Friday, June 1, 2018

“I Keep Working My Way Back To You, Babe”

Originally posted on www.dpitts.com, May 1, 2018 “I Keep Working My Way Back To You, Babe” The title of this article is both a hat tip to The Four Seasons, as well as a wish for talented workers to come my way. Today the unemployment numbers were released for May, 2018. In case people were not aware of it, the President of the United States tweeted that it would come out today and he was looking forward to it. Of course, Mr. President, you already knew what the numbers were. So why did you tweet them? Because they were very good – well above the expected. Something the sitting President is all too eager to take credit of. Not sure if the reverse were true if he would take credit for that, but I suppose with the next recession we will see. I’ve been a first and second line manager for more than a decade. At times it has been difficult to find good, qualified, eligible and available employees. However, in my current region (Washington, DC area) and in my current field (Information Security, Compliance and Risk Management), I have to admit, this has been a difficult adjustment. Unemployment is at its lowest levels in 18 or so years with May coming in at a staggering 3.8%. While it is good that 223,000 jobs were added to the economy in May, this also means that wage growth is also rising due to supply and demand. As an employee, these numbers are good news. As a hiring manager, not so much. I’m sure economists are saying things like “is the unemployment too low”. I’m not an economist. I’m a technologist and an executive manager. To me, when the unemployment rate gets below 5% hiring gets difficult. When they drop below 4%, hiring moves to a headhunting mode of operations. Add to the general unemployment numbers the locale and market mentioned above where anyone who is any good at what they do are already working, then this gets next to impossible. So, I have a few choices. First, I can choose to hire a less-talented workforce or second, I can raise salaries to entice people away from their current places of employment. The reality is, I may have to do both! The bottom line is that this is an employee’s market. To those of you in risk, compliance, information security and the cloud, look me up – I probably have a job for you. To those of you who are already employed, this might be the time to talk to your manager about a raise, otherwise, maybe you contact me instead. To the hiring managers out there, how are you coping with the current environment?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

By David Pitts

March, 2018

Phishing, spear phishing, whaling, pharming, viruses, spam, rootkits – it’s as if computer people have their own dictionary! And, they do!

Back in the fall (2017), Deloitte, one of the world’s “big four” accounting firms stated they had a breach of their internal email system. Internet rumor has it that the breach had been around for about a year and involved a compromise of all administrator accounts and their entire email system (c.f. https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/09/source-deloitte-breach-affected-all-company-email-admin-accounts/ (1) for more on this). It is not uncommon for systems and companies to have breaches. Companies include Deloitte, Uber, Equifax, Sony, FedEx, Pizza Hut, Yahoo, and the list goes on and on of companies with breaches in just the past year.

Many of these breaches occurred in conjunction with or even through email systems. Current statistics estimate that there are over 100,000 new pieces of malware (malevolent software) found each and every day(2). Perhaps, it is time to rethink how we think about, react to, and compose email.

Hackers look for the path of least resistance. Taking advantage of organizations large and small for most hackers is all the same. They look for vulnerability, and they exploit it. For most hackers, brute forcing a password is a huge waste of time. There are so many other, easier, paths to take that are quicker and result in greater and more frequent success. Once a system is breached, that system is no longer secure. Email servers are a great source of vulnerabilities for hackers. Gaining access to one account can often lead to many more, both inside and outside the organization.

Security takes a look at three facets when it comes to data. The first is confidentiality. Is the data properly protected and limited to the people, systems, and services that need access and no further? Integrity is the second facet. Is the data what it is supposed to be or has it been altered? Is it trustworthy? The third facet is availability. Is the data available when you want it and where you want it by those authorized to view it? In security terms, this is known as the CIA triad(3). Is your data and are your systems confidential, trustworthy and available? Will it be tomorrow?

Recommendations concerning emails:

  • Always read emails you compose as though it might be read by someone other than the intended recipient. Don’t include personal information, ID numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. that are not absolutely needed. Maybe that information, criticism, or whatever would be better shared in a phone conversation? Ask yourself, what would happen if someone like Anonymous or a foreign government, a customer or a competitor saw the email? What if it were released to the press or put on social media? What would be the ramifications to you, your co-workers, your organization, your clients, vendors, and partners?
  • Make sure that if you are including company or personal confidential information that it is protected according to your organization's data classification standards.
  • Make sure your email is addressed to the correct people before you hit send. Many hackers have set up “similar” domain names that account for popular misspellings in order to harvest information.
  • Make sure you use passwords that are complex and lengthy and are different for different types of sites and uses.
  • Ensure your operating system and software is up to date. Even if you think the software is automatically updating, regularly check manually. Software such as Adobe, java, Office products, internet browsers, and security software update frequently. Get in a habit of checking frequently. This includes browser add-ons.
  • Is your firewall on? Software firewalls are recommended to be running on end-user systems.
  • Carefully scrutinize emails and especially attachments. Never open or download an email attachment if you can help it. If you are going to open one, ensure you know where it came from and that your anti-virus is actively checking email attachments. Even emails from people you think are legitimate can contain malware.
  • Do not trust email – particularly unsolicited email
  • Don’t click on links in email messages.
Backup your important data. If your computer right now locked up due to any number of reasons (breakage, malware, ransomware, etc.), do you have a storage device separate from your system where your important files are kept? If you are putting them on an external hard drive, do you detach it when you are not backing up?

The image posted on Krebsonsecurity(4) in 2013 shows some of the value of hacked email accounts. While it could be updated the essence of it is spot on.

You may ask yourself, what is an email credential worth. According to the same Krebs on security article, “One prominent credential seller in the underground peddles iTunes accounts for $8, and Fedex.com, Continental.com and United.com accounts for USD $6. Groupon.comaccounts fetch $5, while $4 buys hacked credentials at registrar and hosting provider Godaddy.com, as well as wireless providers Att.com, Sprint.com, Verizonwireless.com, and Tmobile.com. Active accounts at Facebook and Twitterretail for just $2.50 apiece.”

There is lots of good literature out there on recognizing and avoiding email scams including information from US CERT(5) and others. At least once a year read through one or two of these and take note of what is going on and be smart about things. Above all, use common sense! Remember, just about everybody is a victim. Some have not been victimized yet, but it is coming. Also, we are all humans. We make mistakes, we accidentally click on things we shouldn’t and expose ourselves and our organization to risk. Add to that the number of usernames and passwords that are already compromised and in the hands of nefarious people, the problem only gets worse. A security researcher in Paris has unearthed an open web server hosted in the Netherlands that contains as many as 711 million usernames and passwords(6). The bottom line is that we are past the point where we should be thinking about breaches in relation to others. PII is no longer private. Usernames and passwords are compromised. Use 2-step verification where available, add recovery email accounts, harden hardware, use strong passwords, don’t use the router’s default DNS servers, keep software up to date, but remember, even the best defenses fail.

If you do fall victim to an attack. First, know now, it is no fun. It is frustrating and time-consuming. Cleaning up can be very difficult. Sometimes this include completely wiping many computer’s hard drives and reinstalling fresh operating systems (you do have that disconnected backup, right?). Get assistance quickly. Communication with your organization’s security team is key. Taking systems off the network is key. For personal equipment tools like Malwarebytes(7) and superantispyware(8) are useful to have on hand (before the breach).

Oh, and one final note... Microsoft doesn't call you at home. Just don't accept that!


1. Krebs Deloitte Breach: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/09/source-deloitte-breach-affected-all-company-email-admin-accounts/
2. Cybersecurity Threats and Basic Cyber Hygiene: https://www.brookings.edu/on-the-record/cybersecurity-threats-and-basic-cyber-hygiene/
3. CIA Triad: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Confidentiality-integrity-and-availability-CIA
4. The value of a hacked email account: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2013/06/the-value-of-a-hacked-email-account/
5. US CERT Recognizing and Avoiding Email Scams: https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/emailscams_0905.pdf
6. 32 of the most infamous data breaches: https://www.techworld.com/security/uks-most-infamous-data-breaches-3604586/
7. Malwarebytes: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/download/malwarebytes-anti-malware/
8. Superantispyware: http://www.superantispyware.com/

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Why I Am Leaving A Great Company and a Good Job

I have been in the IT industry since the early 1980's. My first paid gig was programming an inventory and invoicing system. Since then I have worked for many great companies including Boeing, IBM, Sutter Health, and Ashland Oil working as a developer, systems and network administrator, database administrator, first and second level manager and small business owner. I have had the pleasure and opportunity to work on major high traffic web sites delivering millions of pages a day. My current assignment is that of a security manager with NIC's Indiana subsidiary. We process billions of dollars on behalf of the State of Indiana.

Friday, November 3, 2017 will conclude an eight and a half year run with NIC. When I look back at the many successes I have had with NIC, I can honestly conclude I have been successful. I have had many opportunities to make NIC better and I have succeeded with most of them. I believe the states (and their businesses and citizens) I have worked with - particularly Indiana, Mississippi, and Maryland - are better off because of what I brought to the situation.

I sincerely appreciate having had the opportunity to work with this company and the people I have met and worked with along the way. The old cliché for a break up is “It’s not you, its me.” While this cliché many times gets a bad rap, in this case it is true. I'm about to turn 50. I started at NIC at 41. My expectation was in 8-10 years to be a part of executive management. I have learned and grown a great deal serving this company and many people have helped and supported me leading to my success. My current role, while has some interesting aspects to it, is not where I want to be. I want to focus on running things - both strategically and operationally.

I haven't "quit" a job since February, 2003. It is not easy leaving a job. In fact, it takes a lot of courage. Quitting a job is a choice, an active choice. Quitting a job is a risk. However there is value in the risk. Whether the value of the risk is greater than the option of staying where I am is part of the entire risk equation. Do I fear regret more than I fear failure? I am not a fan of regret. It is negative, ugly, and scary. Failure is also scary, but it is not ugly nor negative. How will my 20-something self react to this decision? How will my 70-something self react to this decision? Have I disappointed my 20-something self? Have I put a smile on my 70-something self?

I guess it boils down to trust, doesn't it? The path to the future is unclear. But, I don't fear the unclear path. I have faith in it. I am reminded of a story I was told many years ago. It holds special meaning in times like this.

A group of boyscouts (could have been girlscouts, who knows!) were hiking down the path one Saturday afternoon. After about a mile down a particular fork, the lead boyscout realized they were on the wrong path. The current path was fairly smooth and was a good path. Unfortunately it didn't lead to where they wanted to go. The scout had a choice. Continue down the comfortable path, or go back to the fork and head down one of the other paths. How would the other Scouts react if the lead said to turn around, or, worse, said to cut through the underbrush in an attempt to find another path that might get them closer to their desired destination.

It is all about scope then, isn't it. What is the destination. There are millions of destinations. What is the desired one for me? As I stated above, my desire is focusing on running things - strategically and operationally. I know where I want to be. Time to cut through the underbrush.

Monday, March 27, 2017

To arms! To arms! The British are coming!

The British are coming! The British are coming! To arms! To arms!

No, this is not a reenactment of the war of American independence. But, it is a call to action to go to war to protect liberty! And have no doubt, it is a war. The thing with wars are there are winners and there are losers. History is written by the winners. In today's war on liberty there are no winners and everyone loses. Worse yet, other wars (perhaps, also unwinnable) are some of the battle fields upon which the war on liberty is fought. The "war on terrorism" is a good example of such a battle field. "Terrorism" is such a convenient term to use after all. It evokes very strong emotions. It is a strong word, and one, which, I believe, is highly over used. However, politicians and others with an agenda will use such strong words to evoke emotions and sway people to action. In today's world, we don't have a word or phrase for "somebody is doing stupid stuff like destroying property or killing people" that evokes the proper horror or malcontent as it should. So, the governments have politicized and armed "terror" and "terrorism" to be blanket terms for all sorts of deplorable actions. They are then using these "terrors" to remove the civil liberties of those being terrorized - that's right, the victims.

Today's New York Times (03/27/2017) has an article where "Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, said that the country’s intelligence agencies should have access to encrypted messages sent through WhatsApp, an instant-messaging service owned by Facebook. Her remarks were part of the British response to the fatal terrorist attack last week in London" (c.f. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/technology/whatsapp-rudd-terrorists-uk-attack.html). Here we see where "Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old Briton, drove a car into pedestrians before attacking a police officer." Is that terrorism, of course not. Is it deplorable, yes it is. But, they are calling it terrorism so that they can justify crossing civil liberties. They want to require that technology allow back doors into software so that they can see what data is being transferred.

If they do get access to the encrypted data, what they would see is garbage. That's the idea behind encryption. Cryptography, the use of codes and ciphers to protect secrets, began thousands of years ago. The basics of it are there is a secret part and there is a public part. The public part is available for viewing/hearing. The private part is what turns the public part into something useful for the receiver. Since the 1970's, the public has had access to the ability to encrypt data at a level that the governments have historically had. And governments, as Ms. Rudd points out, do not like it. In fact, the despise it. So much so that they want to entice persons (and companies) to be refrained from having and using encryption that the governments can't unencrypt. How might they entice such actions?

In the same New York times article it said, "The move by British lawmakers is the latest effort in Europe to police how internet giants operate online. This month, a German government minister, Heiko Maas, said that he would propose new legislation that could fine tech companies around $50 million if they failed to stop hate speech being spread on digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube."... "Officials in Britain, however, are going a step further. And by demanding that intelligence agencies be allowed to read encrypted messages, Ms. Rudd is reiterating long-held plans to gain more control over digital services."

Again, what is at stake here is individual liberty. A person is permitted to do all and only the things he is not obliged to refrain from, and obliged to do all and only the things he is not permitted to refrain from. In other words, they have liberties and rights. Rights can be taken away, but not liberties. Liberties are those which you can do just because God gave us life. (I realize this isn't quite legal definitions - as those would refer to Liberty Rights and Claim Rights. I'm just simplifying.)

While I understand the frustration the British government and all governments are facing, such actions cannot be condoned. This is not about terrorism. This is about basic civil liberties. I completely understand that when people are at liberty to do something, then there is risk. They might get out of control. They might use this liberty to harm others. As in London, people have the ability to run over people with a car. However, to use this as an excuse to curtail liberty is more than an injustice. It is a duty of every human to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." In today's world, that security includes confidence in secure communications.

Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights states that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The American Bill of Rights gives a way for the US government to inspect a person's home, papers, or effects. It is done at the "person" level. Corporations do not have the right to infringe upon the individual and disclose private data transferred. If the government has probable cause, they can get a warrant to the individual.

However, if a position were adopted that sought to curb these liberties, then people would be controlled. This would certainly make the job of the British government, FBI or local police force easier. However, in elevating "safety" to the place of primary value, then we lose that which we value even more - liberty. In opting for security, we are opting to give up freedom of movement, freedom of choice, freedom of speech, freedom of action. We have already given up too much of this due to terrorists and terrorism. Giving up liberty to gain safety means we gain nothing and lose a lot. We have already lost too much. It is the duty of technology companies to society to not comply with these demands.

Have no doubt the war is not coming, it is here, and our liberties are at stake. The Google's, Facebook's, Apple's, etc. are on the front lines. They must fight and we must support them in this fight.

Originally published on www.dpitts.com on 3/27/2017. This article is not meant to be legal advice. The author is not a lawyer. Reprint and publication requests can be sent to publications@dpitts.com