Open & Honest - Should Breach Disclosure Be Mandatory?

A few months ago I shared a flight with a very pleasant lady from a European regulatory body.  After shoulder surfing her papers and seeing we were both interested in information security (ironic paradox acknowledged!) we had a long chat about how enterprises could stand a chance against the hacktivist and criminal hordes so intent on stealing their data.

My flight-buddy felt that the future lay in open and honest sharing between organisations – i.e. when one is hacked they would immediately share details of both the breach and the method with their peers and wider industry; this would allow the group to look for similar exploits and prepare to deflect similar attacks. Being somewhat cynical, and having worked in industry, I felt that such a concept was idealised and that organisations would refuse to share such information for fear of reputational or brand damage – she acknowledged that it was proving tougher than she had expected to get her organisations to  join in with this voluntary disclosure!

Across the US and Europe we are seeing a move toward ‘mandatory’breach disclosure; however they have seemingly disparate intentions.  US requirements focus on breaches that may impact an organisations financial condition or integrity, whilst EU breach notification is very focussed on cases where there may have been an exposure of personal data.  Neither of these seem to be pushing us toward this nirvana of ‘collaborative protection’.

In the UK, I’m aware that the certain organizations, within specific sectors, will share information within their small closed communities, unfortunately this is not widespread and certainly does not reflect the concept of ‘open and honest’ as my flight-buddy would have envisaged.

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Rewind And Replay For Web App Vulnerabilities

Security threats develop and evolve with startling rapidity, with the attackers always seeking to stay one step ahead of the S&R professional. The agility of our aggressors is understandable; they do not have the same service-focused restrictions that most organizations have, and they seek to find and exploit individual weaknesses in the vast sea of interconnecting technology that is our computing infrastructure.

If we are to stand a chance of breaking even in this game, we have to learn our lessons and ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over. Unfortunately, it is alarmingly common to see well known vulnerabilities and weakness being baked right in to new applications and systems – just as if the past 5 years had never happened!

A recent report released by Alex Hopkins of Context Information Security shines a light on the vulnerabilities they discovered while testing almost 600 pre-release web applications during 2011. The headlines for me were:

  • On average, the number of issues discovered per application is on the rise.
  • Two-thirds of web applications were affected by cross site scripting (XSS).
  • Nearly one in five web applications were vulnerable to SQL injection.

It makes depressing reading, but I’m interested in why this situation is occurring:

  • Are S&R professionals simply not educating and guiding application developers?
  • Are application developers ignoring the training and education? Are we teaching them the wrong things or do we struggle to explain the threats from XSS and SQL injection?
  • Are our internal testing regimes failing, allowing flawed code to reach release candidate stage?
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