|By Lori MacVittie||
|July 22, 2009 09:30 PM EDT||
First, everyone needs to calm down. Twitter.com itself was not breached. According to Evan Williams as quoted in a TechCrunch article, the attack did not breach Twitter.com or its administrative functions, nor were user accounts affected in any way. So everyone can just stop with the “Twitter needs to revamp its security!” and “Twitter isn’t secure” headlines and articles because it’s not only blatantly wrong, it’s diverting attention that should be devoted to the real problem: e-mail and account self-service.
THE E-MAIL FACTOR
What was compromised remains somewhat of a mystery. Following through the TechCrunch article to a blog on the same subject reveals some interesting details, however. A screen shot of what appears to be an internal memo to Twitter employees requires a change in passwords (along with instructions on improving the strength of said passwords) but mentions the password to be changed is the password you use to login to internal sites. From this one might infer that a breach was perpetrated through an intra/extranet, as opposed to twitter’s core infrastructure. Regardless, the breach of Twitter was only ancillary to the real security risk: the access to e-mail. That’s where the real meaty data was obtained; not from Twitter or its internal systems.
In this case, it was GMail access that enabled the miscreant to use password recovery techniques (“Forgot your password?”) to gain access to other related information and sites: personal credit cards, GoDaddy registrar accounts, etc… Did the attacker really need to breach Twitter’s internal applications to get that information? Probably not. Remember the successful breach of then Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account?
As detailed in the postings, the Palin hack didn’t require any real skill. Instead, the hacker simply reset Palin’s password using her birthdate, ZIP code and information about where she met her spouse — the security question on her Yahoo account, which was answered (Wasilla High) by a simple Google search.
Certainly gaining access to Twitter’s internal applications made accessing employees’ GMail accounts that much easier, but it likely wasn’t necessary except as a means to garner attention which was, the miscreant claims, the intent of the attack. The danger of a GMail breach is that Google is very integrated across applications, so gaining access to one often makes it a no-brainer to gain access to others. And if you’re storing sensitive or even non-sensitive corporate documents in Google Docs or Apps, a breach of e-mail is likely to lead to a breach of those applications too. Which is essentially what happened to Twitter (the organization, not the service).
ANY WEB-BASED E-MAIL SERVICE IS A RISK
It isn’t just GMail or Yahoo or other hosted e-mail services that are at risk. Any one of the millions of organizations that use Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access to provide employees remote access to their e-mail is potentially at risk to be compromised. The prohibitions on the access of “personal e-mail” vary from organization to organization, so it’s likely that an attacker could succeed in compromising a corporate OWA account and then use that to compromise a “personal” account – or vice versa. That’s in addition to obtaining instant access to e-mail, phone numbers, organizational hierarchies, and sensitive data being exchanged between employees.
There are any number of known vulnerabilities in the entire software stack required to run Microsoft OWA, many of them that remain unpatched. These open vulnerabilities leave organizations and their employees susceptible to attack. In some cases it’s a lack of time/availability that causes the service to remain vulnerable; in others it's simply the case that Microsoft hasn’t gotten around to addressing them yet (they do have a lot of software and a lot of patches to deal with, after all). There are best practices for securing OWA and other solutions available that can provide “virtual patching” of those vulnerabilities that shore up the overall security of the service so there’s really no good excuse for not securing OWA. Not doing so not only puts the organization at risk, but the individuals using the service (including your CEO, your CFO, and other executives) because the personal information contained in e-mail provides a cornucopia of information that makes it easier for attackers to discern passwords for other sites, which leads to breaches of other sites, which leads to… I’m sure you get the picture by now.
And of course there’s the fact that OWA is meant for mobile access, so it’s going to be accessible via the Internet. All one has to do is figure out one person’s password and from there they may be able to do a whole lot of damage to other systems. All those “password recovery” e-mail messages are likely stored somewhere in an inbox, making it a veritable cornucopia of account information.
And that’s where perhaps the biggest threat of all lies.
SELF-SERVICE IS A BIGGER THREAT
What Twittergate teaches us is that it’s not just the vulnerabilities in web applications that we need to watch out for. It’s the amazing amount of information that can be pulled together on any individual using various applications on the Internet that can make it a nearly brainless task to discern passwords. It’s the current mechanisms we use for account “self-service” that are also partially to blame, as they rely heavily on e-mail as a method of identity verification and as we’ve seen in this case – and others – that’s not always a sure bet.
Secret questions, e-mail based verification, and other modern implementations of self-service are inadequate. They do not provide enough obfuscation to protect the actual password of any given individual. Yes, I said obfuscation in relation to security, but in this case, it’s accurate and necessary. There should never be a question for which the answer would give a hint about the password. Never. And yet many sites and applications still rely upon the “hint” question as a means to reduce the costs associated with password and account support.
Rather than using a hint, don’t allow password recovery. Allow password reset, but only after the user has answered a series of completely unrelated questions. Good options include:
- Name of the author of your favorite book
- First musical instrument you learned to play
- Name of the first person you ever kissed
- When you look out your kitchen window, what do you see?
There are myriad good questions that could be used in lieu of a password hint. Anything that isn’t likely to be divulged in public is a good option, and there needs to be more than one just in case one of those odd-ball questions has been answered someone in the ether. The problem is that this requires a bit more work to implement, as it’s a process, not a simple “forgot your password” button that dumbly sends off the password to an associated e-mail account.
Again: password recovery is a bad idea. Password reset is better if the “security” questions required are diverse and obscure enough to make it difficult to pull the information from a quick Google search or a perusal of the individual’s Facebook page. But any process that ends with “your password has been mailed to you” is a risk.
PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT MATTERS
Sure it’s more exciting to talk about Twitter and its security breach, and to write a bazillion blogs and articles about how Twitter isn’t secure and how it’s dangerous to businesses and blah, blah, blah. But that completely ignores what really happened and what that says about the security methods being used in our businesses and personal lives – and how the two are now intimately interconnected.
We need to make sure our own backyard is secure before we start making fun of Twitter, and that means tightening up security of our own external e-mail and applications. It means enacting and enforcing strong password policies in the workplace, and taking that policy home with us. It means as individuals we need to be proactive in choosing better security related questions when they are offered and being aware that if a hint is going to lead us to the right password, it just may do the same thing for an attacker.
password reset,web 2.0,outlook web access,OWA,microsoft,web,
Related articles and blogs:
- Virtual Patching: What is it and why you should be doing it
- How to secure virtualized applications against the unknown
- Soylent Security
- The IT Security Flowchart
- Twitter Hacked!
- Twitter’s @Ev Confirms Hacker Targeted Personal Accounts; Attack Was “Highly Distressing.”
- Palin E-Mail Hacker Says It Was Easy
According to Forrester Research, every business will become either a digital predator or digital prey by 2020. To avoid demise, organizations must rapidly create new sources of value in their end-to-end customer experiences. True digital predators also must break down information and process silos and extend digital transformation initiatives to empower employees with the digital resources needed to win, serve, and retain customers.
Oct. 28, 2016 02:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,780
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
Oct. 28, 2016 02:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,177
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
Oct. 28, 2016 02:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,385
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
Oct. 28, 2016 02:00 AM EDT Reads: 34,365
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
Oct. 28, 2016 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,209
SYS-CON Events announced today that Transparent Cloud Computing (T-Cloud) Consortium will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Transparent Cloud Computing Consortium (T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data proces...
Oct. 28, 2016 12:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,519
SYS-CON Events announced today that Niagara Networks will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Niagara Networks offers the highest port-density systems, and the most complete Next-Generation Network Visibility systems including Network Packet Brokers, Bypass Switches, and Network TAPs.
Oct. 28, 2016 12:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,454
In today's uber-connected, consumer-centric, cloud-enabled, insights-driven, multi-device, global world, the focus of solutions has shifted from the product that is sold to the person who is buying the product or service. Enterprises have rebranded their business around the consumers of their products. The buyer is the person and the focus is not on the offering. The person is connected through multiple devices, wearables, at home, on the road, and in multiple locations, sometimes simultaneously...
Oct. 27, 2016 10:30 PM EDT Reads: 3,843
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue an...
Oct. 27, 2016 10:30 PM EDT Reads: 3,088
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Oct. 27, 2016 10:30 PM EDT Reads: 9,810
Intelligent machines are here. Robots, self-driving cars, drones, bots and many IoT devices are becoming smarter with Machine Learning. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Sudha Jamthe, CEO of IoTDisruptions.com, will discuss the next wave of business disruption at the junction of IoT and AI, impacting many industries and set to change our lives, work and world as we know it.
Oct. 27, 2016 10:30 PM EDT Reads: 565
Established in 1998, Calsoft is a leading software product engineering Services Company specializing in Storage, Networking, Virtualization and Cloud business verticals. Calsoft provides End-to-End Product Development, Quality Assurance Sustenance, Solution Engineering and Professional Services expertise to assist customers in achieving their product development and business goals. The company's deep domain knowledge of Storage, Virtualization, Networking and Cloud verticals helps in delivering ...
Oct. 27, 2016 10:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,166
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
Oct. 27, 2016 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,916
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitrons Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Hitrons Solutions Inc. is distributor in the North American market for unique products and services of small and medium-size businesses, including cloud services and solutions, SEO marketing platforms, and mobile applications.
Oct. 27, 2016 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,124
OnProcess Technology has announced it will be a featured speaker at @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1 - 3, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. Dan Gettens, OnProcess’ Chief Analytics Officer, will discuss how Internet of Things (IoT) data can be leveraged to predict product failures, improve uptime and slash costly inventory stock. @ThingsExpo is an annual gathering of IoT and cloud developers, practitioners and thought-leaders who exchange ideas and insights on topics ranging from Big Data in...
Oct. 27, 2016 09:45 PM EDT Reads: 560
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to focus on the core of their online busine...
Oct. 27, 2016 07:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,467
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Oct. 27, 2016 07:15 PM EDT Reads: 329
The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), sponsor of the IoTivity open source project, and AllSeen Alliance, which provides the AllJoyn® open source IoT framework, today announced that the two organizations’ boards have approved a merger under the OCF name and bylaws. This merger will advance interoperability between connected devices from both groups, enabling the full operating potential of IoT and representing a significant step towards a connected ecosystem.
Oct. 27, 2016 06:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,335
November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Penta Security is a leading vendor for data security solutions, including its encryption solution, D’Amo. By using FPE technology, D’Amo allows for the implementation of encryption technology to sensitive data fields without modification to schema in the database environment. With businesses having their data become increasingly more complicated in their mission-critical applications (such as ERP, CRM, HRM), continued ...
Oct. 27, 2016 05:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,197
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
Oct. 27, 2016 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,090