Horsing around at SchmooCon
Last weekend I attended ShmooCon, a yearly security conference held in Washington D.C. Today I want to explore several common themes I noted in many of the great technical presentations at the conference.
For many years, the community has been saying that security is facing an operations challenge, not simply one of just technology and cash flow. Simply put, most people aren’t following our advice. Administrators aren’t reviewing logs, systems are still unpatched and users are still running as administrators. Risk increases every day when people don’t do the right thing; this is the fundamental reason most people get successfully attacked.
In many ways, this flaw in operations is like having a horse. You build a great stable. You put in lights and a heater. You put nice locks on the doors. You build out the plumbing system so the horse can have fresh water and then finally … you buy a horse and put it in the stable. Sadly, most companies get to this point and then, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on their horse, decide spending $100 on oats is too expensive and just toss scraps into the stable as time permits.
Sadly, we live in a world full of dead and starving horses.
2) Separation of Targets
Fortunately, not every business is as behind as most we see. There are many businesses doing security right. They are investing money to protect assets, training employees and seamlessly running operations. These companies are succeeding, and as a result, the gap between “good” and “average” is widening dramatically.
To get back to the horse metaphor, we no longer have a single race. Instead, we have two. In the first, people are riding their horses much as you’d expect. In the second, businesses have invested in security but not operations, dragging their dead and dying horses around the track. These races work very differently and therefore are attacked differently.
If your operations are failing (as in #1 above), your horse may not be worth much. However, if an attacker can get a nice pile of dead horses, they can sell them for glue. In other words, these are the low-level attacks we see every day zeroing in on credit cards, ACH transfers and customer data. Attackers focus on bulk theft and you are just a convenient target.
However, if you have good security AND good internal operations, you’re in a different race. A horse thief focusing on live horses is going to have more options than one who raids the graveyard. The attacker who selects a company with good operations will see greater value from a successful attack. If your company is investing in day-to-day operations, odds are you have some juicy intellectual property to protect. This is where these attackers focus.
In either case, if you’re behind more than half the horses in the race (i.e., below average), you’re going to lose. Remember, the attacker just has to win once… you have to deflect the attacks constantly. The attackers are targeting the easiest in each category first, so as horses vanish from the race, you have to keep improving to stay above average.
3) Defensive Intel Sharing
Finally, there is the true value of an event like Shmoo. The value isn’t in the sessions (though they are great), but in the discussions in hallways and over meals. This is where security people get together and share ideas as to what techniques work to defend against these attacks. We brainstorm and share intelligence. This helps us protect our own little corners of the world better.
To beat the horse metaphor to death, it is as though an international team of horse rustlers (hackers) specialize in stealing horses (your business). Some are great at stealing wagons and have no idea what horse they’ll be getting. Others team up and have one person good at riding horses, one at distracting jockeys and maybe a large animal vet to determine how best to use the newly-stolen horse. They share ideas with other teams as to what has worked and what hasn’t, thus they constantly improve.
At Shmoo, we share ideas that keep our horses from being stolen. It could be as easy as putting better locks on the stables, or as ridiculous as using velcro saddles to keep the jockeys firmly seated. In many cases, it is about small improvements … ways to feed the horses more cost-effectively, or the ability to keep an extra set of eyes on people approaching your stable.
In other words, going to Shmoo isn’t likely to help you, but it will certainly help me help you. Now, let’s talk about your horse.
(Originally posted on RJS Informer)