Can users help solve the mobile security disconnect?

Can users help solve the mobile security disconnect?

Read any story about cybersecurity these days, and chances are you’ll see at least some mention of the importance of mobile security. That’s for good reason, because mobile is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, risk to overall enterprise IT security. Despite this acknowledgement, enterprises are still not doing enough to protect again mobile threats.

At least, that’s the conclusion of MobileIron’s latest quarterly Mobile Security and Risk Review, which details a fairly stark disconnect between the threats faced by both private and government organizations and the protections they’ve implemented.

Despite the noted rise in the number and sophistication of mobile threats, MobileIron found, only 8 percent of organizations are enforcing operating system updates, and less than 5 percent are using the most modern mobile security applications, such as app reputation or mobile threat detection software.

All of this shows that, while the speed at which attacks are developed and implemented is increasing, enterprises are still not doing what they should to protect themselves. This “lack of security hygiene demonstrates that enterprises are alarmingly complacent, even when many solutions are available,” according to James Plouffe, MobileIron’s lead architect.

Other surveys have come to the same conclusion. A recent Ponemon Institute study, for example, found that a large majority of respondents saw mobile devices as both susceptible to hacking and the probable cause of data breaches in their organizations, but only a third were “vigilant” in protecting their data. Just under 40 percent didn’t even see a pressing reason to protect data on their mobile devices.

Sean Frazier, the chief technology evangelist for MobileIron’s Public Sector Practice and someone who has years of experience working with government, said that while agencies are certainly thinking about doing right by mobile overall, they still don’t have a concept beyond those of basic mobile capabilities.

They’re “struggling to get their arms around the whole mobile app concept,” he said. They are not yet as capable as many other organizations around the world, and they either don’t fully understand the dangers, “or they do, but find they can’t respond as quickly or as well.”

There’s a disconnect with this, he believes. Government overall responds well to most IT security incidents, but it doesn’t seem to understand how to transfer that insight to mobile. When MobileIron goes into agencies and asks to talk to the folks in charge of mobile, he said, they’ll often get shunted over to those in charge of email or other functions -- not to the security people.

Disconnects show up in other areas of government as well. The Obama administration, for example, has been pushing for the increased use of encryption to safeguard at least some part of the IT traffic chain. The Office of Management and Budget last year issued a memo  requiring agencies to use HTTPS for all website and services connections by the end of 2016.

At the same time, however, national security officials have been making a concerted pitch  to get some kind of back door inserted into operating systems, messaging services, etc. to help them tap into encrypted communications from suspected terrorists.  Experience has shown that, if those kinds of workarounds exist, at some point the bad guys will find them and use them to get into government networks and systems.

A basic problem, according to Frazier, is that government hasn’t caught on to the fact that mobile has fundamentally changed how IT should be viewed and managed, with users now much more involved at a higher level. That’s a radical departure from traditional views of mobile where, say, agency IT departments hand out sanctioned BlackBerrys -- with just IT-approved apps and data on them -- to their employees.

Today’s mobile IT environment -- with all of the issues bring-your-own-device policies and shadow IT  bring with it -- presents a starkly different ecosystem to manage. Mobile devices today are mobile computers, not just communications devices. And it’s the users themselves, many of whom have been using mobile for their own needs for years, who have the knowledge about how to securely manage the apps and data on their devices.

Frazier said he thinks government will eventually see the utility of users managing mobile security, particularly since major manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung have built sophisticated security management into their devices.

“It’s about time that the user was brought more directly into the conversation,” he said.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Aug 16, 2016 at 11:22 AM0 comments


NIST drafts mobile security guidelines for responder tech

NIST drafts mobile security guidelines for responder tech

There’s arguably been no corner of government that’s profited more from the mobile revolution than the first responder community. The ability to quickly access public safety data in the field is critical to first responders’ performance during emergencies.

With those benefits, however, come concerns over how to secure that access. At any one emergency site, there are likely to be a number of public safety personnel from several departments or jurisdictions, all working in different operational environments, using an array of applications on various devices and separate operating systems. That’s a nightmare for sharing, and for securing the highly sensitive information to which responders must all have access.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is trying to overcome this concern with a proposed reference design for both multifactor authentication and mobile single sign-on.  The standards are aimed directly at this public safety/first responder community.

Developed by NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE), in collaboration with the responder community, the draft discusses all the standards-based technical options and trade-offs that public safety organizations will need to build out a range of mobile security services for their users.

Based on commercially available and open source products, the reference design should also “improve interoperability between mobile platforms, applications and identity platforms regardless of the application development platform used in their construction,” the NCCoE said.

That approach fits exactly with the kind of concerns organizations such as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers have expressed about cybersecurity, particularly in the age of the Internet of Things.

Public safety agencies must have a better understanding of the risks of the Internet of Everything, as well as a way to mitigate those risks. “Success will be predicated on an open platform that allows partners working together to use the same baseline technologies,” according to a NASCIO study.

The NCCoE project draft lays out a number of scenarios in which its framework would apply and describes a high-level architecture that could be used for mobile devices. It stresses that the reference design and implementation use a standards-based approach that uses the “native capabilities” of the mobile OS of the device.

The NCCoE wants comments on the proposed Mobile Application Single Sign-On project by Sept. 16.

Separately, NIST has produced the first draft of a new Digital Authentication Guideline, a part of its SP 800-63 line of electronic authentication technical and procedural guidelines that began in 2004. Given the increasing attention to cybersecurity over the past few years, the new publication is a fairly extensive overhaul of the authentication requirements government agencies are expected to follow.

Much of the public attention on the draft guidelines has landed on the fact that NIST is recommending phasing out -- “deprecating” in NIST jargon -- the use of out-of-band secure message service (SMS) for authentication. That refers to situations when a bank, for example, will send a one-time code to a customer’s mobile phone that is used along with a password to gain access to accounts.

As NIST points out, there is a substantial risk that such an SMS message could be intercepted or redirected, particularly if the message is sent on a public network. Because of the risks involved, “implementers of new systems SHOULD carefully consider alternative authenticators,” NIST said. Out-of-band use of SMS in future releases of SP 800-63B likely won’t be allowed.

However, the guidelines offer far more, taking apart and putting back together again many different scenarios of multifactor authentication, as well as single-factor hardware and one-time password solutions. Many people have speculated on the end of the password for authentication purposes, but the guidelines stress its continuing value, albeit in very controlled circumstances.

The draft document also limits the value of previously accepted authentication methods, such as biometrics. At one time, biometrics were considered the best answer to access and security verification because of their supposed imperviousness to being copied or misused. Now, however, the NIST guidelines support “only limited use of biometrics for authentication,” and only when they are used with another authentication method.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Jul 29, 2016 at 12:47 PM1 comments


Critical infrastructure in the crosshairs

Critical infrastructure in the crosshairs

The security threat faced by government networks and computer systems should now be obvious to everyone, even if some of the efforts to protect against those threats have been tardy. Threats against critical infrastructure systems, which are just as important to all levels of government, are less well known.

Security vendor Kaspersky Labs has taken a deep dive into the world of industrial control systems (ICS), which form the digital backbone of critical infrastructure systems, and found that it’s a very scary place. Even though the 189 ICS vulnerabilities it found in 2015 are at the same level of the past few years, the report said, that’s 10 times more than were discovered in 2010.

The higher numbers can likely be put down to increased attention on ICS security. However, as Kaspersky pointed out, that also means those vulnerabilities likely have been present for years before they were discovered and, presumably, open to exploit that whole time.

Just under half of the vulnerabilities in 2015 were considered critical by Kaspersky, and most of the rest were of “medium severity.” However, exploits for 26 of the vulnerabilities are already available, it said, while for many of the others no exploit code was necessary to get unauthorized access to the vulnerable systems. Kaspersky also found that only 85 percent of the published vulnerabilities had been completely fixed.

As with other types of cyberattacks, the threats against critical infrastructure systems seem to be getting more sophisticated. The hairs on the back of many peoples’ necks stood to attention when a likely state-sponsored attack on Ukraine’s power grid in December last year was discovered. An analysis said it was the first time such an attack had been made against a nation’s critical infrastructure systems.

Fearful that a similar attack could be leveled against U.S. systems, several senators recently proposed legislation that seeks to guard against that by replacing some of the digital components in the U.S. power grid with analog versions as a first attempt to stiffen the country’s critical infrastructure defenses.

The bad news continues. SentinelOne, another security firm, has found other sophisticated malware targeting at least one energy company. It’s likely a dropper tool used to gain access to carefully targeted network users, and it “exhibits traits seen in previous nation-state Rootlets and appears to have been designed by multiple developers with high-level skills and access to considerable resources,” the company said.

In other words, this is another piece of government-sponsored malware aimed at critical infrastructure. What’s more concerning is that the malware, called Furtim, was found on a dark web hacking forum, where such government-sponsored stuff isn’t usually found.

The potential danger of these kinds of attacks has been recognized by the U.S. government for some time, with outfits such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Homeland Security describing various security frameworks and monitoring practices that companies and infrastructure organizations should adopt to boost their cyber defenses.

More specific tools could be on the way. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for example, will soon kick off its Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation and Characterizations Systems (RADICS) program, which is aimed at developing automated systems that will help utilities restore power within seven days of a cyberattack. Part of that program is intended to produce tools that “can localize and characterize malicious software that has gained access to critical utility systems,” according to the broad agency announcement.

The problems posed by the growing, and increasingly sophisticated, attacks on critical infrastructure expand when the Internet of Things is taken into account. With many systems linked through the IoT, new vulnerabilities may be created by the “expanded” critical infrastructure. As Kaspersky Labs points out, business requirements now often dictate that ICS link with external systems and networks.

Protecting the infrastructure from attack will require a new way of thinking about critical systems cybersecurity. The old ways of isolating critical environment and “security through obscurity” can no longer be considered a sufficient security control for ICS, Kaspersky said.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Jul 18, 2016 at 2:25 PM0 comments


No benign apps

No such thing as a benign app?

The challenge of so-called “shadow IT” is the inherent insecurity posed by unsanctioned devices and applications used throughout the enterprise. If IT managers don’t know what they’ve  got running on the network, they can’t assess the risk these smartphones and apps pose or what kind of malware is poised to strike at the agency’s systems and data.

Even if the users are aware of the potential problems of the devices and applications they are toting in the workplace, that doesn’t mean they are safe. As the Defense Department recently pointed out, actual malware doesn’t have to exist in the apps on a device to offer a potential threat.

In an advisory put out by several of the services, common access card (CAC) users were warned not to use a free application they could download from Google Play that would scan the barcode on the front of the ID card, and through that get personal data of the cardholder such as name, Social Security number, military rank and DOD ID number.

As one memo from the Air Force put it, why would users even need such an app since, presumably, they already know the details embedded in their own cards? And even if there is an innocent reason for scanning other cards (some kind of misplaced curiosity?), there’s no way to know where the scanned information will end up.

The app, called CAC Scan, expands the definition of what should be considered a “risky” app in bring-your-own-device and shadow IT era, according to mobile security company Lookout. When it analyzed the app, it found no malicious behavior that would trigger any regular security concern, but nevertheless it does accurately decode the contents of the barcode on the front of the CAC card.

The DOD itself was thinking of the insider threat posed by this app. But a bigger problem, as Lookout engineer Alex Gladd pointed out, is that this barcode scanner app saves a history of all of the barcodes its users scan and stores that data in an unencrypted database. A bad guy could use a targeted phishing campaign to get a copy of that database and subsequently extract the sensitive personal information of military members.

Think of the breach of Office of Personnel Management  -- except potentially even worse.

Bad guys, who are never less than innovative, have caught on to the potential of using the apparently benign apps users can download from app stores as a front end for their nefarious means. Benign, when it comes to apps, no longer means what you think it means.

In its advisory about CAC Scan, the Army offers its CAC users a number of general pointers on mobile app security:

  • Before downloading, installing or using any application, take a moment to review the “About the Developer” section and visit the developer’s website and assess its content for history, other published apps, professional appearance, etc.
  • Apps that purport to allow access to military or government sites should only be installed if they are official apps and downloaded through official channels.
  • Perusing user ratings and reviews gives a sense of the veracity of the application’s claims. Inarguably, no app is completely perfect for all users, but complaints about security should quickly stand out from other relatively benign issues.
  • Users who have inadvertently download an app they’re unsure about should inspect the device’s application permissions screen to determine what other applications or information will be accessed by the app. A video game, for example, is unlikely to have a legitimate need to access your contacts.

All well and good, but does DOD -- or any other government agency -- expect all its employees to follow all of this advice? BYOD and shadow IT aren’t going away. What CAC Scan illustrates is the kind of expanded security risk all government agencies, not just the DOD, are now facing.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Jul 05, 2016 at 1:19 PM0 comments