You may have heard that the US federal Judge Thomas Rueter has ruled against Google in their refusal to seize personal emails of one of their customer to the FBI based on the fact that these data were stored in an European Data Center.
While in 2016, in a case against Microsoft, a federal judge ruled that US investigators could not force the company to hand over emails stored on a server in Europe (Dublin in that specific case).
Of course, there is much more at stake here than just access to one customer’s email. There is billions of dollars at stake here. Most companies and individuals in Europe are moving their data to the cloud. The biggest cloud services suppliers in the world are American based companies (Amazon, IBM, Google and Microsoft representing together around 50% of the market) and a large number of European companies are outsourcing their services to these vendors. However, the GDPR (the European General Data Protection Regulation, see also Wikipedia for an overview) requires a strong protection of our personal data (including our emails). As US and EU aren’t totally aligned on this matter, most European companies requires their cloud providers to store and process their data in European Data Centers in order to guarantee the European regulation will be enforced.
And now, this new ruling might jeopardize all that (or at least be the start of it). If the sole fact of having an American based company as a supplier can allow US to bypass the GDPR, would European companies still be allowed to use them to store personal data? Would we see European companies and individuals leaving Gmail, Google apps, AWS, Outlook and other related US based services for European based and owned companies? It would be a big mess… and maybe a huge opportunity for some European challengers.
When you’re working in the security industry, being paranoid is kind of natural (or is it the other way around?). So, when you see how easy people, processes and technologies can be hacked, you become rapidly suspicious of anything. We all know bad things can happen and most of the time we try to mitigate the risks (without even thinking too much about it). Business as usual, so to speak. However, while I have a good idea of the risks our future is bringing to us (what makes me even less worried about my business’ future), it seems that most people don’t imagine how much danger Internet will bring to them. So here are some clues.
The new buzzword that has a lot of attention in the media lately is probably IoT: The Internet of things. According to the media, it’s IoT who allowed hackers to put websites like Amazon and Netflix on their knee for a few hours on October 21st. But that’s a mistake. Although IoT has led to some specific new technologies like Bluetooth 4.1 or ZigBee to accommodate the low consumption and the low cost requirement necessary to embed technologies in nearly all objects, it is probably a mistake to see IoT like something new or something different. As Bruce Schneier said recently in front of the US congress, we should not see this has objects with computers in it (and an Internet connection) but rather see it as computer that do things. A Tesla is a computer with wheels (and when you see how Tesla manage its updates and is manufacturing process, it is closer to the Software industry than to the car industry way of working), a smartphone is a computer with a microphone and a 4G connection, a connected fridge is a computer with an extra cooling system, and so on.
Bottom line, these connected objects are all computers and we must treat them like it. So, like for all computers when it comes to managing security, we should think about patch management, access control, hardening, change management, release management, network segregation, encryption, key management, user awareness and training and all these processes and best practices. Unfortunately, the issue is that most connected object manufacturers didn’t spend enough time and money in designing secure objects, easily upgradable, with strong and secure communication protocols. Consequently, the future is now… and we are not ready for it.
But what is our future? Let’s get a glimpse at it. In the tenth episode of the second season of “Homeland”, Nicholas Brody help terrorists to kill a political figure by giving them his pacemaker serial number, allowing them to hack it and induce a heart attack.
In another TV show, “Blacklist”, a computer genius triggers remotely the airbag of a car while driving, causing the car to crash and the death of its driver.
Is this Science-Fiction? Unfortunately, not anymore! Exploits on “smart” cars become more and more frequent. More recently, a British and a Belgian researcher have devised a wireless wounding attack on pacemakers (1). While the latter exploit need specific and rather costly hardware (3 to 4.000€), we are just one step away of having a ZigBee or BT 4.2 interface. Do you wanna kill someone with your smartphone? Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait too long.
At the same time, as other device with less deadly capabilities are spreading over the world, they provide a potential army of unsecure devices that can be used for Distributed Deny of Service attacks, like it was seen recently, but, why not, to perform parallel tasking, helping to brute force passwords, crack cryptographic keys or hide communication sources by bouncing thousand of times on these little soldiers that we provide to these hackers. Nice isn’t it? We purchase the devices that will be used against us in the near future. To be honest, for most people, including for a lot of security specialist, it is not easy to make the difference between a secure IP camera and an insecure one, simply because we don’t have time to test everything and there is no useful and relevant certification for that. So think about the number of “computers” you have at home: Your internet router, you tablet, your PC or your Mac, your smartphones, your videosurveillance camera, your printer, your TV box, your Bluray player, your “smart” TV, your alarm, your new “connected” fridge, your smart thermostat, the PSP of your kids, the IP doorbell and so on… Think about it, in your home alone, you may have more than 10 little future soldiers for the next hacker’s army. Android, iOS or IP cameras, they nearly all have exploitable vulnerabilities.
So, we have an army and we have soon legion of potential targets for the new kind of attack: DoL attacks (Denial of Life). Imagine ransomware targetting your pacemaker, large scale attack on cars to cause traffic jams or worse, new hitmans (version 3.0) changing the medication of patients in hospital, overdosing people. Just watch any episode of “Person of Interest”, they were just a few inches away from the actual reality… and we are getting there.
It sounds crazy, isn’t it? As bruce Scheneier said, Internet is not that fun anymore. It’s not a game anymore. Things are getting serious and we should act accordingly. Not only at government level but also in industries and in the civilian world. We should ask our suppliers, our manufacturers to secure their devices, to make them safe AND easy to control.
For years now, Information security is a fast growing market. At least for a couple of years, the cyber security market is growing fast. Even in these times of budget cut in many sectors, quite often the cyber security department manages to negotiate an increase of its operational budget. That’s significant, isn’t it? Moreover, nowadays it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the wave of “cyber-“ words: cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cybersex or cyberbullying.
You could not have missed also the news about the CERT.be, the federal cyber emergency team (CERT used to be the Computer Emergency response team, likely less “sexy” than Cyber emergency Team) which is, according to its website, “a neutral specialist in Internet and network security” (So Cyber security is Internet and Network Security?). With the CERT.BE, you probably also read about the Belgian Center for Cyber-security (CCB). Neither could you haven’t noticed the buzz around the new Belgian Cyber Security Coallition or the 1.8 billion € allocated by the European Commission to a private-public partnership made to increase Cyber Security. In the latter, the private sector is being represented by the newly born European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO). That’s a lot of Cyber-related news, isn’t it? Does Azimov’s vision become a reality? It sure sounds like we are in one of his Robots series book.
But what does Cyber mean? How is Cyber Security different from Information security or IT security? Which one of both is it?
According to the NIST, Cybersecurity is “The process of protecting information by preventing, detecting, and responding to attacks”. So, is it Information Security? But according to the new worldwide reference, Wikipedia, Cyber is “part of the “Internet-related prefixes added to a wide range of existing words to describe new, Internet- or computer-related flavors of existing concepts, often electronic products and services that already have a non-electronic counterpart”. So, Cyber Security should be the Internet or Computer related flavor of information security that we used to call IT security. But is it?
Because lately I’ve heard the “cyber-buzzwords” used in so many different contexts by so many person (including some executive clearly not knowing what they were talking about), I have difficulties to understand what we are talking about exactly.
Understand me well, I like the fact that our country’s leaders finally decided to address the increase of the Internet related threats more seriously. As our risk surface is drastically expanding, it is more than time to address those risks at a more global level (but we are still far from a clearly necessary worldwide cybersecurity agency, for a lot of obvious political reasons). I also like the fact that my clients’ board of directors give more focus to “cybersecurity”, whatever they think it is. At last, it provides us a momentum to raise awareness and improve the governance maturity to the necessary level.
What I don’t like in the “Cyber” fashion, is having a so important subject becoming more and more vague and focused, again, on the technological aspects. With the new buzzword came a lot of new supposed-to-be-panacea products claiming they will solve all the problems overnight (or in a few months, but at our timescale, it is the same). I heard of CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) being rebranded CCSO (Chief Cyber Security Officer).
Is it really a progress? For years we fought to have the CISO positions created at a board level in order to get out of the IT ghetto. The aim was to be also present where information security belongs: in the organizations processes and workforce. In 2016, the latest IBM security survey still attributes 60% of attacks to inside jobs. 1 employee out of 5 is ready to sell his corporate’s network credentials. The biggest weaknesses are still in the business processes and in the human being behind them. Most ethical hackers and red team members know that they don’t need a zero-day exploit to get into a target’s systems, they just need a charming smile and a couple of beer to get what they need to get in. With all the good this new Cyber buzzword brings, there is an evil: we are going back to a computer and technologically focused perception of corporate security issues. Human, processes and facilities are relegated to the second position while they still represent more than 70% of the risks. Does it make sense? Is Cyber Security an evil buzzword after all?
Few will share this article as a lot of cyber security professionnal won’t dare to challenge the marketing machine that is actually feeding them. And as I wrote, there was some good coming out of this, but it is necessary to see all the side impacts and ensure marketing people are not the one deciding where you should put your focus.