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GDPR Is Here: Manage Vulnerabilities and Prioritize Threat Remediation

To provide the level of data protection required by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), your organization must continuously detect vulnerabilities, and prioritize their remediation.

Why? An InfoSec team that’s chronically overwhelmed by its IT environment’s vulnerabilities and unable to pinpoint the critical ones that must be remediated immediately is at a high risk for data breaches, and, consequently, for GDPR non-compliance.

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) ranks “Continuous Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation” as the fourth most important practice in its 20 Critical Security Controls. “Organizations that do not scan for vulnerabilities and proactively address discovered flaws face a significant likelihood of having their computer systems compromised,” CIS states.

In fact, hackers constantly exploit common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) for which patches have been available for weeks, months and even years. The reason: Many organizations fail to detect and remediate critical bugs on a timely basis, leaving them like low-hanging fruit for cyber data thieves to feast on.

In this second installment of our GDPR compliance blog series, we’ll explain the importance of vulnerability management and threat prioritization, and how Qualys can help you solidify these practices so you can slash your risk of data breaches.

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DevSecOps: Practical Steps to Seamlessly Integrate Security into DevOps

To properly and effectively protect DevOps pipelines, organizations can’t blindly apply conventional security processes they’ve used for traditional network perimeters. Since DevOps’ value is the speed and frequency with which code is created, updated and deployed, security must be re-thought so that it’s not a last step that slows down this process.

Hampering the agility of DevOps teams has terrible consequences. These teams produce the code that digitally transforms business tasks and makes them more innovative and efficient. Thus, it’s imperative for security to be built into — not bolted onto — the entire DevOps lifecycle, from planning, coding, testing, release and packaging, to deploying, operating and monitoring.

If security teams take existing processes and tools, and try to jam them into the DevOps pipeline, they’ll break the automation, agility and flexibility that DevOps brings. 

“This doesn’t work,” Qualys Vice President of Product Management Chris Carlson said during a recent webcast, in which he explained how security teams can seamlessly integrate security into DevOps using Qualys products.

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What we’ve got here is failure to communicate: OS vendors misread CPU docs, create flaw

In a memorable scene from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Whoopi Goldberg struggles to understand the lyrics of the eponymous song from the Rolling Stones, as she pleads: “Mick, Mick, Mick, speak English!”

It appears that multiple operating system vendors had similar trouble interpreting Intel and AMD debugging documentation, which led the OS vendors to independently create the same critical security flaw in their respective kernel software.

The issue came to light last week when US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team) warned that under certain circumstances “some operating systems or hypervisors may not expect or properly handle an Intel architecture hardware debug exception.”

“The error appears to be due to developer interpretation of existing documentation for certain Intel architecture interrupt/exception instructions, namely MOV to SS and POP to SS,” the CERT alert reads.

The list of OS vendors affected reads like an industry “who’s who.” It includes Apple, Microsoft, Red Hat, VMware, Ubuntu, Xen and SUSE Linux. The problem was discovered by researcher Nick Peterson of Everdox Tech, who has detailed the flaw in a paper titled “POP SS/MOV SS Vulnerability.”

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Timely Password-Change Call from Twitter, as Bugs Hit WebEx and GPON routers

The cyber security news cycle is always active, so to help you stay in the loop here’s a selection of incidents that caught our attention over the past week or so involving, among others, Twitter, Cisco and GPON routers.

Twitter picks a good day for password-change call

As “change your password” calls from vendors go, the one from Twitter last week ranks right up there, and not just because of the scope of users involved. As Jon Swartz pointed out in Barron’s, Twitter’s alert went out on Thursday, which happened to be World Password Day.

The social media juggernaut reached out to all of its 330 million users and advised them to take a moment, go to their account settings page and enter a new password. Twitter also suggested they enable Twitter’s two-step verification feature, a move strongly endorsed by Forbes’ Thomas Fox-Brewster. In addition, Twitter recommended that users change their password on any other online services where they used their Twitter password. (It bears repeating: It’s a bad idea to re-use passwords.)

The reason for the brouhaha: An IT slip-up caused user passwords to be stored in plain text in an internal Twitter log. Twitter’s security policy is to instead mask passwords using the “bcrypt” hashing technique. That way, passwords are stored on Twitter systems as a string of random characters.

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The Sky Is Falling! Responding Rationally to Headline Vulnerabilities

It’s happening more and more.

Gill Langston, a Qualys Director of Product Management, speaks at RSA Conference 2018

High profile vulnerabilities like Meltdown and Spectre are disclosed, and become headline-grabbing news not just in the technology press, but on general news outlets worldwide.

Even if the vulnerabilities aren’t associated with an attack, the news reports rattle C-level executives, who ask the security team for a plan to address the by now notorious bug, and pronto.

Often, a counter-productive disruption of the normal vulnerability and patch management operations ensues, as those involved scramble to draft a response against the clock in a panic atmosphere, punctuated by confusion and finger-pointing.

“Should I just immediately be jumping and reacting? Should I start deploying patches, and then go from there? I’m going to argue that that’s not always the case,” Gill Langston, a Product Management Director at Qualys, said Wednesday during a presentation at RSA Conference 2018.

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April Patch Tuesday – 63 Microsoft vulnerabilities, 19 for Adobe

Today’s Patch Tuesday is smaller than last month, but there are more critical updates this time. Out of the 63 vulnerabilities covered by the Microsoft patches, 22 of them are critical. Adobe has released 6 bulletins covering 19 vulnerabilities. According to Microsoft and Adobe, there are no active attacks against these vulnerabilities.

The majority of the Microsoft critical vulnerabilities are in browsers and browser-related technologies. It is recommended that these be prioritized for workstation-type devices. Any system that accesses the Internet via a browser should be patched.

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Microsoft Misfires with Meltdown Patch, while WannaCry Pops Up at Boeing

In our weekly roundup of InfoSec happenings, we start, as has often been the case this year, with concerning Meltdown / Spectre news — this time involving Microsoft — and also touch on a password hack at Under Armour, a WannaCry infection at Boeing, and a severe Drupal vulnerability.

Microsoft patches its Meltdown patch, then patches it again

In an instance of the cure possibly being worse than the disease, a Microsoft patch for Meltdown released in January created a gaping security hole in certain systems in which it was installed.

It took Microsoft two tries to fix the issue, which affects Windows 7 (x64) and Windows Server 2008 R2 (x64) systems. The company thought it had solved the vulnerability (CVE-2018-1038) with a scheduled patch last Tuesday, but then had to rush out an emergency fix two days later.

Security researcher Ulf Frisk, who discovered the vulnerability, called it “way worse” than Meltdown because it “allowed any process to read the complete memory contents at gigabytes per second” and made it possible to write to arbitrary memory as well.

“No fancy exploits were needed. Windows 7 already did the hard work of mapping in the required memory into every running process,” Frisk wrote. “Exploitation was just a matter of read and write to already mapped in-process virtual memory. No fancy APIs or syscalls required — just standard read and write.”

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March Patch Tuesday – 75 Microsoft vulnerabilities, 7 for Adobe

Today’s Patch Tuesday covers a lot of vulnerabilities, but in terms of critical updates, it is still light. Out of the 75 vulnerabilities covered, only 15 are marked as critical. Adobe has released patches as well, covering 7 vulnerabilities.

All of the critical vulnerabilities from Microsoft are in browsers and browser-related technologies. It is recommended that these be prioritized for workstation-type devices. Any system that accesses the Internet via a browser should be patched.

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GDPR: The Stakes Are High and Time Is of the Essence

With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) going into effect in under three months, the countdown clock is fast approaching zero for organizations worldwide that handle personal data of EU residents.

GDPR is a very broad and wide-ranging regulation that requires organizations to obtain a lot of legal advice, and to implement business controls. Although these controls exceed the scope of information security, IT security and compliance are a significant subset of the regulation.

A special challenge for InfoSec teams is GDPR’s lack of details about specific security measures and requirements for protecting EU residents’ data.

“The GDPR regulation is extremely vague and doesn’t give any detailed prescriptive requirements of what the expectations are for data protection, but they’re very far-reaching,” Tim White, a Qualys Product Management Director, said during a recent webcast.

GDPR puts a heavier burden of accountability on organizations, forcing them, among other things, to accommodate significant new rights for individuals. For example, EU residents can request that organizations delete, disclose, correct and transfer their personal information.

To comply with these GDPR “subject access requests,” organizations must know what data they have, where it’s stored, with whom they’re sharing it, how they’re protecting it, and what they’re using it for.

Unfortunately, many organizations are far from ready to comply with GDPR.

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Recline on the Qualys Couch: Examining Patching Behavior

In a perfect world, organizations would patch vulnerabilities immediately after they’re disclosed, preemptively blocking exploits and dodging most cyber attacks.

Of course, reality is far from that hypothetically ideal state. Organizations often leave critical vulnerabilities unpatched for months, even years. Hackers routinely feast on all that low-hanging fruit to hijack systems, steal data, deface websites and disrupt operations.

We all know it’s impossible to patch every single vulnerability. Thousands are disclosed every year, and patching systems can be complicated, time-consuming and inconvenient. But InfoSec teams agree that fixing the most dangerous bugs on a timely basis is not only doable but also necessary.

The problem is that prioritizing remediation and pinpointing those critical vulnerabilities is difficult when — as is often the case — organizations lack continuous and automated vulnerability management, asset inventorying and threat analysis.

Unsurprisingly, recent Qualys data on patching behavior shows that remediation activity is directly related to the level of risk attached to specific vulnerabilities. And in some cases, specifically when it comes to the realm of IoT devices, patching is always slow, and often non-existent.

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