July 20th, 2012

Returning from #CIS2012

Francois Lascelles at Cloud Identity SummitCloud Identity Summit was definitely worth the trip. The talks were great, the audience was great and the venue was outstanding. Sign me up for next year in Napa!

It’s beautiful and quiet at Vail Cascade this morning. As I stepped outside, I’m pretty sure I saw SAML scurrying away into the trees. This is weird given this week’s proclamations that SAML was dead. Although we won’t be rid of SAML anytime soon, I do look forward to enterprise adoption of the new kid on the block: OpenID Connect. Easier federation, OpenID Connect-style is already common for consumer identity providers; enterprise identity providers should take note and follow suit. As a vendor of API Management infrastructure, it’s up to us to enable the enterprise to better reach out to its target audience. I see support for OpenID Connect as a key component in achieving this today.

My favorite proclamation of the week goes to Patrick Harding who declared in his talk titled “The Platformication of the Enterprise is Upon us Again and They Forgot Security (Again)” that API tokens are going to be “the currency of the API economy”. The management of tokens and their lifecycle is indeed a crucial component of API Management. Consider the case of a mobile application consuming an enterprise API using an OAuth token. Such tokens are associated with the API provider, the user (subscriber), the mobile application and the mobile device. Each live token is potentially associated with multiple parties and one of the challenges of API token management is to enable control of the right tokens by the right parties.

January 15th, 2010

Cyber Attack on Google and Others

On Tuesday, Google reported in their official blog that in mid-December they detected a "highly sophisticated and targeted" attack on their corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. Additionally, Google stated in this blog that 20 other large companies were similarly targeted. Google went on to state that they have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. This incident, as well as the limitation on free speech imposed on Google by the Chinese government, is forcing Google to review the feasibility of their business operations in China.

In follow-up, a number of security firms who are supporting the investigation have concluded that the number of attacked companies is not 20 but between 30 and 34. Most of the attacked were large Fortune 500 companies. The attack code named "Aurora" by the attackers was made up of dozens of pieces of malware, and several levels of encryption to hide itself in the targeted company networks and to obscure activity.

The U.S. Government has been under this type of attack for many years. This is the first time that a highly organized and sophisticated attack was launched on private industry. Who knows what the impact of this will be on the global economy? The mind can only fathom what would happen if each of the companies attacked lost some intellectual property which resulted in them being "second to market" for a product that they have been planning for and building for months or even years.

What we know about Aurora

There is some debate currently on whether Aurora leveraged a vulnerability in Internet Explorer and Adobe's Reader and Acrobat applications or whether the attack only leveraged Internet Explorer. Either way, Aurora installation began on the targeted system by viewing a malicious website or potentially through opening a PDF document sent in an email but as I mentioned this has not been substantiated by Adobe. Once executed in the browser an encrypted shell script would run. The shell script downloaded the binary from an external machine which once executed would open a backdoor to the attackers Command and Control servers. These servers were purportedly running in hosted facilities in the US. This allowed the attacker some level of access into the users machine and the network to which the machine is connected.

Microsoft Versions Affected:

According to Microsoft, Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 on Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, and Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8 on supported editions of Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008 R2 are affected.

Let's review the time line of events in this event. The following dates/times were derived from various sources on the internet.

Mid-December - Google detects a "highly sophisticated and targeted" cyber attack

January 2nd - Adobe becomes aware of "sophisticated, and coordinated" cyber attack

January 4th - Attack seems to have stopped as Command & Control Servers are shut down

January 12th/3pm - Google announces the Cyber Attack via blog

January 12th/3:16pm - Adobe announces the Cyber Attack via blog

January 12th/Evening - U.S. Government asks China for an Explanation

January 14th - Microsoft issues a security advisory


When looking at the time line the scary thing is that the attack seems to have been commencing from mid-December (let's say the 15th). If Google detected it at its start, which may not be the case, and it was not shut down till January 4th, the attackers had 21 days of access. It's scary to think how much information could have been stolen and potentially how much damage the attackers could have done in 21 days should this have been their goal.

As stated in the U.S. Government Cyberspace policy review, information and communication networks are largely owned and operated by the private sector, both nationally and internationally. The report goes on to state that Cyber security requires a public-private partnership as well as international cooperation. Unfortunately, we are sorely lacking in the ability to ensure a coordinated response and recovery to a significant incident should one occur. This time line only proves this point. It appears as though private/public communication did not effectively start till January 12th, during this time companies were infiltrated, but yet may not have known. Even if Google had notified all the companies it derived were under attack from the information they had available, there is nothing to say that another attack was not going on simultaneously by the same attackers but disconnected from the one affiliated with Google.

With worldwide cyber attacks becoming more focused, we must accelerate our ability to deal with them more rapidly in a coordinated fashion. This particular instance seems to have been about stealing information, monetary gain, or political issues. We need to remember that it could just have easily been about disrupting critical national infrastructure for pursuit of national disorganization and loss of life.

January 5th, 2010

Identity and Access Management in Cloud Computing #1

The new United States Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) Vivek Kundra is serious about embracing cloud computing as a vehicle for rationalizing government IT assets, costs, and budgets. Aneesh Chopra, the Federal CTO follows suite, and has gone on the record to say that the federal government should be exploring greater use of cloud computing where appropriate. Cloud-based and Cloud application providing government storefronts like Apps.gov are being stood up in support of this goal. As stated by Vivek Kundra the major challenge they face in making cloud computing a reality is around Security and Privacy.

With this and an influx of government customers approaching Layer 7 for advice to deal with their cloud computing security and privacy challenges, I have been reading any cloud computing literature I can get my hands on. Although there is some good information coming out of the Cloud Security Alliance, NIST, and from industry sources, there is still a lack of sufficient detail on the topic of security and privacy to allow government customers to move forward smartly with cloud computing.

The fundamental shift from traditional IT to Cloud based IT is that enterprises are moving away from a model where they control all aspects of application delivery to a model where a large portion of the governance associated with the applications deployment and run-time characteristics of a service is controlled by the cloud provider. This is a significant move for the government which traditionally kept its IT close and its data even closer. One of the biggest questions is "How do I do Identity and Access Control and Management in the cloud" and that is a very good question.

There are a number of challenges associated with cloud computing and identity, access control and management, none of which have simple solutions. Challenges in provisioning identities for the cloud, storing identities so that the cloud has access, and enforcing fine-grained or even course grained access control in the cloud are all issues that have been resolved in the enterprise but require a new way of thinking in addressing them in cloud computing.

In the coming weeks, I will write a series of blog posts to flush out the concept of identity and access management in cloud computing, beginning next week with a description of cloud computing integration patterns.