Never underestimate the importance of security

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    Over the years, I’ve been exposed to a variety of industries - one of these is aerospace engineering and manufacturing. During my time in this industry, I picked up a wealth of experience around processing, manufacturing, treatments, inspection, and various others. Sheet metal work within the aircraft industry is fine-limit. We’re not talking about millimeters here - we’re talking about thousands of an inch, or “thou” to be more precise. Sounds Imperial, right ? Correct. This has been a standard for years, and hasn’t really changed. The same applies to sheet metal thickness, typically measured using SWG (sheet / wire gauge). For example, 16 SWG is actually 1.6mm thick or thereabouts and the only way you’d get a true reading is with either a Vernier or a Micrometer. For those now totally baffled, one mm is around 40 thou or 25.4 micrometers (μm). Can you imagine having to work to such a minute limit where the work you’ve submitted is 2 thou out of tolerance, and as a result, fails first off inspection ?

    Welcome to precision engineering. It’s not all tech and fine-limit though. In every industry, you have to start somewhere. And typically, in engineering, you’d start as an apprentice in the store room learning the trade and associated materials.

    Anyone familiar with engineering will know exactly what I mean when I use terms such as Gasparini, Amada, CNC, Bridgeport, guillotine, and Donkey Saw. Whilst the Donkey Saw sounds like animal cruelty, it’s actually an automated mechanical saw who’s job it is to cut tough material (such as S99 bar, which is hardened stainless steel) simulating the back and forth action manually performed with a hacksaw. Typically, a barrel of coolant liquid was connected to the saw and periodically deposited liquid into the blade to prevent it from overheating and snapping. Where am I going with all this ?

    Well, through my tenure in engineering, I started at the bottom as “the boy” - the one you’d send to the stores to get a plastic hammer, a long weight (wait), a bubble for a spirit level, sky hooks, and just about any other imaginary or pointless tool you could think of. It was part of the initiation ceremony - and the learning process.

    One other extremely dull task was to cut “blanks’’ in the store room from 8’ X 4’ sheets of CRS (cold rolled steel) or L166 (1.6mm aerospace grade aluminium, poly coated on both sides). These would then be used to make parts according to the drawing and spec you had, or could be for tooling purposes. My particular “job” (if you could call it that) in this case was to press the footswitch to activate the guillotine blade after the sheet was placed into the guide. The problem is that after about 50 or so blanks, you only hear the trigger word requiring you to “react”. In this case, that particular word was “right”. This meant that the old guy I was working with had placed the sheet, and was ready for me to kick the switch to activate the guillotine. All very high tech and vitally important - not.

    And so, here it is. Jim walks into the store room where we’re cutting blanks, and asks George if he’d like coffee. After 10 minutes, Jim returns with a tray of drinks and shouts “George, coffee!”. George, fiddling with the guillotine guide responds with “right”…. See if you can guess the rest…

    George went as white as a sheet and almost fainted as the guillotine blade narrowly missed his fingers. It took more than one coffee laden with sugar to put the colour back into his cheeks and restore his ailing blood sugar level.

    The good news is that George finally retired with all his fingers intact, and I eventually progressed through the shop floor and learned a trade.

    The purpose of this post ? In an ever changing and evolving security environment, have your wits about you at all times. It’s not only your organisation’s information security, but clients who have entrusted you as a custodian of their information to keep it safe and prevent unauthorised access. Information Security is a 101 rule to be adhered to at all times - regardless of how experienced you think you are. Complacency is at the heart of most mistakes. By taking a more pragmatic approach, that risk is greatly reduced.


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    Security experts have urged Android users to delete five apps from their phones immediately over fears they are infected with malware.

    Samsung Galaxy phones are particularly at risk from the nasty bug called Anatsa, which is a banking trojan.

    It is capable of performing actions on a victim’s phone without them knowing, including taking money from their bank account.

    The apps, which had been available on the Google Play Store, are:

    Phone Cleaner – File Explorer PDF Viewer – File Explorer PDF Reader – Viewer & Editor Phone Cleaner: File Explorer PDF Reader: File Manager

    Article courtesy of Life Hacker

    https://lifehacker.com/tech/delete-these-android-malware-apps-asap

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    I’ve been using this service for a couple of days now, and it’s made my internet access so much faster. That alone is a plus, and I never thought there would be a contender for Cloudflare in this area.

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    @DownPW 🙂 most of this really depends on your desired security model. In all cases with firewalls, less is always more, although it’s never as clear cut as that, and there are always bespoke ports you’ll need to open periodically.

    Heztner’s DDoS protection is superior, and I know they have invested a lot of time, effort, and money into making it extremely effective. However, if you consider that the largest ever DDoS attack hit Cloudflare at 71m rps (and they were able to deflect it), and each attack can last anywhere between 8-24 hours which really depends on how determined the attacker(s) is/are, you can never be fully prepared - nor can you trace it’s true origin.

    DDoS attacks by their nature (Distributed Denial of Service) are conducted by large numbers of devices whom have become part of a “bot army” - and in most cases, the owners of these devices are blissfully unaware that they have been attacked and are under command and control from a nefarious resource. Given that the attacks originate from multiple sources, this allows the real attacker to observe from a distance whilst concealing their own identity and origin in the process.

    If you consider the desired effect of DDoS, it is not an attempt to access ports that are typically closed, but to flood (and eventually overwhelm) the target (such as a website) with millions of requests per second in an attempt to force it offline. Victims of DDoS attacks are often financial services for example, with either extortion or financial gain being the primary objective - in other words, pay for the originator to stop the attack.

    It’s even possible to get DDoS as a service these days - with a credit card, a few clicks of a mouse and a target IP, you can have your own proxy campaign running in minutes which typically involves “booters” or “stressers” - see below for more

    https://heimdalsecurity.com/blog/ddos-as-a-service-attacks-what-are-they-and-how-do-they-work

    @DownPW said in Setting for high load and prevent DDoS (sysctl, iptables, crowdsec or other):

    in short if you have any advice to give to secure the best.

    It’s not just about DDos or firewalls. There are a number of vulnerabilities on all systems that if not patched, will expose that same system to exploit. One of my favourite online testers which does a lot more than most basic ones is below

    https://www.immuniweb.com/websec/

    I’d start with the findings reported here and use that to branch outwards.

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    It surprises me (well, actually, dismays me in most cases) that new websites appear online all the time who have clearly spent an inordinate amount of time on cosmetics / appearance, and decent hosting, yet failed to address the elephant in the room when it comes to actually securing the site itself. Almost all the time, when I perform a quick security audit using something simple like the below

    https://securityheaders.io

    I often see something like this

    Not a pretty sight. Not only does this expose your site to unprecedented risk, but also looks bad when others decide to perform a simple (and very public) check. Worse still is the sheer number of so called “security experts” who claim to solve all of your security issues with their “silver bullet” solution (sarcasm intended), yet have neglected to get their own house in order. So that can you do to resolve this issue ? It’s actually much easier than it seems. Dependant on the web server you are running, you can include these headers.

    Apache <IfModule mod_headers.c> Header set X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN" header set X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block" Header set X-Download-Options "noopen" Header set X-Content-Type-Options "nosniff" Header set Content-Security-Policy "upgrade-insecure-requests" Header set Referrer-Policy 'no-referrer' add Header set Feature-Policy "geolocation 'self' https://yourdomain.com" Header set Permissions-Policy "geolocation=(),midi=(),sync-xhr=(),microphone=(),camera=(),magnetometer=(),gyroscope=(),fullscreen=(self),payment=()" Header set X-Powered-By "Whatever text you want to appear here" Header set Access-Control-Allow-Origin "https://yourdomain.com" Header set X-Permitted-Cross-Domain-Policies "none" Header set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=63072000; includeSubDomains; preload" </IfModule> NGINX add_header X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN" always; add_header X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block"; add_header X-Download-Options "noopen" always; add_header X-Content-Type-Options "nosniff" always; add_header Content-Security-Policy "upgrade-insecure-requests" always; add_header Referrer-Policy 'no-referrer' always; add_header Feature-Policy "geolocation 'self' https://yourdomain.com" always; add_header Permissions-Policy "geolocation=(),midi=(),sync-xhr=(),microphone=(),camera=(),magnetometer=(),gyroscope=(),fullscreen=(self),payment=();"; add_header X-Powered-By "Whatever text you want to appear here" always; add_header Access-Control-Allow-Origin "https://yourdomain.com" always; add_header X-Permitted-Cross-Domain-Policies "none" always; add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=63072000; includeSubdomains;" always;

    Note, that https://yourdomain.com should be changed to reflect your actual domain. This is just a placeholder to demonstrate how the headers need to be structured.

    Restart Apache or NGINX, and then perform the test again.


    That’s better !

    More detail around these headers can be found here

    https://webdock.io/en/docs/how-guides/security-guides/how-to-configure-security-headers-in-nginx-and-apache

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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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    It’s a common occurrence in today’s modern world that virtually all organisations have a considerable budget (or a strong focus on) information and cyber security. Often, larger organisations spend millions annually on significant improvements to their security program or framework, yet overlook arguably the most fundamental basics which should be (but are often not) the building blocks of any fortified stronghold.

    We’ve spent so much time concentrating on the virtual aspect of security and all that it encompasses, but seem to have lost sight of what should arguably be the first item on the list – physical security. It doesn’t matter how much money and effort you plough into designing and securing your estate when you consider how vulnerable and easily negated the program or framework is if you neglect the physical element. Modern cyber crime has evolved, and it’s the general consensus these days that the traditional perimeter as entry point is rapidly losing its appeal from the accessibility versus yield perspective. Today’s discerning criminal is much more inclined to go for a softer and predictable target in the form of users themselves rather than spend hours on reconnaissance and black box probing looking for backdoors or other associated weak points in a network or associated infrastructure.

    Physical vs virtual

    So does this mean you should be focusing your efforts on the physical elements solely, and ignoring the perimeter altogether ? Absolutely not – doing so would be commercial suicide. However, the physical element should not be neglected either, but instead factored into any security design at the outset instead of being an afterthought. I’ve worked for a variety of organisations over my career – each of them with differing views and attitudes to risk concerning physical security. From the banking and finance sector to manufacturing, they all have common weaknesses. Weaknesses that should, in fact, have been eliminated from the outset rather than being a part of the everyday activity. Take this as an example. In order to qualify for buildings and contents insurance, business with office space need to ensure that they have effective measures in place to secure that particular area. In most cases, modern security mechanisms dictate that proximity card readers are deployed at main entrances, rendering access impossible (when the locking mechanism is enforced) without a programmed access card or token. But how “impossible” is that access in reality ?

    Organisations often take an entire floor of a building, or at least a subset of it. This means that any doors dividing floors or areas occupied by other tenants must be secured against unauthorised access. Quite often, these floors have more than one exit point for a variety of health and safety / fire regulation reasons, and it’s this particular scenario that often goes unnoticed, or unintentionally overlooked. Human nature dictates that it’s quicker to take the side exit when leaving the building rather than the main entrance, and the last employee leaving (in an ideal world) has the responsibility of ensuring that the door is locked behind them when they leave. However, the reality is often the case instead where the door is held open by a fire extinguisher for example. Whilst this facilitates effective and easy access during the day, it has a significant impact to your physical security if that same door remains open and unattended all night. I’ve seen this particular offence repeatedly committed over months – not days or weeks – in most organisations I’ve worked for. In fact, this exact situation allowed thieves to steal a laptop left on the desk in an office of a finance firm I previously worked at.

    Theft in general is mostly based around opportunity. As a paradigm, you could leave a £20 note / $20 bill on your desk and see how long it remained there before it went missing. I’m not implying here that anyone in particular is a thief, but again, it’s about opportunity. The same process can be aligned to Information security. It’s commonplace to secure information systems with passwords, least privilege access, locked server rooms, and all the other usual mechanisms, but what about the physical elements ? It’s not just door locks. It’s anything else that could be classed as sensitive, such as printed documents left on copiers long since forgotten and unloved, personally identifiable information left out on desks, misplaced smartphones, or even keys to restricted areas such as usually locked doors or cupboards. That 30 second window could be all that would be required to trigger a breach of security – and even worse, of information classed as sensitive. Not only could your insurance refuse to pay out if you could not demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that you had the basic physical security measures in place, but (in the EU) you would have to notify the regulator (in this case, the ICO) that information had been stolen. Not only would it be of significant embarrassment to any firm that a “chancer” was able to casually stroll in and take anything they wanted unchallenged, but significant in terms of the severity of such an information breach – and the resultant fines imposed by the ICO or SEC (from the regulatory perspective – in this case, GDPR) – at €20m or 4% of annual global (yes, global) turnover (if you were part of a larger organisation, then that is actually 4% of the parent entity turnover – not just your firm) – whichever is the highest. Of equal significance is the need to notify the ICO within 72 hours of a discovered breach. In the event of electronic systems, you could gain intelligence about what was taken from a centralised logging system (if you have one – that’s another horror story altogether if you don’t and you are breached) from the “electronic” angle of any breach via traditional cyber channels, but do you know exactly what information has taken residence on desks ? Simple answer ? No.

    It’s for this very reason that several firms operate a “clean desk” policy. Not just for aesthetic reasons, but for information security reasons. Paper shredders are a great invention, but they lack AI and machine learning to wheel themselves around your office looking for sensitive hard copy (printed) data to destroy in order for you to remain compliant with your information security policy (now there’s an invention…).

    But how secure are these “unbreakable” locks ? Despite the furore around physical security in the form of smart locks, thieves seem to be able to bypass these “security measures” with little effort. Here’s a short video courtesy of ABC news detailing just how easy it was (and still is in some cases) to gain access to hotel rooms using cheap technology, tools, and “how-to” articles from YouTube.

    Surveillance systems aren’t exempt either. As an example, a camera system can be rendered useless with a can of spray paint or even something as simple as a grocery bag if it’s in full view. Admittedly, this would require some previous reconnaissance to determine the camera locations before committing any offence, but it’s certainly a viable prospect of that system is not monitored regularly. Additionally, (in the UK at least) the usage of CCTV in a commercial setting requires a written visible notice to be displayed informing those affected that they are in fact being recorded (along with an impact assessment around the usage), and is also subject to various other controls around privacy, usage, security, and retention periods.

    Unbreakable locks ?

    Then there’s the “unbreakable” door lock. Tapplock advertised their “unbreakable smart lock” only to find that it was vulnerable to the most basic of all forced entry – the screwdriver. Have a look at this article courtesy of “The Register”. In all seriousness, there aren’t that many locks that cannot be effectively bypassed. Now, I know what you’re thinking. If the lock cannot be effectively opened, then how do you gain entry ? It’s much simpler than you think. For a great demonstration, we’ll hand over to a scene from “RED” that shows exactly how this would work. The lock itself may have pass-code that “…changes every 6 hours…” and is “unbreakable”, but that doesn’t extend to the material that holds both the door and the access panel for the lock itself.

    And so onto the actual point. Unless your “unbreakable” door lock is housed within fortified brick or concrete walls and impervious to drills, oxy-acetylene cutting equipment, and proximity explosive charges (ok, that’s a little over the top…), it should not be classed as “secure”. Some of the best examples I’ve seen are a metal door housed in a plasterboard / false wall. Personally, if I wanted access to the room that badly, I’d go through the wall with the nearest fire extinguisher rather than fiddle with the lock itself. All it takes is to tap on the wall, and you’ll know for sure if it’s hollow just by the sound it makes. Finally, there’s the even more ridiculous – where you have a reinforced door lock with a viewing pane (of course, glass). Why bother with the lock when you can simply shatter the glass, put your hand through, and unlock the door ?

    Conclusion

    There’s always a variety of reasons as to why you wouldn’t build your comms room out of brick or concrete – mostly attributed to building and landlord regulations in premises that businesses occupy. Arguably, if you wanted to build something like this, and occupied the ground floor, then yes, you could indeed carry out this work if it was permitted. Most data centres that are truly secure are patrolled 24 x 7 by security, are located underground, or within heavily fortified surroundings. Here is an example of one of the most physically secure data centres in the world.

    https://www.identiv.com/resources/blog/the-worlds-most-secure-buildings-bahnhof-data-center

    Virtually all physical security aspects eventually circle back to two common topics – budget, and attitude to risk. The real question here is what value you place on your data – particularly if you are a custodian of it, but the data relates to others. Leaking data because of exceptionally weak security practices in today’s modern age is an unfortunate risk – one that you cannot afford to overlook.

    What are your thoughts around physical security ?

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    When you look at your servers or surrounding networks, what exactly do you see ? A work of art, perhaps ? Sadly, this is anything but the picture painted for most networks when you begin to look under the hood. What I’m alluding to here is that beauty isn’t skin deep - in the sense that neat cabling resembling art from the Sistine Chapel, tidy racks, and huge comms rooms full of flashing lights looks appealing from the eye candy perspective and probably will impress clients, but in several cases, this is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sounds harsh ? Of course it does, but with good intentions and reasoning. There’s not a single person responsible for servers and networks on this planet who will willingly admit that whilst his or her network looks like a masterpiece to the untrained eye, it’s a complete disaster in terms of security underneath.

    In reality, it’s quite the opposite. Organisations often purchase bleeding edge infrastructure as a means of leveraging the clear technical advantages, enhanced security, and competitive edge it provides. However, under the impressive start of the art ambience and air conditioning often lies an unwanted beast. This mostly invisible beast lives on low-hanging fruit, will be tempted to help itself at any given opportunity, and is always hungry. For those becoming slightly bewildered at this point, there really isn’t an invisible beast lurking around your network that eats fruit. But, with a poorly secured infrastructure, there might as well be. The beast being referenced here is an uninvited intruder in your network. A bad actor, threat actor, bad guy, criminal…. call it what you want (just don’t use the word hacker) can find their way inside your network by leveraging the one thing that I’ve seen time and time again in literally every organisation I ever worked for throughout my career - the default username and password. I really can’t stress the importance of changing this on new (and existing) network equipment enough, and it doesn’t stop at this either.

    Changing the default username and password is about 10% of the puzzle when it comes to security and basic protection principles. Even the most complex credentials can be bypassed completely by a vulnerability (or in some cases, a backdoor) in ageing firmware on switches, firewalls, routers, storage arrays, and a wealth of others - including printers (which incidentally make an ideal watering hole thanks to the defaults of FTP, HTTP, SNMP, and Telnet, most (if not all of) are usually always on. As cheaper printers do not have screens like their more expensive copier counterparts (the estate is reduced to make the device smaller and cheaper), any potential criminal can hide here and not be detected - often for months at a time - arguably, they could live in a copier without you being aware also. A classic example of an unknown exploit into a system was the Juniper firewall backdoor that permitted full admin access using a specific password - regardless of the one set by the owner. Whilst the Juniper exploit didn’t exactly involve a default username and password as such (although this particular exploit was hard-coded into the firmware, meaning that any “user” with the right coded password and SSH access remotely would achieve full control over the device), it did leverage the specific vulnerability in the fact that poorly configured devices could have SSH configured as accessible to 0.0.0.0/0 (essentially, the entire planet) rather than a trusted set of IP addresses - typically from an approved management network.

    We all need to get out of the mindset of taking something out of a box, plugging it into our network, and then doing nothing else - such as changing the default username and password (ideally disabling it completely and replacing it with a unique ID) or turning off access protocols that we do not want or need. The real issue here is that today’s technology standards make it simple for literally anyone to purchase something and set it up within a few minutes without considering that a simple port scan of a subnet can reveal a wealth of information to an attacker - several of these tools are equipped with a default username and password dictionary that is leveraged against the device in question if it responds to a request. Changing the default configuration instead of leaving it to chance can dramatically reduce the attack landscape in your network. Failure to do so changes “plug and play” to “ripe for picking”, and its those devices that perform seemingly “minor” functions in your network that are the easiest to exploit - and leverage in order to gain access to neighbouring ancillary services. Whilst not an immediate gateway into another device, the compromised system can easily give an attacker a good overview of what else is on the same subnet, for example.

    So how did we arrive at the low hanging fruit paradigm ?

    It’s simple enough if you consider the way that fruit can weigh down the branch to the point where it is low enough to be picked easily. A poorly secured network contains many vulnerabilities that can be leveraged and exploited very easily without the need for much effort on the part of an attacker. It’s almost like a horse grazing in a field next to an orchard where the apples hang over the fence. It’s easily picked, often overlooked, and gone in seconds. When this term is used in information security, a common parallel is the path of least resistance. For example, a pickpocket can acquire your wallet without you even being aware, and this requires a high degree of skill in order to evade detection yet still achieve the primary objective. On the other hand, someone strolling down the street with an expensive camera hanging over their shoulder is a classic example of the low hanging fruit synopsis in the sense that this theft is based on an opportunity that wouldn’t require much effort - yet with a high yield. Here’s an example of how that very scenario could well play out.

    Now, as much as we’d all like to handle cyber crime in this way, we can’t. It’s illegal 🙂

    What isn’t illegal is prevention. 80% of security is based on best practice. Admittedly, there is a fair argument as to what exactly is classed as “best” these days, although it’s a relatively well known fact that patching the Windows operating system for example is one of the best ways to stamp out a vulnerability - but only for that system that it is designed to protect against. Windows is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vulnerabilities - it’s not just operating systems that suffer, but applications, too. You could take a Windows based IIS server, harden it in terms of permitted protocols and services, plus install all of the available patches - yet have an outdated version of WordPress running (see here for some tips on how to reduce that threat), or often even worse, outdated plugins that allow remote code execution. The low hanging fruit problem becomes even more obvious when you consider breaches such as the well-publicised Mossack Fonseca (“Panama Papers”). What became clear after an investigation is that the attackers in this case leveraged vulnerabilities in the firm’s WordPress and Joomla public facing installations - this in fact led to them being able to exploit an equally vulnerable mail server by brute-forcing it.

    So what should you do ? The answer is simple. It’s harvest time.

    If there is no low-hanging fruit to pick, life becomes that much more difficult for any attacker looking for a quick “win”. Unless determined, it’s unlikely that your average attacker is going to spend a significant amount of time on a target (unless it’s Fort Knox - then you’ve have to question the sophistication) then walk away empty handed with nothing to show for the effort. To this end, below are my top recommendations. They are not new, non-exhaustive, and certainly not rocket science - yet they are surprisingly missing from the “security 101” perspective in several organisations.

    Change the default username and password on ALL infrastructure. It doesn’t matter if it’s not publicly accessible - this is irrelevant when you consider the level of threats that have their origins from the inside. If you do have to keep the default username (in other words, it can’t be disabled), set the lowest possible access permissions, and configure a strong password. Close all windows - in this case, lock down protocols and ports that are not essential - and if you really do need them open, ensure that they are restricted Deploy MFA (or at least 2FA) to all public facing systems and those that contain sensitive or personally identifiable information Deploy adequate monitoring and logging techniques, using a sane level of retention. Without any way of forensic examination, any bad actor can be in and out of your network well before you even realise a breach may have taken place. The only real difference is that without decent logging, you have no way of confirming or even worse, quantifying your suspicion. This can spell disaster in regulated industries. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Ensure all Windows servers and PC’s are up to date with the latest patches. The same applies to Linux and MAC systems - despite the hype, they are vulnerable to an extent (but not in the same way as Windows), although attacks are notoriously more difficult to deploy and would need to be in the form of a rootkit to work properly Do not let routers, firewalls, switches, etc “slip” in terms of firmware updates. Keep yourself and your team regularly informed and updated around the latest vulnerabilities, assess their impact, and most importantly, plan an update review. Not upgrading firmware on critical infrastructure can have a dramatic effect on your overall security. Lock down USB ports, CD/DVD drives, and do not permit access to file sharing, social media, or web based email. This has been an industry standard for years, but you’d be surprised at just how many organisations still have these open and yet, do not consider this a risk. Reduce the attack vector by segmenting your network using VLANS. For example, the sales VLAN does not need to (and shouldn’t need to) connect directly to accounting etc. In this case, a ransomware or malware outbreak in sales would not traverse to other VLANS, therefore, restricting the spread. A flat network is simple to manage, but a level playing field for an attacker to compromise if all the assets are in the same space. Don’t use an account with admin rights to perform your daily duties. There’s no prizes for guessing the level of potential damage this can cause if your account is compromised, or you land up with malware on your PC Educate and phish your users on a continual basis. They are the gateway directly into your network, and bypassing them is surprisingly easy. You only have to look at the success of phishing campaigns to realise that they are (and always will be) the weakest link in your network. Devise a consistent security and risk review framework. Conducting periodic security reviews is always a good move, and you’d be surprised at just what is lurking around on your network without your knowledge. There needn’t be a huge budget for this. There are a number of open source projects and platforms that make this process simple in terms of identification, but you’ll still need to complete the “grunt” work in terms of remediation. I am currently authoring a framework that will be open source, and will share this with the community once it is completed. Conduct regular governance and due diligence on vendors - particularly those that handle information considered sensitive (think GDPR). If their network is breached, any information they hold around your network and associated users is also at risk. Identify weak or potential risk areas within your network. Engage with business leaders and management to raise awareness around best practice, and information security. Perform breach simulation, and engage senior management in this exercise. As they are the fundamental core of the business function, they also need to understand the risk, and more importantly, the decisions and communication that is inevitable post breach.

    There is no silver bullet when it comes to protecting your network, information, and reputation. However, the list above will form the basis of a solid framework.

    Let’s not be complacent - let’s be compliant.

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    @justoverclock yes, completely understand that. It’s a haven for criminal gangs and literally everything is on the table. Drugs, weapons, money laundering, cyber attacks for rent, and even murder for hire.

    Nothing it seems is off limits. The dark web is truly a place where the only limitation is the amount you are prepared to spend.