Undercutting the IT/OT Collaboration Delusion

Lately, I have seen two common themes whenever IoT security is brought up; 1) complete acceptance that IoTs pose unique security challenges, and 2) how they have an IT/OT collaboration process to address them. Everybody knows what IT is, but as a reminder, OT, or operationalized technologies, are network/Internet-connected technologies whose primary function is not IT related. Think network connected HVAC units, vending machines, elevator control systems, and the like.

I recently attended a Smart Building conference, and one of the stalwart technology companies was making a big deal about the addition of their fourth intelligent building. One of their talking points was how much they have learned from their last three smart building operations. With lessons learned, they continued, this fourth building incorporates an IT and OT collaboration process. This process is intended to ensure that their IoTs do not pose a risk to the organization.

Let’s get real. A people-driven process for cybersecurity has never, ever, ever worked– not even once. Perhaps a few got lucky, but last time I checked, luck is not a reliable component of security.

People-driven processes are what a lot of organizations fall back on when there are no meaningful legitimate security options and an issue is too center-stage to be brushed under the proverbial rug. People-driven processes work for business, not cybersecurity because an inevitable byproduct is exceptions. Managing exceptions in a business model is not only acceptable but a feature that can deliver good results. With cybersecurity, exceptions are a bug and can have a catastrophic impact. Why? Because exceptions add up quickly and require manual intervention. These exceptions can easily overwhelm teams and often wind up unaddressed.

IT/OT collaboration translated to practical terms means that OT needs to get approval from IT for whatever they need to purchase. This interaction results in one of three responses. “We can secure your IoTs right away!”, “We can secure your IoTs, but there’s a backlog and there will be some delay,” or “No, you can’t use this technology.”

Anything other than the first response will result in the user immediately focusing their attention on bypassing IT. So, the collaboration has now turned into a cat and mouse game where the user tries to circumvent IT, and IT tries to implement restrictive controls to prevent being bypassed.

Have we not learned our lesson from the use of Cloud and SaaS in business? The users beat IT and executive management so overwhelmingly that there was no option other than complete and utter surrender.

The learning lesson is, don’t turn your users against you because you will not win. Any delay in facilitating the requirements of OT will result in scorn from the user community. And to further exacerbate the issue, there are far more IoTs that tend to be unique.

So, what’s the answer? The right answer requires re-imagining how we secure. Our current model for security dates back to medieval times. How is the industry standard of securing networks any different than securing a castle with a moat and drawbridge? The right answer needs innovation — and not just innovative technology, but also a whole new innovative model for cybersecurity. This model must accomplish two major tasks:

The first major task is to Simplify Security:

Today’s security tools demand well over 90% of the security team’s attention. Simply put, eliminating security tools eliminates distractions. Buying and stringing together a bunch of different products to fulfill various security functions creates complexity and is overwhelming to any size organization. In fact, security tools should be so simple to use that even quasi-technology people could operate them with ease.

Moreover, what if you had one security across all those technology silos like offices, data centers, clouds, SaaS, mobile devices, and yes, even the IoTs. This single security non-tool will not be network sensitive. It should not matter which type of network technologies use. Eliminating complexity not only improves security but offers agility and cost savings.

Takeaway #1: Implement a common security platform that delivers uniform and consistent security across all technology silos in the form of a security utility.

The second major task is to achieve User Empowerment:

With security simplified, everyone is empowered to self-serve. This puts the power of security in the hands of users. Now users are contributing positively and in the best interest of the company rather than fighting to bypass the security edicts. User empowerment drives much more collaboration than the IT overlord model that has been dubbed “collaboration.”

Takeaway #2: Empower users to self-serve so they are aligned with the best interest of all rather than fighting IT in their own interest. 

Today, more so than innovative technologies, we need a sound, well-thought-out security model. After hundreds of years in practice, we need to retire the medieval model for cybersecurity– especially in areas that depend on people-driven processes. Aside from simply not working, people-driven cybersecurity actually increases workloads and has inherent gaps in the form of exceptions. How can this possibly contribute to better security? Ultimately, there are no well-known cybersecurity technologies or models that can claim to be simple or sustainable. Perhaps the cybersecurity industry just needs to dream bigger or stop playing it unreasonably safe — or both. I am announcing that Acreto is making a play for both simple and sustainable security that empowers people. The above rules are fundamental to the foundation of Acreto’s platform, which is intended to take on and overcome the challenges of generation IoT.

About Acreto:

Acreto is the first cloud-delivered, end-to-end connectivity and security platform that can connect and protect any technology, on any network, anywhere. Acreto SASE +Plus delivers Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) functionalities for access technologies such as devices, networks, IoT / OT and third-parties; while Acreto Secure Application and Data Interconnect (SADI) connects and protects application delivery infrastructure such as clouds, SaaS, data centers and co-locations. Acreto SASE +Plus is SASE plus SADI — one platform with one interface from one provider for all of your technologies around the world. Learn more at https://acreto.io or @acretoio.

IT vs. OT – The Cybersecurity Supernova

The universally accepted rule is that the Information Technology (IT) team has the final say on all things technology — right? Not so fast! Every day new technologies are introduced and connected to organizational networks without the permission, or even notification, of the IT team. These same electronic components surround us all, yet they remain hidden in plain sight.

So, what exactly are these miraculously hidden technologies that bypass the IT organization? They are called Internet-of-Things or simply IoT. These IoT devices fall into the Operationalized Technologies (OT) category. They are “tag-along” technologies embedded into tools that aren’t typically selected by, or even involve, the IT team.

One of the many reasons that IoTs are invisible in plain sight is due to the sheer number and broad spectrum of assets that they’re embedded in. Many people do not see IoTs; they see a smart TV, surveillance camera, key card access sensor, vending machine, or HVAC system. However, all of these, and more, are IoT devices. And chances are someone other than the IT team made the decision to connect said device to the organization’s network.

Perhaps the facilities team ordered a new HVAC system, which they may or may not know is Internet-Connected. There could also be an office manager who ordered brand new desks with embedded IoTs, or even the cafeteria manager who selected food and drink vending machines.

Picture this real-life scenario: a financial organization is moving into a new office location. Among the many responsibilities that fall on the office manager, one task happens to be evaluating and selecting the office furniture. After assessing all requirements, the manager evaluates several different desks and finally picks one that’s able to convert from a sitting desk to a standing desk with the push of a button. Six hundred desks are then ordered and delivered on-site.

Some seven months later, the IT team finds out, by chance, that these desks are connected to a remote application and have been delivering ongoing “productivity” data on each user. Apparently, it turns out that the furniture people had asked someone for the WiFi password and connected to the network. The rest is history.

Also, there is the now infamous case where a casino got compromised through a water heater in a fish tank. You see, IoTs have introduced a completely new compute model called “Dependency Compute”. With this model, IoT devices share a common network, but each IoT is connected to a different remote application, and more often than not these applications are owned and controlled by a third-party.

What does this mean exactly?

It means that a third-party now has privileged access to a device on your “protected” network, but that’s not even the worst of it. Imagine all types of devices sharing a common network which offers privileged access to all types of remote applications that are controlled by a variety of third-parties.

This interconnected web creates a scenario that is untenable for security, meaning that the traditional “securing-the-network” model is short-lived. Just calculate the risk stats for a few hundred different IoT technologies that are each connected to a different remote application that you don’t control.

One comment I always hear is: “What’s the big deal – we can segment them!” Well, good luck with that. You’d typically get this response from someone without much practical experience, with a whole lot of wishful thinking, or with an overly simple network. Most organizations can barely keep track of what’s on their network, much less go through a process of adding hundreds of network segments, where each one requires VLANs, netblocks, routing, and ACLs.

It isn’t necessary to impose many complex tasks and processes which can make a whole security team rethink their life choices. A superior approach relies on an entirely new security model that takes “Dependency Compute” into consideration.

 

About Acreto:

Acreto is the first cloud-delivered, end-to-end connectivity and security platform that can connect and protect any technology, on any network, anywhere. Acreto SASE +Plus delivers Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) functionalities for access technologies such as devices, networks, IoT / OT and third-parties; while Acreto Secure Application and Data Interconnect (SADI) connects and protects application delivery infrastructure such as clouds, SaaS, data centers and co-locations. Acreto SASE +Plus is SASE plus SADI — one platform with one interface from one provider for all of your technologies around the world. Learn more at https://acreto.io or @acretoio.

Hacking A $Trillion Fund – Why HTTPS is Not Secure

Some years back, a trillion dollar financial fund hired me as an Ethical Hacker to test their security system. They had just spent millions with Cisco to implement a brand new security infrastructure. We started the project and within a day had compromised them 139 different ways. Of the 139 compromises, 138 of them were over HTTPS encrypted connections.

When we reported this to the client, they were miffed. Their director of security asked “How could that be? We just spent millions with Cisco. Their engineers approved the design!” And as soon as he got his bearings, he snapped, “You have to write in your report that there was no data exposed or accessed.”

“No data was taken because we chose not to take any data,” I replied.

Instead, we had successfully planted a flag on their systems. This is a practice used by white hat hackers of installing a file at some deep point on a compromised system to demonstrate privileged access. The ensuing three months involved a ton of back and forth in educating the customer on precisely why we were able to compromise them, and the wording of the final report. However, over that same time they had successfully managed to fix only one of the 139 vulnerabilities — the non-HTTPS exploit.

So, why were we able to compromise them, and how did HTTPS play into this?

Contrary to the implications in its name, Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) does not offer security. It is privacy. That means it purely serves to ensure that 1) the communications destined to the application server is validated against DNS, and 2) the communication is encrypted. Because this encryption was between the client and the server, their gateway security tools were bypassed. The only visibility and enforcement their tools could provide was access control allowing network protocol TCP using network port 443 to communicate to the appropriate server. Because of the encryption, their intrusion detection system (IPS) could not look inside the payload to identify the content’s intention — well or mal intended.

We found multiple systems on their network that were accessible externally via HTTPS and then, we had at them. One advantage for the hacker / disadvantage for the company is that HTTPS-based attacks do not need to be tempered. We could be as aggressive as we wanted to be because their security tools had no sense that any of the communications were malicious. Once we identified vulnerabilities, we exploited them and compromised the first system.

Another limitation in their security was that it was a thin hard shell on the outside with a soft gooey mess inside. Because they used gateway security, once we were in, we had access to cross-contaminate everything. And that is precisely what we did, until we gained access to some pretty critical systems.

So, what did the customer learn from this experience?

Well, he was successful in lawyering the report to not look bad, yet not lie. But what you should learn from their experience is that when HTTPS makes a connection private, it makes it private to everyone — including you and your security tools. This applies to communications you originate and communications destined to you.

Today, every SaaS company is in a mad dash to roll out HTTPS. The term they keep using is that it’s “for your security!” And I get pissed off every time I hear this. It is not for your security, it is to ensure that your communication to their systems remains private.  They continue to tout this even though many of these same SaaS companies have learned from the experience to decrypt before a communication hits their threat management tools. This protects them – but not their users.

For the user of these applications, the HTTPS communications initiated outbound to third-party sites are significantly harder to protect. The result is that any site that uses HTTPS can behave maliciously toward the user, and it is very difficult for the user to identify and mitigate the attack. Yes, perhaps we could learn to trust some companies, but would you trust Google, or worst yet, Facebook? Would you trust some small unknown arbitrary site you may find yourself on?

A monster security hole.

Considering that over 60% of all Internet communications are encrypted, an investment in robust security tools without an effective means of decrypting all the HTTPS connections in and out of your network leaves a monster security hole.

The tunnel-visioned focus on preventing man-in-the-middle attacks has created a much greater security challenge for many organizations.

In another instance, at an IoT event, I asked the CTO of a IoT system integrator who builds large-scale “smart city” platforms, how he secures his technologies. His response: “We use HTTPS.” I waited for the rest, but it never came. This issue is not clearly understood even by technology, even some security, professionals.

As an industry we have done a piss-poor job of building clear and concise awareness that security is not any one of six things, but a harmonious combination of control, threat management, identity and yes, privacy. So the next time someone tells you they use HTTPS for security, nudge them to this article before they commit security suicide.

 

About Acreto:

Acreto is the first cloud-delivered, end-to-end connectivity and security platform that can connect and protect any technology, on any network, anywhere. Acreto SASE +Plus delivers Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) functionalities for access technologies such as devices, networks, IoT / OT and third-parties; while Acreto Secure Application and Data Interconnect (SADI) connects and protects application delivery infrastructure such as clouds, SaaS, data centers and co-locations. Acreto SASE +Plus is SASE plus SADI — one platform with one interface from one provider for all of your technologies around the world. Learn more at https://acreto.io or @acretoio.

Interested in seeing Acreto SASE+Plus in action? Let’s start with some basic information.




    Interested in seeing Acreto SASE+Plus in action? Let’s start with some basic information.




      Interested in seeing Acreto SASE+Plus in action? Let’s start with some basic information.




        Interested in seeing Acreto SASE+Plus in action? Let’s start with some basic information.