Microsoft Security and the Azure Cloud: Good Enough?

January 27, 2023

I don’t know anything about the cyber security firm called Silverfort. The company’s Web site makes it clear that the company’s management likes moving icons and Microsoft. Nevertheless, “Microsoft Azure-Based Kerberos Attacks Crack Open Cloud Accounts” points out some alleged vulnerabilities in what Microsoft has positioned as its present and future money machine. The article says:

Silverfort disclosed the issues to Microsoft, and while the company is aware of the weaknesses, it does not plan to fix them, because they are not “traditional” vulnerabilities, Segal says. Microsoft also confirmed that the company does not consider them vulnerabilities. “This technique is not a vulnerability, and to be used successfully a potential attacker would need elevated or administrative rights that grant access to the storage account data,” a Microsoft spokesperson tells Dark Reading [the online service publishing the report].

So a nothingburger (wow, I detest that trendy jargon). I would view Microsoft’s product with a somewhat skeptical eye. Bad actors show some fondness for Microsoft’s approach to engineering.

Shift gears, the article “Microsoft Is Beating Google at Its Own Game.” I thought, “Advertising.” The write up has a different angle:

Following the news of Microsoft’s $10 billion investment, Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote that ChatGPT is a “potential game changer” for Microsoft, and that the company was “not going to repeat the same mistakes” of missing out on social and mobile that it made two decades ago. Microsoft “is clearly being aggressive on this front and not going to be left behind,” Ives wrote.

Yep, smart software. I think the idea is that using OpenAI as a springboard, Microsoft will leapfrog into high clover. The announcement of Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI provides compute resources. If the bet pays off, Microsoft will get real money.

However, what happens when Microsoft’s “good enough” engineering meets OpenAI.

You may disagree, but I think the security vulnerabilities will continue to exist. Furthermore, it is impossible to know what issues will arise when smart software begins to think for Microsoft systems and users.

Security is a cat-and-mouse game. How quickly will bad actors integrate smart software into malware? How easy will it be for smart software to trawl through technical documents looking for interesting information?

The integration of OpenAI into Microsoft systems, services, and software may require more than “good enough” engineering. Now tell me again why I cannot print after updating Windows 11? Exactly what is Google’s game? Excitement about what people believe is the next big thing is one thing. Ignoring some here-and-now issues may be another.

Stephen E Arnold, January 27, 2023

Cyber Security: Is It Time for a Brazen Bull?

December 28, 2022

The cyber security industry has weathered Covid, mergers, acquisitions, system failures, and — excuse the lousy pun — solar winds. The flow of exploits with increasingly poetic names continues; for example, Azov, Zerobot, Killnet, etc. However, the cyber defense systems suffer from what one might call a slight misalignment. Bad actors find ways to compromise [a] humans to get user names and passwords, [b] exploit what is now the industry standard for excellence (MVP or minimal viable product, good enough engineering, and close-enough-for-horseshows technology), any gizmo or process connected to something connected to a public-facing network. The list of “bad” actors is a lengthy one. It includes bird-owning individuals in the UK, assorted government agencies hostile to the US, students in computer science class or hanging out in a coffee shop, and double agents with computing know how.

To add to the pain of cyber security, there are organizations which do great marketing but less great systems. “What’s in a PR Statement: LastPass Breach Explained” discusses a serious problem which underscores a number of issues.

LastPass is a product with a past reaching backwards more than a decade. The software made it easier for a user to keep track of what user name and password was whipped up to log into an online service or software. Over the years, PC Magazine found the password manager excellent. (Software can be excellent? Who knew?) Wikipedia has a list of “issues” the security software faced over the years. You can find that information here. More amusing is security expert Steve Gibson’s positive review of LastPass. Should you have the time, you can read about that expert’s conclusions in 2010 here.

But what does the PR statement article say? Here are a couple of snippets from the cited December 26, 2022, essay:

Snippet 1: Right before the holiday season, LastPass published an update on their breach. As people have speculated, this timing was likely not coincidental but rather intentional to keep the news coverage low. …Their statement is also full of omissions, half-truths and outright lies.

Harsh.

Snippet 2: Again, it seems that LastPass attempts to minimize the risk of litigation (hence alerting businesses) while also trying to prevent a public outcry (so not notifying the general public). Priorities…

My take on LastPass is that the company is doing what other cyber security firms do: Manage information about problems.

Let’s talk about cyber security on a larger stage. How does a global scale sound?

First, security is defined by [a] what bad actors have been discovered to do and [b] marketing. A breach occurs. A fix — ideally one enabled by artificial intelligence and chock full of predictive analytics — is created and marketed. Does the fix work? How about those Exchange Server exploits or those 24×7 phishing attacks? The point for me is that cyber security seems to be reactive; that is, dictated by what bad actors do.

Second, the “fix” is verified by whom and what? In the US there are Federal cyber groups. There are state cyber groups. There are cyber associations. There are specialty labs in fun places like Quantico. For a LastPass incident, which cowpoke moves the cow along? The point: Bureaucracy, friction, artificial barriers, time, expertise, money, and more.

Third, technical layoffs and time mean that cyber crime may be an attractive business opportunity for some.

Considering these three points, I want to hazard several observations:

  1. Cyber security may be an oxymoron
  2. Bad actors have the advantages granted by good enough software and systems, tools, talent, and time
  3. Users and customers who purchase security may be faced with a continual flow of surprises

What’s the fix? May I suggest that we consider bringing back the Bull of Phalaris aka the brazen bull.

The “bull” is fabricated of a suitable metal; for example, bronze. The inside of the bull is hollow. A trapdoor allows access to the interior space. When the trapdoor is closed, there is an opening from the interior to the bull’s nose. The malefactor — let’s say a venture firm’s managing director who is rolling up cyber security companies with flawed software — is placed inside the bull. A fire is built beneath the bull and the shouts and possible other noises are emitted from the opening in the bull’s head.

The use of the brazen bull for software developers pumping out “good enough” cyber security solutions can be an option as well. Once law enforcement snags the head of a notorious hacking gang, the bull will be pressed into duty. Keep in mind that Microsoft blamed 1,000 cyber warriors working in a country hostile to the US for the SolarWinds’ misstep. This would necessitate more bulls which would provide meaningful work to some.

I would advocate that marketer types who sell cyber security systems which don’t work be included in the list of individuals who can experience the thrill of the brazen bull.

My thought is that the use of the brazen bull with clips released as short videos would capture some attention.

What’s is going on now is not getting through? More robust measures are necessary. No bull.

Stephen E Arnold, December 28, 2022

How Does a China-Affiliated Outfit Identify Insider Threats? Surveillance, Of Course

December 26, 2022

I will not revisit my comments about the risks posed by TikTok to the US. I do find it amusing that statements offered in one of those “Thank you, Senator, for that question….” sessions has been demonstrated to be false. Hello, perjury?

TokTok Admits Tracking FT Journalist in Leaks Investigation” reports:

Two members of staff in the US and two in China gained access to the IP addresses and other personal data of FT journalist Cristina
Criddle, to work out if she was in the proximity of any ByteDance employees, the company said. However, the company failed to find any leaks.
A BuzzFeed journalist and a number of users connected to the reporters through their TikTok accounts were also targeted.

A government has the capacity to surveil who and when and where it wants. When a company focuses on vulnerable demographics and is directly affiliated with a government, Houston, we have a problem.

More problematic when that government/company can feed information to targeted users, that information can shape the impressionable target’s world view. That’s an opportunity creator. Toss in keep track of what immature minds do only may provide some useful information to force a target to take an action or else. The else can include salacious videos and much, much more interesting immature behavior. If released, the mature version of the nude dance at a high school party might derail a promotion at a secretive high-tech company, creating an opening for a more compliant target to apply for the job. Exciting? Yep.

What’s the tally? Deception. Check. Invasion of a non Chinese citizen’s rights. Check. Information warfare. Check.

Yep, TikTok.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2022

Using Microsoft? Lucky You in 2023

December 14, 2022

Several days ago, I had a meeting with an executive representing a financial services firm. In the course of confirming the meeting, the person told me, “We use only Microsoft Teams. Our security group has banned our use of Zoom and other video chat services.”

That’s why I found myself sitting at a sticky table in a coffee shop talking with this executive about a notification procedure which caught my attention. In that meeting, I mentioned that for each email sent to my official email by this person I received a notice that the individual was out of the office until mid-September 2022. Since we were meeting in the first week of December 2022, I found the emails from this person confusing.

I asked, “Why are you sending me an email and when I reply, I receive a notification from your corporate email system which tells me you are out of the office until September 2022.”

The response was, “Really? I will get IT to help me.”

Wow. Really.

Many organizations have embraced Microsoft systems and services. My hunch is that people want to use Excel. With full time employees in corporate information technology departments getting crushed by fixes, user issues, and software which does not do what the IT professional expects, companies want an fix.

Enter the cloud, certified consultants who can arrive like Wonder Woman, and big time engineers from a regional office to make everything work. Perfect. What could go wrong?

I read an article which may be accurate or may be presenting an incomplete report. Let’s proceed assuming that there is a kernel of truth in “Ransomware Discovered Carrying Legitimate Windows Certificates.” The write up states:

Cyber security company Sophos has issued a warning over antivirus-nullifying malware it discovered bearing legitimate digital certificates, including signatures from Microsoft’s own digital verification service.

The drivers, found paired with a ‘loader’ executable that was used to install the driver, carried the digital signature of Windows Hardware Compatibility Program (WHCP), and appeared to be specially designed to limit the functions of endpoint detection and response (EDR) security programs.  Code signatures are cryptographic certificates that indicate a program has not been altered since its release by its manufacturer. WHCP signatures are only intended to be given to software that Microsoft has checked over and given its personal seal of approval, and therefore seen as trustworthy files to run by Windows systems. Researchers say that the find shows that threat actors are working harder to move up the ‘trust chain’, employing increasingly sophisticated methods to sign malware with legitimate cryptographic signatures so that it can be installed on systems without detection.

The article is in my opinion content marketing; that is, the information is designed to cause someone to license Sophos technology.

The idea is that bad actors can exploit systems and methods set up my Microsoft to make certain their systems are secure. People have struggled with getting Windows to print; others have found that Exchange Server (probably the email system which baffled the financial executive) vulnerabilities have caused some sleepless nights.

Several observations are warranted in my view:

  • Microsoft like Google is a Leviathan. It is a target, and is may be that the Softies are in over their heads. Perhaps too big to make secure?
  • Users are baffled with fairly simple operations of widely used software. What interesting security issues does this pose? Phishing works for a reason: Users click without th8inking.
  • Corporations perceive their decisions to be good ones. The continuing increase in cyber aggression is not something people want to discuss in a meeting of suits, sales professionals, and worker bees.

Net net: Good enough software and systems, PowerPoint presentations from certified partners, and customer cluelessness suggest an exciting 2023. Legitimate Windows Certificates? Oxymoron maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, December 14, 2022

On the Path of a Super App for Crime

December 14, 2022

I know I am in the minority. In fact, I may the only person in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, thinking about Telegram and its technical evolution. From a humble private messaging service, Telegram has become the primary mechanism for armchair experts to keep track of Russia’s special operation, send secret messages, and engage in a range of interesting pursuits. Is it possible to promote and sell CSAM via an encrypted messaging app like Telegram? Okay, that’s a good question.

I noted another Telegram innovation which has become public. “No-SIM Signup, Auto-Delete All Chats, Topics 2.0 and More” explains that a person can sign up for the encrypted messaging service without having a SIM card and its pesky identifiers tagging along. To make sure a message about a special interest remains secret, the service allegedly deletes messages on a heartbeat determined by the Telegram user. The Telegram group function makes it possible for those who join a group to discuss a “special” interest to break up a group into sub groups. The idea is that a special interest group has special special interests. I will leave these to your imagination in the event you are wondering where some of the i2p and Tor accessible content has gone in the last few years.

As Telegram approach super app status for certain types of users, keep in mind that even the Telegram emoji have some new tricks. That little pony icon can do much more.

Stephen E Arnold, December 14, 2022

A Digital Schism: Is It the 16th Century All Over Again?

December 12, 2022

I noted “FBI Calls Apple’s Enhanced iCloud Encryption Deeply Concerning As Privacy Groups Hail It As a Victory for Users.” I am tempted to provide some historical color about Galileo, Jesuits, and infinitesimals. I won’t. I will point out that schisms appear to be evident today and may be as fraught as those when data flows were not ripping apart social norms. (How bad was it in the 16th century? Think in terms of toasting in fires those who did not go with the program. Quite toasty for some.)

The write up explains:

Apple yesterday [December 7, 2022] announced that end-to-end encryption is coming to even more sensitive types of iCloud data, including device backups, contacts, messages, photos, and more, meeting the longstanding demand of both users and privacy groups who have rallied for the company to take the significant step forward in user privacy.

Who is in favor of Apple’s E2EE push? The article says:

We [the Electronic Frontier Foundation] applaud Apple for listening to experts, child advocates, and users who want to protect their most sensitive data. Encryption is one of the most important tools we have for maintaining privacy and security online. That’s why we included the demand that Apple let users encrypt iCloud backups in the Fix It Already campaign that we launched in 2019.

Across the E2EE chess board is the FBI. The article points out:

In a statement to The Washington Post, the FBI, the largest intelligence agency in the world, said it’s “deeply concerned with the threat end-to-end and user-only-access encryption pose.” The bureau said that end-to-end encryption and Apple’s Advanced Data Protection make it harder for them to do their work and that they request “lawful access by design.”

I don’t have a dog in this commercial push for E2EE encryption which is one component in Apple’s marketing of itself as the Superman/Superwoman of truth, justice, and the American way. (A 30 percent app store tariff is part of this mythic set up as well.) I understand the concern of the investigators, but I am retired and sitting on the sidelines as I watch the Grim Reaper’s Rivian creep closer.

Several observations:

  1. In the boundary between these two sides or factions, the emergent behavior will get around the rules. That emergent behavior is a consequence of apparently irreconcilable differences. The impact of this schism will reverberate for an unknown amount of time.
  2. Absolutism makes perfect sense in a social setting where one side enjoys near total control of behavior, access, thoughts, etc. However we live in a Silicon Valley environment partially fueled by phenomenological existentialism. Toss in the digital flows of information, and the resulting mixture is likely to be somewhat unpredictable.
  3. Compromise will be painful but baby steps will be taken. Even Iran is reassigning morality police to less riot inducing activities. China has begun to respond to increasingly unhappy campers in lock down mode. Like I said, Baby steps.

Net net: Security and privacy are a bit like love and Plato’s chair. Welcome to the digital Middle Ages. The emergent middle class may well be bad actors.

Stephen E Arnold, December 12, 2022

Is Cyber Security Lagging a Grade Behind Other Technology?

November 25, 2022

The average computer user is unaware of how invasive and harmful cyber attacks are. Forbes details how little individuals and companies know about cyber crime in, “Why We Need A Cyber Intelligence Revolution.” Peiter Zatko is an infamous hacker and the former head of Twitter’s security. He revealed in a whistleblower complaint that Twitter’s protections are at risk because of poor security measures.

The whistleblower complaint was not a surprise to the cybersecurity world, but it was to everyone else. Companies and individuals need to be aware of the capabilities and limitations of cyber security. Companies should also set up reasonable expectations for their cybersecurity teams. Businesses are more at risk from security breaches, ransomware, and other threats. Legacy systems are especially vulnerable, because they were not designed to handle modern cyber attacks.

Cybersecurity teams need to be proactive. They can be proactive by gathering real-time intelligence from multiple sources to identify and prevent bad actors from attacking. Cybersecurity workers are in a pickle though:

“Our company recently conducted a survey of more than 300 IT professionals to determine the state of enterprise cybersecurity today and gather insights to lead us into a more secure future. Seventy-two percent of respondents have added new technologies in the past 12 months and nearly half (46%) have more than six tools and services in their security stack today. At the same time, 27% don’t even know how many tools they have in their security stack, and almost a quarter of professionals (24%) said their security posture is average or below average, indicating their awareness of their security stack vulnerabilities.”

A Gartner survey also found that 75% of organizations are investing in security vendor consolidation, because they want to reduce the strain on their cybersecurity teams. It is even worse that the old methods, such as firewalls, do not work anymore.

Organizations and individuals can take a few steps to ensure they remain safe. They can assess their current security plan and run a threat scan, use proactive and reactive solutions, and integrate threat intelligence from multiple sources.

Whitney Grace, November 25, 2022

Cyber Security? That Is a Good Question

November 25, 2022

This is not ideal. We learn from Yahoo Finance, “Russian Software Disguised as American Finds Its Way into U.S. Army, CDC Apps.” Reuters journalists James Pearson and Marisa Taylor report:

“Thousands of smartphone applications in Apple and Google’s online stores contain computer code developed by a technology company, Pushwoosh, that presents itself as based in the United States, but is actually Russian, Reuters has found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States’ main agency for fighting major health threats, said it had been deceived into believing Pushwoosh was based in the U.S. capital. After learning about its Russian roots from Reuters, it removed Pushwoosh software from seven public-facing apps, citing security concerns. The U.S. Army said it had removed an app containing Pushwoosh code in March because of the same concerns. That app was used by soldiers at one of the country’s main combat training bases. According to company documents publicly filed in Russia and reviewed by Reuters, Pushwoosh is headquartered in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk, where it is registered as a software company that also carries out data processing. … Pushwoosh is registered with the Russian government to pay taxes in Russia. On social media and in U.S. regulatory filings, however, it presents itself as a U.S. company, based at various times in California, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Reuters found.”

Pushwoosh’s software was included in the CDC’s main app and that share information on health concerns, including STDs. The Army had used the software in an information portal at, perhaps among other places, its National Training Center in California. Any data breach there could potentially reveal upcoming troop movements. Great. To be clear, there is no evidence data has been compromised. However, we do know Russia has a pesky habit of seizing any data it fancies from companies based within its borders.

Other entities apparently duped by Pushwoosh include the NRA, Britain’s Labor Party, large companies like Unilever, and makers of many items on Apple’s and Google’s app stores. The article includes details on how the company made it look like it was based in the US and states the FTC has the authority to prosecute those who engage in such deceptive practices. Whether it plans to bring charges is yet to be seen.

Cynthia Murrell, November 25, 2022

With Mass Firings, Here Is a Sketchy Factoid to Give One Pause

November 17, 2022

In the midst of the Twitter turmoil and the mea culpae of the Zuck and the Zen master (Jack Dorsey), the idea about organizational vulnerability is not getting much attention. One facet of layoffs or RIFs (reductions in force) is captured in the article “Only a Quarter of Businesses Have Confidence Ex-Employees Can No Longer Access Infrastructure.” True to content marketing form, the details of the methodology are not disclosed.

Who among the thousands terminated via email or a Slack message are going to figure out that selling “insider information” is a good way to make money. Are those executive recruitment firms vetting their customers. Is that jewelry store in Athens on the up and up, or is it operated by a friend of everyone’s favorite leader, Vlad the Assailer. What mischief might a tech-savvy former employee undertake as a contractor on Fiverr or a disgruntled person in a coffee shop?

The write up states:

Only 24 percent of respondents to a new survey are fully confident that ex-employees no longer have access to their company’s infrastructure, while almost half of organizations are less than 50 percent confident that former employees no longer have access.

An outfit called Teleport did the study. A few other factoids which I found suggestive are:

  • … Organizations [are] using on average 5.7 different tools to manage access policy, making it complicated and time-consuming to completely shut off access.
  • “62 percent of respondents cite privacy concerns as a leading challenge when replacing passwords with biometric authentication.”
  • “55 percent point to a lack of devices capable of biometric authentication.”

Let’s assume that these data are off by 10 or 15 percent. There’s room for excitement in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, November 17, 2022

Thomson Reuters: Trust the Firm with Data Security?

November 16, 2022

Thomson Reuters tosses around the word “trust.” Should one trust the firm with data security? (Keep in mind that Thomson Reuters compiles and licenses data to law enforcement and intelligence entities in the US and elsewhere, please.)

As most people know, everyone makes mistakes, but Thomson Reuters made one heck of a doozy when the company left three terabytes of sensitive information open to the Internet. Hackers and their nefarious bots purloined the three terabytes. Cyber News discusses the fallout in: “Thomson Reuters Collected And Leaked At Least 3TB Of Sensitive Data.” The three databases are public-facing and are housed in ElasticSearch software.

Thomson Reuters fixed the problem when they found it, then they notified their customers. Thomson Reuters specializes in business-to-business media tools, such as Checkpoint, ONESOURCE, Westlaw, and Reuters Connect. The exposed databases rely on open-source software ElasticSearch because it was designed for companies handling large amounts of constantly updated data. The leaked three terabytes are worth millions of dollars in the criminal world.

Two databases were public-facing, meaning they were meant to be accessible to the public, while the third was a non-production server related to the product ONESOURCE. The leaked data could cause a lot of mayhem:

“Researchers believe that any loss of information on the dataset could not only harm Thomson Reuters and its clients but also be detrimental to the public interest.

For example, the open database was leaking some individuals’ and organizations’ sensitive screening and compliance data. Accessible data from the public-facing Thomson Reuters database could have tipped off entities that would like their wrongdoing kept in the dark.

According to Martynas Vareikis, Information Security Researcher at Cybernews, threat actors could use the email addresses exposed in the dataset to carry out phishing attacks. Attackers could impersonate Thomson Reuters and send the company’s customers fake invoices.”

While Thomson Reuters attributes the error as a system glitch, leaving the passwords in plaintext format was a rookie mistake. No matter how strong the passwords are, they are worthless once exposed.

Trust? Maybe it is a marketing play?

Whitney Grace, November 16, 2022

Next Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta