A Perspective on Code and Components – assert(), don’t assume()

Have you ever looked closely at the tools you use on a daily basis? Taking things apart and putting them back together is an integral part of understanding the universe. Scientists do it all of the time (well, at least some do, there are things that can’t be put together easily once taken apart). So lets focus on components and how they interact.

ASN.1 and libraries that deal with it are popular components. Few people get a kick out of ASN.1, so they use code that does it. It’s just an example for parts that handle data being sent to and received from other systems. We live in a networked world, so communication is a crucial part of modern software. So to use business lingo: Most software works by delegating tasks to third-party code. It helps to focus on the problem the software needs to solve. While this is no epiphany it’s something worth remembering. Usually you rely on these components to do their job. What happens if a particular tasks fails? The manual says that you will get a proper return code or error condition in order to take adequate steps. This works in theory and in well-designed projects where all the rules of secure coding are observed. The guidelines for dealing with failure works somewhat less for code being produced under pressure. Products that need to hit the market in a short time frame are prone to bugs. BIOS/(U)EFI, Wi-Fi drivers (where standards are ready after they are already implemented), apps on mobile devices, your new shiny OS release prior to an important exhibition or press conference, Internet of Things stuff, everything beginning with smart, and probably the occasional prototype from start-ups serve well to illustrate this point.

Information security people know this, or at least they should. Penetration testers and software quality testers know a lot about components, as do sysadmins (this is why they still and will always hate printers). So if you are in charge of a development team, please make sure you eliminate as much assumptions as you can. Networks will fail, servers will be unreachable, data integrity will be compromised, system resources will be tight, and so on. There is an endless list of issues to think about. I’d like to illustrate the point with two links to material that takes a really close look at database software of all kinds. Take a look at Jepsen. It is a project designed to stress test the claims of distributed databases, queues, consensus systems, and similar tools. In addition there are notes from Kyle Kingsbury titled An introduction to distributed systems. Make sure everyone on your teams gets this memo and reads it! No exceptions!

If you are wondering how much effort proper coding (you may also call is secure coding, but it is really the same thing) is, here’s a quote from the Jepsen web site: „Would you like to see a system analyzed? … A full analysis and writeup typically take a couple months.“

There you go. Now fix stuff. See you later!

Intelligence on the Silver Screen: A Good American Kickstarter Campaign

Surveillance has a bad reputation. No one likes to be watched. Yet infosec researchers, sysadmins, and developers talk a lot about log files. We need to watch stuff for various reasons. You got your mail logs, diagnostic messages, performance metrics, network addresses, and more painstakingly sorted by timestamps and maybe geolocation. Log data is part of information technology. It gets interesting once you store, process and mine this data. Some people like to collect it all and do all kinds of Big Data stuff with it. Others filter out the relevant bits of information and work with that. Opinion is divided, results may vary.

Enter A Good American, the documentary which was screened in Vienna during the DeepSec 2015 conference. It has been shown all over the world. The film itself is fully funded, finished and travelling the festival circuit at the moment. However it isn’t exactly a blockbuster you’ll find in theatres everywhere. This is why there is a Kickstarter campaign to help showing the documentary to people who might be interested but have missed it so far. Go to the web site and have a look!

Why are we telling you this? Well, we believe that the wonderful world of security intelligence should be subject to discussion as the world of information security already is; and maybe even more so. Plus we like to discuss all things intel at our DeepINTEL event.

Call for Papers – DeepSec 2016 – Reminder

The Call for Papers for DeepSec 2016 ends on 31 July 2016. If you have some top content, a new way to break the Internet of Things, a piece of code that lets the director of the FBI sweat (for whatever reasons), then let us know. Basically anything that breaks stuff, melts networks/applications/hardware, or singes the fur off things is a good choice (see isic for the original quote). Despite the Internet of Things not being yours it can be 0wned any way. Have a go and tell us!

In case you are inclined to teaching we also host top quality workshops, just before the conference. If you got material to keep a group of nerds, pentesters, and people worried about the state of information security busy, then drop us your abstract.

See you all in the CfP database soon!

The Internet of Threats revisited

Everyone is talking about the Internet of Things. Connecting household applications (yes, applications, appliances is so 1990s) to a network hasn’t been more fun than now. Also measuring things is great. Today most sensors are deployed to generate endless streams of data because we can, not because there is a need for it. And I haven’t even talked about the information security aspect yet. Let’s take a step back into 1995/1996. Those were the days of the first browser wars. Jamie Zawinski has a quote of the Law of Software Envelopment on his web site.

Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

The proof of concept was undertaken by creating the Netscape Mail and News client. Processing email once was an art only done by specialised software (also known as email clients). Despite its age email is still a major way of communicating. It’s less instant, but who likes to attend messenger apps that constantly ring? Exactly. To rephrase the law or phrase a corollary, the Internet of Things might produce something like this.

Every device attempts to expand until it can send data to the Internet. Those devices which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

Let’s do a test. Count the sensors of the devices right near you. Multiply this number by the number of devices connected to a network. Multiply by two if one of these networks is connected to the Internet. There you go, we now have a metric. The higher the number, the more modern your environment is. Probably. Now let’s take a step back. Information security experts keenly wait for the Internet of Things to be deployed. Ubiquitous networked devices with code running on them and interfaces are the epitome of exposure. You probably now the term exposure from incidents like the Three Mile Island partial meltdown, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, or the Goiânia accident. The remark is not meant to bash new technologies. It’s just a reminder that the security people (regardless if nuclear, biological, military, or information/data is involved) always think about exposure and the resulting attack surface. Once you connect a device to a network, it is exposed. You suddenly have to deal with data driven attacks that play by the rules, at least superficially, or crazy code that floods your system with random data. Since few code has security on the top 3 design features, things will happen eventually. In addition a lot of networked computing is based on little black boxes we don’t know much about. We have gotten used to not knowing what a particular chip set actually does. Past DeepSec conferences have featured presentations about malicious hypervisors in hardware.The door to the world.The Internet of Things features a lot more little black boxes along with broken protocols, bad security design, and lots of exposure. Before you start ranting about the current state of affairs, there will be no fix. Devices with network capabilities will be shipped, deployed, connected, attacked, and exploited. This is the cycle of life. Why should the IoT take a shortcut? Everything that will happen to your networked refrigerator has already happened to web servers, databases, VoIP systems, telephones, office software, and printers. Information security is not about what happens if; it’s about what to do when it already happened.

If you know some brave IoT designers, users, or vendors, please tell them to drop by at the next DeepSec conference. We should talk. Unfortunately they don’t answer our emails, so please spread the word.

Early Birds, save the Date! BSidesVienna has opened the Call for Papers!

Grab your calendars, you have to be in Vienna on 12 November 2016! BSidesVienna is accepting your submissions for an awesome community conference. The range of topics is wide, so don’t ask yourself “Is this interesting or not?” – just submit and come to Vienna in November!

While you are preparing your submission, you might want to make some extra space in your calendar for DeepSec 2016. The submission we got so far look great. Crypto, the Internet of Stuff (IoT), exploit labs, pentesting training, and more waits for you. Make sure you get the Early Bird prices for your tickets!

DeepSec welcomes Google as Sponsor for the next Conference

We are proud and happy to announce Google as sponsor for DeepSec 2016!

Google haGoogle Logos been a supporter of DeepSec in the past. While we may not need to introduce Google to you, we would like to point out that they have a very capable security team and that members of their researchers have held presentations at DeepSec conferences. Google staff is often around, so take the advantage and talk to them.

DeepSec welcomes SEC4YOU as Conference Sponsor!

DeepSec would not be possible without the support from sponsors. So we welcome SEC4YOU as sponsor for the next DeepSec 2016!

SEC4YOU offers serSEC4YOUvices regarding advanced auditing, penetration testing, and vendor-agnostic IT security consulting. SEC4YOU experts support your team when it comes to test and to implement security measures. Especially when it comes to compliance requirements, you will need assistance to make sure that nothing goes wrong. SEC4YOU’s portfolio covers IT security analysis (dealing with risks and threats to your organisation), auditing, ISO 27001 certification (with or without BSI standards), creation of security policies, risk management, information security management system (ISMS), internal government and revision processes. Their experts are well-versed with clients from internal auditing, accounting/controlling, information technology, data protection, risk/compliance management, and information security. Plus they like hackers! Make sure you have a chat with them when attending DeepSec.

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DeepSec 2015 Slides: Bridging the Air-Gap – Data Exfiltration from Air-Gap Networks! Much Slides! Very Animated! Wow!

The presentation titled Bridging the Air-Gap – Data Exfiltration from Air-Gap Networks was held at DeepSec 2015. Since the presentation format was not meant to be printed or viewed with generic documents viewers, the slide deck had to be converted. The slides in PDF format can be downloaded from this link:
For an animated version of the slides, use one of these links:
or in short http://goo.gl/mpCNWC

Mind the gap and enjoy!

DeepINTEL 2016 – Save the Date for Security Intelligence

Analysing threat intelligence hasn’t been more important. We all know that bad things will happen. That’s not the issue to worry about. You should spend some thoughts on why something happens, what methods are involved, and what your adversaries look like on the inside. Defending your assets is much more than using a fence, some doors, and badges for your employees. We would like to welcome you to DeepINTEL to discuss security intelligence in-depth.

The DeepINTEL 2016 has been moved. Save the new date; DeepINTEL will take place on 20/21 September. The location hasn’t changed, and good weather has been ordered. Make sure you order your tickets!

BSidesLND2016 Rookie Track Review

Sitting through the Rookie Track at BSidesLondon is something we really enjoy. This year the quality of the presentations was amazing. Of course, the rookie’s mentors take a part of the blame for that. Good training gives you always a head start. Nevertheless someone has to stand in front of the crowd and fill the 15 minutes slot with content. All rookies did a good job. It was hard to pick a clear winner. The jury took more than three iterations to find a conclusion. Locard made it, and we welcome him to DeepSec 2016 in November. Honourable mentions go to @Shlibness, @Oxana_Sereda and @callygarr.

For you we have some thoughts on the presentations we saw and on the methods being used.

Think of your presentation as code. Make it lean and mean. It’s easy to implement your favourite function in 200K lines of code. Make it smaller. The same is true for your presentation. Writing a book about your favourite topic is easy. Squeezing everything the audience needs to know and you have to say into a presentation slot of 15 minutes (or 30, 45, 60, 90, …) is hard. It requires a thorough understanding of the facts and the theory. In addition you need ideas how to present your thoughts with minimal distraction. Good illustrations will help you. Using text will also do, but you need to reduce it as well. No fillers, no noise, just use the minimal code necessary.

Stage fright will be your enemy (even if you are not an Android phone). If you have a problem with crowds, think about not drinking loads of your favourite caffeinated drug. Try to relax before your presentation begins (starting with breakfast gives you a good start, relaxing seconds before your talk doesn’t make much sense). Have a chat with the audience. You need to introduce yourself any way, so why not ask people from the audience some questions? Once you are past the first seconds or minutes of your talk, you most probably have forgotten your nervousness. Besides, being nervous is a sign that you care, so there’s nothing to worry about.

For everyone thinking of entering the Rookie Track at BSidesLondon 2017: Please do! We will be pleased to see you presenting your ideas!

BSides London 2016 – Schedule

In case you haven’t noticed, the London BSides schedule is up. The Rookie track starts right with the most important part of information security – opsec. Behaviour is on a par with expensive security hardware and your favourite protection software. Wearables, video games, hidden data, malware mythbusting, and more follow next.

The main schedule features presentations about the impact of TOR/I2P traffic to your servers (think or best forget about CloudFlare), methods used by options advanced attackers, attacking Low Powered Wide Area Network (LPWAN) devices used for smart / IoT stuff, malicious software, static code analysis, threat analysis, the temptation of containers, and honey pots. There’s ample of content for everyone looking for new ideas. Don’t miss the opportunity!

BSidesLondon 2016 – Rookie Track Edition

The Security BSides London 2016 is coming up. Next month you will have the chance to see presentations all around topics in information security. The schedule will be published soon. Gathering from the talks of past events you will not be disappointed. We will be present to watch over the Rookie Track. Young talents in terms of presentation experience will tell you about selected subjects covering security issues on software, administration, policies, hardware, or social interaction.

The Rookie Track is unique among InfoSec events. It is a stage where the presenters can tell their ideas to an audience. They are supported by mentors who guide the content and the presenter from idea to the 15 minutes on stage. The Rookie Track was born out of the fact that a lot of people in information technology have great ideas, but few dare to step on stage and to tell the world about it. It is an example how to gain hacking skills for presenting your ideas to like-minded brains is a crucial part of hacking. To give you an idea how good the content is, have a look at past Rookie Tracks published by the BSides London staff.

We will be present at the Rookie Track and pick a winner. The Best Rookie presenter gets a ticket to DeepSec 2016. Hope to see you  in London!

The Didactic Side of Information Security

Explaining complicated topics with a lot of dependencies is hard. Even the operation of devices such as computers, telephones, or cloud(ed) applications can’t be described in a few sentences. Well, you can, if you use the tried and true lie-to-children method coined by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. If you really want to dive into a subject, you need a good start and a tour guide who knows where the terrain gets rough and helps you through it.

Information technology and its security is hard to learn. The basics are surprisingly simple. Once you get to the implementation and the actual parts that need to be touched, it gets a lot more complicated. Modern IT combines various technologies, most taken from computer science, others taken from other fields of research. The starting point defines how far you get when trying to understand what’s going on. Getting behind the scenes of hardcore exploits by juggling processor op-codes requires knowledge of operating system basics, processor architecture, data structures, memory management, and even more details. The same is true for every other topic in information security.

For DeepSec 2016 we like to explore the didactic side of information security. We had presentations in the past covering how to train hacking skills. Everybody praises the skills of hackers, but no one talks about where these skills come from. Education is a tricky business. Every one of us has a different approach to learn and to practice skills. We would like to hear about your approach. Take advantage of the open Call for Papers of DeepSec 2016 and tell us!

DeepSec 2016 Call for Papers is officially open!

DeepSec 2016 is coming! We have set up the Call for Paper manager to accept your submissions for talks and workshops. Keep the „cyber“ distractions low, maximise content. DeepSec is all about hard facts and solid research.

The Internet of Stuff/Things has gained momentum. Given the current IoT security designs, this technology will keep security researchers busy for decades  to come. Tell us how to break the smart home of the future.

The Crypto Wars are on again. Forget quantum computers! Think about how crypto will work in the age of golden keys and backdoor privileges. Of course you can also talk about the state of cryptography and post-quantum algorithms. DeepSec has always had a decent crypto content.

We will give you some more ideas on what to submit in the course of the next weeks right here on this blog.

Hope to see you at DeepSec 2016 – the tenth DeepSec conference! Yay!

Thoughts on Lawful Malicious Software and its Impact on IT Infrastructure

During the premiere of „A Good American“ we had a chat with journalists. Markus Sulzbacher of Der Standard wanted to know what the implication of the so-called Bundestrojaner (litterally federal trojan, the colloquial German term for the concept of inserting government malware in order to extract information from a suspect’s computer and telephone devices). The idea is to infect a computer system with malicious software that sits in the background and to siphon off the hard-to-get data connected to communication (i.e. messengers, Skype, emails, etc.). We have translated the interview from German to English for you. You can find the original on Der Standard web site.

Der Standard 12.04.2016

“The federal Trojan is governmental malware”

Police praise the software as a “wonder weapon against terror”. But for IT expert René Pfeiffer the planned introduction of governmental spying software is no suitable measure for the fight against crime.

Interview: Markus Sulzbacher

Standard: What speaks against the use of governmental spying software?

Pfeiffer: The use requires a manipulation of the device you’re going to spy on. In combination with an ongoing police investigation any form of manipulation is extremely questionable, regarding the evidential value of information and data extracted this way. A federal Trojan relies on an infrastructure, which intentionally keeps computer systems in a state of weakness in term of information security. It’s like a flat with predetermined breaking points on doors and windows. This goes against all principles of IT Security.

Standard: Is there such a thing like a “controlled” use of state espionage software?

Pfeiffer: You can compare malware to it’s biological pendants, bacteria and viruses. Everyone who believes in a controlled use of governmental spying software also believes in the controlled use of biological weapons. As soon as such code is set free, it can be examined and used to program new malware.

Standard: How can one protect oneself against a federal Trojan technically?

Pfeiffer: In the end a federal Trojan is governmental malware and behaves exactly like a digital Trojan horse, from which you protect yourself against by using anti-virus programs and other software. The target of spy attempts, your very own digital infrastructure, can’t distinguish a federal from a criminal Trojan. The outcome is the same, and since we haven’t been able to get rid of past and existing malware yet, we won’t be capable to protect ourselves from this one by using technology alone.

Standard: How does one gets to know about security gaps, information, which is key to programming such spying software?

Pfeiffer: There are companies, specialised in the targeted search and selling of vulnerabilities and exploits of all kinds of software. Efficiency determines the price: You pay a certain price and get information about a particular vulnerability, sometimes including the code to attack it on certain operating systems or applications. Depending on the price, vulnerabilities even come with a warranty: If a security gap has been detected and gets closed, you get a new one for free. Today the trade in vulnerabilities and exploits is socially accepted. It used to be a criminal domain.

Standard: Has there been an incident where the use of a federal Trojan has paid off?

Pfeiffer: I don’t know of a single case, where such a software has helped to so solve or prevent a crime. Anyway, sadly this is not the purpose of these measures, which are called for every time after an act of terror has been committed. They just help to secure the budget for the next few years. Right now IT is sexy, everybody relies upon it: The call for spying software seems more in keeping with the times than to call for more competent personnel and better education. Better still, you don’t have to explain yourself: Digital tools sound like magic, they’re justified by trend. Facts are so yesterday.

Essentially the debate about government-supplied malicious software is the same as with encryption backdoors. The discussion won’t go away by itself. Time to think about the case as Thorsten Benner and Mirko Hohmann from the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin did. If you have any thoughts, save them for the upcoming Call for Papers for DeepSec.