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Mon, 4 Mar 2013

Vulnerability Management Analyst Position

Have a keen interest on scanning over 12000 IP's a week for vulnerabilities? Excited about the thought of assessing over 100 web applications for common vulnerabilities? If so, an exciting, as well as demanding, position has become available within the Managed Vulnerability Scanning (MVS) team at SensePost.

Job Title: Vulnerability Management Analyst

Salary Range: Industry standard, commensurate with experience

Location: Johannesburg/Pretoria, South Africa

We are looking for a talented person to join our MVS team to help manage the technology that makes up our Broadview suite and, more importantly, finding vulnerabilities, interpreting the results and manually verifying them. We are after talented people with a broad skill set to join our growing team of consultants. Our BroadView suite of products consists of our extensive vulnerability scanning engine, which looks at both the network-layer and the application layer, as well as our extensive DNS footprinting technologies.

The role of the Vulnerability Management Analyst will possess the following skills:

  • Be able to multitask and meet client deadlines. We want a person that thinks 'I can do that!'

  • Possess excellent written and oral communication skills. Being able to understand a vulnerability and explain it to business leaders is a must.

  • A working knowledge of enterprise vulnerability management products and remedial work flow

  • A broad knowledge of most common enterprise technologies and operating systems

  • A passion for security and technology

Some additional conditions:

  • A post graduate degree or infosec certification would be beneficial, however, showing us you have the passion and skills also helps

  • This job requires some after-hours and weekend commitments (we try to keep this to a minimum)

  • Bonus points for knowledge of sed, awk and python, ok even ruby.

  • PCI-QSA is desired but not required

Impress us with your skills by sending an email to and lets take it from there.

SensePost is an equal opportunity partner.

Fri, 28 Oct 2011

Metricon 2011 Summary

[I originally wrote this blog entry on the plane returning from BlackHat, Defcon & Metricon, but forgot to publish it. I think the content is still interesting, so, sorry for the late entry :)]

I've just returned after a 31hr transit from our annual US trip. Vegas, training, Blackhat & Defcon were great, it was good to see friends we only get to see a few times a year, and make new ones. But on the same trip, the event I most enjoyed was Metricon. It's a workshop held at the Usenix security conference in San Francisco, run by a group of volunteers from the security metrics mailing list and originally sparked by Andrew Jacquith's seminal book Security Metrics.

There were some great talks, and interactions, the kind you only get at small groupings around a specific set of topics. It was a nice break from the offensive sec of BH & DC to listen to a group of defenders. The talks I most enjoyed (they were all recorded bar a few private talks) were the following:

Wendy Nather — Quantifying the Unquantifiable, When Risk Gets Messy

Wendy looked at the bad metrics we often see, and provided some solid tactical advice on how to phrase (for input) and represent (for output) metrics. As part of that arc, she threw out more pithy phrases that even the people in the room tweeting could keep up with. From introducing a new phrase for measuring attacker skill, "Mitnicks", to practical experience such as how a performance metric phrase as 0-100 had sysadmins aiming for 80-90, but inverting it had them aiming for 0 (her hypothesis, is that school taught us that 100% was rarely achievable). Frankly, I could write a blog entry on her talk alone.

Josh Corman - "Shall we play a game?" and other questions from Joshua

Josh tried to answer the hard question of "why isn't security winning". He avoided the usual complaints and had some solid analysis that got me thinking. In particular the idea of how PCI is the "No Child Left Behind" act for security, which not only targeted those that had been negligent, but also encouraged those who hadn't to drop their standards. "We've huddled around the digital dozen, and haven't moved on." He went on to talk about how controls decay as attacks improve, but our best practice advice doesn't. "There's a half-life to our advice". He then provided a great setup for my talk "What we are doing, is very different from how people were exploited."

Jake Kouns - Cyber Liability Insurance

Jake has taken security to what we already knew it was, an insurance sale ;) Jokes aside, Jake is now a product manager for cyber-liability insurance at Merkel. He provided some solid justifications for such insurance, and opened my eyes to the fact that it is now here. The current pricing is pretty reasonable (e.g. $1500 for $1million in cover). Most of the thinking appeared to target small to medium organisations, that until now have only really had "use AV & pray" as their infosec strategy, and I'd love to hear some case-studies from large orgs that are using it & have claimed. He also spoke about how it could become a "moral hazard" where people choose to insure rather than implement controls, and the difficulties the industry could face, but that right now work as incentives for us (the cost of auditing a business will be more than the insurance is worth). His conclusion, which seemed solid, is why spend $x million on the "next big sec product" when you could spend less & get more on insurance. Lots of questions left, but it looks like it may be time to start investigating.

Allison Miller - Applied Risk Analytics

I really enjoyed Allison and Itai's talk. They looked at practical methodologies for developing risk metrics and coloured them with great examples. The process they presented was the following:

  1. Target - You need to figure out what you want to measure. Allison recommended aiming for "yes/no" questions rather than more open ended questions such as "Are we at risk"
  2. Find Data, Create Variables - Once you know what you're tying to look at, you need to find appropriate data, and work out what the variables are from it.
  3. Data Prep - "Massaging the data" tasks such as normalising, getting it into a computable format etc.
  4. Model Training - Pick an algorithm, send the data through it and see what comes out. She suggested using a couple, and pitting them against each other.
  5. Assessment - Check the output, what is the "Catch vs False Positive vs False Negative" rate. Even if you have FP & FNs, sometimes, weighting the output to give you one failure of a particular type could still be useful.
  6. Deployment - Building intelligence to take automated responses once the metric is stable
The example they gave was to look for account takeovers stemming from the number of released e-mail/password combos recently. Itai took us through each step and showed us how they were eventually able to automate the decision making of the back of a solid metric.


I found the conference refreshing, with a lot of great advice (more than the little listed above). Too often we get stuck in the hamster wheels of pain, and it's nice to think we may be able to slowly take a step off. Hopefully we'll be back next year.

Fri, 15 Jul 2011

Security Policies - Go Away

Security policies are necessary, but their focus is to the detriment of more important security tasks. If auditors had looked for trivial SQL injection on a companies front-page as hard as they have checked for security polices, then maybe our industry would be in a better place. I want to make this go away, I want to help you tick the box so you can focus on the real work. If you just want the "tool" skip to the end.

A year and a half ago, SensePost started offering "build it" rather than "break it" consulting services, we wanted to focus on technical, high-quality advisory work. However, by far the most frequently "consulting" request we've seen has been asking for security policies. Either a company approaches us looking for them explicitly or they want them bolted on to other work. The gut feel I've picked up over the years is that if someone is asking you to develop security policies for them, then either they're starting on security at the behest of some external or compliance requirement or they're hoping that this is the first step in an information security program. (Obviously, I can't put everything into the same bucket, but I'm talking generally) Both are rational reasons to want to get your information security policies sorted, but getting outside consultants to spend even a week's worth of time developing them for you, is time that could be better spent in my opinion. My reasons for this are two-fold:

  • If you're starting a security program, then you have a lot to learn and possibly a lot of convincing of senior management to do. Something like an internal penetration test (not that I'm advocating this specifically instead of policy) will give you far more insight into the security of your environment and a lot more "red ink" that can be used to highlight the risk to the "higher ups".
  • Security policies don't "do" anything. They are a representation of management's intention and agreements around security controls, which in the best case, provide a "cover my ass" defense if an employee takes you to task for intercepting their e-mails or something similar. The policies need to be used to derive actual controls, and are not controls in themselves.
Instead, we too often end up in a world where security policies, rather than good security, is the end goal while new technologies keep us amused developing new ones (mobile policies, social media policies, data leakage policies etc.)

Saying all of this is fine, but it doesn't make the auditors stop asking, and it doesn't put a green box or tick in the ISO/PCI/CoBIT/HIPAA/SOX policies checkbox. Previously, I've pointed people at existing policy repositories, where sample policies can be downloaded and modified to suit their need. Sites such as CSOOnline or PacketSource have links to some policies, but by far the most comprehensive source of free security policy templates is SANS. The problem is people seem to look at these, think it looks like work, and move on to a consultancy that's happy to charge for a month's worth of time. Even when you don't, the policies are buried in sub-pages that don't always make sense (for example, why is the Acceptable Use Policy put under "computer security"), even then several of them are only available in PDF form (hence not editable), even though they are explicitly written as modifiable templates. What I did was to go through all of these pages, download the documents, convert them into relevant formats and categorise them into a single view in a spreadsheet with hyperlinks to the documents. I've also included their guidance documents on how to write good sec policies, and ISO 27001-linked policy roadmaps. I haven't modified any of the actual content of the documents, and those retain their original copyright. I'm not trying to claim any credit for others' hard work, merely make the stuff a little more accessible.

You can download the index and documents HERE.

In future, I hope to add more "good" policies (a few of the SANS policies aren't wonderful), and also look into expanding into security standards (ala CIS Security) in the future. If necessary, take this to a consultancy, and ask them to spend some time making these specific to your organisation and way of doing things, but please, if you aren't getting the basics right, don't focus on these. In the meantime, if you're looking for information security policies to go away, so you can get on with the bigger problems organisations, and our industry in general are facing, then this should be a useful tool.

Wed, 8 Jun 2011

Threat Modeling vs Information Classification

Over the last few years there has been a popular meme talking about information centric security as a new paradigm over vulnerability centric security. I've long struggled with the idea of information-centricity being successful, and in replying to a post by Rob Bainbridge, quickly jotted some of those problems down.

In pre-summary, I'm still sceptical of information-classification approaches (or information-led control implementations) as I feel they target a theoretically sensible idea, but not a practically sensible one.

Information gets stored in information containers (to borrow a phrase from Octave) such as the databases or file servers. This will need to inherit a classification based on the information it stores. That's easy if it's a single purpose DB, but what about a SQL cluster (used to reduce processor licenses) or even end-user machines? These should be moved up the classification chain because they may store some sensitive info, even if they spend the majority of the time pushing not-very-sensitive info around. In the end, the hoped-for cost-saving-and-focus-inducing prioritisation doesn't occur and you end up having to deploy a significantly higher level of security to most systems. Potentially, you could radically re-engineer your business to segregate data into separate networks such as some PCI de-scoping approaches suggest, but, apart from being a difficult job, this tends to counter many of the business benefits of data and system integrations that lead to the cross-pollination in the first place.

Next up, I feel this fails to take cognisance of what we call "pivoting"; the escalation of privileges by moving from one system or part of a system to another. I've seen situations when the low criticality network monitoring box is what ends up handing out the domain administrator password. It had never been part of internal/external audits scope, none of the vulns showed up on your average scanner, it had no sensitive info etc. Rather, I think we need to look at physical, network and trust segregation between systems, and then data. It would be nice to go data-first, but DRM isn't mature (read simple & widespread) enough to provide us with those controls.

Lastly, I feel information-led approaches often end up missing the value of raw functionality. For example, a critical trade execution system at an investment bank could have very little sensitive data stored on it, but the functionality it provides (i.e. being able to execute trades using that bank's secret sauce) is hugely sensitive and needs to be considered in any prioritisation.

I'm not saying I have the answers, but we've spent a lot of time thinking about how to model how our analysts attack systems and whether we could "guess" the results of multiple pentests across the organisation systematically, based on the inherent design of your network, systems and authentication. The idea is to use that model to drive prioritisation, or at least a testing plan. This is probably closer aligned to the idea of a threat-centric approach to security, and suffers from a lack of data in this area (I've started some preliminary work on incorporating VERIS metrics).

In summary, I think information-centric security fails in three ways; by providing limited prioritiation due to the high number of shared information containers in IT environments, by not incorporating how attackers move through a networks and by ignoring business critical functionality.

Tue, 10 Aug 2010

Information Security South Africa (ISSA) 2010

Last week we presented an invited talk at the ISSA conference on the topic of online privacy (embedded below, click through to SlideShare for the original PDF.)

The talk is an introductory overview of Privacy from a Security perspective and was prompted by discussions between security & privacy people along the line of "Isn't Privacy just directed Security? Privacy is to private info what PCI is to card info?" It was further prompted by discussion with Joe the Plumber along the lines of "Privacy is dead!"

The talk, is unfortunately best delivered as a talk, and not as standalone slides, so here's some commentary:

We start off the problem statement describing why privacy has grown in importance. The initial reactions were based on new technology allowing new types of information to be captured and disseminated. While the example given is from the 1980s, the reaction is a recurring one, as we've seen with each release of new tech (some examples: Cameras, Newspapers, Credit Cards, The Internet, Facebook). Reactions are worsened by the existence of actors with the funding & gall to collect and collate much information to further potentially disagreeable goals (usually Governments). However, the new threat is that there has been a fundamental shift in the way in which we live our lives, where information about us is no longer merely *recorded* online, but rather, our lives are *lived* on line. It is quite possible that for an average day, from waking up to going to sleep, a significant number of the actions you perform will not only be conducted (in part) online, but that it is possible for them to be conducted using the services of one service provider. My intention is not to beat up on Google, but rather use them as an example. They are a pertinent example, as every business book seems to use them as one. The, arguably, most successful corporation of our current age's primary business model is the collection & monetisation of private data. Thus, while Google is the example, there are and will be many followers.

The next section moves into providing a definition of privacy, and attempts to fly through some fairly dry aspects of philosophy, law & psychology. We've done some entry-level work on collating the conception of privacy across history and these fields, however, brighter minds, such as Daniel Solove and Kamil Reddy have done better jobs of this. In particular, Solove's paper "I've got nothing to hide", and other misconception of privacy is a good introductory read. The key derived point however, is that private data is data with an implied access control & authorised use. Which of the implied access controls & authorised uses are reasonable to enforce or can be legally enforced is a developing field.

As the talk is about "Online Privacy" the talk moves into a description of the various levels at which private data is collected, what mechanisms are used to attempt to collect that data, and what sort of data can be gleaned. It was an academic conference, so I threw in the word "taxonomy." Soon, it will be more frequently quoted than Maslow's Hierarchy, any day now.

At each level, a brief demonstration of non-obvious leaks and their implications was demonstrated. From simple techniques such as cross-site tracking using tracking pixels or cookies, to exploit of rich browser environments such as the simple CSS history hack, to less structured and less obvious leaks such as search data (as demonstrated by the AOL leak), moving to deanonymisation of an individual by correlating public data sets (using the awesome Maltego) and finally to unintended leaks provided by meta-data (through analysis of twitter & facebook friends groups).

Finally, a mere two slides are used to explain some of the implications and defenses. These are incomplete and are the current area of research I'm engaged in.