This year the ASSET security team along with security engineers from several other Adobe teams travelled to Vegas to attend the summer’s largest security conferences – Black Hat and DefCon. The technical talks can typically range from “cool bugs” to “conceptual issues that require long term solutions.” While the bugs are fun, here’s my take on the major underlying themes this year.
One major theme is that our core cryptographic solutions such as RSA and TLS are beginning to show their age. There was more than one talk about attacking TLS and another presentation by iSEC Partners focused on advances related to breaking RSA. The iSEC team made a valid case that we, as an industry, are not prepared for easily deploying alternative cryptographic solutions. Our industry needs to apply the principles of “crypto agility” so that we can deploy alternative solutions in our core security protocols, should the need arise.
Another theme this year was the security issues with embedded systems. Embedded systems development used to be limited to small bits of assembly code on isolated chips. However, advances in disk storage, antenna size, and processors has resulted in more sophisticated applications powering more complex devices. This exposed a larger attack surface to security researchers at Black Hat and DefCon who then found vulnerabilities in medical devices, SIM cards, automobiles, HVAC systems, IP phones, door locks, iOS chargers, Smart TVs, network surveillance cameras, and similar dedicated devices. As manufacturing adopts more advanced hardware and software for devices, our industry will need to continue to expand our security education and outreach to these other industries.
In traditional software, OS enforced sandboxes and compiler flags have been making it more difficult to exploit software. However, Kevin Snow and Lucas Davi showed that making additional improvements to address space layout randomization (ASLR), known as “fine-grained ASLR,” will not provide any significant additional levels of security. Therefore, we must rely on kernel enforced security controls and, by logical extension, the kernel itself. Mateusz Jurczyk and Gynvael Coldwind dedicated significant research effort into developing tools to find kernel vulnerabilities in various operating system kernels. In addition, Ling Chuan Lee and Chan Lee Yee went after font vulnerabilities in the Windows kernel. Meanwhile, Microsoft offered to judge live mitigation bypasses of their kernel at their booth. With only a small number of application security presentations, research focus appears to be shifting back toward the kernel this year.
Ethics and the law had an increased focus this year. In addition to the keynote by General Alexander, there were four legal talks at Black Hat and DefCon from the ACLU, EFF and Alex Stamos. Paraphrasing Stamos’ presentation, “The debate over full disclosure or responsible disclosure now seems quaint.” There were no easy answers provided; just more complex questions.
Regardless of the specific reason that drew you to Vegas this year, the only true constant in our field is that we must continue learning. It is much harder these days to be an effective security generalist. The technology, research and ethics of what we do continues to evolve and forces deeper specialization and understanding. The bar required to wander into a random Black Hat talk and understand the presentation continues to rise. Fortunately, walking into a bar at Black Hat and offering a fellow researcher a drink is still a successful alternative method of learning.
Platform Security Strategist