Didn’t get the interview. Was it a real opportunity?

Am I really a target? Are the scammers just getting really good? Or am I just too suspicious?

Always nice to be solicited for a role you’d like. That hasn’t happened to me often but recently I got a call about a position. That was followed up with an email. Then another call. Then a few emails and calls with the first caller’s senior recruiter. All in the space of three hours or so. Everything was rolling along and… crickets after my last email. Was it me?

I don’t think so, but you be the judge.

The position I was solicited for was IT Manager. One requirement that I didn’t have was SCRUM Master certification. But, so long as the certificate was earned within six months of start date that would be acceptable. It’s not common, but I have seen positions that require a certification and will accept it being earned within a certain period after starting.

I tell the people I’m speaking with on the phone I need a little time to investigate the certification and see if it seems like something I can achieve in six months. They say fine, they’ll call back in an hour or so and see if I’m still interested.

At this point I’ve gotten the consulting company’s name, the organization they’re recruiting for, and time frame when the position is to be filled.

After a bit of web searching I find a number of training organizations offering online SCRUM Master Certification training at a range of prices. It’s affordable from my point of view so I’m thinking… commit. I really am looking for a new opportunity.

I also check out the recruiter’s domain to find out how long its been around. Surprise, surprise, it’s only a few months old. Red Flag #1. Then I check website of the customer they’re recruiting for to search for the position. The position isn’t listed. Red Flag #2.

Finally they call back and we talk about the position. I tell them I’ve found a trainer that looks like they have a good online training program set up and the course is affordable. As soon as I tell them the trainer I’m told, “no, that’s not such a good trainer.” Red Flag #3. I’m given another training company’s name and told I should register right away so we can provide proof to the employer I’m taking steps to have the certification by the deadline. “Right away”, Red Flag #4.

I tell them to give me a few moments to check out that trainer’s website. Wouldn’t you know, the trainer’s website is even newer than the recruiters. Red Flag #5.

At this point I really don’t believe this is legit and ask for a contact at the company they’re recruiting for to confirm with them the position is open and the certification requirement.

End of conversation. Sigh. It was nice to be recruited for a position I am well qualified for and points to the sophistication of the scam. It was tailored to my skills. Disappointing that it was only a scam to get my money for a certification training course that likely wouldn’t have provided any training.

This all happened several months ago. At this point the “recruiter’s” website is still up. Doesn’t look changed much. All boiler plate stuff. The training company’s website isn’t accessible. Clearly, be suspicious, ask questions and investigate the answers to keep yourself from being taken.

Anatomy of a Stealthy Phish

Targeting me or just a step up in the scammer’s tool quality?

Got an email from AUROBINDO PHARMA LIMITED asking to schedule an interview with me. Great!! I’m looking for work.

The email is from a GMail account though. So I ask to be contacted from the business email account.

Surprise, I get a follow up email that appears to be from Aurobindo Pharma Limited. Notice though I’m being solicited based on my resume but the “jobs” cover a wide range of positions.

And WHOIS, which can look up information about domain names, never heard of aurobindopharmaltd.com.

$ whois aurobindopharmaltd.com
No match for domain "AUROBINDOPHARMALTD.COM".
>>> Last update of whois database: 2021-12-22T08:15:49Z <<<

And there is no aurobindopharmaltd.com website as of this writing.

I’ve already found that the domain doesn’t exist. Getting email from that domain is therefore not possible. What’s going on? Time to examine the email header. This is what I found…

Guess what? The Return-Path/smtp.mailfrom domain is real. It is an actual business site related to sports. There’s some contact information on it and absolutely nothing to do with pharma.

As I understand it, Return-Path and smtp.mailfrom are the actual source of the email. The email originated from that domain. And that means the domain has been compromised. So I sent email to a site contact advising them what I’ve found and included the email header of the original phishing message.

What I wonder about though is the phisher’s follow up. Whoever was sending those messages seemed to want to convince me they were legitimate. Was it ME they were trying to convince? Or did they just have a better phishing tool and bots on compromised servers that enabled easily sending a message with a forged sender from a compromised server so the message isn’t from a GMail account?

I don’t know. This is the first time this ever happened to me. Actual attention to my initial response, replying and changing the message properties to be a more persuasive fake. Am I being spear phished? Don’t know, but what happened is intriguing.

Controlling file access

Use groups to maintain ACLs.

Digital information has creators, owners, editors, publishers, and consumers. Dependent on the information it has different approved audiences; public, creator’s organization, leadership, functional group, etc. And the audiences can be subdivided dependent on the level of authority they have; read only, modify, create, etc.

How to control who sees what? Accounts need to access, change and create information. At least some of that information will be in the cloud, either your own, or space and services hosted and invoiced monthly, or a combination. Access to public and private domains should be convenient for authorized users on supported platforms.

And be sure to classify the information! The public stuff has access control set so everyone can see it. Everything else needs to be someplace private. Add in an approval process for material to go public. Devise a rights scheme for the private domain. Owners, Editors, Readers.

Add to all this a folder hierarchy that supports the envisioned rights and document access should be understandable, maintainable, and auditable (with proper auditing enabled).

What’s the *perfect* configuration for all of this? As far as I’ve discovered, there isn’t one. Please comment with any reference if you know of some.

The perfect configuration is one that is maintained per business needs. Maintained is really the operative requirement.

Default everything to private so only authors have access to their own work?

How to collaborate? Give others read/edit access as needed per instructions from owner? That gets into LOTS and LOTS of ACL changes as people change in the organization, to say nothing of sun setting access. When should those collaborators have edit removed, or what about even read?

If rights are granted by individual account then this creates lots of future unidentified GUIDs in ACLs as accounts are removed, or lots of maintenance to find the accounts in the ACLs and remove them before the account is removed.

And, even if accounts aren’t removed because the person is changing position so should have access to different files, if requires lots of maintenance as people move from position to position.

Default everything to public read only and authors have edit access to their own work?

This limits the need to provide access to individual accounts unless the account needs edit rights to a document. If the same approach is taken to granting edit rights as was suggested for read rights above, then the same situation with maintaining access occurs except this time only for editors. Likely a lesser support burden but nonetheless still one that is likely to leave orphaned GUIDs in the ACLs.

Manage access by group!

Create Reader and Editor groups. As many as needed to accommodate each of the various groups needing access to the folders and files. Add and remove accounts from the groups as needed.

Managing access by group won’t cover all the needs. It may still be necessary to put individual accounts into the ACLs. However managing by group will limit the need to put individual accounts into the ACLs, and it will help make clear the rights if group name conventions are used to make the purpose of the group more apparent, e.g., AccountsPayableReaders, AccountsPayableEditors.

This can be taken further. If the two groups above have relatively steady membership then accounts that have limited need to access as readers or editors can be added to groups within these groups making it apparent the account holder has temporary access. The nested groups could be TmpAccountsPayableReaders, and TmpAccountsPayableEditors.

In the end..

There is not a “perfect” no maintenance system to manage and control access rights. Groups are certainly recommended over individual accounts. So long as the organization experiences changes that should affect document access it will be necessary to maintain ACLs.

The goal really is to limit the work needed to know what access is granted to which accounts, to maintain proper access, and use a method that is sustainable.

Groups really are the solution. Groups and a well established process to identify, classify, and assign rights to information throughout its lifecycle from creation to retirement.

AD CI Struggles

Active Directory Configuration Item struggles! Seems like feeling around in the dark.

I set up a test lab to practice creating an administratively tiered AD forest with a single domain. Challenges came from everywhere; available documentation, platform the lab was built on, and ultimately figuring a way to compare policies and OU structure between labs.

First the virtualization was run in VirtualBox on my laptop and the lab build began there. That was abandoned because of available drive space.

Then it was moved to a dedicated virtual server running VMware ESXi. The browser interface was sluggish for me and, as I leaned, my account didn’t have permissions to copy/paste between my pc and the VM. That slowed me as I tried to enter configurations and compare between guests.

The ESXi guests occasionally froze after changes and were very slow to be to be power cycled when that happened, minutes.

Back to the laptop. Purge VMs that were built for other labs (intended to be continued) and start again on the laptop. And this time, got the administratively tiered lab running.

Great. Needs to be repeatable though. Go back to the ESXi test lab and try to produce the same results. Tried altering ESXi lab guests’ AD and GPO settings to be same as those on the VirtualBox lab. Didn’t work.

Found several ways to produce GPO reports to compare settings in each and see where they differed. Found a few differences and changed ESXi vms’ to match VirtualBox’ working ones. GroupPolicy Module | Microsoft Docs are a great tool. The most useful to me for this were Get-GPOReport, Import-GPO, and Backup-GPO.

Sadly the ESXi lab setup still didn’t produce the same results and response in the console was often sluggish. When I started ESXi I used the console tool which let me open multiple windows within one browser window. Unfortunately it didn’t copy paste between my pc and the session. Not helpful for testing.

I eventually tried the remote console tool. It opened a window for each connection and was more responsive than the console. And, bonus, copy paste worked between my pc and the terminal?!!

Better control of the ESXi test lab now but still not the correct tiered admin function. The ESXi test lab guests showed some symptoms of not enough memory like the sluggish responses and hangs. Am upping RAM from 2Gb to 4Gb, rebuilding the guests and trying again.

VirtualBox guests on the laptop are running 2Gb and the tiered admin lab works.

If more memory doesn’t do it I’ll have to come up with some other adjustment to try. Need to get both working with admin tiering.

Detail that may be a clue, the ESXi lab was built with a Windows 2019 Server lab DVD source. The VirtualBox lab was built with a Windows 2019 Server Microsoft Download image. The VirtualBox lab has Schema Admins group in AD DS as part of the default install from the DVD, the ESXi lab DOES NOT and is built from the different media. Makes me wonder if there are other differences, unseen, that prevent the ESXi lab from successfully building the tiered administration setup.

Diving into Tiered Administration

Really? There’s always something wrong in the instructions :-/

Approaches to improving security are always interesting to me. Recently I became aware of tiered administration as an aside in a security video I watched. “10 Work From Home Security Settings You Can Implement Now to Block Attackers.” Very good. Watch if you can. The intro to tiering admin credentials and systems begins at about 30:10. That started the dive for me!

There are many background and architectural articles on Microsoft.com. They talk ideas and generalization with really bad confusing graphics (imho). However, I found one article that promised to step through the process of setting up Tiered Administration, Initially Isolate Tier 0 Assets with Group Policy to Start Administrative Tiering – Microsoft Tech Community.

I followed the steps and it didn’t result in Domain Admins members being prevented logon to a member server or workstation. I repeated the process several times to be certain I hadn’t overlooked something and got the same lack of result each time.

The Group Policy precedence in the article didn’t work. The precedence in a comment to the article that stated the precedence in the article was wrong, also didn’t work.

At that point I put together a chart to track the hosts, accounts, policies, and security groups I was using. With the chart, and patiently changing one attribute at a time and repeating logon tests, I finally found a combination that worked!!

Great, Tier0 accounts couldn’t logon to anything except Tier0 assets. Now start trying other things in my virtual environment to find out what needs to be accounted for if migrating a domain to the restricted accounts model.

It didn’t take long to find there’s also something else Tier0 Domain Admins accounts couldn’t do, they couldn’t install software on Tier1 & 2 assets any longer. The Tier0 accounts couldn’t logon and there were no dedicated Tier1 or 2 accounts to use. (Should have tried the app server’s local admin for logon. Then try s/w install and see if could use Tier0 credential to perform s/w install.) Members of Local Administrators group can install software. Domain Admins group is in the local Administrators group. So any member of Domain Admins should be able to install software.

If a Tier0 account is in the group that limits logon on to only Tier0 assets then it cannot logon and install software on Tier1 & 2 assets. So, have Tier0 accounts restricted to Tier0 assets but how are Tier1 and 2 assets going to be managed?

Nowhere in the article is this limitation mentioned! Set up Tier0 admins and suddenly Tier1 & 2 assets can’t be managed with any Domain Admin group account. A real problem.

Back to my trusty charts. Create new security groups and Group Policies after spending some time trying to understand the policies and how they’re being applied. Then start testing.

Seems my head scratching after discovering the problem and before trying to produce a solution worked. I came up with a scheme that doesn’t change the working Tier0 accounts and hosts settings and gives Tier1 accounts access to Tier1 assets but not Tier0 assets. Still a bit more testing to confirm Tier1 can’t access Tier2. Then testing to confirm able to create Tier2 accounts. Then check the effect on service accounts which currently are admin accounts used only for function of certain software, e.g. manage audit settings to capture and report changes in the environment.

Anyhow this screed was about two things really. My satisfaction standing up a Tiered Admin environment (at least the beginnings, in test) and my growing frustration over technology implementation articles written as step-wise instruction that just don’t work (Tiered Admin, Certificate Services, Federation Services to name a few), and that leave out really important information like, “if you do this, you loose admin access to Tier1 & 2 assets.”

The “how to articles” that don’t actually work are all from Microsoft.com URLs. A third party site getting it wrong, frustrating but not feeling misinformed by an authority I should be able to trust. After all, not Microsoft. An article on Microsoft.com that says “do this” get “that result” that’s wrong or incomplete, very frustrating! If you can’t trust Microsoft about how to use its software then who are you going to trust?

Certified Information Systems Security Professional, CISSP

Security. Human factors are always important.

I hold a CISSP certification. Information security is something I’ve found intriguing since I first started my technology career. One of the first user trainings I developed was around the time of the “I love you” malware that struck via a deceptive email attachment. And to this day email continues to be a vector for compromising systems. Or actually I should say, email account holders continue to be a vector for attacking systems.

My office at the time of “I love you” wasn’t struck by it but we would have been except for our mail system. Everyone in the business, about 160 people at the time, had gotten the system security training. And a special alert had gone out after the training warning of “I love you”. By and large the people in the company were well educated professionals with uncommonly high expectations around privacy and confidentiality. Our work was providing counseling and permanency for youth and families involved with various states’ child and family services departments.

What I mean to say is the staff of the organization all understood and practiced privacy and confidentiality and so were an interested and engaged audience for the security training.

With the above as background, this is the story of “I love you” in my office.

One day the Executive Director’s Administrative Assistant called me and said, “Alan, I think I’ve done something I shouldn’t have.” She explained she had gotten an email from the building’s manager with an “I love you” attachment. The man was someone she dealt with often and was on good terms with. She was married and was a bit upset by getting an email with such a bold attachment. She was also intrigued wondering why he would send it to her and what message might be inside.

She didn’t delete the email immediately but kept it and wondered what message it might contain. Finally she opened the email and attempted to open the attachment. Nothing happened.

Our mail system was Lotus Notes client and server. The malware relied on Visual Basic Scripting in Microsoft Outlook and so was unable to propagate in our environment.

This is a case where a knowledgeable person with a commitment to privacy and confidentiality and who had gotten security training as well as read the follow up warnings about “I love you” nearly caused a security incident because of curiosity! The only reason there was no incident was because of a technical feature of our environment.

She realized something was wrong when there was no message to see. And then she relied on her training, called me, and confessed to maybe doing something wrong.

This is a lesson that’s stayed with me. You can have good people and good training but good technical measures are still needed to back them up. People will occasionally do things they suspect might not be in their best interest because of some other overriding impulse, like curiosity.

And this brings me to something else, earning CPE (Continuing Professional Education) credits to keep my CISSP current. I generally enjoy the briefings and learn many interesting things while earning CPEs. However I do struggle sometimes because it is difficult at times to find CPE courses that are not too strongly vendor centric. My preference is for training that is less about the knobs and switches of a particular technology and more about the ideas behind threats and countermeasures.

I was really pleased to get a mailing from (ISC)2 the other day. It introduced courses that are free for members that providing training and CPEs. Much of the training looks to be very relevant to my interests and I’m very excited to get started!

Courses like:

  • Techniques for Malware Analysis
  • Web Appliction Penetration Testing
  • Gaining Support for Your Security Program
  • Introduction to NIST Cybersecurity Framework

…and others are all about topics that I expect to be quite enjoyable.

I also will be producing another post with some examples of phishing attacks I’ve received. Some that were quite good and nearly motivated me to reveal credentials.

Passwords: Make it safe

Got hacked, locked out of files and accounts? It happens to lots and lots of people.

A few people are actual selected targets. A small minority I believe. The others? They’re the “catch” the result of cyber criminals casting a wide net with their tools.

When I talk with people about safe passwords they often say things like “I can’t remember so many” or “It’s too hard to come up with good memorable passwords” and often “I just don’t understand how to manage it”.

To them I say a password manager is your friend and protector. Refer to this article, Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Web Browser’s Password Manager, for useful information about password managers.

A few things that I see a bit differently than the article.

First, I disagree with the basic premise. In my experience the best way for people to start doing something new is to start from where they’re already at.

So if you want to use the password manager in your web browser then go ahead. You must stick to using that browser. If you already do that why not stick with it?

Second, I disagree that the open source password managers mentioned are more complex than the password managers mentioned, especially if you already store files on the cloud with Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

And I see an advantage for the separate password manager. If you use a password manager like KeepassX and the file sharing site gets hacked you’re still the only one with the password database’s password. If your online password manager site is hacked then all your passwords are compromised.

In the case of using your browser or something like LastPass to manage your passwords an account must be created with the provider of the password management service. Essentially only one layer of protection.

If KeepassX or something similar is used there’s two layers. The file sharing website and the password database itself.

Multi layer protection is where it’s at baby! (said in Austin Powers voice)

The most important part of all this is to set up different complex passwords for each site you use.

Use your browser’s password manager, an external service like LastPass or a separate password manager like KeepassX combined with an online file storage service to create unique complex passwords for each site you use and you’ve improved your security by leaps and bounds.