Perpetual learning is paramount for folks in any profession, but I’ve found that for individuals who work in cyber security it is absolutely critical. A significant part of the work I do involves knowing what risks lurk both in the wild (and internally) that can stand in the way of an organization’s future success. Staying up with these risks, mitigation techniques, and controls is vital.
There are all types of learning that help new concepts find a home in my brain. One comprehensive learning experience that I recommend for anyone in cyber security is an event put out each year by SANS, which is an organization that trains cyber security professionals. The event is called the SANS Holiday Hack Challenge.
This year 9-year-old son helped me in ways that blew my mind. His little mind went after small details that I thought were insignificant that turned out to be a pretty big deal. He was very excited by what he was able to uncover…and so was I.
The SANS Holiday Hack challenge introduces cyber security professionals and pen-testers to new technologies and opens their minds to risks and mitigation techniques that they had not previously considered. I greatly enjoy their ‘terminal challenges’ which provide hints toward solving objectives. Never before had I decrypted http2 traffic using Wireshark and SSL keys. So awesome! Here’s the link for this years’ challenge which has been a wild ride for me, to say the least: https://www.holidayhackchallenge.com/2018/.
Stop in and poke around. Solve a terminal challenge or two then put it on your holiday to-do list for next year. You won’t regret it!
How much of the world’s IT infrastructure is in the cloud now and much of it will be in the cloud in five years? I’m sure there is nearly solid data somewhere to answer those questions. Regardless, it is happening and it won’t be long until most IT infrastructure is in the cloud.
Oddly, though, in my conversations with other IT professionals, it seems like we’re finding we’ve arrived late to the party. With the advent of “the cloud” organizations are finding that there are all sorts of solutions out there that don’t necessarily need the involvement of traditional IT. In much of the IT world, our perception is that this process is more gradual when in fact it is accelerating.
So the real question is not whether “the cloud” is coming, but whether we see it coming. If we want to make sure cloud implementation is done properly and doesn’t completely hose our respective organizations, we must learn as much as we can in a very short period of time.
Nearly every day I find myself reading about cloud security risks right along side incredible cloud solutions for problems that would normally be much harder to solve. At the same time, many cloud solutions create problems that we’ve never seen before. With the flip of a switch something private can become public: see S3 buckets. And it isn’t so much that the cloud is insecure, but how we connect to the cloud, whether this is through our API infrastructure or open ports that maybe shouldn’t be…open. The only answer I have for all of this is that we need to learn, learn, learn, learn…and fast.
So, generally, the easiest way for hackers to get into an organization is by convincing users do to something: click on an email attachment or a link, make a phone call, share information, etc. For all the technological advances that have sprung forth in the past decade, this is still among greatest challenges faced by security professionals: figuring out how to keep people from following hackers’ instructions.
Our biggest vulnerability is also our greatest asset. We can make thoughtful decisions quickly. And sometimes our decisions aren’t so thoughtful because we’re in the midst of doing other things, or generally too distracted to slow down and think through what is being asked of us. This little glitch in our code is all an attacker needs.
Exploiting this human vulnerability is all an attacker needs to get us to act in a way that is not in our best interest. This is the nature of a hacker-victim relationship. But are there other ways that people are getting hacked that maybe aren’t as overt as this? Think of the decisions we make daily. How many of them are in our best interest or the best interest of our friends and family.
We make snap decisions all the time that aren’t really based on sound logic. I bet any one of us can look back over the course of the case and think about an action we took that wasn’t ideal. It’s a given. If we didn’t make decisions relatively quickly, our brains would grind to a halt and we’d become mostly ineffective at making our way through this world. But as technology gets better and better at humans hacking other humans (think targeted advertising through machine learning algorithms), we should pause to ask ourselves whether we’re on the right track. Will this lead us to a better humanity? Just throwing that question out there. It can go a myriad of different ways. Thanks for reading.
I’m one of the last remaining people in this world who don’t have a smart phone. I’ll often be in a group if fellow IT professionals and pull out my flip phone to check the time. “Is that a flip phone?” someone will ask as they lean forward in their chair and peer down at my hands, attempting to figure out what would cause someone who is steeped in technology every day to carry this sort of relic. As I lift it up, all heads turn my way, mouths open and nostalgic signs fill the air. Onlookers talk of a simpler time when we were free from 24/7 social media and and subservient to on-the-fly navigation from real maps and sheets of MapQuest printed haphazardly on white glossy paper, barely legible.
Because I don’t have a smart phone, I’m often looking for alternative ways of doing things that people normally do with smart phones. One of these things is MFA or multi-factor authentication. If you use AWS, it is generally a good idea to have MFA for your root account. They don’t allow SMS for their second factor any more, so I spent a few hours looking around for an option. I did look at some hardware keys like the Yubikey, which I may check out eventually, but I needed something cheap and now. Enter the “Authenticator Extension” (https://github.com/Authenticator-Extension), which you can get through your Chrome browser extensions.
It is TOTP compatible, which covers quite a few sites. I can use it for AWS, Facebook, etc. I probably won’t use it for LastPass because I’d like to have a paper backup of such a critical second factor. The “Authenticator Extension”, as it is so generically called, works great for me using my Chromebook, which often acts as more cumbersome, less convenient, and less connected Smart Phone for me. I recommend it.
I’ve been a Linux user at home for quite some time. We were a Windows family very early on but ran into issues with viruses. I resurrected a super old laptop and put Lubuntu on it and gave it to my wife. It worked well for years. After a while, one thing or another wouldn’t work, so on a whim I got her a Chromebook. Nearly everything she does is online, and she’d already started using Google docs when on the Lubuntu PC. As a result, the transition was peachy! After watching her tote that thing around the house for a year or so, and noticing how carelessly she worried about charging the battery or booting it up, I decided I needed one too!
It’s done quite well for me. Occasionally, I have to jump over to my Ubuntu desktop for more high-powered activity, but 80% of my computing at home is on the Chromebook. This experience and the evolution of computing as it moves into the cloud is leading me to believe that the days of everyone running around with what is essentially their own personal server, are numbered. I’m guessing in about five to eight years, computing will be cloud focused even more than it is now and people won’t really own traditional laptops any more.
I’ve got just about everything marked off my list on the AWS learning front for the weekend. This domain is now transferred over from my old host: jeshuaerickson.com. I started up a WordPress instance using AWS Lightsail. Then I assigned a static IP to that instance. I also got my DNS zone set up. Finally, I got my SSL cert completed and integrated with Apache. (There are pretty straightforward Bitnami guides for this. It’s not done through the regular “Services” interface. Just remember when you’re in Lightsail, you’re in the Bitnami world now!)
The other piece that I worked out was taking a snapshot and doing a restore, which is basically getting rid of the old instance and assigning the new instance to the static IP I created. I was expecting to see a “restore” button in Lightsail, but that’s not how it works. Makes sense now that I’ve gone through the process once. (I had to do this because I hosted the SSL cert integration the first time around.)
Throughout all of this I am attempting to keep track of AWS billing. I had some Directory Service charge pop up and didn’t find it until I started poking around in another region. I did some quick back and forth with AWS and got a credit for those charges. Ultimately, I was very happy with how responsive they were. The variety of services that they offer inside AWS is INSANE and billing can get a little tricky to navigate if you’re not familiar with the AWS administrative console.