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Using War Games To Make Organizations More Secure 49

wiredmikey writes "Along with budget constraints and disconnect between IT and executive management surrounding information security, results of a recent survey show that a major problem is outright lack of understanding of threats. We all know the best way to get that budget increased, is to get hacked. Unfortunately, that could also result in you losing your job. Some companies, however, are taking creative approaches to both raise awareness and identify potential vulnerabilities. A manager with a large financial services group, for example, says that his company addresses security vulnerabilities by staging a series of what it calls 'war games,' in which a user or group of users is tasked with trying to compromise a system, while another user or group of users is tasked with preventing the break-in. Management needs to understand the security threat and its impact to business, and these 'war games' are an innovative and creative way for IT departments to convince executive management on security needs."
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Using War Games To Make Organizations More Secure

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  • Lets play Global Thermonuclear War
    • Re:Err (Score:4, Informative)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:18AM (#35161122) Homepage
      In case no one gets it, this post as well as the "The only winning move is not to play" quotation comes from the old Matthew Broderick film War Games [amazon.com] . I'm going to the trouble of explaining that because I've been around on Slashdot for almost a decade, but I still think War Games is before my time, so I can't imagine what the youngsters make of these posts.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I like to think War Games is somewhat of a right of passage for geeks. There's a lot of subtle references that approach things like ethics and morality in that movie while still being interesting and funny on a technical level. Anyone that hasn't seen it and is reading this article needs to go watch it!

        • There's a lot of subtle references that approach things like ethics and morality in that movie [imdb.com] while still being interesting and funny on a technical level.

          Such as... acoustic *cough* couplers *cough* [wikipedia.org]?
          Though in stark contrast to any director (apparently all filming for a perceived tech-illiterate audience) at least ever since Colossus [imdb.com], no self-respecting sighted hacker would have needed, used or wanted a voice synthesizer.

          Rumour (that spelling for a reason you'll see) has it that Commodore's sales took a

    • Wouldn't this be more like Sneakers [imdb.com], admittedly not as geeky as War Games but certainly a better fit for whats being done.
  • The only winning move...is not to play.

  • by benbean ( 8595 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:12AM (#35161074)

    longint WarGamesMovieReferenceCount;

  • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:14AM (#35161098)

    It's the old "with physical access" argument.. except scaled up. Someone within an organization would I imagine have a pretty good chance of compromising the system. Not saying it's acceptable.. but I would guess a reality.

    It's the trade off thing. You need to give people access to stuff so they can do their job. The more locked down you make things, the slower they work. Slower work is more expensive.. etc.

    So it has to scale. Your new "everything is riding on this" designs... yeah.. spend a fortune protecting it. But can people afford to spend a fortune protecting everything (serious question).

    • Re:From inside? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @10:08AM (#35161488) Homepage

      Most corporations "security" is theater anyways. They hire a company to do cleaning, so you can get into the whole place by being on the cleaning crew. This has been known as a attack vector for decades, yet it's still not fixed because companies are more interested in giving the CEO a 90,000USD desk than paying for their own cleaning crew that have been vetted and cleared. Plus you have maintenance people that are not a part of the company coming in to every department because the corporation is too cheap to BUY their copiers and hire a tech. so they are all rented and a random guy comes in every week to work on them. IT's trivial to get into the company and leave behind a box on the network to crack it from the inside and send the payload out, install hardware keyloggers, etc....

      Until companies realize that cutting all the executives pay by 10% and increasing the IT staff's pay by 50% and using the left over from the 10% cut at the top to hire permanent cleaning crew and a single copier expert for in the building, their security will not increase. The CFO can live without buying another new Porsche this month.

    • Of course not. You don't spend a fortune protecting everything. You figure out what the various things that need protecting are worth, and then apply an appropriate amount of security to them.

      What many companies don't recognize, though, is that if you use this model, you cannot have all your data in a single, flat security zone. I could require one-time passwords to access the highly-critical development application, but if that server is in the same effective security zone as the general-purpose web server

  • After the lab shakedown, throw the unit into a real environment, and see if it breaks. Obviously security needs to be similarly tested, else you'll never know if it really works.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:18AM (#35161118) Journal
    What happened to the reliable old standbye of kidnapping an executive and/or their family and threatening to return one finger every hour until the organization starts taking security more seriously? We've gone soft, I tell ya...
    • Wasn't there a SEAL team that caused a scandal by actually breaking into some admiral's home and terrorizing his family, taking their exercise a little too far? I looked at the Wikipedia article for Richard Marcinko, who I thought was the mastermind, but there's no mention of such an incident.
      • If you think that more than 15% of the stuff in Marchinko's books is actually true, I've got a bridge to sell you ...

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      It won't work. Whern I worked for Boeing, they had so many vice presidents, they considered them to be expendable.

  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:27AM (#35161192) Homepage

    The main problem, as far as I can see, is that IT people are busy demanding users adopt procedures to deal with threats that don't exist, rather than threats that do exist. In all of the many scare-laden emails from our IT department, I don't believe that I have ever once seen one telling us don't use the same password on multiple systems, that's insecure. They do, however, rigorously enforce the fact that passwords must be changed every 60 days, and are specified to be complex enough that a brute-force attack will take 6E17 years, instead of the old insecure passwords that could be broken in a mere 3E9

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      once seen one telling us don't use the same password on multiple systems, that's insecure

      When that is enforced you get monitors covered in postit notes with the passwords to multiple systems and it's even more insecure :(
      It is of course insane that users tell me their internet banking passwords or even PIN numbers when I ask them to think of a new password to login - but a depressingly large number of new users do that despite never having met me before. To make things worse I'm actually talking about a si

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Only a fool enforces rapid password changes and complex passwords.

      require long pass phrases. if sally the intern uses "I like green puppies!" for her password, that is far more secure than "X652F@z" and will not be on a sticker under the keyboard for anyone to find.

      How about companies stop letting retards run the IT department? at Comcast we had a username requirement that created usernames like the following...
      BillZ8767 and SallyM3212 the last 4 digits were the last 4 of your SSN

      If you forgot your pass

      • by T_Tauri ( 883646 )

        Only a fool enforces rapid password changes and complex passwords.

        Or someone who has to follow rules like PCI DSS which requires you to change passwords at least every 90 days, be at least 7 char long, include numeric and alphabetic char, not be the same as any of the previous 4 passwords, auto lockout after 6 attempts for at least 30 minutes etc. Don't like that rule and the card companies don't want you handling card payments which makes business a bit hard.

        Personally I'd prefer the option of teaching people to use a decent password and not change/share it but we do

        • Feh. I work in federal contracting. Passwords must be 14 characters long, contain at least 2 *each* of uppercase letters, lower case letters, numerals, and specials, must be changed every 60 days, and cannot be repeated for 12 changes. My friken *life* is resetting people's password. It's completely ridiculous. Add to the complexity requirements the fact that most of these people have accounts at multiple sites, all of which use the same standard, and which rarely require changes at the same time... Y

      • I once dealt with an IT security expert/guru who was supposedly the best in town(Adelaide isn't a big place) and his password was 'aardvark'. Did I mention that this was the root password on every machine he had access to at multiple locations/companies. He is still working and still respected. I used to play CS as 'aardvarkHater' anyone remember me? I was badass
    • by bbasgen ( 165297 )
      Password strength is a reasonably important problem, and achieving a password anywhere near one that would take 3E9 years to break would be quite good. FWIW, you cannot apply straight math to the issue in the sense of 26^8, for example (e.g. 8 characters, lowers only). Shannon's work on entropy is a useful primer on the subject. The entropy of most human chosen passwords leads to the result that *even* mixed case, numeric and symbol passwords of only 8 characters in length are not particularly strong, becau
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:28AM (#35161202)
    Constructing war games is all very well, but they're limited to the imagination of a small group of wargame "designers" who set the parameters for the test. In reality, those are the weaknesses that have already been, or are easy to address. The ones that are the big problems tend to start with "How the hell did they do that?"

    One thing to be aware of with war games is a knowledge of what they are designed to achieve. Not all of them are there to spot weakenesses, a lot could be there merely to provide assurance or arse-covering. In those cases, "winning" by succeeding in breaking in could be the worst outcome - either personally for the winner, or the people who were supposed to stop them. Often blame and punishment is a much cheaper solution than a fix.

  • What usually happens (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @09:32AM (#35161212)
    The guy that said "you developers had better take things seriously or we'll get hacked" is the one that ends up taking the blame when the developers disobey and do incredibly fucking stupid things to make it easy to get hacked. About the worst I've seen is using the root password for the system as a password for an insecure database for a unauthorised hobby application and storing it as plain text with permissions so anybody could read it from the net if they just typed in the right URL. Of course the idiot had also opened up access as root via ssh despite even warnings about that being forbidden in the config file he had to change. It's only dumb luck and finding it quickly that dodged that bullet. A couple of other bullets were not dodged due to stupid things that were not quite as stupid.
  • next up... Target hires people to shoplift.

    oh wait, that'd be a complete and utter waste of time and money.

  • this is new, HOW? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gorshkov ( 932507 ) <AdmiralGorshkovNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 10, 2011 @10:05AM (#35161460)
    I remember doing security studies like this, years & years ago. We called them "Tiger Teams". This is hardly a new technique.
    • Nowadays, and even back then I suppose, these were called penetration testing and incident response plan/business continuity plan exercises. These are a standard practice that should be in the year clock of every security minded organization.
      • Re:this is new, HOW? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Gorshkov ( 932507 ) <AdmiralGorshkovNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 10, 2011 @10:36AM (#35161742)
        Absolutely. I think the big difference between what TFA talks about, and what we did, was that it wasn't set up as a game, and we weren't employees - we were outside consultants.

        Nobody knew where, or how, we'd try to get in. All the staff would know is that "sometime in the next XX weeks/months" we would be trying to get in. Sometimes, they wouldn't even know that much. Let's face it - hackers don't tend make appointments before they do their thing.

        At the time, I didn't have any security training per se, but I did have a background in intelligence. The guy that headed up our Tiger Teams was a retired major from the SAS, who had spent a few years working at GCHQ before he came to Canada. It was one hellova interesting way to earn a living :-)
  • by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @10:31AM (#35161694)
    The war-game model works fine when you have a group of employees with an invested interest in making their infra more secure. I can't see how this could work in any of the places I've ever worked for.  Many of the co-workers I've had do not want to expend any more energy in their jobs than what is needed to get a paycheck.  Many, many companies hire the cheapest labor they can find to click buttons on a windoze box and often they do not have the attention span, skill, interest or enthusiasm to make a 'war-game' anything less than a folly.  Don't get me wrong, I think the idea is great I just don't see it working effectively for 90% of the IT industry.
    • if your tech support are too indolent to care about security, then you already have a problem. The only thing you don't know is how big that problem is. In that case the only thing to do is transfer the budget for pay rises (or training) if there's still such a thing and assign it to pay for some consultancy. Tell the consultants where on the system the money is and just sit back .... :)

      Once the penetration exercise has been executed, you'll need more outsiders to analyse the results and recommend which o

      • As Machiavelli pointed out hundreds of years ago: fear is a great motivator.

        And as my friend, who was also a campaign manager for one of the political parties here loved to say ..... "Grab them by the balls, and their hearts & minds WILL follow" :-)

  • First off, I love the idea of wargames. They're fun, I used to participate in them from time to time. But it flat out shouldn't be done for a business unless the environment is extremely well controlled: 1.) live systems critical to the business can BREAK with hacking attempts 2.) any shells spawned during the wargame can be exploited by other attackers that aren't participants... 3.) during the wargame IDS are basically useless which is the PERFECT time for an insider to make a move, or an informed attacke
  • Steve Jackson games originated this [sjgames.com] almost twenty years ago.

  • To break into the would-be attackers apartments the night before and shoot them? Too pro-active?
  • Until politics gets in the way. I seem to remember Randal Schwartz [wikipedia.org] getting involved in this way back in the 90s at Intel (and a variety of other people who were tasked with 'ensuring that the security was sufficient'.
    When they probed, and used the techniques crackers would to obtain access, they were charged with Felony crimes. Despite that being in their effective remit.
    Incidentally, Randal spent about a decade fighting Intel on this, until 2007 when the charges were quashed retrospectively (as they sh

    • I am an Oracle DBA for BagOfPucks(tm) company, and I just so happen to chum with a head software security guy at Symantec. He informs me off the cuff everytime there are undocumented zero day breaches, so that if pertinent (which they sometimes are), I can act accordingly to protect the system.

      Of course, I offset this with buying pizza and beer. Its a very good bartering system, I would imagine that if they ever needed to rebuild an Oracle backend, I would be tapped :)
  • This is a GOOD thing!!!

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.