Understanding security controls

Written on 23 September 2018, 03:39pm

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How can you better understand the types of security controls than putting them into an example? Home security in this case.

Deterrent controls: a sticker on the front window saying that the house is linked to a security center.  Or a dog house. 

Preventive controls: locks on the access doors and windows. And a big dog. PS: defense in depth is critical.

Detective controls: security cameras calling up the monitoring center and/or the owner smartphone. Or a dog who never sleeps and who barks really loud. PS: detective controls imply that an attack has begun.

Corrective controls: a loud, indoor siren and a system that blinks the house lights when an intrusion is detected. Or a dog that can bring more bad dogs to save the day. PS: corrective controls react to an attack

Compensating controls: motion sensors on the outside of the building and on all the floors, on top of the ones installed on the ground floor. Or a second dog. PS: compensating controls are added after identifying deficiencies in existing controls

Image: https://www.tomalsojerry.com/tom-jerry-solid-serenade/

A few thoughts on entrepreneurship

Written on 23 September 2018, 02:55pm

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Some thoughts about succeeding with your start-up:

  • It’s the idea that matters, not the money. Money is relatively easy to get, what’s more difficult to have is a brilliant idea for your startup. 
  • But to get money you need a business case. This forces you to analyse and validate your idea. Of course, more than 99% of the ideas will be either not feasible or simply rubbish. Nobody will give you money for free, and going through the analysis required by a business case increases the chances that the money are well spent. 
  • Risk management is essential. After your idea takes contour and you have the necessary funding, it’s all about managing the risks. Start with identifying your assets, look at their vulnerabilities and the possible threats. Then perform a proper risk assessment (likelihood and impact) and manage the risks (mitigate, transfer, avoid, accept). Keep looking at the risks and the implemented controls periodically; it’s likely that you will play in an always evolving environment where the risk landscape always changes.
  • Always be better. Just because you have something out there (a product or a service) doesn’t mean that it will necessarily bring profit. Keep asking yourself what needs does it fill, and how these needs will evolve. Keep asking yourself if your product or service still brings value. You need to adapt to survive.  

A discussion from my first year of university (2000) stuck with me until now. I was chatting to one of the older students who was already leading his own business and was doing the university more out of curiosity. I understood the value of an idea when he told me that he is ready to go with me to the bank and get money, as long as I am coming up with a business idea that can be implemented. Needless to say, after a few tries we both concluded that there’s no need to bother the bank, and for the following years I kept thinking about good business ideas that never came.

Fast forward to 2012, and I was involved with a couple of friends into my first and only startup so far. We had an idea and we had the energy to build it ourselves. And we did it, and then we launched it. And boy, it was working! But soon, everything fell apart. As soon as the software product was built, we needed sales people to move things forward. We were engineers trying to solve a sales problem and not realizing that all we needed was to go to the bank and ask for money.

So in the end, doing the 4 things above offers no guarantee that you will succeed. Doing the right things at the right time takes practice. And that only comes after repeated failures. 

TLS Training London – day 2

Written on 8 September 2018, 02:07pm

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Again, some notes about the second day of the excellent TLS Training delivered by Scott Helme. 

  • symmetric encryption is fast. AES is fast enough for transferring large amounts of encrypted data (ex. streaming)
  • asymmetric encryption is slow, therefore it’s only used for the authentication, in the beginning of the secured session 
  •  RSA algorithm was actually invented 4 years before: The acronym RSA is made of the initial letters of the surnames of Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, who first publicly described the algorithm in 1978. Clifford Cocks, an English mathematician working for the British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), had developed an equivalent system in 1973, but this was not declassified until 1997.
  • Hashing: SHA256 (a subset of the SHA-2 family) is considered strong enough. Alternatives for the future are SHA384 and SHA512 (longer digests), but if the SHA-2 is fundamentally broken, then the SHA-3 family (Keccak) comes to the rescue. It’s like a never-ending cat vs mouse game between cryptographers and cryptanalysts. 
  • The CAs store their private keys in HSMs and rarely rotate them (a lifetime of a few decades is not uncommon)
  • There is a good analogy between digital certificates and passports
  • X509 is the standard describing the structure of the digital certificates. Currently at version 3, it introduced extensions (arbitrary metadata of key + values pairs). Example of an extension: the SAN (Subject Alternative Names) – where a number of domains can be given on top of the common name (CN). In fact, Google Chrome only looks at the SAN when parsing a certificate.
  • The certificate chain is typically composed of the Root CA certificate, then the Intermediate CA certificate(s) and finally, the end-entity certificate (the leaf). The last intermediate certificate has the ‘path length’ parameter set to 0 (it’s children can only be leaves).
  • The Root CA certificates are provided by the client (stored in the browser or OS), while the intermediate CA and end-entity certificates are provided by the server(the intermediate CA cert – for performance reasons)
  • It takes on average 5-6 years to become a Root CA. And if you want this, you must work with the following 5 relying parties carrying a set of root keys in their trust store: Apple, Google, Java, Mozilla, Microsoft. Let’s Encrypt started in 2016 and it’s not yet a Root CA; they are currently using another root CA to cross-sign their certificates (IdenTrust). 
  • The Web PKI is governed by the CAB Forum – an entity where the  Certificate Authorities and the major browsers are represented.

To be continued…