Recently in musings Category

In the world of DevOps we often like to talk about rapid iteration in relationship to shortened feedback cycles, and yet oftentimes something gets lost in translation. Specifically, just because failure is ok, because failure leads to learning, it does not mean that we shouldn't be thinking at all. And, yet... it's all too common!

We all know there are problems with security. We all know that things aren't keeping pace or improving measurably and meaningfully at a rate or in a manner that most of us would deem sufficient or acceptable. Yet, all we seem to be doing is continuing to cast stones, castigate decision-makers, and pound the FUD drum. Why isn't anybody talking about addressing the core obstacles?

The Heart of DevOps Is Cooperation

I've been reading a lot lately about generative culture at the suggestion of my boss. Apparently this topic has been popping up and circulating with frequency through DevOps circles in recent months, and seeing as I'm currently charged with doing "stuff" related to security and DevOps, it seemed like a good thing to research.

For those unfamiliar with generative culture, I recommend reading up on it. I found these pieces to be of particular value:


What's most interesting about generative culture is that it really fits well with the current problems facing organizations today with respect to security. That is, infosec spend is still continuously viewed as overhead cost, infosec people are still viewed as obstacles (even when trying to play nicely with DevOps teams), and infosec tools continue to be undermined by the human element, which often sees security as an externality to their specific duties (even when it really oughtn't be).

Alone In This World

(pre-comment: if you've never personally dealt with depression, you may not understand)

One of the things I'm coming to find in this life is that, at the end of the day, we're all alone in this world. Even if we're surrounded by friends, they're external to our lives and will never be inside the darkest of places: our own heads.

We see this play out in many ways. Maybe it's the unintentional neglect of a friendship that highlights loneliness. Maybe it's the negativity of "friends" in reaction to new ideas. Maybe it's just that inner voice, reminding you of the darkness within. No matter how you cut it, we are all alone with ourselves.

Unless you've been offline in a remote land for the past month or so, you've undoubtedly heard that the 2016 VzB DBIR is out. As with every year, two things have happened: 1) DBIR is now the basis of almost all infosec vendor marketing promos, and 2) data analysts are coming out of the woodwork to levy the same old criticisms and accusations that we hear every year.

At the end of the day, there's a few consistent takeaways. First, yes, the data is biased. All data is biased. That's life. Welcome to data analysis 101. There's no such thing as "pure objectivity," only "more or less subjective." Second, yes, the data is dirty. It's inevitable, especially at scale coming from multiple sources. I think the bulk of the incident data is decent. Where things, as always, go off the rails is around the much-maligned vulnerability section (for example, read Dan Guido's criticism pieceread Dan Guido's criticism piece, which links to others as well). Third, for all the noise and drama and bickering and ad hominem attacks, my conclusions don't change. At. All.

On the Approachability of Problems

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
George Bernard Shaw

The response to my most recent post has been intriguing insomuch as it was completely predictable and expected (though nonetheless disheartening). The few people who've commented have generally said things like "unrealistic" and "unimplementable" and "already been done, failed." Ironically, none of these criticisms are true, nor are they even necessarily knowable. Sure, there have been other attempts at strict compartmentalization (see Qubes OS), but those attempts aren't a true analog for what I suggested. I digress...

The purpose behind my post here is twofold. First, framing problems is imperative to solving them. Frame a problem in the wrong way and you'll either find no answer, or worse, you'll find a woefully inadequate (or even regressive) answer. Second, we as an industry need to stop being total a**holes when presented with new ideas and open our minds to future possibilities. There's nothing worse than hearing about a new approach, idea, technology, whatever, and immediately responding negatively. What's up with that? Rude, to say the least. Again, I digress...

Framing problems is really what I want to talk about today. The ability to shift our thinking to alternative viewpoints is incredibly critical when thinking about how to solve various problem states. In the example of my endpoint security post, the shift in thinking is to realize once and for all that the current framing of the problem makes it unsolvable. We have ample history now to clear demonstrate that how we're attacking (traditional OS) endpoint security simply isn't reasonable, rational, or pragmatic. As such, time to pivot.

Solving Endpoint Security

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

As a security architect, I've come to truly loathe the endpoint security space. The "answer" seems to be an unending stream of "yet another agent" to layer onto an endpoint, usually just to supplement another tool that's insufficient. Rarely, if ever, can I remove one of these tools (like AV! I still have AV after all this time?!), which means I get to encounter all sorts of conflicts and problems, and for what benefit? Why am I investing hundreds of thousands for incredibly small incremental gains? Insanity...

Part of the challenge with endpoint security is the problem state. As it stands today, we're typically stuck in a traditional general purpose OS environment with very little useful segregation. We deploy tools that live inside this general environment and then hope that a) they keep functioning, b) don't introduce more problems, and c) are somehow able to get enough visibility to assert reasonable control. Sheer folly. It's like trying to estimate the size of an infinite universe from an ant's perspective.

Putting aside specialized solutions deployed to endpoints for solving non-endpoint problems (like monitoring or controlling data movement)... the core focus of endpoint security /should/ be focused on monitoring for state changes. Unfortunately, in a general OS environment, this is very difficult because there are rarely clean, clear boundaries that can be watched for these state changes. In the mobile world we see this problem moving to a slightly more tenable position wherein wrappers and containers can be deployed to better define boundaries, which then enables watching for state changes. We're also starting to see this in production applications that leverage a container-based micro-services architecture. All of which leads me to an interesting thought:

unikernel+containers+sidecars=secure endpoint!

Ten Feet Tall and Covered in Mud

Those who know me know that I'm not overly concerned with being liked, per se, so long as I'm not often wrong and not generally thought an idiot. However, by the same token, it's sometimes nice to be wanted, and maybe even appreciated, from time to time. Now more so than in the past, heading into RSA 2016 in a few short weeks, I'm starting to realize that the temporary career boost from my time at Gartner has faded and my dance card for the event is remarkably empty.

This phenomenon of transitioning from "leading analyst firm" to "mere mortal" has been interesting. While I'm now enjoying my new environs, it certainly did not start out that way with the first post-analyst experience. If nothing else, it has certainly confirmed my concerns over the state of the industry, instilled throughout my time as an analyst.

Specifically, it seems that no matter how far we'd like to think we've come as an industry, we're still generally losing ground and - more importantly - losing the battle and the war. A friend and I were just discussing earlier today the abysmal state of things and just how bleeding common it has become to encounter teams and organizations where everyone is running around with their hair on fire, trying to "do something to help," but as often as not simply making things worse.

How did we come to such a point in the industry wherein we're able to stand on the shoulders of giants and still be mired in mud? Paradoxical, to say the least, but also greatly distressing. Are we so far behind in our maturity and technological advancement? Alas, I think it may be true that for every step we take forward as the security industry, we're continually leapfrogged by our adversaries, who neither think linearly, nor have to worry about dealing with an asymmetric environment wherein we must succeed all the time and they must only be lucky once. It hardly seems fair.

Fortunately, I think there's an out, if we're only savvy and brave enough to entreat it. Alas, pricing on various automation tools still seems to be relatively high, and continually targeted at the F250 companies. However, less expensive options, such as Ansible, Puppet, Chef, and even Jenkins (to name a few), increasingly provide a reasonable starting point for security automation and orchestration, not to mention the FOSS tool FIDO from Netflix, as well as the potential for greater market accessibility for Invotas Security Orchestrator, which has been acquired by FireEye.

We'll have to see how things pan out, but I'm cautiously optimistic that we may eventually get our collective heads above water... but only by shifting away from human-dependent paradigms to ones underpinned by creative, proactive automation that scales.

Back to Blogging, Changed Jobs Again

Well, hi there! It's been a while. Sorry about that. It seems my personal site blogging has curtailed the past *mumble mumble* months. ;)

So, here's the deal: I changed jobs in March. It sucked. Badly. I knew by the 2nd day that I'd made a horrible error. But... going back wasn't an option... and so, I looked for a forward step. Which took a while.

Over the Summer I thought it'd be fun to, ya know, once again suffer a depressive episode that included drinking myself into oblivion one night, expressing rather dark thoughts to my wife (while blacked out) that led to my relinquishing my booze for a few months and going dry. But I digress...

The good news is: I'm feeling much better! I've changed jobs, heading over to Ellucian to play security architect for my manager from AOL days (the only person who's managed me successfully for more than 12mos).

The other good news is that I'm finally getting the writing bug back and hope to start contributing here again on a regular basis. I've done some writing over the past couple months, but all for clients, not for myself. Time to change that up a little bit.

Given my security architecture focus, spanning traditional data centers to hosted/colo to cloud/AWS, my hope here is to be equally broad in focus. As such, don't be surprised if I touch a lot of topics going forward.

And, best of all, if there are specific topics you'd like to see address, please hit me on twitter and I'll do my best to produce a post on the topic!

I contributed a piece to the Norse Security Dark Matters blog a few weeks back.

It's Time to Kill the General Purpose Browser

Another week, another critical Adobe Flash vulnerability (CVE-2015-3113), complete with active exploit in the wild. Adobe encourages everyone to patch right away, but is there more you should do?

In fact, here in 2015, with a constant stream of broken apps, broken browser, broken plugins, and breach after breach after breach, I'm left to wonder: Why are we still using general purpose browsers at all anymore? Are they, and their associated plugins, doing more harm than good?

Continue reading here...

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