Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cyber-security in a non-linear world.

I was mulling over a tweet this morning where I read about how Canada was going to be helping in financial cyber security with other G7 nations (Link).  I found this a bit ironic as the financial security in Canada is usually quite atrocious.  I’ve spent a while now, collecting proof of how bad it is, and there are definite trends I've noticed.

I’ve been trying to work out for a while as to what the root cause of the problem is.  Usually, I can simply correlate a symptom to a cause; Yesterday, for instance, I pointed out to ScotiaBank that they’re allowing customers to be phished again.  

This is a problem I’d previously reported to the CCIRC.

Whilst that’s the symptom, the underlying cause is one of these three things:
* The bank doesn’t check for this.
* The bank does check for this, but failed to check properly.
* The bank did test properly, but someone thought it was OK to publish regardless.

The problem is simply that the aforementioned symptom is just the tip of the iceberg.  Elsewhere, I see way bigger issues.  My thoughts turned to trying to work out why the bank security keeps failing - something I usually blame on policy, because if the people writing the rules for “what to check” know what they’re doing, and other people following those procedures do it properly, you wouldn’t have these problems.

And then the idea occurred to me today that there’s a bigger fundamental issue…  

Anyone that has followed military tactics will know how the current Russian/Surkov non-linear warfare model is bamboozling lots of people, well, basically the bank’s face a similar problem and it’s bamboozling them, too.  In the old days, you had the bank and the bank robber.  The linear aim was for the robber to get the money in the vault - so it was the bank’s job to stop that happening.

Fast forward to 2016 and we have this triangle, where if you compromise one side of the triangle, you can get to the other two.  

In this model, we have:
1) The bank.  This is the bank and it’s infrastructure like online banking, virtual vaults, payment messaging systems, etc.
2) The customer.  This is your average Joe on the street.  He/She can be socially engineered.
3) The shared environment.  This is where the bank interacts with customer’s hardware.  

In a non-linear attack, an attacker can go for any side of this triangle, any combination of two sides, or the hat-trick of all three sides.  That means the bank cannot easily anticipate how to out-fox a would be attacker - and sometimes the attack on the bank means the bank isn't directly attacked in any detectable way.  

The modern bank has to be on guard on all three sides and protect itself from a non-linear threat, and that simply doesn’t always happen.  Any bank that gets sloppy with it’s procedures, or allows customer phishing on it’s own site is going to be inviting trouble.  If a bank leaks data, has incomplete security procedures or leaks source code, then it’s going to invite really big trouble.

I’m not a security expert by trade, but I am observant and I track what I see.  When I see banks suffering these symptoms, I see the potential for really big trouble.

Monday, October 17, 2016

An attempt with Visual Studio 2015s "Visual Studio" template

I've been programming since I was about 8.  Trouble was for 3 years I did it on paper as I didn't get an actual computer until 1984.

Over the years, I've programmed a lot of things:  Notable items include working on first Palm Pilot banking app in Canada.  Mobile advertising on buses.  Writing several versions (singlehandedly until I was given help) of iHeartRadio for iOS, and most recently I programmed the app for Tellspec.

That quick run down skips a lot of Windows, Mac, iOS, Palm, Blackberry, and so on, jumping about between development environments and platforms.  I've literally spent my past 9 years up to my eyeballs in iOS with some runs into C# for FEMA EAS related stuff, and other languages for banking or manufacturing.

So it was that I found myself installing Visual Studio last week.  This is something I first got introduced to in the late 1990s when VB 6 merged with Visual C++ (and IT Ake with Visual InterDev for web development).  (I'd been with VB since v3 before that)

I may have started programming on a 48k Spectrum, and I may have had millions of people running my code on iOS, but Windows is like my spiritual home.  I've spent decades there.  My first professional Windows app (the "Memory Compactor") worked on Windows 3.11 and played on a mechanism of Windows that I could use to the users advantage to free up memory.

Now, I found myself "coming home" for a new project on the side, where I was tinkering with an idea.  The outcome of the project has no bearing on the company i work for - the only thing at stake was whether the idea would fly or not.  If it flies, I present the idea to the boss - and if it fails, then I've spent a bit of time keeping abreast. At worst, if someone asks me what the latest version of Visual Studio I've used is, because they're trying to trip me up, I can answer 2015.

So I installed the Community Edition to get re-acquainted with it. (yes, this hardcore Apple Dev was back in Microsoft land)

On the whole, I was very pleasantly surprised.  There was some familiarity that made me happy - and there was something new, which made me really happy.... the MFC "Visual Studio" style template.

The standard templates for SDI and MDI MFC apps have been around 20+ years and are well documented to the nth degree.  If you have a problem, 20 seconds in your favourite search engine will show you the answer.  This new Visual Studio template, however, is new, undocumented, and doesn't have a tone of Q&A.

On the flip side, I posted a comment on Twitter that I'd spent a day in VS (which for a person who spends most of his time in Xcode, makes for a massive change), and was surprised to hear from the Visual Studio Twitter team.

They were proactive, but given my circumstances (I work on a mac in a virtual machine), their enthusiasm to share keyboard shortcuts didn't hit a bullseye with me - but that's not their fault as I'm on a Mac right now.

Now I let them know that unfortunately I was a slight edge case, and they took it gracefully and extended that if I needed future help to shout....

And this is where this post comes into play.

I started Windows programming in VB3.  Like before the data access control showed up and revolutionized things.  I've grown up through VB4, 5, 5 Control Edition, 6, Fred, C#, and simultaneously gone through MSVC 1, 2, 3, 6, (skip a lot) and now land at (14?).....

... and I hit a problem.

Rather than complain about lack of docs, I spend several consecutive evenings (I have a day job to attend to) trying to find a solution and ultimately now decided to pick up the offer from the Twitter team about help.

What I want to know is how this VS template works.  I can put properties in the Property Sheet view and if I ask for the current document, it always null, meaning I cannot persist those changes.

I normally don't consider myself an idiot, but if I'm using a VS2015 template, surely there is some documentation somewhere explaining how this is supposed to work?

It's not the end of the world for me (I can just drop the idea that we ship a windows app), but I'm kinda feeling that I should have a solution.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thoughts on this month's #FraudChat

Toronto's Financial Crimes Unit (FCU), in partnership with other community and government stakeholders, has a Twitter chat each month called #FraudChat.  I usually try to listen in on it, and most months I have no comment.

But not this month.

I was particularly looking forward to this month's, as in Canada right now it's Cyber Security Awareness Month, and this means we were more likely to be in for some special guests.  As always, it was an informative event to follow along with.  The topic was identity theft/fraud.  Some guests concentrated on property/title fraud, but I was interested in hearing what one particular guest had to say - the Canadian Bankers Association (hereafter the "CBA").

The entire chat covered many angles, from physical issues like people dumpster diving for mail, to hacking and trojans, credit reports, scams, property title fraud, etc.  However, given my knowledge of Toronto, I was looking for signs of something specific to come up in conversation.  

Diving in a dumpster might reasonably reveal information on between 1 to 5-6 people.  A trojan on your phone might slurp the contact details of 1,000 people.  When you have 20 million people doing online banking on just a handful of websites, thats where I'm interested.

Now, the CBA is obviously going to be biased into pushing all the security onus on to the customer.  In this chat, however, all they brought to the table was a series of tweets that pointed to pre-existing articles on their website.  All of which were exactly as biased as you would expect them to be (how to spot a phishing email, don't give out your personal details, etc).  

I feel like this was a lost opportunity on the part of the CBA.  Whilst there was no usual "we take security very seriously" that you'd expect to hear from any bank or banking-related organisation, there was also zero mention of what their members were doing that was new and would tackle the existing security deficiencies that Canadian banks have.

However, every cloud has a silver lining.  The CBA website gave me something that I can use to determine what I've suspected for years, but have never been able to prove with bank cyber security.  So, as soon as I've had some spare time, I will be back with the result to the burning question of the past five years.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hopefully a sign of new things to come...

It's been a busy year this year.  In my day job working in food security, I've been to Taiwan, Arizona and South Korea.  I've met a lot of people who want to help solve some really really big problems that literally affects billions of people.  It's been rewarding to see this year unfold, if a little challenging.

In my spare time, I've also had some rewards.  As most people know, I've had nearly two decades of challenges with one of my banks.  Well, something interesting happened.

Traditionally, the customer/bank relationship looks like this:

It's not a productive loop, and it's prone to issues.  For instance, I've experienced "We're looking into your problem" when I've not actually stated what the problem is yet.  (In programming, we call this a "race condition").  Another problem is that if you are the one reporting, there's the sensation that things disappear into a black hole as you never get feedback.

But, that was all I had for 18 years.

About a month ago, something I saw emanating from the CIBC twitter team that was obviously "incorrect from a technical standpoint" annoyed me.  On that day, I was going to be downtown, so I thought I might as well just break the "Report" -> "Thanks" cycle and walk into the bank with the solution to the issue.  Long story short, my "let's just cut to the chase" style wasn't met with the same enthusiasm.

I have no idea what switch flipped that day within the bank, but after 18 years, we changed to this method of communication:

Now, instead of the uncertainty of whether technical messages are getting through, or are distorted in a game of "broken telephone", the bank was asking what I needed? 

That's a very simple question for me - If someone gives me a room full of technical and policy people that I can speak unimpeded and natively to in order to explain a) what I can see and b) where I can see it, then I can get effective feedback (anyone that's ever worked with me knows I don't like red-tape or unnecessary delays) as to whether what I'm saying is even being understood, as well as the added bonus that you can hold a Q&A session to clear up any loose ends. I think that in 30 minutes, I offloaded more information about customer optics and technical issues than I have since the "triple-Interac-debit whilst saying money was not debited" debacle of 2013.  

Another good thing that came out of this is the customer service person I normally deal with (and probably frustrate to no end) was also in on the conversation.  In an age where KYC ("Know Your Customer") is a buzzword in banks and large organisations and doesn't actually mean that they "know" who you are, I think it was good that the frontline customer service person who normally has to deal with me could see me in my native habitat.  Instead of being the keyboard warrior on Twitter that they know and recognise, they could the bigger picture when this wound-up-spring was finally let loose.

We didn't agree on everything (for instance, 9:59am to 1:49pm is still basically 4 hours in my book), but I think it was a productive use of my time and their time.  I was told new things that nobody had explained before, and they were told things that I see as problematic.  

Time will tell if things actually get cleaned up security wise, but my guess is it will because now people know the extent of what can be inferred outside the bank, and most crucially, know that people outside the bank know.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Securing the news...

I read an interesting article today, about how the news outlets are getting targeted by hackers.

This doesn't surprise me for a number of reasons:
  1. Most news today is not an unbiased account of fact, but rather it takes sides and therefore it becomes a polarizing factor that can raise ire amongst some people.
  2. News media outlets today are not used to securing news, so something that is unprotected can be adulterated and changed into something it was never intended to be.
In Canada, we have two major corporations that control most of the news and media in general.
  • Bell Media 
  • Rogers Media
Regular readers of this blog will realise something:  This is Bell Canada and Rogers, the two monolithic cellphone and internet providers in Canada.  These two organisations are traditionally not good at security with their own customer facing systems, so you can imagine what type of security I have noted has been imposed on their media divisions.  

I did a quick 2 minute scan to see what I could find security wise....

What I found was this:  The media divisions are open to the exact same methods of being compromised as each parent company is currently known to be.  This percolates down through each media property such as a radio/tv station website, or newspaper site.  So, in short, it's possible to adulterate the news in Canada.  

We all know the phrase about those who control the message control the people - and that's what makes the media a target for hackers.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Moving Low and Slow In The Security Theatre.

As most of my regular readers know, I spent a bit of time over recent years fussing over my banks and Canada's financial institutions in general.  

For those that don't know what's going on, a quick recap...

Things started off with me gradually losing faith in my primary bank's ability to maintain a secure banking experience because of a series of events spanning a few years that highlighted to me that something was awfully awry, and things degraded slowly into more problems that were also spotted in my secondary bank.  Later, I found similar failures across many banks in Canada and eventually found the government at risk, too.  This culminated in the Spring of 2016, when I coordinated with one bank on the issue, and then successfully raised the alarm that basically most of the entire country of Canada was at risk and the RCMP leapt into action.   

Whilst all this was going on, I had to make sure to never do anything that amounted to, or could be construed as hacking.  This is actually very easy - and here's how it happened.

This is a Bentley convertible.  

(Click for bigger image)

I've never been in this particular car shown in the picture.  I can probably guess accurately that neither have you.  However, both you and I can probably agree that the roof is down on this car, and that if (hypothetically) we were in this car with this roof position and it started raining, we'd get wet.  The reason we know this without ever entering the car is simply because we understand what we're looking at.

Same applies to the banks and the Canadian government.  I can look at CIBC or ScotiaBank and without even logging into them, plainly see how they can be compromised because I understand what I'm looking at.  Same thing at the Canadian Government...

Often hackers are caught because having breached a system, they bang about inside, tripping monitors as they scan ports, probe and push systems trying to fumble about looking for the proverbial pot of gold.  

We see banks respond on social media about this type of threat, such as shown here:

The problem with this, as you can guess, is these measures only apply to hackers that break into a bank.  In my case, there was no hacking into any banks, no entry to any bank systems, and yet everyone at the law enforcement level is onboard with me because they understand what they're looking at.

Understanding technology like this is a variant of the "Low and Slow" method of hacking.  I say "variant" because whilst it shares all the traits of the "Low and Slow" method of hacking, there is no "hacking" here.

Additionally, it has to be pointed out that operating outside of a bank or government in this manner shows up something else; It's not security. It's "theatre". If you watch the show long enough, you start to see the props and the set moving about.  That needs to change.

I'll leave you with one last thought:  I'm just one guy who only wants his bank to not put him at risk, and with limited time on my hands, I figured out something that affects the entire country.  There are likely cadres of criminals out there figuring this out on a daily basis and, logically, they must go undetected as the banks cannot see them.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Verification versus Authentication

On my Twitter feed, I see there is a continuous trickle of tweets asking for CIBC bank to adopt two-factor authentication ("2FA").  It looks like this:

You normally see about 2 or 3 of these a week - and they all originate at the same site about 2FA.  As you can see, after the request to consider that the bank adopts 2FA, there's a canned response that goes like this "We take security very seriously, so we have two step verification".

Of course, that irks me, and here's why:  The customer is talking about authentication (i.e. making sure the person accessing their bank account is the correct authorized person who should be accessing the account), and the bank is responding on the subject of verification. In the case of a bank sending a code to a phone number on file, all the bank is verifying is that regardless of whether they're authorized or not, the person trying to access that account also has the phone belonging to the person who's account is trying to be accessed. 

That's a fundamental flaw in security.

If you don't know the difference, two step verification is where you supply a password, and the bank sends you a code and you type this in as well.  So, imagine your other-half has your phone and you're in the middle of a messy breakup, and they know your password, the bank sends a code to your phone in their hands, and voila!  

There's a really obvious problem here, and anyone with an ounce of security savvy will tell you, physical access is 9/10ths of the problem.  This is why people are asking for 2FA.

With 2FA, you have to supply something in addition to the password.  This usually is two items out of this list of three:
  • Something you have (eg password)
  • Something you know (eg maternal grandmothers maiden name)
  • Something you are:  (eg biometric, location, etc).
It doesn't have to be those three, but they are the most common.

As you can see, the response from the banks totally undermines any confidence that they even understand what's being asked, because in the situation pointed out above, the bank is providing the tools to the attacker to complete the compromisation of the customer.

Of course, the access agreement is written with a totally one-sided assumption that the customer is the only person who could ever put the bank or the customer into jeopardy.

(click for bigger)

The part that says "Without limiting the generality of the first sentence in this Section 9," makes me shake my head, because of course, the first sentence says that you are on the hook for "any losses" whilst ignoring the logical reasoning where as often happens, the bank has set the customer for failure in the first place.

In a nutshell, the security situation can is analogous to going into the sea to scuba dive and the dive master says "There are sharks here, and we take your security seriously, so here's some fresh raw beef steaks to hit the Sharks with", and then having setup the divers with the tools to be eaten, has them also agree to an agreement which is totally one-sided and places on blame on the customers.

And people wonder why I banned the CIBC mobile apps from my house?