with 1 uppercase letter, at least 8 characters, and numbers. What’s also interesting is that a tool sponsored by Dashlane considers the same password as acceptable, taking supposedly 8 months to break
    1564764192-579936-password2.png
    How accurate is this ? Not accurate at all. The password of “Welcome123” is in fact one of the passwords contained in any penetration tester’s toolkit – and, by definition, also used by cyber criminals. As most of this password combination is in fact made up of a dictionary word, plus sequential numbers, it would take less than a second to break this rather than the 8 months reported above. Need further evidence of this ? Have a look at haveibeenpwned, which will provide you with a mechanism to test just how many times “Welcome123” has appeared in data breaches
    1564764241-350631-hibp.png

    Why are credentials so weak ?

    My immediate response to this is that for as long as humans have habits, and create scenarios that enable them to easily remember their credentials, then this weakness will always exist. If you look at a sample taken from the LinkedIn breach, those passwords that occupy the top slots are arguably the least secure, but the easiest to remember from the human perspective. Passwords such as “password” and “123456” may be easy for users to remember, but on the flip side, weak credentials like this can be broken by a simple dictionary attack in less than a second.

    Here’s a selection of passwords still in use today – hopefully, yours isn’t on there
    1564764251-257407-passwordlist.jpeg
    We as humans are relatively simplistic when it comes to credentials and associated security methods. Most users who do not work in the security industry have little understanding, desire to understand, or patience, and will naturally choose the route that makes their life easier. After all, technology is supposed to increase productivity, and make tasks easier to perform, right ? Right. And it’s this exact vulnerability that a cyber criminal will exploit to it’s full potential.

    Striking a balance between the security of credentials and ease of recall has always had it’s challenges. A classic example is that networks, websites and applications nowadays typically have password policies in place that only permit the use of a so-called strong password. Given the consolidation and overall assortment of letters, numbers, non-alphanumeric characters, uppercase and lowercase, the password itself is probably “secure” to an acceptable extent, although the method of storing the credentials isn’t. A shining example of this is the culture of writing down sensitive information such as credentials. I’ve worked in some organisations where users have actually attached their password to their monitor. Anyone looking for easy access into a computer network is onto an immediate winner here, and unauthorised access or a full blown breach could occur within an alarmingly short period of time.

    Leaked credentials and attacks from within

    You could argue that you would need access to the computer itself first, but in several historical breach scenarios, the attack originated from within. In this case, it may not be an active employee, but someone who has access to the area where that particular machine is located. Any potential criminal has the credentials – well, the password itself, but what about the username ? This is where a variety of techniques can be used in terms of username discovery – in fact, most of them being non-technical – and worryingly simple to execute. Think about what is usually on a desk in an office. The most obvious place to look for the username would be on the PC itself. If the user had recently logged out, or locked their workstation, then on a windows network, that would give you the username unless a group policy was in place. Failing that, most modern desk phones display the name of the user. On Cisco devices, under Extension Mobility, is the ID of the user. It doesn’t take long to find this. Finally there’s the humble business card. A potential criminal can look at the email address format, remove the domain suffix, and potentially predict the username. Most companies tend to leverage the username in email addresses mainly thanks to SMTP template address policies – certainly true in on premise Exchange environments or Office 365 tenants.

    The credentials are now paired. The password has been retrieved in clear text, and by using a simple discovery technique, the username has also been acquired. Sometimes, a criminal can get extremely lucky and be able to acquire credentials with minimal effort. Users have a habit of writing down things they cannot recall easily, and in some cases, the required information is relatively easily divulged without too much effort on the part of the criminal. Sounds absurd and far fetched, doesn’t it ? Get into your office early, or work late one evening, and take a walk around the desks. You’ll be unpleasantly surprised at what you will find. Amongst the plethora of personal effects such as used gym towels and footwear, I guarantee that you will find information that could be of significant use to a criminal – not necessarily readily available in the form of credentials, but sufficient information to create a mechanism for extraction via an alternative source. But who would be able to use such information ?

    Think about this for a moment. You generally come into a clean office in the mornings, so cleaners have access to your office space. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unscrupulous or illegal here, but you do need to be realistic. This is the 21st century, and as a result, it is a security measure you need to factor in and adopt into your overall cyber security policy and strategy. Far too much focus is placed on securing the perimeter network, and not enough on the threat that lies within. A criminal could get a job as a cleaner at a company, and spend time collecting intelligence in terms of what could be a vulnerability waiting to be exploited. Another example of “instant intelligence” is the network topology map. Some of us are not blessed with huge screens, and need to make do with one ancient 19″ or perhaps two. As topology maps can be quite complex, it’s advantageous to be able to print these in A3 format to make it easier to digest. You may also need to print copies of this same document for meetings. The problem here is what you do with that copy once you have finished with it ?

    How do we address the issue ? Is there sufficient awareness ?

    Yes, there is. Disposing of it in the usual fashion isn’t the answer, as it can easily be recovered. The information contained in most topology maps is often extensive, and is like a goldmine to a criminal looking for intelligence about your network layout. Anything like this is classified information, and should be shredded at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps one of the worst offences I’ve ever personally experienced is a member of the IT team opening a password file, then walking away from their desk without locking their workstation. To prove a point about how easily credentials can be inadvertently leaked, I took a photo with a smartphone, then showed the offender what I’d managed to capture a few days later. Slightly embarrassed didn’t go anywhere near covering it.

    I’ve been an advocate of securing credentials for some time, and recently read about the author of “NIST Special Publication 800-63” (Bill Burr). Now retired, he has openly admitted the advice he originally provided as in fact, incorrect

    “Much of what I did I now regret.” said Mr Burr, who advised people to change their password every 90 days and use obscure characters.

    “It just drives people bananas and they don’t pick good passwords no matter what you do.”

    The overall security of credentials and passwords

    However, bearing in mind that this supposed “advice” has long been the accepted norm in terms of password securuty, let’s look at the accepted standards from a well-known auditing firm

    It would seem that the Sarbanes Oxley 404 act dictates that regular changes of credentials are mandatory, and part of the overarching controls. Any organisation that is regulated by the SEC (for example) would be covered and within scope by this statement, and so the argument for not regularly changing your password becomes “invalid” by the act definition and narrative. My overall point here is that the clearly obvious bad password advice in the case of the financial services industry is negated by a severely outdated set of controls that require you to enforce a password change cycle and be in compliance with it. In addition, there are a vast number of sites and services that force password changes on a regular basis, and really do not care about what is known to be extensive research on password generation.

    The argument for password security to be weakened by having to change it on a frequent basis is an interesting one that definitely deserves intense discussion and real-world examples, but if your password really is strong (as I mentioned previously, there are variations of this which are really not secure at all, yet are considered strong because they meet a complexity requirement), then a simple mutation of it could render it vulnerable. I took a simple lowercase phrase

    mypasswordissimpleandnotsecureatall

    1564764311-893646-nonillion.png
    The actual testing tool can be found here. So, does a potential criminal have 26 nonillion years to spare ? Any cyber criminal who possesses only basic skills won’t need a fraction of that time as this password is in fact made up of simple dictionary words, is all lowercase, and could in fact be broken in seconds.

    My opinion ? Call it how you like – the password is here to stay for the near future at least. The overall strength of the password or credentials stored using MD5, bCrypt, SHA1 and so on are irrelevant when an attacker can use established and proven techniques such as social engineering to obtain your password. Furthermore, the addition of 2FA or a SALT dramatically increases password security – as does the amount of unsuccessful attempts permitted before the associated account is locked. This is a topic that interests me a great deal. I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.