Archive for April, 2013

Here’s an article from the Greater Wilmington Business Journal covering the keynote I gave on social media threats yesterday at the Wilmington IT eXchange.

Thanks to the 130 or so people that came out and packed the house and a special thanks to Dr. Tom Janicki and Dr. Bryan Reinicke, for the invitation to speak and hospitality while I was there.

The sandbox is leaking …

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Sandboxing is a great security technique. In theory it isolates programs running in it from the rest of the system it is running on, therefore, preventing the spread of malware, escalation of privileges, data compromise and all sorts of other problematic interference. In the browser context, a Java applet is intended to be downloaded automatically when a user visits the server it is stored on and run inside the protected walls of a secure sandbox. It’s a good model… when it works.

Sometimes it doesn’t, as demonstrated in the latest in a growing line of Java exploits as described in an article by the Institution of Engineering and Technology where theory and practice fail to converge:

By using a vulnerability in a Java reflection API, which has been the target of recent attacks, Forshaw was able to disable the Java sandbox and perform actions under the privileges of the logged in user, including reading and writing files and executing new programs.

In general, Java’s security model is much more robust than some of its alternatives but it never hurts to remind ourselves that it isn’t perfect. No software of any real complexity is. This is why you have assume that any security defense can and will be breached and architect a solution that is resilient in the face of such a failure.

Another aspect of Java that is working against the good guys stems from one of its greatest strengths, and that is that it is cross-platform in nature. In other words, a developer can write it once and have it run on Windows, Linux, Mac OS and so on. Generally speaking, that’s a good thing. However, it also means that bad guys can write exploits that are able to cut across a wide range of platforms as well. Previously, such a feat would have been far more difficult due to the uniqueness of each OS.

Yet another area of concern is that while we continue to learn of more and more vulnerabilities in Java, we are also becoming keenly (and painfully) aware of just how many people are running old versions of it on their systems, leaving them open to an increasing number of threats.

A recent report from Websense asserts that only 1 out of 20 systems is running the latest version of Java and that 94% of systems were vulnerable to a recently discovered flaw. 

Ouch! And in this case, the sandbox is leaking a lot more than just sand …

The bi-annual IBM X-Force Trend and Risk Report was recently released and, as always, there are some interesting insights …

First of all, in case you aren’t familiar, the IBM X-Force team is a group of security researchers who “study and monitor the latest threat trends including vulnerabilities, exploits and active attacks, viruses and other malware, spam, phishing, and malicious web content.”

They have at their disposal an enormous base of empirical data based upon the information gleaned from the more than 3,700 client networks managed  which generate roughly 13 billion (with a “b”) events per day across 133 countries. In addition, this group also maintains a data base of 17 billion web pages and images, 40 million spam and phishing attacks and 80 thousand documented vulnerabilities. In other words, way more than enough data to identify meaningful trends which can be generalized to apply across industries and international borders.

So, what did they find? Lots of things, of course, but some that I found interesting were:

  • Publicly disclosed vulnerabilities increased by 14% over to 8,168 over the previous year
  • Cross-site scripting accounted for over half of the total web app vulnerabilities disclosed in 2012 — the highest rate seen in X-Force’s history
  • Java has become a favorite hacker target in part due to its cross-platform nature, which means that a single exploit can be developed that would compromise Windows (all versions), Mac OS and Linux, for instance, essentially leveling the playing field for the bad guys and removing the (false) sense of security that some have enjoyed due to their choice of operating system
  • Botnet command and control server users have become more resilient over the past several years as the impact of taking down these infrastructures has had progressively less and less effect going forward

Then there’s this provocative prediction that mobile computing will actually become increasingly more secure eventually surpassing that of traditional desktop/laptop devices. That’s a statement you may want to noodle on a bit to see whether you agree or disagree but before you decide either way, take a look at the report to see the rationale behind this unconventional assertion.

The report is available at or In addition, you might want to listen in on a podcast hosted by IBM’s Caleb Barlow discussing some of the findings, which can be found at his blog at