Re-Imagining Cyber Security

Tag: intrusion detection

Security Must Not Forget the User

Hotel Internet Network Intrusion Detection System at Work

I received this message from my hotel Internet provider which took action to limit my access for 10 minutes to 56Kbs due to some unknown intrusion detection signature/heuristic.

I was both impressed that a hotel would have such a device in-line to protect the general Internet from aggressive and potentially damaging users and angered by the punitive action taken against my innocuous activity.

Like a well-trained security professional, I immediately took action to mitigate any damage to my system from unwanted malware.   I ran my security tools (anti-virus, software updates,  spyware/adware removal, etc.).  After those did not find anything I assumed a false positive, sucked up the slow Internet, went and read a book, and then returned to my ‘blazing fast’ 2Mbs Internet access.

It was not an hour later that I again received the message and punitive action.  This time I ran Wireshark and sniffed all the traffic to/from my laptop for the next hour and analyzed the output.  I found nothing of interest.  I was now convinced this was a false positive after using my years of security knowledge and forensic ability and finding nothing suspicious on my laptop.  (I am not going to assume there was nothing, but I can only go as far as I can).

Now I was just upset.  We in security like to think of ourselves as more knowledgeable than the average user about threats and mitigations.  We can find threats they cannot and we can furthermore mitigate those threats for them without their knowledge protecting them on the front-lines (e.g. Gateway, ISP, etc.).

However, we must also remember that computing systems are here for users – that is their entire purpose, to ultimately provide a benefit to human users.  Therefore, security must always take the user into account and include them whenever possible.

Security must begin and end with the user.  This means that when security is first envisioned it must understand the purpose of the system and the needs of a user.  If security were to make a system unusable, then there is no purpose in the system even existing and hence our existence as security professionals is questioned.  Second, this means that users must be included when possible in the security cycle.

We must help users help themselves!  Messages such as the one above (e.g. “There is a problem with your system”) do no good.  It does not help solve any problem.  It actually makes the problem worse because now the user must spend time trying to fix a problem that may or may not exist.

Second, it does not inform, increase the knowledge of, or educate the user in any way.  This message did not inform the specific detection (e.g. signature/heuristic), suggest effective mitigation, nor provide a suggested severity of the threat.

[important]We in the security community need to better incorporate human factors/user interface knowledge into security and integrate the user from the beginning to the end of our security engineering.[/important]


20 Questions for an Intrusion Analyst

There are many approaches to finding the right people with the right talent to solve problems.  Intrusion analysis and incident response is no different.

I recently saw a great recruiting quiz to test potential employees in various knowledge areas which included programming, packet analysis, protocol analysis, snort rule writing, reverse engineering, data encoding, advanced mathematics, and other topics.  The test was designed so that it crossed so many topics one person would likely not successfully complete it.  However, it would highlight a person’s strengths and interests to give the assessor a more complete picture of the applicant.

This made me think, what topics and questions would I use to achieve the same effect?   After some deliberation, I have developed my own “20 Questions for an Intrusion Analyst” recruitment quiz (below) to highlight areas I think are important about a potential analyst joining a team.

As you may notice, I have covered several areas with these questions: analytic reasoning, creativity, adversary operations, packet analysis, intrusion detection, programming, reverse engineering, vulnerability analysis, exploit writing, and teaming.

I am purposefully not providing the answers 🙂

20 Questions for an Intrusion Analyst

  1. Describe you first experience with a computer or network threat
  2. You are given 500 pieces of straw and told that one piece is a needle which looks like straw.  How would you find the needle?  What other pieces of information would you like to have?
  3. Explain the difference between intrusion and extrusion detection
  4. Describe an adversary pivot, give an example, and explain its importance to intrusion analysis.
  5. Describe your analytic biases.
  6. Use the bit string 1101 to answer the following questions:
    1. The bit string when XORed with 0
    2. The decimal value of the string
    3. The string represented in hexadecimal
    4. Does this represent a printable ASCII character?  If so, which character?
  1. What is your favorite intrusion detection system?  What are its biases and limitations?
  2. Circle any of the following films you have seen: Hackers, War Games, Sneakers, Tron
  3. Describe a method to find an intruder using only network flow data (no content).
  4. Explain insertion and evasion of intrusion detection systems.  Give an example.
  5. Describe the activity detected by the following Snort rule.  What could be done to make the rule more effective?   alert icmp $EXTERNAL_NET any <> $HOME_NET any (msg: “activity alert!”; sid:10000011; content:”MZ”;)
  6. Write a code snippet to sort the following data by the first column
  1. How much time/week do you spend on your own researching computer security/threat topics?  What sources do you use to maintain situational awareness on threats in the wild?
  2. What will the following code print out?  Is there a vulnerability in the code?  If so, describe the vulnerability and a potential method of exploitation.
int main(int argc, char *argv[])
   char string[40];
   strcpy(string, argv[1]);
   printf("The message was: %s\n", string);
   printf("Program completed normally!\n\n");
   return 0;
  1. Describe and explain any “interesting” entries in the netstat log:
Proto Local Address     Foreign Address    State
  1. A host sends out an ICMP ECHO REPLY packet.  List all of your hypotheses to explain this activity.
  2. Describe the protocol stack of the following packet and the payload. Is the packet legitimate? Why or why not?
0000  00 00 c0 9f a0 97 00 a0 cc 3b bf fa 08 00 45 10   .........;....E.
0010  00 89 46 44 40 00 40 06 72 c7 c0 a8 00 02 c0 a8   ..FD@.@.r.......
0020  00 01 06 0e 00 17 99 c5 a1 54 17 f1 63 84 80 18   .........T..c...
0030  7d 78 cc 93 00 00 01 01 08 0a 00 9c 27 34 00 25   }x..........'4.%
0040  a6 2c ff fa 20 00 39 36 30 30 2c 39 36 30 30 ff   .,.. .9600,9600.
0050  f0 ff fa 23 00 62 61 6d 2e 7a 69 6e 67 2e 6f 72   ...#.bam.zing.or
0060  67 3a 30 2e 30 ff f0 ff fa 27 00 00 44 49 53 50   g:0.0....'..DISP
0070  4c 41 59 01 62 61 6d 2e 7a 69 6e 67 2e 6f 72 67
0080  3a 30 2e 30 ff f0 ff fa 18 00 78 74 65 72 6d 2d   :0.0......xterm-
0090  63 6f 6c 6f 72 ff f0                              color..
  1. What type of encoding is used in this example: aGVsbG8gd29ybGQNCg==
  2. Who do you turn to most on technical questions?

You didn’t expect the 20th question to be here did you?  You should expect the unexpected by now.

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