Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Liz McMillan, Corey Roth, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz

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
Detecting internal user threats in the Big Data eco-system is challenging and cumbersome. Many organizations monitor internal usage of the Big Data eco-system using a set of alerts. This is not a scalable process given the increase in the number of alerts with the accelerating growth in data volume and user base. Organizations are increasingly leveraging machine learning to monitor only those data elements that are sensitive and critical, autonomously establish monitoring policies, and to detect...
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 settl...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dr. Robert Cohen, an economist and senior fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, presented the findings of a series of six detailed case studies of how large corporations are implementing IoT. The session explored how IoT has improved their economic performance, had major impacts on business models and resulted in impressive ROIs. The companies covered span manufacturing and services firms. He also explored servicification, how manufacturing firms shift from se...
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of bus...
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, compared the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, examin...
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...
Amazon started as an online bookseller 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a technology juggernaut that has disrupted multiple markets and industries and touches many aspects of our lives. It is a relentless technology and business model innovator driving disruption throughout numerous ecosystems. Amazon’s AWS revenues alone are approaching $16B a year making it one of the largest IT companies in the world. With dominant offerings in Cloud, IoT, eCommerce, Big Data, AI, Digital Assista...
Organizations planning enterprise data center consolidation and modernization projects are faced with a challenging, costly reality. Requirements to deploy modern, cloud-native applications simultaneously with traditional client/server applications are almost impossible to achieve with hardware-centric enterprise infrastructure. Compute and network infrastructure are fast moving down a software-defined path, but storage has been a laggard. Until now.
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
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...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that All in Mobile, a mobile app development company from Poland, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. All In Mobile is a mobile app development company from Poland. Since 2014, they maintain passion for developing mobile applications for enterprises and startups worldwide.
"Akvelon is a software development company and we also provide consultancy services to folks who are looking to scale or accelerate their engineering roadmaps," explained Jeremiah Mothersell, Marketing Manager at Akvelon, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that the upcoming DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO New York event will feature 10 companies from Poland to participate at the "Poland Digital Transformation Pavilion" on November 12-13, 2018.
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo 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 ...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd international CloudEXPO | first international DXWorldEXPO and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world.
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 smart...
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICC-USA, a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. ICC is a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances to meet a wide range of ...
Michael Maximilien, better known as max or Dr. Max, is a computer scientist with IBM. At IBM Research Triangle Park, he was a principal engineer for the worldwide industry point-of-sale standard: JavaPOS. At IBM Research, some highlights include pioneering research on semantic Web services, mashups, and cloud computing, and platform-as-a-service. He joined the IBM Cloud Labs in 2014 and works closely with Pivotal Inc., to help make the Cloud Found the best PaaS.