Posts Tagged ‘security theater’

Jumping The Gap

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

I listened to a news story on NPR’s On The Media recently about “Cyber Warfare” and assessing it’s true threat. On the one hand, it seemed like another misguided report from a clueless news media. On the other hand, though, it did make me think a bit.

Much of the talk about Cyber Warfare revolves around attacking the various SCADA systems used to control the nation’s physical infrastructure. By today’s standards, many of these systems are quite primitive. Many of these systems are designed for a very specific purpose, rarely upgraded to run on modern operating systems, and very rarely, if ever, designed to be secure. The state of the art in security for many of these systems is to not allow outside access to the system.

Unfortunately, if numerous reports are to be believed, a good portion of the world’s infrastructure is connected to the Internet in one manner or another. The number of institutions that truly air gap their critical networks is alarmingly low. A researcher from IO Active, who provided some of the information for the aforementioned NPR article, used SHODAN to scour the Internet for SCADA systems. Why use SHODAN? Turns out, the simple act of scanning the Internet for these systems often resulted in the target systems crashing and going offline. If a simple network scan can kill one of these systems, then what hope do we have?

But, air gapping is by no means a guarantee against attacks since users of these systems may regularly switch between connected and non-connected systems and use some form of media to transfer files back and forth. There is precedence for this with the Stuxnet virus. According to reports, the Iranian nuclear facility was, in fact, air gapped. However, Stuxnet was designed to replicate onto USB drives and other media. Plug an infected USB drive into a targeted SCADA system and poof, instant infection across an air gapped system.

So what can be done here? How do we keep our infrastructure safe from attackers? Yes, even aging attackers…

Personally, I believe this comes down, again, to Defense in Depth. With the exception of not building it in the first place, I don’t believe that there is a way to prevent attacks. And any determined attacker will eventually get in, given time. So the only way to defend against this is to build a layered defense grid with a full monitoring back end. Expect that attackers will make it through one or two layers before being detected. Determined attackers may make it even further. But if you build you defenses with this in mind, you will stand a better chance at detecting and repelling these attacks.

I don’t believe that air gapping systems is a viable security strategy. If anything, it can result in a false sense of security for users and administrators. After all, if the system isn’t connected, how can it possibly be infected? Instead, start building in security from the start and deploy your defense in monitored layers. It works.

Technology in the here and now

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

I’m writing this while several thousand feet up in the air, on a flight from here to there. I won’t be able to publish it until I land, but that seems to be the exception these days rather than the norm.

And yet, while preparing for takeoff, the same old announcements are made. Turn off cell phones and pagers, disable wireless communications on electronic devices. And listening around me, hurried conversations between passengers as they ensure that all of their devices are disabled. As if a stray radio signal will cause the airplane to suddenly drop from the sky, or prevent it from taking off to begin with.

Why is it that we, as a society, cannot get over these simple hurdles. Plenty of studies have shown that these devices don’t interfere with planes. In fact, some airlines are offering in-flight wireless access. Many airlines have offered in-flight telephone calls. Unless my understanding of flight is severely limited, I’m fairly certain that all of these functions use radio signals to operate. And yet we are still told that stray signals may cause planes to crash, may cause interference with the pilots instrumentation.

We need to get over this hurdle. We need to start spending our time looking to the future, advancing our technology, forging new paths. We need to stop clinging to outdated ideas. Learning from our past mistakes is one thing, and there’s merit in understanding history. But lets spend our energy wisely and make the simple things we take for granted even better.