Odds, Disclosure, Etc…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Cross-Posted from Robert "RSnake" Hansen's Blog:
http://ha.ckers.org/blog/20100914/odds-disclosure-etc/

12 posts left…

While doing some research I happened across an old post of mine that I had totally forgotten about. It was an old post about betting on the chances of compromise. Specifically I was asked to give odds against whether I thought Google or ha.ckers.org would survive a penetration test (ultimately leading to disclosure of data). Given that both Google and ha.ckers.org are under constant attack, it stands to reason that sitting in the ecosystem is virtually the equivalent of a penetration test every day. I wasn’t counting things like little bugs that are disclosed in our sites, I was specifically counting only data compromise.

There are a few interesting things about this post, looking back 4 years. The first thing is that pretty much everything I predicted came true in regards to Google:

… their corporate intranet is strewn with varying operating systems, with outdated versions of varying browsers. Ouch. Allowing access from the intranet out to the Internet is a recipe for disaster …

So yes, this is damned near how Google was compromised. However, there’s one very important thing, if I want to be completely honest, that I didn’t understand back then. I gave Google a 1:300 (against) odds on being hacked before ha.ckers.org would be. While I was right, in hindsight, I’d have to change my odds. I should have given it more like 1:30. The important part that I missed was the disclosure piece. Any rational person would assume that Google has had infections before (as has any large corporation that doesn’t retain tight controls over their environment). That’s nothing new - and not what I was talking about anyway. I was talking only about publicly known disclosures of data compromise.

So the part that I didn’t talk to, and the part that is the most interesting is that Google actually disclosed the hack. Now if we were to go back in time and you were to tell me that Google would get hacked into and then disclose that information voluntarily, I would have called BS. Now the cynics might say that Google had no choice - that too many people already knew, and it was either tell the world or have someone out you in a messy way. But that’s irrelevant. I still wouldn’t have predicted it.

So that brings me to the point of the post (as you can hopefully see, this is not a Google bashing post or an I told you so post). I went to Data Loss DB the other day and I noticed an interesting downward trend over the last two years. It could be due to a lot of things. Maybe people are losing their laptops less or maybe hackers have decided to slow down all that hacking they were doing. No, I suspect it’s because in the dawn of social networking and collective thinking, companies fear disclosure more than ever before. They don’t want to have a social uprising against them when people find out their information has been copied off. Since I have no data to back it up, I have a question for all the people who are involved in disclosing or recovering from security events. How many compromises of data security, that you are aware of, have been disclosed to the public as a percentage? You don’t have to post under your own name - I just want to get some idea of what other people are seeing.

If my intuition is correct, this points to the same or more breaches than ever before, but less and less public scrutiny and awareness of what happened to the public’s information. Perhaps this points to a lack of good whistle-blower laws against failing to disclose compromises (and monetary incentives for good Samaritans to do so). Or perhaps this points to a more scary reality where the bad-guys have all the compromised machines and data that they need for the moment. Either way, it’s a very interesting downward trend in the public stats that seems incongruent to what I hear when I talk to people. Is the industry really seeing less successful attacks than a few years ago?

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