Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Craig Lowell, Jonathan Fries, Jnan Dash, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Weblogic, Cloud Security

Weblogic: Blog Feed Post

Twittergate Reveals E-Mail is Bigger Security Risk than Twitter

First, everyone needs to calm down Twitter.com itself was not breached

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


twitter_logoWhat 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 attentiongmail-logo 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. 
 

Follow me on Twitter View Lori's profile on SlideShare friendfeedicon_facebook AddThis Feed Button Bookmark and Share

Related articles and blogs:

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

@ThingsExpo Stories
IoT solutions exploit operational data generated by Internet-connected smart “things” for the purpose of gaining operational insight and producing “better outcomes” (for example, create new business models, eliminate unscheduled maintenance, etc.). The explosive proliferation of IoT solutions will result in an exponential growth in the volume of IoT data, precipitating significant Information Governance issues: who owns the IoT data, what are the rights/duties of IoT solutions adopters towards t...
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Unsecured IoT devices were used to launch crippling DDOS attacks in October 2016, targeting services such as Twitter, Spotify, and GitHub. Subsequent testimony to Congress about potential attacks on office buildings, schools, and hospitals raised the possibility for the IoT to harm and even kill people. What should be done? Does the government need to intervene? This panel at @ThingExpo New York brings together leading IoT and security experts to discuss this very serious topic.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
An IoT product’s log files speak volumes about what’s happening with your products in the field, pinpointing current and potential issues, and enabling you to predict failures and save millions of dollars in inventory. But until recently, no one knew how to listen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dan Gettens, Chief Research Officer at OnProcess, discussed recent research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and OnProcess Technology, where MIT created a new, breakthrough analytics model for ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
"We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Internet of @ThingsExpo has announced today that Chris Matthieu has been named tech chair of Internet of @ThingsExpo 2017 New York The 7th Internet of @ThingsExpo will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. Chris Matthieu is the co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, a revolutionary real-time IoT platform recently acquired by Citrix. Octoblu connects things, systems, people and clouds to a global mesh network allowing users to automate and control design flo...
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, director/senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
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.
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web co...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to simplify and streamline our lives by automating routine tasks that distract us from our goals. This promise is based on the ubiquitous deployment of smart, connected devices that link everything from industrial control systems to automobiles to refrigerators. Unfortunately, comparatively few of the devices currently deployed have been developed with an eye toward security, and as the DDoS attacks of late October 2016 have demonstrated, this oversight can ...
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.