Social Deconstruction II

In a previous post, Social Deconstruction I reflected on a barrier that had been put up on a Thursday, and by Sunday, completely bypassed. I had recent cause to revisit that area again recently and

Barrier bypassed

Barrier bypassed

as you can see, an actual, real gate has been put into the fence. The power of the crowd basically overruled the original intent of the landowner.

Of course, this could have been done from day one.

This is true in the IT world. How often has the security department come and said, “we’re implementing this new security policy” with little input from actual users and are surprised when users get frustrated and try to bypass the new security feature.  I had this happen at a client of mine. In the case of the fence above, people bypassed the security the fence builders wanted (presumably to reduce liability), and by doing so, increased their chance of getting hurt (and ironically, presumably increasing liability).

One of the security features that I think annoys most of us are passwords, or more accurately arcane password requirements. For example, some systems require a certain amount of complexity, but don’t necessarily tell you what the rules for complexity actually are! Yes, I’ve had that happen. Turns out they required special characters, but, only a specific subset of special characters and the ones I tried weren’t on that subset.

Now a minimum password length, makes sense. A one character password can be cracked by anyone. But, what about short maximum password lengths? Yes, perhaps that was a good idea when memory and storage were scarce (ok even then, not a great idea) but not so much these days. Yet, I know at least one system where your password has to be between 8 and 14 characters.

Another annoyance is the “must change every N days” where often N is something like 90 (though I’ve seen even lower). What does this mean? Folks end up with passwords like: Secur3Passwrd$1, Secur3Passwrd$2, Secur3Passwrd$3, etc.

Truth is, many of the so called password rules, actually encourage us to create lousy password, and so we repeat stuff, or write it down or take other steps that make it easier for to use them, but also as a byproduct weaken passwords.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently released an updated set of guidelines: NIST 800-63B that discuss good password requirements (note I have NOT read the entire document, just large portions of it).  Spycloud has a decent review here: New NIST Guidelines Acknowledge We’re Only Human. I’m not going to recap the recap here, but I will add what I generally do:

  1. I use a password manager. You can read reviews for finding one that best meets your needs. Personally, I use one that does NOT have storage on the cloud. While in theory they’re encrypted and secure, I get paranoid. (Yes, I do recognize if someone compromises my desktop, they can get access to my local password manager. But on the other hand, if they get access to my desktop, they can probably just install a keyboard logger and I’m hosed anyway.)
  2. I use a different password, automatically created by the above password manager for nearly every site of system I log into.  This ends up meeting most (but not all) of the NIST suggestions (they’re certainly NOT easy to remember, but they don’t have dictionary words, can be as long as I need, most likely are NOT in a previous breech, etc.)

Note, I said most, not all. There’s a few places I used passwords I can remember. These are systems I interact with on a daily or near daily basis, such as my desktop, AND the password manager itself. There would be no point to have a password manager if I couldn’t log into it, or if the password were so simple anyone could guess it.

So, I make sure these passwords are easy to remember, but extremely hard to guess. (For example, they do NOT include the name of my first dog, my mother’s maiden name, etc.)

In conclusion, if you’re in charge of security, make it usable, or else people WILL try to bypass it, simply to get the job done. And, remember, you’re always in charge of your own security, so make it usable, but secure.

 

 

 

This is secure, right?

WP_20180114_001So, over the weekend, while I was waiting for my wife’s hockey game to begin I was exploring the facility. I saw an upper level and I was curious if it was open. But alas no, it was locked. And I mean locked. Above is a photo of the chain and lock used to keep people out.

There’s a saying that locks only keep out honest people. That’s not entirely true, but there’s some truth to that. Security, especially in my field of IT and databases is extremely important. I am often working with data that contains private information about people. I have to take steps to keep it safe. So, as I mentioned in Too Secure, I don’t have a problem with security per se. There I talked about security that prevented me from doing my job.

Here we have the opposite. Making something that look secure, but really isn’t. I mean this has a heavy chain and a lock. I’m not sure who did this or why, but I’m sure they felt the lock was important. It’s not a cheap one either.

 

This is a case where probably a simple sign and string, “Balcony closed” would have sufficed.  The only purpose the lock really had was to make sure the chain wasn’t stolen. The purpose of the chain appeared to be to give something to attach the lock to.

Now, sure, someone could have removed a sign and string and said, “oh we never saw it” but again, what’s the ultimate risk if someone got upstairs? It was simply an observation balcony. They weren’t really securing much.

But I’m sure someone felt good about their security.

So, when you’re making something secure, stop and make sure you’re spending your time wisely. Sometimes not everything needs the most secure system available. Sometimes a “keep out sign” might be enough and easier.

Too Secure 2

A quick followup to my blog post from the other day.

So, today I tried to update a service at the client. But of course, with IE locked down and cookies not allowed, I can’t update the service. Hmm. Tell me how that’s more secure?

And my wife just came back from work last night, talking about how she’s no longer able to get to a website critical for her job; because the firewall rules changed.  All this in the name of security.

Yes, we can be too secure!

Too Secure

There’s an old joke in IT that the Security Office’s job isn’t done until you can’t do yours.

There’s unfortunately at times some truth to that.  And it can be a bigger problem than you might initially think.

A recent example comes to mind. I have one client that has setup fairly strict security precautions. I’m generally in favor of most of them, even if at times they’re inconvenient. But recently, they made some changes that were, frustrating to say the least and potentially problematic.  Let me explain.

Basically, at times I have to transfer a file created on a secured VM I control to one of their servers (that in theory is a sandbox in their environment that I can play in). Now, I obviously can’t just cut and paste it. Or perhaps that’s not so obvious, but yeah, for various reasons, through their VDI, they have C&P disabled. I’m ok with that. It does lessen the chance of someone accidentally cutting and pasting the wrong file to the wrong machine.

So what I previously did was something that seemed strange, but worked. I’d email the file to myself and then open a browser session on the said machine and get the file there. Not ideal and I’ll admit there are security implications, but it does cause the file to get virus scanned at at least two places and I’m very unlikely to send myself a dangerous file.

Now, for my webclient on this machine, I tended to use Firefox. It was kept up to date and as far as I know, up until recently, on their approved list of programs.  Great. This worked for well over a year.

Then, one day last week, I go to the server in question and there’s no Firefox. I realized this was related to an email I had seen earlier in the week about their security team removing Firefox from a different server, “for security reasons”. Now arguably that server didn’t need Firefox, but still, my server was technically MY sandbox. So, I was stuck with IE. Yes, their security team thinks IE is more secure than Firefox.  Ok, no problem I’ll use IE.

I go ahead, enter my userid and supersecret password. Nothing happens. Try a few times since maybe I got the password wrong. Nope. Nothing.  So I tried something different to confirm my theory and get the dreaded, “Your browser does not support cookies” error. Aha, now I’m on to something.

I jump into the settings and try several different things to enable cookies completely. I figure I can return things to the way they want after I get my file. No joy. Despite enabling every applicable options, it wouldn’t override the domain settings and cookies remained disabled.  ARGH.

So, next I figured I’d re-download FF and use that. It’s my box after all (in theory).

I get the install downloaded, click on it and it starts to install. Great! What was supposed to be a 5 minute problem of getting the file I needed to the server is about done. It’s only taken me an hour or two, but I can smell success.

Well, turns out what I was smelling was more frustration. Half-way through the install it locks up. I kill the process and go back to the file I downloaded and try again. BUT, the file isn’t there. I realize after some digging that their security software is automatically deleting certain downloads, such as the Firefox install.

So I’m back to dead in the water.

I know, I’ll try to use Dropbox or OneDrive. But… both require cookies to get setup.  So much for that.

I’ve now spend close to 3 hours trying to get this file to their server.  I was at a loss as to how to solve this. So I did what I often do in situations like this. I jumped in the shower to think.

Now, I finally DID manage to find a way, but I’m actually not going to mention it here. The how isn’t important (though keeping the details private are probably at least a bit important.)

Anyway, here’s the thing. I agree with trying to make servers secure. We in IT have too many data breaches as it is. BUT, there is definitely a problem with making things TOO secure. Actually two problems. The first is the old joke about how a computer encased in cement at the bottom of the ocean is extremely secure. But also unusable.  So, their security measures almost got us to the state of making an extremely secure  but useless computer.

But the other problem is more subtle. If you make things too secure, your users are going to do what they can to bypass your security in order to get their job done. They’re not trying to be malicious, but they may end up making things MORE risky by enabling services that shouldn’t be installed or by installing software you didn’t authorize, thus leaving you in an unknown security state (for the record, I didn’t do either of the above.)

Also, I find it frustrating when steps like the above are taken, but some of the servers in their environment don’t have the latest service packs or security fixes. So, they’re fixing surface issues, but ignoring deeper problems. While I was “nice” in what I did; i.e. I technically didn’t violate any of their security measures in the end, I did work to bypass them. A true hacker most likely isn’t going to be nice. They’re going to go for the gold and go through one of at least a dozen unpatched security holes to gain control of the system in question. So as much as I can live with their security precautions of locking down certain software, I’d also like to see them actually patch the machines.

So, security is important, but let’s not make it so tight people go to extremes to by pass it.