Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Everyone else is doing a predictions blog post…

I’m going to focus on the growth of semi-automated social engineering. Why? Well, first because we humans need to communicate and technology has recently exploded to facilitate this. Second, the important thing to focus in security is how things fail. Right now, things are failing (as usual) with the user. We can’t expect the user to be rational and security-minded, that’s what our job. So they are the weakest link and will continue to be exploited. Third, I approach infosec with a warfare mindset, not an engineering one. And defense engineering always follows advances in warfare. We will always be playing catch up.

Prediction One - Technology-mediated scamming of users soars past our capability to deal with it
By this I mean, I mean phishing, spearing, fake security alerts, social engineering malware. It will quickly reach the point where it will overwhelm not only our defenses but the even the context we use to describe it. There are so many attack surfaces and so little useful defenses in the hands of the average user, we’re in for a rough ride. Why will this get more prevalent? Well, because of...

Prediction Two - Better use of unclassified and "harmless" data to leverage higher access
Military wonks have been warning us about this for decades. Now we're going to see it go farther into the mainstream, especially with all the info stored in Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, blogs, and Twitter streams. Some of the worst stuff is being generated by our friends and family without our consent. Just ask Sir John Sawers. This will lead to...

Prediction Three - Attackers will becoming adept at exploiting unknown critical dependencies
There's dozens of these kinds of undocumented and unexpected linkages between our organizational security systems and the consumer-grade applications we all swim on a daily basis. Password resets that bounce out via email to our iPhone or Gmail accounts. Twitter links with embedded passwords that happen to match our main password. Web mail sites can be used to spread custom malware internally. They're considered low value and therefore have weak security accordingly. And what about those consumer grade systems? Well, expect...

Prediction Four - Larger attacks against "soft" targets because of items 1,2,3
Why hack Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc? Because that's where the money is, duh. Most of these services were designed to protect low-value assets and casual attackers. But that value is out of proportion because of the aforementioned dependencies, the value of this secondary data in escalating attacks, and the scam-value of the friend-trust relationships embedded in these systems. Which all leads to...

Prediction Five - The move of the traditional perimeter from the Untrusted Internet User to the Trusted User.
Most of the standard threat models say the normal user is somewhat trustworthy. Many say otherwise that's a bad idea. As items 1-4 become widespread, the popularly accepted models will need to evolve to simply not trusting the average user or customer in the slightest bit. For many high-risk applications, like web-banking or large e-commerce sites, we're pretty much there. Now everything will move to this level, even the common low-value / low-hanging fruit applications and services. Those of us folks who already live in that mindset, we'll be helping the rest of the world deal with the new paradigm. The standard of reasonable care will change to this new baseline and more resources will need to be expended. When will it reach that point? Probably soon. So what can we do about it?

In the near future, I see us faced with two choices: Radically alter the user experience to the point where any high-level application change (like transferring or altering valuables, changing your password or installing local software) looks like something out of a COBIT change control process (approval & authorization, separation of duties, mandatory change windows). Think "sudo" not only in our operating system, but also within our applications. We stuck a toe in the water with Vista and the users hated it. Another solution to pursue is to push more security downwards into the operational core (behavior monitoring, red flagging, white listing and application flow restrictions). Perhaps by combining these two, we can come up with something useful. I hope someone’s already working on a more intelligent warning tool that fires off meaningful alerts like “It appears that you are about to submit your credit card number to a server in Latveria whose domain was registered only two weeks ago. I think is a Phish and you should verify things before continuing.”

Those are my rough thoughts this chilly December day. I'll be thinking and working on solutions to these problems in the coming year. Let me know if you have any ideas that might help.

1 comment: