Ramblings of a Unix Geek

I've been doing this for a long time... I ramble!

Bottlenecks and SPOFs

If you’ve ever built any enterprise level system you’ll be aware of the needs of performance and resiliency. You may do performance testing on your application; you may have a backup server in a second data center; you may even do regular “Disaster Recovery tests”. And yet, despite all these efforts, your application fails in unexpected ways or isn’t as resilient as you planned. Your primary server dies, the DR server doesn’t work properly.

Building a home router

WARNING: technical content ahead! There’s also a tonne of config files, which make this page look longer than it really is, but hopefully they’ll help other people who want to do similar work. For many years I’ve been using variations of the Linksys WRT54G. I first switched to this router when freeware ROMs became available; I’ve used DD-WRT, Tomato, OpenWRT and others. I love the flexibility it gives me. My current router is a TP-Link TL1043ND with OpenWRT.

Cloud Inventory

One of the golden rules of IT security is that you need to maintain an accurate inventory of your assets. After all, if you don’t know what you have then how you can secure it? This may cover a list of physical devices (servers, routers, firewalls), virtual machines, software… An “asset” is an extremely flexible term and you need to look at it from various viewpoints to ensure you have good knowledge of your environment.

Persistent Applications

A while ago I wrote about some of the technology basics that can be used for data persistency. Apparently this is becoming a big issue, so I’m revisiting this from another direction. Why does this matter? In essence, an application is a method of changing data from one state to another; “I charge $100 to my credit card” fires off a number of a number of applications that result in my account being debited, and the merchant being credited.

Multifactor Authentication

We’re all used to using passwords as an authenticator. However, passwords have a number of problems. In particular people tend to re-use them on other sites (so if one website was broken into the password used there may also work on another site). Also passwords are susceptible to replay attacks (even if you force a password change every 90 days, there’s still a large window of time where a stolen password can be used).

Encryption vs Hashing

Let’s say you run an ecommerce web site. As part of this people create accounts. Naturally those accounts have passwords. Do you encrypt those passwords before storing them in the database? All you people who put your hands up and answered yes… put them down; you’re wrong. You should hash the data instead. This may sound like a “tomato/tomato” thing, but it’s not. Encryption and hashing may both be cryptographic in nature, but there’s a subtle difference between them.

Role Based Access Control

Identity and Access Management (IAM) historically consists of the three A’s Authentication What acccount is being accessed? Authorization Is this account allowed access to this machine? Access Control What resources are you allowed to use? Companies spend a lot of time and effort on the Authentication side of the problem. Single signon solutions for web apps, Active Directory for servers (even Unix machines), OAuth for federated access to external resources, 2 Factor for privileged access… there’s a lot of solutions around and many companies know what they should be doing, here.

Lessons from a pentest run

Over on Twitter, @TinkerSec live tweeted a pentest and created a moment thread of it. It’s fascinating reading, and well worth reading. Even non-technical people should be able to get something out of this. I like that it’s a form of insider attack (industrial espionage by a newly hired employee? disgruntled employee? vendor allowed unaccompanied access?) rather than an external attack. One of the things that typically comes out of an event like this is a series of action items.

Phishing and Certificate Transparency

Many people are at a large risk of a phishing attack. In this scenario the person may receive an email that looks like it came from a legitimate source (e.g. their bank) and encourages them to click a link that presents them with their bank login page. The user then attempts to login… Except that site isn’t their banking site. It’s a mockup that looks like the real one. And they’ve now told their banking password to the attacker.

Offsite Backups in the cloud

Part of any good backup strategy is to ensure a copy of your backup is stored in a secondary location, so that if there is a major outage (datacenter failure, office burns down, whatever) there is a copy of your data stored elsewhere. After all, what use is a backup if it gets destroyed at the same time as the original? A large enterprise may do cross-datacenter backups, or stream them to a “bunker”; smaller business may physically transfer media to a storage location (in my first job mumble years ago, the finance director would take the weekly full-backup tapes to her house so we had at most 1 week of data loss).