Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

1/25/2013
10:17 AM
Gunnar Peterson
Gunnar Peterson
Commentary
50%
50%

The Three Worst Words In The English Language: Can't We Just?

The road to poor identity and access management architecture is paved with "can't we justs." It's 2013: Find a way

When learning something new, especially a technical something, it's great to hear the words "for example" because you're about to see something more concrete that helps the abstract make more sense.

Conversely, when doing design and development work, it's awful to hear the words "can't we just" because you're about to hear a defense of kicking the can down the road -- more status quo.

"Can't we just" is used to justify all manner of things:

"Can't we just replicate the passwords?"

"Can't we just leave passwords cleartext?"

"Can't we just use one way SSL to solve everything?"

"Can't we just use the same system we have for the last 15 years for our new Cloud?"

"Can't we just use the same system we have for the last 15 years for our new Mobile apps?"

"Can't we just hardcode XYZ?"

What people are really saying when they say "can't we just" is, "Can't we assume tomorrow will look like today?" This may work in some areas of IT (although I am doubtful), but it's flat-out hazardous in security.

The prefix for the majority of suboptimal designs is "can't we just." When you hear that phrase, brace yourself. I am all for being practical, but systems age more like milk than wine. They do not necessarily get better with age, software evolves, and, more importantly, so do attacker's capabilities. To illustrate this latter point, consider Dave Aitel's prediction for 2012 that mobile platforms would fail:

You know what didn't pan out? "Mobile attacks" in commercial attack frameworks. The reasons are a bit non-obvious, but deep down, writing Android exploits is fairly hard. Not because the exploit itself is hard, but because testing your exploit on every phone is a nightmare. There's literally thousands of them, and they're all slightly different. So even if you know your exploit is solid as a rock, it's hard to say that you tested it on whatever strange phone your customer happens to have around.

And of course, iOS is its own hard nut to crack. It's a moving monolithic target, and Apple is highly incentivized by pirates to keep it secure. So if you have something that works in a commercial package, Apple will patch it the next day, and all your hard work is mostly wasted.

Now there are some good reasons why this did not happen; in my view, the fragmentation in mobile is a real issue for developers, testers, and attackers. But it's not a long-term advantage -- it's a delay of game, a speed bump. The point I would like to make here is that you could read those comments as, "Well, it's too hard for attackers. Can't we just live with the same mobile security model in 2013? After all, it was good enough in 2012."

But guess what? It's not a static environment. Attackers don't remain in some little, limited snow-globe world: They learn, and tools get better. What was good enough last year is not good enough this year.

Instead of can't we just kick the can down the road, we should find a way to make improvements in our security architecture.

Gunnar Peterson is a Managing Principal at Arctec Group

Gunnar Peterson (@oneraindrop) works on AppSec - Cloud, Mobile and Identity. He maintains a blog at http://1raindrop.typepad.com. View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
gbaggett750
50%
50%
gbaggett750,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/30/2013 | 3:34:37 PM
re: The Three Worst Words In The English Language: Can't We Just?
Can't we just....- Doesn't always imply kicking the can down the road.- It is also a cry for help and also may lead to a possible solution so DO NOT just dismiss anything that is said after these three words.- To do so outright is showing ARROGANCE toward ... (possibly your user).--

Listen to what they have to say and then explain to them why it may not work withing the confines of the subject.- If you cannot do that then maybe you do not understand well enough yourself to be dismissing his solution outright.--

I have noticed that sometimes in the process of explaining something that-I develop a better undertanding of the situation and have discovered alternate solutions during the process that may or may not involve the solution that I have previously suggested.

Bleeding edge isn't always the best (although some technologists believe so) because sometimes the inconvenience toward the user needs to be balanced with what that user is doing.
44% of Security Threats Start in the Cloud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/19/2020
Zero-Factor Authentication: Owning Our Data
Nick Selby, Chief Security Officer at Paxos Trust Company,  2/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-8818
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
An issue was discovered in the CardGate Payments plugin through 2.0.30 for Magento 2. Lack of origin authentication in the IPN callback processing function in Controller/Payment/Callback.php allows an attacker to remotely replace critical plugin settings (merchant ID, secret key, etc.) and therefore...
CVE-2020-8819
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
An issue was discovered in the CardGate Payments plugin through 3.1.15 for WooCommerce. Lack of origin authentication in the IPN callback processing function in cardgate/cardgate.php allows an attacker to remotely replace critical plugin settings (merchant ID, secret key, etc.) and therefore bypass ...
CVE-2020-9385
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
A NULL Pointer Dereference exists in libzint in Zint 2.7.1 because multiple + characters are mishandled in add_on in upcean.c, when called from eanx in upcean.c during EAN barcode generation.
CVE-2020-9382
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-24
An issue was discovered in the Widgets extension through 1.4.0 for MediaWiki. Improper title sanitization allowed for the execution of any wiki page as a widget (as defined by this extension) via MediaWiki's } parser function.
CVE-2020-1938
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-24
When using the Apache JServ Protocol (AJP), care must be taken when trusting incoming connections to Apache Tomcat. Tomcat treats AJP connections as having higher trust than, for example, a similar HTTP connection. If such connections are available to an attacker, they can be exploited in ways that ...