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TMA? Get Some Relief from Acronym Overload

I see and hear a variety of acronyms being used on a daily basis. I recently heard one tossed around with good humor that makes a point: TMA or Too Many Acronyms. Every once in a while, when I think I’ve embedded the definition and use of an acronym into my long-term memory (anything beyond an extended weekend), it seems as if either a new acronym was spawned, or it has been overloaded with a different meaning. My goal in this blog post is offer both a refresher on some topical acronyms that appear to be quite commonly circulated in security technology circles and media outlets. It is challenging to be a subject matter expert in every aspect of cyber security. Whether you are reading an article, joining a conversation or preparing for a presentation or certification in the realm of cyber security, you may not be completely perplexed by these acronyms when you come across them and become more familiar with them. For situational purposes, I organized the acronyms into categories where I have seen them used frequently and included related links for each of them.

Network Infrastructure

AAAAuthentication, Authorization, and Accounting. This is a set of actions that enable you to control over who is allowed access to the network, what services they are allowed to use once they have access, and track the services and network resources being accessed.

ACL/tACL/iACL/VACL/PACLAccess Control List. ACLs are used to filter traffic based upon a set of rules that you define. For ACLs listed with a prefix (for example, t=transit, i=infrastructure, V=VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network), P=Port)), these ACLs have special purposes to address a particular need within the network.

FW/NGFW/FWSM/ASASM: Firewall/Next Generation Firewall/Firewall Service Module/Adaptive Security Appliance Services Module. These products provide a set of security features designed to govern the communications via the network. Cisco provides firewall features as a dedicated appliance or hardware module that can be added to a network device such as a router.

IPS: Intrusion Prevention System. Typically, this is a network appliance that is used to examine network traffic for the purposes of protecting against targeted attacks, malware, and application and operating system vulnerabilities. In order to ensure the effectiveness of a Cisco IPS device, it  should be maintained using Cisco’s IPS subscription service.

DNSSECDomain Name System (DNS) Security Extensions. That’s right, we have an acronym within an acronym. These are the specifications for security characteristics that make it possible to verify the authenticity of information stored in DNS. This validation makes it possible to provide assurances to resolvers that when they request a particular piece of information from the DNS, that they receive the correct information published by the authoritative source. Read More »

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Coordinated Attacks Against the U.S. Government and Banking Infrastructure


On April 10, 2013, a collective of politically motivated hacktivists announced a round of planned attacks called #OPUSA. These attacks, slated to begin May 7, 2013, are to be launched against U.S.-based targets. #OPUSA is a follow-up to #OPISRAEL, which were a series of attacks carried out on April 7 against Israeli-based targets. Our goal here is to summarize and inform readers of resources, recommendations, network mitigations, and best practices that are available to prevent, mitigate, respond to, or dilute the effectiveness of these attacks. This blog was a collaborative effort between myself, Kevin TimmJoseph KarpenkoPanos Kampanakis, and the Cisco TRAC team.


If the attackers follow the same patterns as previously witnessed during the #OPISRAEL attacks, then targets can expect a mixture of attacks. Major components of previous attacks consisted of denial of service attacks and web application exploits, ranging from advanced ad-hoc attempts to simple website defacements. In the past, attackers used such tools as LOICHOIC, and Slowloris.

Publicly announced attacks of this nature can have highly volatile credibility. In some cases, the announcements exist only for the purpose of gaining notoriety. In other cases, they are enhanced by increased publicity. Given the lack of specific details about participation or capabilities, the exact severity of the attack can’t be known until it (possibly) happens. Read More »

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I Can’t Keep Up with All These Cisco Security Advisories: Do I Have to Upgrade?

April 2, 2013 at 6:00 am PST

“A security advisory was just published! Should I hurry and upgrade all my Cisco devices now?”

This is a question that I am being asked by customers on a regular basis. In fact, I am also asked why there are so many security vulnerability advisories. To start with the second question: Cisco is committed to protecting customers by sharing critical security-related information in a very transparent way. Even if security vulnerabilities are found internally, the Cisco Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) – which is my team – investigates, drives to resolution, and discloses such vulnerabilities. To quickly answer the first question, don’t panic, as you may not have to immediately upgrade your device. However, in this article I will discuss some of the guidelines and best practices for responding to Cisco security vulnerability reports.

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Targeted Attack, Targeted Response: Designing and Implementing an Incident Response Plan That Works

September 4, 2012 at 7:30 am PST

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating, as a guest speaker, in a webinar titled “Targeted Attack, Targeted Response: Designing and Implementing an IR Plan That Works.” Joe Riggins, Senior Director of Incident Response for HBGary, moderated this Q&A format webinar. We discussed the current incident response (IR) challenges companies are facing, as well as specific steps organizations can take to design, test, and successfully implement an ongoing IR plan for their specific business environment.

The webinar recording can be accessed here.

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Compromised Accounts, Stepping Stones

July 17, 2012 at 11:49 am PST

The list of account compromises over the past week is almost too long to list, and the numbers of verified or estimated compromised accounts has reached ridiculous numbers.  With the media spotlight on these current companies’ compromises, we’ll likely get more details on the security weaknesses, outright failures, and more from the narcissistic vulnerability pimps taking credit for exposing those security problems.

Aside from the obvious of changing passwords, what can you and your organization do?

I won’t prognosticate on the list of best practices that may have been violated in these compromises, but they will be reported following the long, detailed, and expensive investigations in coming weeks and months, because most of them will be well-known but for one reason or another not practiced.  The media reporting and the company’s public statements will cover those, and they will likely be worth a review for any significant points.  We can let them tell the story, again.

Instead let’s focus on some things that people may not know or understand that can actually improve your security around these incidents.  We highlighted a couple of these practices in the 2011 Annual Security Report, and more recently in the Emerging Threats Briefing at Cisco Live 2012.

First, let’s help our customers, users, and organizations.  Given the opportunity, many people will take the simplest and easiest way.  In the case of passwords, that means they will use their birthday, username, “password”, “123456”, and so on.  We’ll see these lists of bad passwords in coming weeks too.  It’s human nature, and too much work to try and remember all those passwords, right? Which leads to the second point of people that use the same password on multiple accounts (more on this shortly).  As security practitioners, professionals,…we too often are setting up our users and organizations to fail.  We have to do better, and here’s how.  Every security control must have technical controls that enforce and monitor that security control, or we have no idea if it is effective.  In the case of passwords, that means creating policies, security controls, and technical controls that require a user to create a strong password and change it regularly.  If we let a user create a password of “123456”, they have done as should be expected, and we have failed.  Even with the best account credentials, the accounts have to be monitored for suspicious activity with technical controls to alert security teams and users when, for example, a password is changed.  For a good reference list see: FY 2011 Chief Information Officer Federal Information Security Management Act Reporting Metrics.  Note the account activity items on the list: Locked out accounts, failed logins, dormant accounts, password aging…

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