Category: "Security Engineering"

About the Security Engineering category

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 66 words
Categories: Security Engineering

The Security Engineering category contains articles that present analysis of requirements and solutions that may be of interest to the security engineer. As opposed to the IT Security category, the articles of this category discuss not the secure deployment of systems, but rather the secure design of systems.

I also use this category to host other posts that pertain to security engineering in the wider sense.

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  2020-12-01

Product Security Governance: Why and How

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 2170 words
Categories: Security Engineering, Management

The term “security governance” is not widely used in the product security context. When web-searching for a decent definition, among the first results is a definition by Gartner that addresses cyber security rather than product security. Other sources I looked at also focus on IT and cyber security.

But product security governance does exist in practice, and where it doesn’t – it often should. Companies that develop products that have security considerations do engage in some sort of product security activities: code reviews, pen-tests, etc.; just the “governance” part is often missing.

Product security is science; treat it as such.

This post describes what I think “security governance” means in the context of product security. It presents a simple definition, a discussion on why it is an insanely important part of product security, and a short list of what “security governance” should consist of in practice.

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  2020-11-15

Addressing the shortcoming of machine-learning for security

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 2765 words
Categories: Analysis, IT Security, Security Engineering, Security, Cyber Security

In a previous post I wrote about cases in which machine-learning adds little to the reliability of security tools, because it often does not react well to novel threats. In this post I will share a thought about overcoming the limitation of machine-learning, by properly augmenting it with other methods. The challenge we tackle is not that of finding additional methods of detection, as we assume such are already known and deployed in other systems. The challenge we tackle is of how to combine traditional detection methods with those based on machine-learning, in a way that yields the best overall results. As promising as machine-learning (and artificial intelligence) is, it is less effective when deployed in silo (not in combination with existing technologies), and hence the significance of properly marrying the two.

I propose to augment the data used in machine-learning with tags that come from other, i.e., traditional, classification algorithms. More importantly, I suggest distinguishing between the machine-learning-based assessment component and the decision component, and using the tagging in both components, independently.

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  2020-10-26

SDL and Agile

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 2439 words
Categories: Security Engineering

One of the challenges that agile development methodologies brought with them is some level of perceived incompatibility with security governance methodologies and SDLs. No matter how you used to integrate security assurance activities with the rest of your engineering efforts, it is likely that Agile messed it up. It almost feels as if agile engineering methodologies had as a primary design goal the disruption of security processes.

But we often want Agile, and we want security too, so the gap has to be bridged. To this end, we need to first understand where the source of the conflict really is, and this also requires understanding where it is not. Understanding the non-issues is important, because there are some elements of agile engineering that are sometimes considered to be contradicting security interests where they really are not; and we would like to focus our efforts where it matters.

We will start by highlighting a few minor issues that are easy to overcome, and then discuss the more fundamental change that may in some cases be required to marry security governance with Agile.

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  2020-09-13

An obvious limitation of machine-learning for security

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 726 words
Categories: IT Security, Security Engineering, Security, Counter-media

I recently came across this study titled “Unknown Threats are The Achilles Heel of Email Security”. It concludes that traditional e-mail scanning tools, that also utilize machine-learning to cope with emerging threats, are still not reacting fast enough to new threats. This is probably true, but I think this conclusion should be considered even more widely, beyond e-mail.

Threats are dynamic. Threat actors are creative and well-motivated enough to make threat mitigation an endlessly moving target. So aren’t we fortunate to have this new term, “machine learning”, recently join our tech jargon? Just like many other buzzwords, the term is newer than what it denotes, but nonetheless, a machine that learns the job autonomously seems to be precisely what we need for mitigating ever-changing threats.

All in all, machine-learning is good for security, but yet in some cases it is a less significant addition to our defense arsenal. Why? – Because while you learn, you often don’t do the job well enough; and a machine is no different. Eventually, the merits of learning-while-doing are to be determined by the price of the resulting temporary imperfectness.

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  2020-08-16

Blockchains: useful or not?

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 976 words
Categories: Security Engineering, Counter-media

One of the biggest technological controversies of the decade are blockchains. There is no debate on how brilliant the technology is. It is very clever, if not genius. The only debate is on how useful it really is. Crypto currencies like Bitcoin are a strong use-case for blockchains, but how many other real use-cases are there? Some people claim that blockchains will change the Internet for good, while others consider it as a clever solution still seeking a problem. Reality is probably somewhere in between, as it usually is.

Blockchains often appear to be more useful than they really are, because their proponents bring up uses for blockchains which could also be facilitated using other, simpler and traditional techniques. Most of those uses, which could also be attained without blockchains, are indeed better off without them. As clever as blockchains are, they always add complexity where they are deployed. In other words, I have not yet seen a single problem that could be solved by either blockchains or other technical means, and where the blockchain-based approach was the simpler one. It follows that if we want to discuss the true merits of blockchains, then we shall identify those problems that could be solved using blockchains, and which could not be solved by simpler existing technologies.

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  2020-03-05

Useful threat modelling

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 1633 words
Categories: Security Engineering

Do you know what all security documents have in common? — they all were at some time called “threat model"… A joke indeed, and not the funniest one, but here to make a point. There is no one approach to threat modelling, and not even a single definition of what a threat model really is. So what is it? It is most often considered to be a document that introduces the security needs of a system, using any one of dozens of possible approaches. Whatever the modelling approach is, the threat model really has just one strong requirement: it needs to be useful for whatever purpose it is made to serve. Let us try to describe what we often try to get from a threat model, and how to achieve it.

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  2019-12-31

Time to reclaim the Internet

  By Hagai Bar-El   , 2015 words
Categories: Security Engineering, Security Policies

We grow increasingly reliant on quite a few Internet-based services: social networks, messaging, photo sharing, and the rest. The challenges we face with privacy, data ownership enforcement, surveillance, and other aspects of digital abuse could all be substantially reduced if those data sharing needs were addressed by the Internet as it was originally architected: decentralized and open. We have waited very long, and so remediation would take more than just new standards, but it is doable.

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All contents are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license.