Thursday, 14 May 2009

InfoSecurity Europe 2009

Well, a couple of weeks ago I went to InfoSecurity Europe 2009 at Earl's Court, as I do every year. If you've never been, but are at all interested in network and information security or are looking for vendors, then I highly recommend visiting. To my surprise, and for the first time I can remember, Microsoft wasn't there. Apart from that, however, all the usual players were there and, to be honest, it was all much the same as before. There was no new emerging technology or hot topic, just new developments of old technologies. A couple of years ago we had the hot topic of 'social engineering' and 'securing the user'; ok, we all knew that the users were our weak link and phrases like "we spend all our time securing the first 2000 miles and forget about the last 2 feet", and "our network would be totally secure, reliable and fully functional if we didn't let users login", have always been commonplace, but there were new mass threats, new education programmes and new tools at the disposal of net admins to deal with them.

However, this year was different; nothing really sprang out. OK, cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has expanded and matured, but other than that we see the same products and services as before. What amazes me is how some vendors and speakers can get it so wrong and don't appear to understand the actual level of security offered or operating environment in which their products will be used. I'm not going to list actual vendors here, but how can an encryption solution for mobile users that doesn't encrypt the data at rest be viable? Encrypting network traffic is commendable, but not the only safeguard required. What if they now lose their laptop, mobile or pen drive? A secure USB pen drive vendor admitted, when questioned, that files were decrypted into the C:\Temp folder while in use, then deleted after encrypting for storage on the drive again. They couldn't tell me if this was a secure delete or a simple removal of the pointer in the file allocation table as normal. Regardless of the deletion process, however, how many applications can read and write to that folder? What's to stop me from writing a very small bit of code to monitor that folder every few seconds and take copies? This might be secure enough if it is on a corporate machine, but why not just store the file on it then and not bother with the drive?

Similarly, email security is always a problematic area, with almost no solution fitting the technology properly. The big advantage of email, and the reason we all use it, is that it is independent of firmware - i.e. it doesn't matter what hardware, OS or email app we use, it still works. Unfortunately, security was never built in to email, so every email is like sending an electronic postcard. However, I would argue that a solution that only allows you to send encrypted email within your organisation is of limited value. What about all your customers and partners? There are also still solutions that store your files on their servers and send a link to the recipient. Why trust your files to them? I asked several vendors how they deal with password transfer, only to be told that they don't. "It's up to the user how they tell the recipient what the password is," was a common reply. We know users are unreliable, why leave it to them? I had to transfer some confidential files to someone via email recently (the only transport method they would accept), only to be told that they didn't want the hassle of decrypting it, so could I send them in plaintext. Having got over that hurdle, they wouldn't give me a mobile phone number so that I could transfer the passphrase via a call or SMS (as people seem to need them written down), asking me to email it to them. I know there are technologies out there to solve these problems, but they aren't without any problems.

This is turning into a bit of a rant and I'm getting off topic, so back to InfoSec. I was pleased to see that there were some voices of caution out there about the wholesale adoption of virtualisation without considering the security implications. One that springs to mind is Steve Moyle who has produced 10 points to consider implementing on his blog here. Virtualisation is a good technology for a number of reasons, but it does bring in new security threats and it must be implemented with these in mind and secured accordingly. I do also think that cloud computing and SaaS could be very important to SMEs (Small to Medium-sized Enterprises) who don't have the in-house expertise or large budget. They can still have large enterprise-level configurability and security, without the overheads. Finally, people seem to be taking information governance and user education seriously rather than just paying lip-service to them. In all, the show was encouraging, but many vendors are not quite there yet, which only goes to highlight that the majority of organisations are not taking the new threat-landscape seriously enough and countermeasures must be lacking.

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