Monday, June 06, 2016

I'm joining the fight against malware and ransomware with SentinelOne

Today is a big day for me. I’m contributing to a company called SentinelOne, but I really don’t think of it as a job. I’ve accepted an opportunity to work side by side with other brilliant and highly motivated people where we’re all helping to solve important and challenging InfoSec problems. In this case, malware and ransomware. You see, more than anything, I want to make a positive impact on InfoSec. As I’ve said many times, we who work InfoSec are responsible for protecting the greatest invention we’ll see if our lifetime — the Web, the Internet, and the billions of people using it every day. That’s our mission, our calling. As such, I’ve always kept a evolving list of our industries biggest challenges, which I include in most of my slide decks.

  1. Intersection of security guarantees and cyber-insurance
  2. Explosion of Ransomware
  3. Vulnerability remediation
  4. Industry skill shortage
  5. Measuring the impact of SDLC security controls

The only problem on the list I haven’t gotten the chance to work on is ransomware, an incredibly effective and fast-growing form of malware that’s taking over. I’ve long railed hard about the crap antivirus products on the market and the billions of dollars people and companies spend annually to effectively make themselves less secure. Yes, that’s right, I said LESS secure. The FBI recently published that ransomware victims paid out $209 million in Q1 2016 compared to $24 million for ALL of 2015. Some non-trivial percentage of those ransom dollars will be used for R&D, so the smart money says ransomware will quickly get even more sophisticated and out of hand. And to that point, in recent and well publicized news, ransomware is also responsible for disrupting the care of patients in a few hospitals. This can’t be allowed — lives are at risk!

In my life after WhiteHat, I looked at ton of companies and interesting opportunities where I could lend a helping hand, of which there was no shortage. My inbox was crushed with many worthy projects, but I knew I had to choose wisely. Then out pops a company with some super cool tech and few have heard of them, SentinelOne. SentinelOne is right smack in the middle of the malware/ransomware war, for which Gartner calls next-generation endpoint protection (NG EPP). I met with the founders, the team, all super cool and passionate people. A real gem of a start-up. I felt strongly that I needed to join this fight. Plus, I’ll be working on some exciting stuff behind that scenes that I can’t wait to share with world. Good things take time, so please, standby!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Life is Better without Username Reuse (email aliases FTW!)

Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, PayPal, Yahoo, Google. We keep accounts with many of these websites. They and many others use email addresses as the first half of the classic username and password combo. They do this because email addresses are unique and double as a reasonably secure communication channel with the user. And of course we often sign-up for things online to receive information by entering our email address. All this email address sharing, while technically nothing being wrong with it, unfortunately causes several highly annoying problems. These problems can be solved, or at least made far easier to deal with, by leveraging email address aliases. An email alias is where you create one or more email addresses that all send to the same account, vaguely similar to desktop folder shortcuts.

With email address sharing / username reuse, by far the biggest problem we run into is spam. And the more we share and reuse our email addresses across systems, the bigger the spam problem becomes. Sometimes websites sell our email addresses. Other times they share them with third-partie business partners, and from time to time they get leaked in a data breach. Whatever the case, once an email address is out there, it’s out there. No taking it back and no amount of mailing list opting out will help. I know. I’ve tried.

There are other problems too. Anyone who knows your email address can easily determine what systems you’re using (i.e. “This email address is already registered.”). This issue is not only a privacy issue, but a potential security issue as it makes it easier to target your account via brute force, phishing, password recovery hacks, etc. And of course when you have several online accounts, you’re constantly notified via email, which explodes your inbox. Creating rules in your email app using strings in the subject or content body helps, but doing so isn’t easy and never comprehensive. When all these problems are tied to your email email address, there is no escape. You can’t easily kill or change your main email address because all your friends, family, and business contacts use it too.

My solution to these problems, which has been working great, is by using email address aliases based on custom domain name. For example, my personal domain is jeremiahgrossman.com. So as an example, I create a new email alias that’s just for Facebook, like fb@jeremiahgrossman.com. Or on Paypal it would be pp@jeremiahgrossman. You can technically use any email alias for this purpose, even a random one. When email is sent to these aliases they automatically forward to my main email address. I never reuse these email address aliases for any other than their intended use, and never use my main email address to register for anything if I can help it.

It does cost a few bucks to pay for domain name and email hosting, but it ain’t much these days and the value is WAY worth it. When things are set up this way, I can be reasonably sure that any email to these aliases, that is supposedly from them, is legit and not a phishing scam because no one else knows the email address / username I used. And since the particular website is only using the email address alias I gave them, inbox rules are way easier.

Then if the email address is leaked, gets spammed out, or whatever, I can just kill it off, create another, and change the account email address / username. The up front work is a little tedious, but again, worth it. And the best part, when you have your own domain name, email aliases are essentially free — I’ve about 100 now. And there is no reason you can’t use any old crap domain name either.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Millions experience serious computer security problems and have no one to call for help

A couple times a week, people I may or may not know reach out to me for help because they’re experiencing some kind of computer security catastrophe. Sometimes the situation is serious, other times not. They might be dealing with an online bank account takeover, online scam, data breach, malware infection, identity theft, and the list goes on and on from there. Whatever the circumstance, a great many people often find themselves thrust into the deep end of this technology driven world, without the know-how to solve the problem on their own, and no one to call for help. These experiences are especially painful for the elderly and small-business owners, whose livelihood are disrupted, and the stress takes a toll on them. Personally, I hate it when good people get taken advantage of.

In the most recent case, I was introduced to the founder of a TV and movie production company through a mutual friend. They explained that someone is messing with their website and actively using their company name to scam their business contacts. They said ‘hacked,’ but that could mean anything these days. The situation was causing them real brand damage, and with over a dozen show titles to their credit, the business impact is severe. Even over the impersonal medium of email, you could sense a deep feeling of helplessness and desperation. As you might expect, I tend to keep myself happily occupied with family, work, and martial arts and don’t have a lot of time to spare for things like this. But, this plea originated from a good friend, the victim didn’t have anyone else to turn to, and helping out felt like the right thing to do.

After taking a call and exchanging a few emails, I got the real story. Someone, a scammer, registered an incredibly similar domain name to the legitimate one used by the production company. The fake domain name was being used to create a clone of the real website. The scammer then subtly changed the names and photos of the staff and updated the contact information so that any incoming communication would instead go to them. Through email, phone calls, or search results visitors would be contacted by the scammer, who pretended to be with the production company, and would proceed to con their victims out of money. This is a simple, inexpensive, and effective scam that could happen to basically anyone – and it does.

The near-term plan was to get the scam website taken down. Long-term, try to take ownership over the look-a-like domain name.

To start, the first thing I needed to know is who owns the offending domain name. A quick WHOIS lookup revealed the registrar is GoDaddy, but the domain owner itself was masked by Domains By Proxy, a popular service for those wishing to preserve their online privacy. I often use this service myself! This means without going through a legal process, obtaining the real domain owner information isn’t going to happen. Still, in the event the production company would like to try and get ownership over the domain using ICANN’s and trademark law, they have the registrar info to further that process. Next, I needed to identify where the website is being hosted. The ‘dig’ command easily gets me the IP address of the cloned website and an ARIN lookup tells me who the IP address belongs to — the name of the hosting provider. For those curious, collectively performing these tasks took me far less time than writing this paragraph.

Let’s pause our story for a moment to consider the technical knowledge required to get this far, which includes a set of skills many techies take for granted and forget that the vast majority of people simply don’t have. Few people can explain what a domain name is, have any idea what a domain registrar or an IP address is, what’s WHOIS, or even ICANN. They’ve certainly never heard of ARIN, and only a vague familiarity with hosting providers for that matter. And thus far, we’ve only collected purely public information and in doing so reached a point where most can’t get to on their own. Techies should empathize and exercise patience with those not nearly as literate in how the Internet works as we are. Anyway, back to our story.

Now that we’ve learned who the hosting provider is, I helped the production company founder draft an email to send that concisely explains the problem and what we’d like the action to be. Take down the website! Their website nicely listed the abuse@ email address and I pressed send on the message. I figured it could be a while for them to get back to us, and in the meantime decided to take a close look at the scammer’s website.

Using every web hackers best friend, view-source, I skimmed the underlying code of the website. Maybe the scammer left clues as to their identity, tools they used to clone the website, or whatever. In less than 60 seconds, I immediately spotted something very interesting. While the HTML of the page is hosted locally, all the CSS, images, and most importantly, the Javascript is being SRC’ed in from the real website! As you’ll see if a moment, this was a major oversight on the scammer’s part. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? We’ll see. :)

1)    In the logs of the real website, we should be able to ascertain who and how many people visited the scammers website. Because every time someone visits one of his web pages, their browser automatically pulls in the aforementioned third-party content from something we control. This means the visitors IP address is logged, as is what web page they are currently looking at — called the referer. And yes, this is intentionally misspelled and a throwback to Internet antiquity.

2)    If we have the visitors IP address information, it’s quite likely we also have the scammer’s too! Provided they didn’t mask that as well. And if they are, that’s useful bit of information as well. Either way, their IP address is probably the first one we see the in the logs when the referer of the fake website appeared. If we decide to go after the bad guy directly, we at least have something to begin tracking them down with. Subpoenaing the hosting provider or Domains By Proxy is of course another possible course of action, but we’ll see about that path later.

3)    This is the big one. Any web hacker would have quickly theorized that we can probably modify the javascript on the real website, which again is called by the fake website, to at least temporarily redirect it’s visitors. And, that’s exactly what we did! A quick 3-line block of code did just the trick!

if (window.location.host != ‘<real-website.com>') {
        window.location = ‘<real-website.com>’;
}
 
At this moment, we got the production company and visitors of the scammer’s website some immediate relief. That is until the bad guy notices what we did and updates their website code, which is trivial to do. Next I ask the domain registrar (GoDaddy) about the process for taking ownership over domain names that are designed for abuse. They point us towards an ICANN’s trademark dispute policy and suggested we consult with a lawyer experienced in such legal measures. I then advise the founder to seriously consider going down his route.

A couple days go by, and while we wait for the hosting provider to respond, we notice the aforementioned redirect stopped working. As expected, the scammer caught on and fixed their code so that all the web page files now point locally. Drat! What we did learn is the scammer is sentient, responsive, and persistent. He didn’t care so much that were we onto his little game. Interesting. Such brazenness indicated that the scammer is probably outside the US jurisdiction – or optionally just stupid. Then like magic on the same exact day, and the timing could not have been better, the hosting provider informs us that they completed their investigation and disable the scammers website. Success!

For now, my work is done and the production company founder profusely express their thankfulness. This was a good feeling. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the end of our little story, or that it will be a happy one. After all, this is the security of the web we’re talking about, and plainly said, it’s fundamentally broken.

You see, the scammer can easily set up shop with a new hosting provider and start the identical scam all over again and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to prevent that. There is no good way to help visitors tell the difference between the real website from the fake one. And even if we use ICANN’s process to take ownership over the domain name, the scammer could easily just register another suitable look-a-like domain in no time flat and we’re back at it all over again. This problem is never ending and there really is no good way to solve it once and for all. A website owner’s only option is to wait for something bad to happen, give me or someone else with the right skills a call for help, and proceed similarly.

What I can do is actively monitoring the illegitimate domain name to see when and if it’s IP address changes. If it does, this would indicate that the scammer is moving hosting providers. It took a couple weeks, and that’s exactly what appears to be happening right now. Grr. This is kind of thing happens every day, to who knows how many people, and honestly I’m not sure what the answer is. One thing I do know, the world needs the help of a lot more good computer security people. Join in!



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

7 Tips to Get the Absolute Best Price from Security Vendors

Security budgets are always extremely tight, so it’s smart to get the absolute best price possible from your security vendors. Never ever pay full price, or even take the first quote vendors give you. That price just sets the stage and it’s best to think of it as the ‘dummy price,’ so don’t pay it! I’ve spent nearly two decades sitting at the price negotiation table in the security industry and seen all manner of techniques customers use successfully to win discounts, and more people should use them. Customers, even small ones, can exercise a ton of leverage over their security vendors if they only knew how. And, more often than not, vendors themselves don’t really mind. It signals that a deal is likely to be made and to a vendor, that’s what’s most important.

While it’s common for large companies to have negotiations handled by a separate department, typically called ‘Procurement,’ many leave the responsibility to whomever is actually making the purchase. In either case, security practitioners can personally say, do, and offer things the procurement department can’t to help obtain the best possible price. Remember, security product margins can range anywhere from 40-60% or even higher. I’ve seen discounts well over 50% of the originally quoted price. Some vendors will even take a loss to win your business, depending on the size of your brand and the reference you’ll provide. 

Note: I’m not a big fan of this as you risk not being treated well as a customer long-term. The vendor may decide to drop you later because you’re unprofitable. So, allow vendors to make a profit, just not an obscene one.

Below you’ll find my ranked list of the most powerful negotiating techniques I’ve come across in the purchasing process, many of which are applicable beyond security purchases…


1. Negotiate Price at Quarter End / Year End
More than anything, businesses want financial predictability. They want to be able to plan out, with a high degree of accuracy, precisely how much business is expected to close at least two quarters into the future. Sales forecasting is largely a Sales department function. So when end of the quarter is just a few weeks away, and overall sales volume isn’t where it needs to be, the sales rep (and their bosses) scramble and make concessions to bridge the gap and hit their forecast. The larger the sales forecast gap, and the closer to quarter end, the more desperate they become and more open they’ll be to deep discounts or throwing in additional products / services to sweeten the pot.

Smart customers simply ask sales reps when their quarter or fiscal year ends, just after the vendor asks the customer what their budget range is. So, if you like the product, and you’re likely to buy it, let them know you’ll commit to the purchase in the current quarter, before the end, if they give you a good deal. Vendors will routinely knock 10-30% (or more) off the price, just with the ability to accurately forecast a deal closing. If the vendor is unwilling to work with you and the purchase isn’t urgent, let them know you’re more likely to purchase next quarter, which ads uncertainty to their forecast and they’ll have a decision to make. Rinse. Repeat.
2. Multi-Year Deals
As previously mentioned, businesses love predictability. For this reason, subscription-based businesses, like Software-as-a-Service, love predictable renewals rates. Security vendors know that just because you’re a customer this year, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be a customer next year — as the market is highly competitive. They know they’ll likely have to negotiate price with existing customers before the contract expires, which comes at a cost of time and sales forecast uncertainly. 

To reduce this uncertainly, subscription-based businesses will often give attractive discounts to customers willing to sign up for multi-year deals. Two to three year deals are typical, likely fetching a 5-10% discount, possibly more if you’re willing to pay up front, but we’ll explore this more in a moment. It’s also best to refrain from committing to more than three years for security purchases as it’s difficult to know what the business needs will be that far out, or how the product landscape may have changed in that time. 

3. Paying In Advance
For many security services, such as subscription SaaS products, you pay monthly or quarterly after services are rendered. For the security vendor’s finance department, that means they’re out some amount of money to service you before you pay them for those services. If you like a particular security service and plan to continue having it for a least another year, consider paying for a year or more in advance. For the vendor, having getting cash up front is often attractive and it takes payment uncertainty out of the equation, giving their business additional flexibility. Obviously, the bigger the deal, the better in terms of discounting. This method can win another 5-10% or so in discounts on its own. 

4. Customer Reference, Case Study, Gartner Reference
In InfoSec it’s extremely difficult to get customers to speak publicly, or even privately, about their experience with a given security product. When a customer does consent to speak, it’s incredibly powerful, and few things generate more business for security vendors than vocally happy customers. Customers should use this power to their advantage, especially if they really really like a security product and want to see the company do well.

To do this, customers can serve as a reference in a few different ways:

a. Private Reference – speaks to other customers
b. Public Reference, Individual – willing to do case studies, press, events, quotes, but as an individual versus the company
c. Public Reference – Company – the company is endorsing the product and brand, including a logo on the vendors website, slides, etc.  

All of this is good and even a non-contractual promise to be a reference can lead to great discounts. As a small warning, many organizations have policies regarding speaking on behalf of the company, so make sure to follow those. If you can find out if the security vendor is in the process of working with Gartner on the magic quadrant of their space, customers who are willing to be a positive reference in this time period are like gold. I’ve personally seen seriously deep discounts here, even free!

5. Ask for More Stuff, Not Always Price Discounts
Let’s say you’re asking for a discount, but for whatever reason the security vendor isn’t agreeable. This could be because they need to keep their average sales price (ASP) above a particular threshold so their business looks good to their board and investors. In these circumstances, you can instead ask for them to throw in things that are more easy for them to give away or commit to.

a. Extra subscription time, especially if full deployment will take a while.
b. Additional services or software licenses 
c. A better customer support package.
d. Free training.
d. Payment flexility. How and how often payment has to be made.
e. Product roadmap enhancements that’ll better serve you.

In many circumstances, security vendors will find the items on this list easier to give you than discounting the overall deal. You get more, but pay the same.


6. Find Out What Others Paid. Competitive Bids.
When entering pricing discussions, it’s always helpful to know what other customers paid as a point of reference. You may or may not be able to get the same deal as they did, but you want something in at least the general vicinity. There are a couple of ways to obtain this information.

a. Ask a colleague you personally know, who has already purchased a product you’re considering. What kind of deal did they get? 
b. Ask the vendors for customer references during the evaluation process, which is something all customers should do as a matter of course. Not only ask the reference what they liked and didn’t like about the product, but what they paid. 
c. Ask the vendor for their competitor’s pricing, and how they compare with it.  

In some cases, pricing information is considered confidential, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Having this pricing research on hand greatly helps get you the best deal possible. 

Additionally, you’re probably considering between two or more comparable products to solve a particular security problem. If the products themselves are a toss up, meaning you’d be happy with either option, consider sharing the bids with the competing security vendors. No security vendors want to lose a competitive deal in the last stage simply because the competition slightly edged them on price. You’d be surprised how quickly vendors will knock off 5—10% as a take away from the competition.


7. Go Direct
Many customers have a preferred reseller, typically called Value Added Resellers (VARs), through which they make their security purchases. Among other things, VARs make vendor management much easier for customers. They’ll help identify security program gaps, document purchase requirements, product selection, answer questions, and more. For the value they add, VARs usually take a roughly 30% margin on each product sale. Then, of course, they can tack on additional dollars for consulting and implementation if there is a need.  The remaining 70% of the sale price goes to the security vendor.

Here’s the thing, the business of the VAR is in the first two letters — V.A…  VALUE. ADDED. If a VAR is not adding enough value, which is often the case, they’re justifiably not entitled to their 30%. And in these circumstances, the VAR can and should be bypassed to go direct to the security vendor where the customer can get a [30%] discount without costing the vendor anything. And, unless there is a good reason not to, get bids from 3 VARs so they’ll have to fight to get you the best deal – fight to win your business. Often VARs will cut into their own profit margin to land the deal.



There you have it. Seven ways to help maximize the purchasing power of the security budget. Good luck!





Thursday, May 12, 2016

From 300 lbs to 200 lbs

Did you know that one point in my life I was just over 300 pounds? Most don’t, but I was. Then after considerable effort, I got to the 250 pounds range and remained for several years. At the time of this writing, I’m about 210 pounds. My goal is to stabilize at around 200 pounds with a body fat of ~10%. If all goes as planned, maybe in 6 months or so I’ll be about where I want to be. At 6’2”, it’s a pretty solid physique. Upon witnessing my physical transformation, many friends and family ask how I’m doing this. “What’s your secret?” Spoiler: I don’t have one. 



Before going any further, let me clearly state that I’m NOT a personal trainer. I’m NOT a nutritionist. And I’m certainly NOT trying to sell anything. This post simply answers the question people ask by listing out my nutrition and exercise regiment. Additionally, while everything I’ve done has undoubtedly improved my overall health, the goal is primarily focused towards improving my performance in combat sports, such as particularly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. Competing at a high-level requires that I’m very strong, fast, flexible, with good cardio and balance. A lean and muscle-toned physique is most ideal.



Nutrition


Food is what fuels my body to perform at my best during each training session. My daily consumption maps as best as I can to the planned physical activity. If I break down and eat something I shouldn’t, it happens, my performance noticeably suffers and I get my butt kicked as a consequence. It sucks. As it turns out, not wanting to get punched in the face, choked, or arm hyper extended is a great motivator!

Each week I have 4 very hard training days, 2 lighter training days, and 1 rest day. And that’s how I plan out my meals. For most of the last year, I was predominantly eating lean meats, vegetables, and fruit. The Paleo diet is the closest example. Then for the last ~3 months I shifted to a whole-food Vegan diet with some minor exceptions. 



Additional nutrition rules I follow:
  • No caffeine
  • No alcohol
  • Liquid is primarily water (occasionally iced tea, tea, or carbonated water with lime)
  • No dairy
  • Nothing fried
  • Very little processed food
  • No vitamins or supplements (I may include them later at some point)

Hard Training Day


Paleo: To get through my training sessions, 2300 - 2400 calories feels about right. Under 2100 and I would gas out early. Over 2400 and body fat wouldn’t come off. I targeted my protein intake at just under 1g per pound of body weight, which is a good zone according to what many bodybuilders suggest to build muscle. Fat intake at no more than 50g. And of course the rest being the carbs for energy I need for training.

Reaching these macros requires several full meals during the day, and timed so my belly isn’t too full during class.  And honestly, if you look at the meal plan, its been really hard physically eating so much food. On the upside, while [bad food] cravings are certainly an issue, I was never, ever hungry!

Vegan: On the outset, I didn’t know how my body would react to being Vegan. I didn’t know what the cravings would be like, if I’d have the necessary energy needed, etc. So, I got rid of the whole calorie and macro counting thing. Instead decided to start by simply eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as it was whole-food and vegan, and then fine tune from there. Note that I routinely replace many of the ingredients on the list with suitable replacements as I want to eat a wide variety of food in order to get all the recommended vitamins and minerals. 




While the calorie counts on my Vegan diet are higher than the Paleo version, the weight / fat has been coming off with similar speed. And honestly, I feel notably better being vegan so far and my physical performance has improved. My mind is a bit clearer, joints move easier, and my recovery is faster. Cool eh!?


Light Training


Paleo: Take my hard training day meal plan, then drop the calories to 1600 - 1700, mostly from the carbs. Eat just enough food to get through my training and no more.




Vegan: Same thing, reduce calories mostly from slow burning carbs (oatmeal, sweat potato, etc) down to roughly 1800 as this feels right.




In both hard and light training days, I generally stop eating for the day around 5pm — particularly anything containing any sugars, like fruit. The strategy here is that by the time my early morning training starts the next day, my cardio workout will largely burn fat as fuel as all the sugar / carbs in my system have already been metabolized. Then afterwards I can eat again — yay! :)





Rest Day

24 hour fast (no food, but water / tea is ok). While this helps stabilize my insulin levels, it’s also about simple math — and besides, I’m not training at all anyway. Consider that 1 pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So, by foregoing ~1800 calories per week here, I get to lose an extra 1/2 off the top. Each month, that’s roughly 2 pounds of fat. Awesome!






Training / Exercise

As mentioned, my exercise is primarily designed for combat sports. Then I mix in some low intensity cardio and weight training to support those activities. Collectively it’s about 4 hard days of training, 2 lighter days, and 1 rest day. Most weeks I’ll miss a session here and there when life gets in the way, but what you see is the plan I set out to accomplish each and every week and whatever happens, happens. I’ll try to get the time back in some other way before reseting on Monday. On the average, I get done about 75% or more of what’s on the list. 

The intensity of each class can vary greatly depending on what we’re learning, what I’m physically capable of that day, and so on. Either way, I do the best that I can with a mission of improving … in whatever small amount that might be. And those with a sharp eye, who read this far, might notice that I have a salsa dance class listed. It was recommended by my Muay Thai coach as a way of improving my footwork, timing, and coordination. And, it works! Go figure.

That’s it. My secret is hard work and dedication, which is basically all anyone needs to accomplish anything in life.


Monday, March 07, 2016

My last days at WhiteHat and setting sights on the future

I’ve said it many times; the Web is probably the greatest invention we’ll see in our lifetime. The Web touches the lives of everyone we know, every family member, every child, every friend, and everyone we meet. The Web connects over two billion people and fuels entire economies. It’s a place where we learn, communicate, and share our closest kept secrets. Something as important as the Web must be protected and I’ve always felt it was a privilege to do so. For the last 15 years, as founder of WhiteHat Security, I’ve done exactly that every single day. WhiteHat has not just changed my life, it has been my life — wholly inseparable. Bittersweet as it is, the end of March will be my last day. 

Right now, I’d like to take a moment to reflect. While it’s impossible to measure, I sometimes think about how many hacks didn’t happen — how many people and companies were not hacked — as a result of the work we did at WhiteHat. People have often shared how much we’ve helped them and how important our work is. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that what you do matters. Everyone should be so fortunate. In that sense, WhiteHat is not just another company. It’s something more, much more. WhiteHat represents a mission, an ideal, a state of being. I’ve strived to embody these attributes since Day 1. I’ve always worked tirelessly to be the best at what I do and have had a personal passion for innovation. 

WhiteHat was the first company to adopt a Software-as-a-Service model in Application Security. Though our statistics report that thousands rely upon, we were the first to bring measurable data to the industry. We pioneered the founding of two industry groups, OWASP and WASC. We led the creation of the first AppSec lexicon, the Threat Classification, and the language everyone uses when speaking AppSec. We’ve released much of the most cutting-edge and foundational security research to date, which has raised awareness globally. And we were the first vendor to offer a security guarantee. I’m sure sure I’m missing several other firsts, but already no other company has such a record of industry contribution and market success.

While I have a lot to be proud of, none of this would have been possible without a great many amazing people and lifelong friends. I’d like to personally thank the hundreds of WhiteHat employees, both past and present, for helping protect the Web and making WhiteHat the success that it is. They are what I’m most proud of and grateful for. Working with you all has been a singular honor. I would also like to send a very special thank you to the over 1,000 customers who believed in me, believed in WhiteHat, and entrusted us to protect them. Your trust and support always meant everything to me. Thank you to our partners all over the world who brought us to their customers and championed our cause. And thank you to the security community, the lifeblood of the entire industry, and who carry us all.

Of course many will be curious about what I’m going to do next. While I’m not yet ready to reveal those details, what I can share is that I remain genuinely excited about the future of the security industry. I’m not going anywhere. Every day I see new and interesting problems that I’d like an opportunity to solve and expand my horizons. More than anything, that’s why I’m leaving WhiteHat, but its spirit will always be with me and continue to influence my life. Any of us has the capacity to change the world, we just have to allow ourselves the chance to do so.

Hack Yourself First.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Aaron's suicide: System Contributed, Society Perpetuated

If you are unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding Aaron Swartz's suicide, the rest of what I have to say will not make any sense to you. 

Aaron Swartz, an inspired and inspiring fellow hacker, left us by his own hand at the age of 26. This story, his story, is nothing less than tragic. The world is lesser without him. For his [alleged] 'computing hacking crimes,’ he faced 35 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and fines of up to $1 million. This degree of punishment is more than someone would receive if found guilty of providing direct support to terrorists in the acquisition of nuclear weaponry. Think about that. Angry? So am I, but that's not enough.

If you believe the actions of the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office, and that of prosecutors Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann were atrocious, reprehensible, despicable even, and think, as Aaron's father does, their actions contributed to his sons death, I'm with ya. At least 43,666 share similar outrage with you, well, us. A White House petition is calling for Ortiz's removal from office. Burn the witch! But be careful here, if you think this will change a damn thing, that societies usual focus of rage will somehow save a future young life, and lead to some kind of social justice, that’s where we part ways.

You see, many will look at the circumstances and correctly conclude, “something is wrong here” and “something needs to change!” Unfortunately, they'll focus their rage on the wrong things, things they are told to get upset about, and mistakenly serve to protect the system that contributed to Aaron's suicide. They'll focus rage on the prosecution's behavior. They’ll focus rage on “appropriate punishment” of the crime. They’ll focus rage on amending or removing a defective CFAA law and supposed intent of that law. They’ll focus rage on obtaining social “justice.” Bzzz, wrong! Fake out!

I concede that these are normal, natural, yet systemically trained responses. Rage focused this way guarantees that more similarly minded political appointees get, well, appointed. Rage focused this way guarantees we’ll get no justice. 

Aaron’s story was never, ever about “the law” or that pesky word, “justice.” Like ~90% of cases, this was NEVER going to get to a trial. You know, the visual you get where you have rights to a judge, jury of your peers, call witnesses, opportunity to confront your accusers, articulate lawyers and everything else you see on Law & Order. Like "justice," getting a trial was never on the negotiating table, where justice is supposedly decided. The prosecution didn’t want it. Aaron and his lawyers didn’t want it. This entire charade was about plea bargaining, a place where you have none of these "constitutional rights.” This case all was about the manufacturing of yet another felon, about career advancement. Look, one of Aaron's prosecutors admitted as much right here:

“I must, however, make clear that this office's conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case.”
Carmen Milagros Ortiz, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts

Please don’t waste time debating whether or not you feel the prosecution was going too far. That’s the fake out. The same fake out you’ll see in the headlines that protects the system. That answer doesn't matter. Instead, ask yourself WHY the prosecution thought their “conduct was appropriate.” That's the dangerous question few are willing entertain. They do really think that, you know. They’re not lying. Prosecutors are trained to think that way. We train them to think that way. And from the system's perspective, it was! Appropriate.

You don’t agree? I don't blame you. If this was anything about justice, please explain to me why on the same website, in the Office of the US Attorneys’ own mission statement, does the word “justice” appear exactly nowhere.

A clever, curious, person might ask, "if not justice, what is all of this really about?" Well, if you work for the U.S. Attorney’s office, or work as any trial lawyer for that matter, your career is weighed and measured by your Win - Loss record. And in case you didn’t know, plea deals are a “Win,” for all the attorneys, no matter what side of the divide they are on. Plea deals are faster, cheaper, and again where the defendant has little to no "rights," which is why power loves 'em -- protects them.

Secondly, taking on high-profile cases like Aaron’s and “winning” are worth extra points. It gets the attorneys name out there, helps them differentiate from their peers, and advance careers. It’s all about the money power baby. Don’t believe me? Ask Gloria Allred. Ask Aaron’s attorney. Don't bother, Wired already did:

“Heymann [prosecutor] was looking for "some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron's case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill," Peters said. Heymann, Peters believes, thought the Swartz case "was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper."”

Unconvinced? Biased source right? Check out the press release from U.S. Attorney’s office website about the case. "Alleged Hacker Charged With Stealing. Over Four Million Documents From MIT Network." Yes, that's a PRESS RELEASE! PRESS PRESS PRESS. Why does this impress you society? And it does, because they wouldn't do it otherwise. I'll tell you what lawyers are NOT graded on is their appropriate application of that nebulous word, “justice.” Otherwise we'd see big headlines about expousing that. We don't. Still too cynical for you? Maybe this will help, but it won’t make you feel better:
“Ortiz [prosecutor] said it was a generous deal her office offered, and it took into account that Swartz’s actions were not financially motivated. She said Swartz would have been confined to a “low security setting.”

Please show me where appropriate application of justice entered into the thought process, especially when there were no plaintiffs left at that point. I'd be willing to bet law school systemically eliminates justice-minded do gooders. Now, have another look at that US Attorneys’ mission statement again. See what does appear?
“United States Attorneys are appointed by, and serve at the discretion of, the President of the United States”

Ask yourself, are political appointees selected on their careers merits or on the basis of their political clout? Bzzz. Sorry, trick question. The answer is already on US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s very own wikipedia entry. Says it right there in the second sentence, immediately after her title. 



“In 2009, she was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama. Ortiz is both the first woman and the first Hispanic to serve as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.”

Unless you count being born a women and hispanic as an accomplishment, the answer is plain as day. Make the boss man look good! I know this comment borders on racist, sexist. Please understand I've no intention of diminishing her personal accomplishments in this regard. I'm sure she had it tough. What we must question, as her customers subjects, is how this make her qualified to administer justice. And apparently we think it does, otherwise why would her gender and ethnicity be highlighted first.

Oh, and I’m also sure the possibility of Ortiz being a potential Democrat gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts had zero effect on things. Right.

Under these circumstances, if you change or repeal the law. So what? It was never about the law, or application of justice, remember. Go ahead, call for her dismissal. Change the political appointee in the same power structure. So what? Another similar minded and well-trained appointee will gladly take their spot before the day is out. Focus on defining “appropriate behavior” when the incentives are perverted against justice. Good luck with that.

Do all these things. Declare your victory! Get your social justice and pound of flesh. What you'll also do is protect the system that manufactures felons and contributes to suicide of our best and brightest. Do everything, but ask the dangerous question... WHY. WHY does basically everyone take a plea deal. WHY do prosecutors prefer them? You better ask it because it's the only justice system any of us are likely to experience. You do know most everyone is committing three felonies a day right

And so what if Oritz is fired. It's not like she is going to be disbarred. She'll immediately go across the street to a private firm working the other side of the table, probably making far more money too. And if you are in a similar position as Aaron, you'll find her credentials impressive. A "former" U.S. Attorney appointed by the President of the United States, who knows all players and the plea bargain process. Hell yeah. Because when YOU are facing hard time you'll not be the slightest bit interested in justice after all. What you want is to get off, and she's the best person for the job. Did you know Aaron's attorney, Elliot R. Peters (Partner at Keker & Van Nest LLP), previously worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York?

Let’s explore one layer deeper into the perversity of the system. Upon Aaron’s death Federal prosecutors were forced to dismiss the charges against him. Not because a lack of evidence mind you, but because there is no defendant obviously. In addition to a PR hit, we must assume a “dismissal” counts against the prosecutions Win-Loss case record. From that perspective, the prosecution did NOT want Aaron to die. They would have much preferred him to live, take a plea, or at least suffer a conviction. On the other hand, Aaron’s attorneys scored a dismissal -- a “Win.” 

Whoa, whoa there. I’m not saying Mr. Peters or Keker & Van Nest LLP wanted Aaron to die. No. What I’m saying is that system is set up such that when something like this happens, something that sparks true outrage, then that rage needs to be directed, and that the defendants attorneys don’t lose. That’s important because otherwise they wouldn’t play along in the farce. 

But that can’t be, the thought is too terrible to bare. I agree with you. Their defendant committed suicide after all. What do they do then? Aaron's attorneys immediately focus rage on the prosecution for being, what’s the word they used, “intransigent.” Whatever. They, the prosecution, are the real problem here! Right! Wrong! Whatever you supposedly chosen on your own doesn't matter one bit. The point is you picked a side and played along. The point is you society bought it. Burn the witch!

All that happened here was Aaron died and the system won.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Written Speech: TEDxMaui -- Hack Yourself First


Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to give a presentation at TEDxMaui. Previously I discussed what getting the opportunity was like and the overall experience of being on stage -- nothing short of amazing -- life changing. While the Hack Yourself First video recording was recently posted, no amount of preparation would allow me to really say everything that I wanted to and in the order necessary. Everything I really wanted to say, in the written version...

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Every day, every day the life-blood of our nation, the fuel of our economic prosperity, is being sucked away, invisibly and without our knowledge. Every day, our country’s innovation is being stolen, our national security jeopardized, and your most personal information is being robbed – by computer hackers – malicious hackers. Hackers, who are located both domestically and abroad, are getting away with data by the terabyte daily and are profiting in the billions annually. 


And do you know why?

Because hacking is easy. Because hacking works.

I know this because I am a hacker – no, not THAT kind. My kind is like the Jedi as opposed to the Sith. You know, are the good guys and there is also the dark side. In the world of hacking it’s no different.

More than being a hacker, I teach other people how to hack. In fact, I teach a lot of people how to hack -- all sorts of ways to hack into banks, retail websites, social networks, government systems, … into computers just like yours and your online accounts. I teach people how this can be done from anywhere across the Internet. 

I’ve been invited to teach these skills, publicly, for the past decade -- to businesses, to government agencies, to university students, and industry groups, across six continents. I share stories about precisely how every day people, just like you, and businesses, just like those you own or work for, governments too, have been hacked into, often and with ease.

I bet many of you wondering why this is a good thing, teaching people how to hack. I know hacking is often stereotyped with illegal or nefarious activity. I also know teaching people how to hack, building up our cyber-offense skills, and focusing these skills inward at ourselves, are critical to our national security and helping ensure the economic well-being of us all. 

I call this approach, Hack Yourself First, a concept that can, and must, be used as a means to defend ourselves.

I feel so strongly about this that I built a company, WhiteHat Security, around this idea. At WhiteHat, we get paid by companies, who do business online, to hack into them and explain how we did so. And they pay us a lot of money to do this work. On the average website, our team can identify one or more security gaps, usually in under 20 minutes.

In under 20 minutes we’re able locate digital doorways to take over some or all of their the systems, steal whatever sensitive data they have, access their customers accounts, or steal data they have on the system -- all the things that could have made headlines like those you’ve probably seen a lot of in recent years. This is actually what they are doing right now back at headquarters. This is the work we do every day.

And let me make something else perfectly clear. These are systems owned by the largest and most well known organizations in the world. You know them. You do business with them.

These companies pay us to hack them because they know, as we know, that anything and everything connected to the Internet will endure some type of cyber-attack, likely several a day. They want to avoid being another headline, another cyber-crime victim. They want to know what the bad guys know, or eventually will, so overlooked problems in their security can be fixed. And all this, so you can remain confident in doing business with them. 

So, Internet security can be thought of as a race between the bad guys who find and exploit security weaknesses, we call them vulnerabilities, and the good guys who find and fix them. Unfortunately, no one is quite sure what group has more people. It would not surprise me if the good guys are outnumbered when it comes to Internet security, as anyone with an Internet connection can become a malicious hacker these days, and earn money doing it.

What you might find interesting is that many hacking techniques are not sophisticated. There are tricks that really anyone can do. In fact, I’d like to teach one of our tricks right now.

*REDACTED* Watch the video! ;)

See, I’ve now taught the people at TED how to hack. Keep an eye on the people sitting next to you. They’re hackers now!

I’ve also shown methods to steal or reset someone’s passwords, monitor their email, snap pictures of them with their computer’s built in webcam without their knowledge, siphon money out of their bank account, find out what websites they visit, make it look like they downloaded child pornography, and list goes on. Doing any of this requires only slightly more sophistication than what I just described in many cases. If I had an hour, instead of 15 minutes, I could teach you how these things are also done. 

I should mention that firewalls and anti-virus software don’t provide any sort of real protection to any of this. It’s kind of like wearing sunglasses and expecting not to get a sunburn. They’re better than nothing, but far from solving all your problems. 

We all have a vested interest in the Internet and its future. 

A few years ago I recognized that the bulk of not only my professional life, but my personal life as well, was spent in front of a computer. 

One day I wanted to get out and do something else, anything else, for a few hours as long as it wasn’t it front of a computer screen or on a cell phone, which is nothing more than a tiny computer these days. I considered watching TV or a movie, listening or learning music, reading a book, writing a book, research something new, buying something nice for my wife, etc. 

The trouble was these things are typically done on a computer these days. I had to try really hard to think of things that have nothing to do with a computer – something that gets increasingly more difficult each year with technological advancement.

It occurred to me that the vast majority of my life, and the lives of those around me, are completely tied to pervasive computer use – and an Internet connection. That’s when it really hit me that that my work on Internet security is important to just about everyone. Look around at how many of you here brought your laptops, your iPads, and smart phone, and are right now connected to the Internet. Without the Internet, many of us might not even know when and how to get to our next appointment. 

By the way, are you using the public WiFi? Just curious.

The Internet has been instrumental in helping overthrow oppressive government regimes.  At the same time our leaders, from the US and UK governments, are on the record having reserved the right to retaliate against cyber-attacks with militarily action. Bombing computers and computer hackers is part of the plan. I guess you might call this policy bombs for bits, a policy that should really concern us.

When you think about it that way, Internet security, computer security may now be more important to you than it was a moment ago. Isn’t it?

I’d bet that everyone – everyone here, everyone who will be eventually watching this video – at some point has had their computer hacked into and been infected with viruses, had one or more of their online accounts previously taken over, or at the very least knows more than one person who has. 

Does anyone here want to claim they’ve never been hacked? If so, please raise your hand, I’d like your email address and we’ll get that sorted out.

Hacking, malicious hacking, cyber-crime, has already touched all of our lives, and does so more often than we are lucky enough to be privy to. These days many experts believe you are more likely to be a victim of cyber-crime than any other crime. 

For you, most of the time getting hacked means a slow running computer, annoying pop-ups, losing some money, your personal information exposed, identify theft, and perhaps some public embarrassment.  Bad, but not THAT bad.

If you are a politician, celebrity, news outlet, or a corporate executive, your position, your access, puts you at even more risk  -- including those closest to you – the bad guys will hack their way closer to you, one friend or family member at a time if they have to.

For businesses and governments, who are also hacked into daily, the damage is often far more severe. Professional cyber-criminals who target them of course are after money, but they also want intellectual property, trade secrets, and military capabilities, which can be worth much more than the contents of any bank account. These things are vital to our economic well-being and national security. 

Even more revealing is who they work for and what motivates them. For this I’d like to quote Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group.

“When you have hundreds of western multinational corporations that have seen industrial espionage, that’s been directly targeted at them through cyber attacks, massive unprecedented cyber attacks, that were either directly organized by the Chinese government or were known about and actively tolerated by the Chinese government on behalf of Chinese corporations -- that’s a pretty good description of a war.”

There is a reason why the Chinese fighter jets and rockets look suspiciously familiar to our own.

I don’t mean to single out China, they are certainly not the only ones being called out for engaging in cyber-crime and cyber-espionage. On that list is also France, Russia, Estonia, Romania, Ukraine, etc. There is no solid confirmation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if most countries in the modern world are actively engaging in cyber-offense.

Mr. Bremmer goes onto say...

“National security is no longer about tanks. National security is increasingly about economic well being, internet security, and issues that allow us to live on a daily basis. We’re not worried today about the soviets blowing us up with nukes, but we are worried that our kids will be able to enjoy a quality of life vaguely related to our own.”

That is exactly right! 

How can a corporation, even the largest, let alone small businesses and individuals, possibly defend themselves against such an adversary -- literally, armies of well-funded nation-state sponsored hackers. Hackers professionally trained, with no reason to fear our laws, who are equidistant from their victims, that’s US, and operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

Many people in positions of power have expressed concern about the Internet being brought down. I’m more worried about what happens when it stays up. I’m worried about the long-term economic damage, the loss of our ability to innovate, the inability to take advantage of the opportunities that the Internet provides. Most of all though, I’m concerned what happens if the majority of people, all of you, lose confidence in the system -- the security of the Internet – and either stopping or limiting your use of the Internet.

New laws against hacking are not going to help this problem. Conventional warfare tactics are not much good either. The perpetrators can be geographically located anywhere, are extremely difficult to identify, prove attribution, track down, even harder extradite, and then finally successfully prosecute. Not to mention foreign governments are highly unlikely to turn over soldiers in their own hacker army.

Having said that, improving international cyber-crime law enforcement is a path necessary to pursue as part of a larger program, but we should be realistic about its limits.

People ask me all the time, what do we do? How do we secure our computers, our networks? How do we secure the Internet? The reality is a problem as diverse and wide reaching as cyber-crime, and cannot be solved by any one thing, but I’ll tell you this -- protecting the Internet requires a completely new way of thinking. I have an idea, an idea worth sharing. Hack Yourself First. An idea furthered by teaching people to hack, and in a manner of speaking, making hacking legal.

While our cyber-defense ability is severely lacking, one thing we all clearly know how to do extremely well is cyber-offense. Offense can be used to inform defense. 

Hacking a system, that doesn’t belong to you, without consent of the owner is against federal law, as it should be. The problem arises when system owners don’t provide consent, which only serves to ward off good samaritans who would have gladly shared what they knew and helped protect their users. The bad guys, the real bad guys, do not care and are not deterred.

What most don’t realize is that any individual, business, government department and so on can actually invite hackers, to test their systems lawfully, and provide a safe way to share their results. Put simply, allow anyone who wants to, can try and hack in. I realize for many that suggesting such an approach might appear counter intuitive, but what it’s not is unprecedented.

Recently a few forward-looking companies started new programs and did exactly that -- openly welcoming hackers, they use the term “security researchers,” to attack their systems and publicly credit them for their discoveries. It’s almost like crowd-sourcing Internet security. Some are even rewarding those who point out serious security gaps with stacks of cash. The industry calls this Bug Bounty programs.

The companies offering these programs are far from obscure, these are some of the biggest sites, who have hundreds of millions of users, transacting billions of dollars, and are some of the most visible companies on the Internet. You may have heard of a couple of them. 

Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Facebook, Saleforce.com, and Mozilla. All of which have directly felt the pain of nation-state sponsored attacks and/or organized crime. They’ve committed not to sue or press charges against security researchers who find vulnerabilities in their systems and discreetly share the details with them. Collectively they’ve awarded millions of dollars to security researchers and resolved thousands of previously unknown issues that protect us all.

These companies have stated their programs have proved extremely cost effective, helped them identify and hire security talent, eliminated many negative PR headlines, and improved security for themselves and their customers. Huge wins for everyone. All the warnings detractors gave about why bug bounty programs were bad idea simply failed to materialize.

Unfortunately, Internet security history is littered with counter examples where other companies have responded hostilely to those trying to help. Such as the likes of Daniel Cuthbert, Patrick Webster, and dozens of others.  

This reminds me of Rule #1 of recreational hacking: 
Never ever, ever touch government or military systems. 

A rule written well before they mentioned anything about a militaristic response. Anyway, the rule reminds curious hackers that the government, should they choose to track you down, has an enormous budget of time and money to do so – far more than any company who all must eventually consider cost effectiveness investigations. What it also means is that to hackers, the Jedi, government and military systems are like the forbidden fruit.

So imagine the excitement if our government and military officials truly started to embrace “Hack Yourself First” and offered up bug bounty programs! Let me tell you, every aspiring and well-known hacker out there would jump at the chance to match their skills against the cyber-defenses of whitehouse.gov, fbi.gov, army.mil, and the thousands upon thousands of other systems. The street-cred alone would be worth it to many, but a bonus would be helping to protect their country.

There is no reason such a strategy could not be adopted by just about anyone. Doing so could end up being the most important long-term economic and national security decision.

I used to work for Yahoo. 12 years ago I hacked Yahoo Mail. More accurately I hacked into my own Yahoo Mail account, to see if I could do it. Some people have hobbies like artwork, sports, cars -- I hack. I found a way, several ways actually, to get into my inbox without needing a password. I let Yahoo know the details – promptly and privately. In return they gave me a t-shirt. I was pretty excited about that.

A dialog followed with one of the founders, which later earned me a job -- to hack everything that Yahoo had, before the “real” bad guys did, and my experience there led to a career. 

A company with a different point of view might decided to call their lawyer, or the cops, filed a lawsuit, cost me my job, and the freedom of a 21 year old. In which case, I wouldn’t be been in front of you here today -- teaching you how to hack and the importance of Internet security.

Remember, security is optional, but so is survival. 

It has been said that if you are a playing a game that you can’t afford to lose, then you must change the rules. Hack Yourself First.