Virtual Network Segmentation for PCI?

Several clients have recently been asking about "Virtual Network Segmentation" products that claim to segment networks to reduce PCI compliance. They may use ARP or VLANs to control access to various network segments.  These type of controls work at Layer 2 and the hacker community is well versed at using tools such as Ettercap or Cain & Abel to bypass those controls.  We've recently written about Network Segmentation for PCI as part of the PCI X-Ray series.
While rereading the PCI Wireless Guidance document, I came across this nugget that puts a nail in the coffin of using VLANs as a security control:"Relying on Virtual LAN (VLAN) based segmentation alone is not sufficient. For example, having the CDE on one VLAN and the WLAN on a separate VLAN does not adequately segment the WLAN and take it out of PCI DSS scope. VLANs were designed for managing large LANs efficiently. As such, a hacker can hop across VLANs using several known techniques if adequate access controls between VLANs are not in place. As a general rule, any protocol and traffic that is not necessary in the CDE, i.e., not used or needed for credit card transactions, should be blocked. This will result in reduced risk of attack and will create a CDE that has less traffic and is thus easier to monitor."

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Plain speaking about industrial spying

Or: why “advanced persistent threat” is the wrong phrase

Google's revelation that it was hacked by (likely) Chinese actors has helped propel another round of stories, blog posts, and analyses about What It Means. I have participated in some of these discussions, and my colleague Chenxi Wang has written several illuminating posts about the nature of the attacks.

The specific means of compromise, a zero-day Internet Explorer exploit, has raised awareness of a phenomenon referred to as the “Advanced Persistent Threat,” concisely described by Lockheed Martin’s Mike Cloppert as “any sophisticated adversary engaged in information warfare in support of long-term strategic goals.” In his posts, Mike also nearly always uses APT in conjunction with the word “actor” (as in: APT actor) because he means a particular adversary. Mike's definitions are important because they help clarify what APT is, and what it is not. Expanding on his definition a bit, here is what I believe APT is:

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Cyber security sees the light of day in the NIST smart grid interoperability standard

Just this week on Tuesday, NIST published release 1.0 of the smart grid interoperability standards. Most notably, this is the first attempt to address cyber security in smart grid deployments. This release points to various standards that can be used for implementing interoperability and security controls, and it’s fair to say that it plants the seeds for what should become comprehensive, control-driven guidelines for implementing various aspects of smart grid.

The timing of this report is perfect, as current smart grid rollouts are often criticized for lack of proper security controls. Our utility customers have shown similar concern about the lack of planning for information security before the roll out phase. This lack of security and risk management perspective in the smart grid ecosystem can jeopardize the overall objective of these smart energy initiatives, and it’s about time that we devise a game plan going forward.

The NIST publication will be an important piece of work as it brings various standards, bodies, and regulators like IEEE, NERC, and FERC to the table. Note, this is not a control based standard like others published by NIST, but a guideline to other frameworks that should be referenced when working in a smart ecosystem. A more control based work on cyber security in smart grid is in development and the draft of these standards is available for public review.

A few important highlights to pay close attention to in the cyber security sections are:

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(Update) Google calls and retracts the VPN story

Google called again after I posted the latest follow up to the Google hack story. Wow, two calls from Google AR in the span of an hour! They were uncomfortable about the way I characterized the involvement of the corporate VPN in the Google attack. The official on-the-record word from Google is: "This is not accurate." So, I should rephrase how the attack happened:

a) A Google employee's machine that was running IE v6 was compromised via the IE vulnerability.

b) The attacker used the compromised machine to somehow gain access to Google servers (some of which housed critical information). The method of access, at some point, may have involved VPN, but Google does not agree with the characterization that "the compromised client used their corporate VPN to gain access to the servers." At Google's request, I retract that particular statement.

This is what we do know factually:

1) The attack on the Google server happened.

2) Google immediately decided to do an emergency update of their entire corporate VPN infrastructure.

Could these two things be entirely unrelated? I doubt it. But Google isn't going on the record to say that the attack came in via the VPN, and that's their official position.

On a positive note, Google is actively trying to schedule the security interview with me. So hopefully I'll have more to report shortly.


Why Google and Microsoft, not cloud computing, were at fault for the Google hack

By now, much has been written about last week’s attack on Google, Yahoo, and more than 30 other companies. Google’s stark reaction to the attack has put the company at the forefront of this news story. At stake is one of the world’s largest Internet markets, as well as the already tenuous relationship between US and China - it is no wonder this attack is drawing the attention of headlines worldwide.

Why isn’t this an attack on cloud computing?

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The Devil’s Dictionary, InfoSec Edition

Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary is a wickedly witty piece of work (and website). It slyly redefines common words and phrases, usually with a bitter, contrarian, or comic touch. But why should Mr. Bierce (or more correctly, his estate) have all the fun? It is time for one in the information security field. Here are a few nominations. Most of these are original, but a few were gleefully filched from others:

ALE: an intoxicating liquor that gives imbibers perceived omniscience and discernment, but with one unfortunate side effect: it causes their pants to spontaneously fall down

Advanced persistent threat: a security product manager hyping new categories

Blended threat: a hemlock smoothie

Claims: a more expensive form of assertions, officially sanctioned with George Orwell’s posthumous blessing. cf “flatbread” v. “pizza”

Collective intelligence: the dawning epiphany that the cyber-villains have already won

Data leak prevention: adult undergarments for stopping electronic incontinence

Device control: using Super Glue to plug holes in the sides of laptops

Full disclosure debate: a ritualistic Kabuki performance that ends with a fist-fight amongst members of the audience

Actionable: providing information of sufficient detail and clarity to enable one party to sue another* 

Full disk encryption: spray-on auditor repellent

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The Attack on Google: What It Means

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few days, you probably have heard about some big changes Google has made regarding an attack on its infrastructure. Here is what we know:

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Three Nominations For ISSA's 2009 Retrospective Awards

According to my friend Pete Lindstrom, the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) is surveying its members for suggestions on three 2009 stories that, in retrospect, were the "most" of something. I'm not a member of the ISSA, but awards are fun, right? Here are my nominations:

Most significant breach of 2009: Heartland Payment Systems

Yes, this breach happened in 2008. But the story broke in 2009, so I'm counting it.The significance of the breach wasn't just the size (130 million credit card numbers). The story that surrounded the breach provoked some interesting debates about the role of PCI, the effectiveness of auditors, and the willingness of clients to QSA-shop, ignore advice, and blame third parties for their own failures.

Most overhyped story: "The cloud is insecure, m'kay?"

It is easy and appropriate -- today -- to discuss the risks assoociated with putting applications and data on semi-public devices you don't own. Criticizing is easy, but the fixing is more interesting. I predict that in time "the cloud" will be the best thing that has ever happened to information security, because it focuses attention on the data, not the infrastructure. Or to put it differently, it puts the "information" back into Information Security. This is exactly the discussion we need to have.

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Growing Concern Over Risks To (And Of) The System

By the end of this year, we will likely all be sick of the phrase “systemic risk.” Referring to the complex and interconnected nature of risks that brought down the financial services sector, the phrase has been a focal point in the discussions on how to prevent such failures in the future. (And in my experience, this increased attention means that service and software vendors will be using the term in their marketing literature with increasing frequency in 2010.)

Policy makers are recommending systemic risk solutions such as new oversight bodies to assess for systemic risks or penalties for companies that are perceived to threaten the system. European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet even suggested that financial institutions help avoid systemic risks by "putting aside their own profit" and being "moderate in remuneration behavior," in order to reinforce their balance sheets.

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Thoughts on EMC’s acquisition of Archer

What a good way to kick off what should be another exciting year in GRC. Just less than a year ago, Archer Technologies brought consolidation to the IT GRC market with its acquisition of rival Brabeion. The vendor food chain continued today as EMC announced an agreement to acquire Archer into its RSA product division.

Details such as product integration and go-to-market strategy will trickle out slowly of course, but so far, this is a significant deal for a couple of reasons:

  • Archer fills a substantial void in EMC’s product offering, which included many elements of GRC, but no central platform to pull it all together.
  • EMC will introduce the Archer products to a much larger set of potential customers...most notably as a platform to manage security and compliance, but also to customers with requirements for related areas like vendor management or business continuity.
  • It brings another IT heavy-weight fully into the GRC space, with substantial engineering resources to work on product development (but only if Archer continues to be seen as a top priority within RSA).

As we watch this acquisition come together, as well as other upcoming announcements that will make the GRC space even more competitive, here are a few questions to consider:

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