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Windows BitLocker Claims

December 7th, 2009 Comments off

Windows 7 is seeing success in the marketplace which I am very happy about from a security perspective. The Microsoft Security Intelligence Report has shown us again and again that the more up-to-date a PC is, the less likely it is to be infected by malware and other potentially dangerous software. So Windows 7 making strides is helpful to the ecosystem overall from a security standpoint. Success comes at a price though, through greater scrutiny and misinterpretation of some of the technologies. One of those technologies is BitLocker.

I’ve seen numerous claims the past few weeks about weaknesses in BitLocker and even claims of commercial software that “breaks” BitLocker. One claim is from a product that “allows bypassing BitLocker encryption for seized computers.” This claim is for a forensics product and has legitimate uses; however, to say it “breaks” BitLocker is a bit of a misnomer. The tool “recovers encryption keys for hard drives” which relies on the assumption that a physical image of memory is accessible, which is not the case if you follow BitLocker’s best practices guidance. The product, like others used legitimately for data recovery and digital forensics analysis, requires “a physical memory image file of the target computer” to extract the encryption keys for a BitLocker disk.  Our discussions of Windows BitLocker have always been to communicate that it is intended to help protect data at rest (e.g. when the machine is powered off). If a forensics analyst or thief/adversary has physical access to a running system, it may be possible to make a copy of the computer’s memory contents by using an administrative account on the system, or potentially through hardware-based methods such as direct memory access (DMA).

Another report discusses targeted attack vectors where the attacker must gain physical access to the computer, multiple times I might add. This research is similar to other published attacks where the owner leaves a computer unattended in a hotel room and anyone with access to the room could tamper with this computer. This sort of targeted attack poses a relatively low risk to folks who use BitLocker in the real world. Even with BitLocker’s multi-authentication configurations, an attacker could spoof the pre-OS collection of the user’s PIN, store this PIN for later retrieval, and then reboot into the authentic collection of the user’s PIN. The attacker would then be required to gain physical access to the laptop for a second time in order to retrieve the user’s PIN and complete the attack scheme. These sorts of targeted threats are not new and are something we’ve addressed in the past; in 2006 we discussed similar attacks, where we’ve been straightforward with customers and partners that BitLocker does not protect against these unlikely, targeted attacks.

Our customers are confronted with a wide spectrum of data security threats that are specific to their environment and we work hard to provide capabilities and information to help the customer achieve the right balance of security, manageability, and ease-of-use for their specific circumstances. BitLocker is an effective solution to help safeguard personal and private data on mobile PCs and provides a number of protection options that meet different end-user needs.  Like most full volume encryption products on the market, BitLocker uses a key-in memory when the system is running in order to encrypt/decrypt data on the fly for the drives in use.  Also like other encryption products, a determined adversary has significant advantages when they have physical access to a computer.

We recognize users want advice with regards to BitLocker and have published best practice guidance in The Data Encryption Toolkit for Mobile PCs. In the toolkit, we discuss the balance of security and usability and detail that the most secure method to use BitLocker in hibernate mode and a TPM+PIN configuration. Using this method, a machine that is powered off or hibernated will protect users from the ability to extract a physical memory image of the computer.

Windows 7 BitLocker continues to be a foundational component adding to any defense in depth strategy for securing systems, and specifically laptops.  Even with the great enhancements made in Windows 7 such as BitLocker To Go, it still remains that BitLocker alone is not a complete security solution.  IT professionals as well as users must be diligent when protecting IT resources and the best protection against these sorts of targeted attacks requires more than just technology: it requires end user education and physical security also play important roles.

Windows BitLocker Claims

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Windows 7 is seeing success in the marketplace which I am very happy about from a security perspective. The Microsoft Security Intelligence Report has shown us again and again that the more up-to-date a PC is, the less likely it is to be infected by malware and other potentially dangerous software. So Windows 7 making strides is helpful to the ecosystem overall from a security standpoint. Success comes at a price though, through greater scrutiny and misinterpretation of some of the technologies. One of those technologies is BitLocker.

I’ve seen numerous claims the past few weeks about weaknesses in BitLocker and even claims of commercial software that “breaks” BitLocker. One claim is from a product that “allows bypassing BitLocker encryption for seized computers.” This claim is for a forensics product and has legitimate uses; however, to say it “breaks” BitLocker is a bit of a misnomer. The tool “recovers encryption keys for hard drives” which relies on the assumption that a physical image of memory is accessible, which is not the case if you follow BitLocker’s best practices guidance. The product, like others used legitimately for data recovery and digital forensics analysis, requires “a physical memory image file of the target computer” to extract the encryption keys for a BitLocker disk.  Our discussions of Windows BitLocker have always been to communicate that it is intended to help protect data at rest (e.g. when the machine is powered off). If a forensics analyst or thief/adversary has physical access to a running system, it may be possible to make a copy of the computer’s memory contents by using an administrative account on the system, or potentially through hardware-based methods such as direct memory access (DMA).

Another report discusses targeted attack vectors where the attacker must gain physical access to the computer, multiple times I might add. This research is similar to other published attacks where the owner leaves a computer unattended in a hotel room and anyone with access to the room could tamper with this computer. This sort of targeted attack poses a relatively low risk to folks who use BitLocker in the real world. Even with BitLocker’s multi-authentication configurations, an attacker could spoof the pre-OS collection of the user’s PIN, store this PIN for later retrieval, and then reboot into the authentic collection of the user’s PIN. The attacker would then be required to gain physical access to the laptop for a second time in order to retrieve the user’s PIN and complete the attack scheme. These sorts of targeted threats are not new and are something we’ve addressed in the past; in 2006 we discussed similar attacks, where we’ve been straightforward with customers and partners that BitLocker does not protect against these unlikely, targeted attacks.

Our customers are confronted with a wide spectrum of data security threats that are specific to their environment and we work hard to provide capabilities and information to help the customer achieve the right balance of security, manageability, and ease-of-use for their specific circumstances. BitLocker is an effective solution to help safeguard personal and private data on mobile PCs and provides a number of protection options that meet different end-user needs.  Like most full volume encryption products on the market, BitLocker uses a key-in memory when the system is running in order to encrypt/decrypt data on the fly for the drives in use.  Also like other encryption products, a determined adversary has significant advantages when they have physical access to a computer.

We recognize users want advice with regards to BitLocker and have published best practice guidance in The Data Encryption Toolkit for Mobile PCs. In the toolkit, we discuss the balance of security and usability and detail that the most secure method to use BitLocker in hibernate mode and a TPM+PIN configuration. Using this method, a machine that is powered off or hibernated will protect users from the ability to extract a physical memory image of the computer.

Windows 7 BitLocker continues to be a foundational component adding to any defense in depth strategy for securing systems, and specifically laptops.  Even with the great enhancements made in Windows 7 such as BitLocker To Go, it still remains that BitLocker alone is not a complete security solution.  IT professionals as well as users must be diligent when protecting IT resources and the best protection against these sorts of targeted attacks requires more than just technology: it requires end user education and physical security also play important roles.

Windows BitLocker Claims

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Windows 7 is seeing success in the marketplace which I am very happy about from a security perspective. The Microsoft Security Intelligence Report has shown us again and again that the more up-to-date a PC is, the less likely it is to be infected by malware and other potentially dangerous software. So Windows 7 making strides is helpful to the ecosystem overall from a security standpoint. Success comes at a price though, through greater scrutiny and misinterpretation of some of the technologies. One of those technologies is BitLocker.

I’ve seen numerous claims the past few weeks about weaknesses in BitLocker and even claims of commercial software that “breaks” BitLocker. One claim is from a product that “allows bypassing BitLocker encryption for seized computers.” This claim is for a forensics product and has legitimate uses; however, to say it “breaks” BitLocker is a bit of a misnomer. The tool “recovers encryption keys for hard drives” which relies on the assumption that a physical image of memory is accessible, which is not the case if you follow BitLocker’s best practices guidance. The product, like others used legitimately for data recovery and digital forensics analysis, requires “a physical memory image file of the target computer” to extract the encryption keys for a BitLocker disk.  Our discussions of Windows BitLocker have always been to communicate that it is intended to help protect data at rest (e.g. when the machine is powered off). If a forensics analyst or thief/adversary has physical access to a running system, it may be possible to make a copy of the computer’s memory contents by using an administrative account on the system, or potentially through hardware-based methods such as direct memory access (DMA).

Another report discusses targeted attack vectors where the attacker must gain physical access to the computer, multiple times I might add. This research is similar to other published attacks where the owner leaves a computer unattended in a hotel room and anyone with access to the room could tamper with this computer. This sort of targeted attack poses a relatively low risk to folks who use BitLocker in the real world. Even with BitLocker’s multi-authentication configurations, an attacker could spoof the pre-OS collection of the user’s PIN, store this PIN for later retrieval, and then reboot into the authentic collection of the user’s PIN. The attacker would then be required to gain physical access to the laptop for a second time in order to retrieve the user’s PIN and complete the attack scheme. These sorts of targeted threats are not new and are something we’ve addressed in the past; in 2006 we discussed similar attacks, where we’ve been straightforward with customers and partners that BitLocker does not protect against these unlikely, targeted attacks.

Our customers are confronted with a wide spectrum of data security threats that are specific to their environment and we work hard to provide capabilities and information to help the customer achieve the right balance of security, manageability, and ease-of-use for their specific circumstances. BitLocker is an effective solution to help safeguard personal and private data on mobile PCs and provides a number of protection options that meet different end-user needs.  Like most full volume encryption products on the market, BitLocker uses a key-in memory when the system is running in order to encrypt/decrypt data on the fly for the drives in use.  Also like other encryption products, a determined adversary has significant advantages when they have physical access to a computer.

We recognize users want advice with regards to BitLocker and have published best practice guidance in The Data Encryption Toolkit for Mobile PCs. In the toolkit, we discuss the balance of security and usability and detail that the most secure method to use BitLocker in hibernate mode and a TPM+PIN configuration. Using this method, a machine that is powered off or hibernated will protect users from the ability to extract a physical memory image of the computer.

Windows 7 BitLocker continues to be a foundational component adding to any defense in depth strategy for securing systems, and specifically laptops.  Even with the great enhancements made in Windows 7 such as BitLocker To Go, it still remains that BitLocker alone is not a complete security solution.  IT professionals as well as users must be diligent when protecting IT resources and the best protection against these sorts of targeted attacks requires more than just technology: it requires end user education and physical security also play important roles.

Windows 7 Vulnerability Claims

November 7th, 2009 Comments off

Now that Windows 7 is available, a recent blog by Chester Wisnieski (who works at security vendor Sophos), entitled Windows 7 vulnerable to 8 out of 10 viruses, which has stirred some interest.

Here’s a quick summary for those who missed Chester’s blog. During a test SophosLabs conducted, they subjected Windows 7 to “10 unique [malware] samples that arrived in the SophosLabs feed.” They utilized a clean install of Windows 7, using default settings (including the UAC defaults), but did not install any anti-virus software. The end result was 8 of the 10 malware samples successfully ran and the blog proclaims that “Windows 7 disappointed just like earlier versions of Windows.” Chester’s final conclusion? “You still need to run anti-virus on Windows 7.” Well, we agree: users of any computer, on any platform, should run anti-virus software, including those running Windows 7.

Clearly, the findings of this unofficial test are by no means conclusive, and several members of the press have picked apart the findings, so I don’t need to do that. I’m a firm believer that if you run unknown code on your machine, bad things can happen. This test shows just that; however, most people don’t knowingly have and run known malware on their system. Malware typically makes it onto a system through other avenues like the browser or email program. So while I absolutely agree that anti-virus software is essential to protecting your PC, there are other defenses as well.

Let me recap some of the Windows 7 security basics. Windows 7 is built upon the security platform of Windows Vista, which included a defense-in-depth approach to help protect customers from malware. This includes features like User Account Control (UAC), Kernel Patch Protection, Windows Service Hardening, Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), and Data Execution Prevention (DEP) to name just a few. The result, Windows 7 retains and refines the development processes, including going through the Security Development Lifecycle, and technologies that made Windows Vista the most secure Windows operating system ever released.

Beyond the core security of Windows 7, we have also done a lot of work with Windows 7 to make it harder for malware to reach a user’s PCs in the first place. One of my favorite new features is the SmartScreen Filter in Internet Explorer 8. The SmartScreen Filter was built upon the phishing protection in Internet Explorer 7 and (among other new benefits) adds protection from malware. The SmartScreen Filter will notify you when you attempt to download software that is unsafe – which the SophosLabs methodology totally bypassed in doing their test.

So while I’m not a fan of companies sensationalizing findings about Windows 7 in order to sell more of their own software, I nevertheless agree with them that you still need to run anti-virus software on Windows 7.  This is why we’ve made our Microsoft Security Essentials offering available for free to customers. But it’s also equally important to keep all of your software up to date through automatic updates, such as through the Windows Update service. By configuring your computers to download and install updates automatically you will help ensure that you have the highest level of protection against malware and other vulnerabilities.

Windows 7 Vulnerability Claims

November 7th, 2009 No comments

Now that Windows 7 is available, a recent blog by Chester Wisnieski (who works at security vendor Sophos), entitled Windows 7 vulnerable to 8 out of 10 viruses, which has stirred some interest.

Here’s a quick summary for those who missed Chester’s blog. During a test SophosLabs conducted, they subjected Windows 7 to “10 unique [malware] samples that arrived in the SophosLabs feed.” They utilized a clean install of Windows 7, using default settings (including the UAC defaults), but did not install any anti-virus software. The end result was 8 of the 10 malware samples successfully ran and the blog proclaims that “Windows 7 disappointed just like earlier versions of Windows.” Chester’s final conclusion? “You still need to run anti-virus on Windows 7.” Well, we agree: users of any computer, on any platform, should run anti-virus software, including those running Windows 7.

Clearly, the findings of this unofficial test are by no means conclusive, and several members of the press have picked apart the findings, so I don’t need to do that. I’m a firm believer that if you run unknown code on your machine, bad things can happen. This test shows just that; however, most people don’t knowingly have and run known malware on their system. Malware typically makes it onto a system through other avenues like the browser or email program. So while I absolutely agree that anti-virus software is essential to protecting your PC, there are other defenses as well.

Let me recap some of the Windows 7 security basics. Windows 7 is built upon the security platform of Windows Vista, which included a defense-in-depth approach to help protect customers from malware. This includes features like User Account Control (UAC), Kernel Patch Protection, Windows Service Hardening, Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), and Data Execution Prevention (DEP) to name just a few. The result, Windows 7 retains and refines the development processes, including going through the Security Development Lifecycle, and technologies that made Windows Vista the most secure Windows operating system ever released.

Beyond the core security of Windows 7, we have also done a lot of work with Windows 7 to make it harder for malware to reach a user’s PCs in the first place. One of my favorite new features is the SmartScreen Filter in Internet Explorer 8. The SmartScreen Filter was built upon the phishing protection in Internet Explorer 7 and (among other new benefits) adds protection from malware. The SmartScreen Filter will notify you when you attempt to download software that is unsafe – which the SophosLabs methodology totally bypassed in doing their test.

So while I’m not a fan of companies sensationalizing findings about Windows 7 in order to sell more of their own software, I nevertheless agree with them that you still need to run anti-virus software on Windows 7.  This is why we’ve made our Microsoft Security Essentials offering available for free to customers. But it’s also equally important to keep all of your software up to date through automatic updates, such as through the Windows Update service. By configuring your computers to download and install updates automatically you will help ensure that you have the highest level of protection against malware and other vulnerabilities.

New Microsoft Security Intelligence Report Released

November 2nd, 2009 Comments off

Volume seven of the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (SIRv7) – part of Microsoft’s  commitment to providing an unparalleled level of security intelligence to help keep individuals and organizations better informed and to maximize security investments – was released today and there are a couple of tidbits in the report that caught my attention that I thought I would pass on. As a reminder, the SIR is published by Microsoft twice per year and looks at the data and trends observed in the first and second halves of each calendar year.

The first thing that struck me while reading through the report is that for the first time, the SIR shares some high-level security best practices from countries that have consistently exhibited low malware infection. For example, Japan, Austria and Germany’s infection rates remained relatively low during the first half of this year.

So how do these regions keep their customers and resources safe from cyber threats?  Japan’s infection rates remain relatively low is due in large part to collaborations like the Cyber Clean Center. The Cyber Clean Center is a cooperative project between ISPs, major security vendors and Japanese government agencies aimed at educating users on how to keep their PCs infection free. Austria has implemented strict IT enforcement guidelines to lower piracy rates and this, along with strong ISP relationships and fast Internet lines, has helped ensure the ecosystem is kept up to date with security patches. Germany has also leveraged collaboration efforts with its CERT and ISP communities to help identify and raise awareness of botnet infections and, in some cases, quarantine infected computers.

The other thing that stood out to me was the graph below. This graph shows the effectiveness of automatic updating and shows what happened to the trojan downloader family Win32/Renos once Microsoft released a signature update for Windows Defender via Windows Update and Microsoft Update. Within three days, enough computers had received the new signature update to reduce the error reports from 1.2 million per day to less than 100,000 per day worldwide! To me this shows how important it is for users and organizations to utilize automatic updates to help prevent the spread of malware! 

The report also underscores some of the trends that we have seen from previous versions of the report: for example, the infection rate for Windows Vista is significantly lower than that of its predecessor, Windows XP. It also tells me that the higher the service pack levels of an OS, the lower the infection rate. Once again, these items help point out that you need to keep your software up-to-date. With Windows 7 now available it might be a good time to look at upgrading your OS!

Take a look at the full report at http://www.microsoft.com/sir and use the information to help protect yourself, your networks, and your users.

New Microsoft Security Intelligence Report Released

November 2nd, 2009 No comments

Volume seven of the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (SIRv7) – part of Microsoft’s  commitment to providing an unparalleled level of security intelligence to help keep individuals and organizations better informed and to maximize security investments – was released today and there are a couple of tidbits in the report that caught my attention that I thought I would pass on. As a reminder, the SIR is published by Microsoft twice per year and looks at the data and trends observed in the first and second halves of each calendar year.

The first thing that struck me while reading through the report is that for the first time, the SIR shares some high-level security best practices from countries that have consistently exhibited low malware infection. For example, Japan, Austria and Germany’s infection rates remained relatively low during the first half of this year.

So how do these regions keep their customers and resources safe from cyber threats?  Japan’s infection rates remain relatively low is due in large part to collaborations like the Cyber Clean Center. The Cyber Clean Center is a cooperative project between ISPs, major security vendors and Japanese government agencies aimed at educating users on how to keep their PCs infection free. Austria has implemented strict IT enforcement guidelines to lower piracy rates and this, along with strong ISP relationships and fast Internet lines, has helped ensure the ecosystem is kept up to date with security patches. Germany has also leveraged collaboration efforts with its CERT and ISP communities to help identify and raise awareness of botnet infections and, in some cases, quarantine infected computers.

The other thing that stood out to me was the graph below. This graph shows the effectiveness of automatic updating and shows what happened to the trojan downloader family Win32/Renos once Microsoft released a signature update for Windows Defender via Windows Update and Microsoft Update. Within three days, enough computers had received the new signature update to reduce the error reports from 1.2 million per day to less than 100,000 per day worldwide! To me this shows how important it is for users and organizations to utilize automatic updates to help prevent the spread of malware! 

The report also underscores some of the trends that we have seen from previous versions of the report: for example, the infection rate for Windows Vista is significantly lower than that of its predecessor, Windows XP. It also tells me that the higher the service pack levels of an OS, the lower the infection rate. Once again, these items help point out that you need to keep your software up-to-date. With Windows 7 now available it might be a good time to look at upgrading your OS!

Take a look at the full report at http://www.microsoft.com/sir and use the information to help protect yourself, your networks, and your users.