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SecCon and the Limits of the Human Mind

One of the things I like best about Cisco’s focus on security is the internal SecCon conference we put on each year. It focuses on security threats, defenses, and innovation. Although I participate as a trainer, organizer, and reviewer, my favorite role this year was as an attendee. The conference theme, The State of the Hack, encompassed many elements, but the key one for me was trust and the human element.

The two external keynotes set the tone for talking about trust. Bruce Schneier started by pointing out that trust is an inherent element of living in a society of humans. It allows people to work together, and enables banking, transport, commerce, government, and all the elements necessary for a society to function. Without it, we’d have to raise our own food, and live independently of electricity, money, and even neighbors. Bruce mentioned the four mechanisms that enforce trust: morals, reputation, institutional (rules), and security systems. As security practitioners, we tend to focus on the latter, but should remember the first three as well. Reputation is the currency of trust, and is what allows us to trust financial institutions, police, friends, and our food supply. Reputation takes a long time to build up, over many interactions. Banks and stores need to be in business for years to build trust. You trust your friends and neighbors gradually with money, keys, and babysitting. But trust can be destroyed in just one action, as many transgressing politicians and security-breached vendors can attest.

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Are Third Parties Your Greatest Weakness?

There are many advantages in outsourcing functions to specialist providers that can supply services at lower cost and with more functionality than could be supplied in-house. However, companies should be aware TRAC-tank-vertical_logothat when buying services, you may also be buying risk. Organisations that have successfully implemented strategies to reduce the probability of experiencing a breach, and to decrease the time required to discover and remediate breaches, may still encounter embarrassing public breaches via third parties. Within the past two weeks, we have seen two examples of companies having their websites defaced apparently due to security lapses in service providers.
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OpenSSL Website Breached Via Hypervisor Management Interface Misconfiguration

The website of the OpenSSL project, which provides a widely-used SSL/TLS implementation, was breached on 29th December and defaced ( announcement). This defacement only affected the website of the project, however. The OpenSSL project has since checked the cryptographic hashes of the OpenSSL source code and confirmed that the source code has not been modified or compromised in any way. A compromise of the source code could result in a backdoor or other vulnerability being introduced. This is an important point since the Debian release of OpenSSL in 2006 had a bug which weakened the random number generator (wikipedia). However, the most worrying development of this breach is the way that the website was compromised, which was through the virtualization infrastructure of their hosting provider IndIT Hosting.

Whilst there are many potential avenues of attack against a website, what makes this attack notable is that instead of attacking the website directly, they attacked the hosting infrastructure of the website itself. In this case, it was the Virtual Machine hosting infrastructure operated by the hosting provider. VMWare, whose products were used to host the OpenSSL website issued the following statement:

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2014: A Look Ahead

It’s December and the 2013 cyber security news cycle has just about run its course. We’ve seen more and increasingly virulent attacks, continued “innovation” by adversaries, and a minor revival of distributed denial of services (DDOS) actions perpetrated by hacktivists and other socio-politically motived actors.

Against this, Cisco stood up tall in recognizing the importance of strong security as both an ingredient baked into all Cisco products, services, and solutions, and a growing understanding of how to use the network to identify, share information about, and defeat threats to IT assets and value generation processes. I can also look back at 2013 as the year that we made internal compliance with the Cisco Secure Development Lifecycle (CSDL) process a stop-ship-grade requirement for all new Cisco products and development projects. Read More »

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What Next-Generation Wi-Fi Models Could Mean for Secure Mobility

With the adoption of the Internet of Things and Internet of Everything, advances in mobility and next-generation Wi-Fi are driving faster speeds, higher signal quality and more reliable connectivity. With the upcoming ratification of the two waves of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, how are emerging Wi-Fi models creating new security features that are defining the next-generation Wi-Fi experience?

Next Generation Wi-Fi Models

Migration to the 5 GHz-only 802.11ac is quickly becoming a reality. In a recent article by Lisa Phifer, Chris Spain, Vice President of Product Marketing for Cisco’s Wireless Networking Group, discusses more about how this migration will drive a shift in mobile device support for 5 GHz. “An increasing percentage of new mobile devices provide dual-band capability, and they generally prefer the less congested 5 GHz band,” Spain said. New Wi-Fi models, like those listed below, can help drive mobile devices to the 5GHz band:

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