New Year, New Vulnerabilities

Well, we got to ring in the new year with some major excitement, haven’t we? 2018 has met us with a nasty 1-2 punch combination, no doubt! First, the exposure of a vulnerability that effects millions of GPS tracking devices. Security researchers were able to access location history, send commands to the device (the same commands that would be sent via SMS), and activate or deactivate geo fencing alarms. All this was said to be possible with no authentication needed.

This was immediately followed up by the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities in what is essentially anything device connected to the internet. From mobile phones, to tablets, to laptop and desktop PCs, these flaws do expose us to some pretty significant risk. But the world is not, in fact, over. Not yet at least.

The RedLegg team has been fielding calls from clients, friends, and family about these vulnerabilities that have been drawing a lot of attention this week. There is significant implication as to the damage that could result from successful exploit of these issues, but we wanted to present some additional facts for consideration. Here’s what we know:


This vulnerability allows any application to access all system memory, including memory allocated for the kernel. Patches are being , and in some cases have been, rolled out and should be applied as soon as possible. So far, research indicates that only Intel chips have been shown to be vulnerable.


This vulnerability allows an application to force another application to access arbitrary portions of its memory, which can then be read through a side channel and affects nearly every CPU built on the x86 architecture. This vulnerability may require changes to processor architecture in order to fully mitigate. According to leading research, this vulnerability impacts Intel, AMD, and ARM chips. Due to the development life-cycle implemented by processor manufacturers, this issue will likely be around for a very long time.

Exploitation is possible. Security researchers produced and release proof of concept exploit code within roughly a day. There is no reason to believe that the bad guys will be working feverishly to weaponize these and deploy them for nefarious means. And while there definitely is significant risk associated with these vulnerabilities, there is no proof or reason to believe weaponized exploit code is in use in “the wild”.

Consider taking an inventory of all your systems by processor type, be sure to apply vendor patches as they become available, and track the progress of the updates as they’re released.

  • Microsoft has issued a patch for Windows 10, while other versions of Windows will be patched on the traditional Patch Tuesday on January 9, 2018.
  • MacOS 10.13.2 mitigates some of the disclosed vulnerabilities, but MacOS 10.13.3 will enhance or complete these mitigations.

For anyone using Qualys Vulnerability Management, Qualys will continue to release QIDs for any vendor patches that mitigate this vulnerability. A list of currently-released QIDs is being maintained in this Qualys Support article.

It’s an increasingly interesting time to be in the world of security, and an increasingly dangerous time to fall victim. Take the time to read the information that’s out there on these issues, there is a lot. But be sure to understand what you’re reading. Proof of concept exploits for these issues continue to surface, and with each release the potential for a weaponized exploit increases. Considering the number of devices impacted here, we really need to be watching the horizon as the research develops.

Happy New Year. Stay safe out there!


My New Year’s Resolution

How did we get here?

As I was enjoying the Christmas holiday with family, a revelation washed over me. My affinity for technology, once a healthy hobby, had devolved into a sick dependency and an addiction. This experience sparked some intense reflection into how I used to love getting my hands on the keyboard and getting online but now the internet is ubiquitous and ingrained into pretty much every aspect of my life. The joy had faded into an expectation and now, when I’m not connected, I find myself wondering what’s happening. I had to acknowledge that I’d fallen prey to FOMO.

I started to become more conscious of this over the days since and I started to see how much time I’d spent on some digital device looking at social media. But it was worse. After spending all day with my face in a screen, rather than have conversations over a meal I would thumb through Facebook and continue to evade the human connection. I started to look back on how many times someone would post something on Facebook or @ me on Twitter when we were in the same room.

How does it happen?

The root of the problem is that we are all, at our base roots, drug addicts. You may not drink. You may not smoke. You may avoid caffeine. But you’re human and therefore you’re an addict. There are some really great articles which explain this in deeper detail than I’ll cover here, but the fact is that we are all driven to seek satisfaction. With the internet, twitter, and texting we now have almost instant gratification of this desire to seek. We no longer have to leave a message on someone’s answering machine, wait for them to get home to listen to the message, and wait for a return call. Now you can just shoot a quick text. This increased level of instant gratification can create a dopamine induced loop. The dopamine starts you seeking, which leads to rewarding satisfaction, which sets us on another search. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.

Taking action

Well, now that I’ve realized how big this dependency has become, I have to do something about it. And being on an endless quest for knowledge and growth, I’ve devised a plan to not only break me from my obsession, but to use the opportunity to level up my skills in psychology and situational awareness.

Cutting the cord

The first step in my plan is to delete the social media applications from my phone. Not only will this help to my aim of breaking the compulsion to be connected, but also from the perspective of fewer distractions from the notifications associated and increased battery life on my smartphone. When I saw this tweet on the topic, I knew I was on the path to doing something right.

Filling the silence

As I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this endeavor, one that I admittedly expect to be quite challenging, I started forcing myself to slowly stop using the phone. When I become conscious that I’m surfing social media, I force myself to put the phone away and reinsert myself into real life. This has helped me to realize how I was getting the added benefit of escaping what was in front of me. Faced with this increased opportunity to engage people I have been enjoying more conversations where there used to be nothing but silence.

And hacking…

As with all things, one only takes from an experience what they put in. While this New Year’s resolution will certainly allow me to get closer with my friends and family, there is also a more nefarious method to my madness. In my continuing quest to improve my social engineering techniques, I intend to increase my use of various tactics during these random encounters with strangers. While these skills might be used for evil, my intent will be more to exercise my conversational techniques so that I might apply them in the field during penetration testing.

Using conversational signals, and techniques like projection, I’ll be working to learn more about how to profile people during random engagements, how to read them on the fly, and how to find the combination of conversational tactics that bring them to a place where I can extract a piece of data.


Today, I delete these apps from my phone. I’ll only be using social media from my laptop, when I’m online and connected. With every day that passes, I feel more and more like I’m living in a society prophesied in the movie Idiocracy. People are simultaneously becoming increasingly harder to deal with and decreasingly smart, and social media on demand only makes it worse. My intention is to learn more about people, learn more about myself, and generally become more present in the moments I have the privilege of experiencing as I navigate the choppy sea of life. Here’s to growth and adventure in 2018!

A Christmas Rant

Please allow me to rant for a moment…

I was engaged in a conversation recently when I was met with a statement that someone “had to buy me a gift, so it might as well be $thing.”


Let me get one thing absolutely straight, for anyone listening.

You are not *REQUIRED* to buy, make, or otherwise procure a gift for me for any reason other than because you want to. I conform to many social conventions to be congenial but I abhor the social requirement of reciprocal gift giving.

If I haven’t impacted your life in a manner significant enough to make you feel like showing your appreciation, don’t phone it in. If you haven’t come across something that just screams me, save your hard earned money. If you’re just buying the biggest canned gift basked that fits within your allotted gift amount because you’re obligated, please don’t.

The fact that someone might be forced into giving a gift totally sucks any enjoyment out of receiving said gift for me, as the recipient, and it puts me in a bit of an angry state when the tables are turned. Gifting used to mean something, and sometimes it still does. But more often than not in this consumer driven world, we use stuff as a substitute for substance. It is not!

I hope this doesn’t come off as me being a jerk- that is not my intent. But the commercialization of holidays like Christmas have completely destroyed the true meaning and have become disgusting perversions of what they’re supposed to mean.

I promise, I will get more joy out of spending time with people who matter, disengaging from a pretty much constant work culture, and finding some time to actually relax, than I will in another tie or reindeer boxer shorts or that knock off android tablet that you won from work.

CAVEAT: Bourbon. Bourbon is always accepted and appreciated.

Introduction to Password Manager Software

Using a Password Manager

password managerI’ve had several conversations recently where I’ve mentioned responsible password management and people make it clear they have no clue what I’m talking about. With the number of sites with which we interact, and with the increasing probability that one or more of those sites are or will become compromised, using a password manager is more important than ever!

What is a Password Manager?

More often than not, when I have these conversations with people, I learn they don’t even know what a password manager is. I can’t rightly blame someone for what they don’t know, but as much as we depend on accessing information on the internet, I feel compelled to do what I can to spread the word and raise awareness.

So what exactly is a password manager? A password manager, or password vault, is software that stores your passwords – crazy, eh?. Most modern password managers have password generator functions which allow for unique, strong passwords to be created for each site and provide mechanisms for copying passwords from your database to paste them into the application- this is nice because it circumvents the need to manually type long, complex passwords. Stored locally, or online, these databases collect all the credentials for sensitive services and they’re all protected by one “master password”.

Picking a Password Manager

As with most things these days, there are several solid choices in password manager software. I highly recommend putting several through the pace and determine which is right for you. As with any other software solution, there is no right answer, no “silver bullet”. Each solution has it’s own positive and negative points and it’s up to you, the user, to decide which one works best for your needs.

Each year, there are several reliable sources who publish their “best of” list for pretty much everything and password managers are no exception. While there are many lists published, a few of the sources I tend to follow closely are PC Magazine, Tom’s Guide, and PC World. I recommend taking the time to read these articles and do your research as you pick two or three options to test. Then, when you have a couple contenders, put them to use.


As you start choosing an option for a password manager, there are several things to consider. Planning ahead can allow a more realistic test and will also ensure you’re evaluating candidates based off of features you want.

User Interface

One feature to take into consideration is the user interface (UI). Once you start using your password manager regularly, you will find that you spend a lot of time interacting with it. Having a decent UI is important because the interface is the front line of the user experience. If you don’t like the interface, you won’t like the software.


How is the data stored? How is it protected? What controls are in place to keep your passwords safe from prying eyes? If you interact with sensitive services, like insurance or banking for example, you want a certain level of certainty that these passwords won’t be available to the world.


On top of keeping out those who don’t belong, what does your password manager do to ensure your data can’t be manipulated by anyone other than the authorized parties? This becomes a concern when you have multiple people accessing the data. Make sure the password manager you pick gives good control over users and the level of access to the data.


One of the biggest struggles I’ve had personally, has been the availability of my data. I’ll explain in a future post the methods I use to manage my credentials, and you’ll find that even as someone who has spent years improving my credential management my system has faults and isn’t perfect. As you evaluate password managers, make sure you are able to access your data reliably. This may mean across multiple devices or operating systems, may require having an offline solution in the event of no internet access, or may even depend on multiple users or collaboration features.

Other Features

I’ve outlined a few of the key features that have proven important to me as someone who manages hundreds of passwords. While these certainly aren’t all of the important features they are certainly good food for thought. As you test potential candidates, take time to note things you like, things you don’t like, and things you can’t live without


Types of Password Managers

Another consideration as you evaluate potential password manager solutions is the type of software. As of the time of this writing, there are two basic types of password managers.

Locally Installed Software

Password managers are commonly found on the user’s personal computer or mobile device in the form of a locally installed software application. These applications can function offline, the password database being stored independently and locally on the same device as the password manager software. Alternatively, password managers may offer or require a cloud-based approach, the password database depending on an online file hosting service and stored remotely, but handled by password management software installed on the user’s device.

One good example of a locally stored password manager would be Keepass. I’ve used Keepass personally, a topic I’ll expand on in later posts, but it seems that locally installed solutions are coming to be less favorable to their web-based counterparts.

Web Based Services

Online password managers are web applications which securely store credentials. They are a web-based version of the what used to be more  common locally installed software. In recent years  we’ve seen the popularity shift from the locally installed applications to these hosted solutions.

There are several advantages to online password managers over desktop-based versions such as portability (they can generally be used on any computer with a web browser and a network connection, without having to install software), and a reduced risk of losing passwords through theft from or damage to a single PC – also the same risk is present for the server that is used to store the users passwords on. This is nothing new as we should all be in the habit of backing up our data by now!

The biggest disadvantage of online password managers lie in the requirements that the user trusts the hosting site and the computer used to access the site isn’t compromised. All too often our compensating controls are circumvented due to poor security practices. All too often users forfeit security for convenience.

With the increased security of these applications, their popularity has skyrocketed to surpass that of the locally installed counterpart. These hosted solutions resolve many of the concerns that users have to address on their own, or just go without. I have begun to explore web-based password managers, choosing LastPass as my first test subject. In future posts, I’ll aim to share my experiences and then compare the two.

Why Use a Password Manager

It is important to use a password manager because responsible password management without help is difficult. People are certainly capable of creating complex passwords but the way passwords are managed often introduce vulnerability:

Password Reuse

Using the same password for multiple sites and/or never changing passwords. is called password reuse. This practice is often the downfall of organizations during compromise. More often than not, when I’m performing penetration tests, a single compromised account leads to further access and additional stolen credentials.

Simple Passwords

Simple passwords are short in length, use words found in dictionaries, don’t mix in different character types (numbers, punctuation, upper/lower case), or are otherwise easily guessable. Unfortunately, password policies are often ineffective. According to NIST SP 800-63, updated password best practices include:

  • Minimum of 8 characters
  • Maximum of 64 characters
  • Applications must allow all printable ASCII characters, including spaces
  • Applications should accept all UNICODE characters including emoji

Note: This is just a few points and NOT a comprehensive list of password best practices. Please refer to NIST SP 800-63 for detailed information.

Using a password manager allows complex, unique passwords to be generated for each application.

Poorly Secured Passwords

Another big weakness is how users store and secure their passwords. In the field, I often find passwords on sticky notes on monitors, in a notepad by the computer, or in a document on the computer. There are many ridiculous places people think their passwords are secure but they are not. Using a password manager eliminates the need to worry about where or how this data is stored and allows responsible storage of credentials in an encrypted database file.

Shared Passwords

Users often tell each other passwords, send unencrypted emails containing passwords, or contractors use the same password for all their accounts. Using a password manager can provide a safe way to share credentials that can be tracked and audited.

In addition to all these points, using a password manager can also defend against phishing attacks by recognizing malicious login portals and preventing submitting credentials to an illegitimate source. Password managers also combat keyloggers by eliminating the keystrokes during authentication.

The Dark Side of the Moon

If the passwords are stored in an unencrypted fashion, it is still generally possible to obtain the passwords given local access to the machine. As a general rule, if a password manager doesn’t use encryption, it should be avoided.

Some password managers use a user-selected “master password” to generate the key used to encrypt the protected passwords. The downside to this method lies in the complexity of the master password. If the master password can be easily guessed, or if the master password itself is stored locally where a malicious program or individual could read it. A compromised master password renders all of the protected passwords vulnerable.

As with any system involving a user entering a password, the master password may also be compromised using key logging or other nefarious means. Some password managers offer virtual keyboards as a compensating control but these are still vulnerable to key loggers which take screenshots as data is entered. Because of the many ways passwords can be captured, it is always wise to implement multi-factor authentication wherever possible.

Web-based password managers, which run inside the user’s browser, are particularly worrisome. Here are a few of the security concerns associated with web-based password managers:

  • Authorization flaws – One possible problem is mistaking authentication with authorization. Several web-based password managers had, at one point in time, such flaws. Several web-based password managers were found to insecurely allow users to share credentials with other users. For the most part, these issues have been resolved as well.
  • User Interface flaws – Some password managers will ask the user to log in through an iframe which is known to be insecure. This method trains users to fill in her password while the URL displayed by the browser is not the one of the password manager. This could be exploited in a phishing attack by creating a fake iframe and capturing the user’s credentials. A more secure way to do this would be to open a new tab where users can login to the password manager.
  • Web flaws – General web vulnerabilities can also be present in web-based password managers. Issues such as XSS and CSRF vulnerabilities may be exploited by attackers to steal a user’s password.

As a final consideration, password managers have the disadvantage that any attacker just needs to know one password to gain access to all of a targeted user’s credentials and that such managers have standardized locations and ways of storing passwords which can be exploited by malware and unauthorized users alike.


To sum it all up, the password manager is just one layer of the onion that is a personal password management policy. Getting away from bad password generation and management habits are extremely important! If you’ve read any of this post and thought “hey, I do that”, please change how you do passwords! Even if you think you have a pretty strong password management process, implementing a password manager can only make a good thing better. I also plan to explore password aging , multi-factor authentication, and other layers of this onion that will help make password management make better sense while keeping you more secure. Until then, be aware, stay alert, and protect yourself!

Detecting and Removing Android Malware

Android Malware

A friend reached out recently asking for some advice as to how to determine if her Android device had been infected. Apparently, she’d fallen prey to a Facebook Messenger attack and clicked on a dirty link, now her phone was doing some weird things. So after walking her through the process, I figured it might be worth sharing with others. Also, I have been too busy to write much so it’s a chance for me to turn the notes into a post- 2 birds and all that!

NOTE: If you rooted your device, you should be able to fix it. These steps still apply, in some capacity, but rooting the device opens up a whole other can of worms from a security aspect. 

CAVEAT: Before we go on, we should level-set our understanding to one sad but simple fact. Modern malware is nasty. Software isn’t made well in many cases and it is entirely too easy for a skilled bad guy to outsmart the good guys. If your device is infected, I highly recommend backing up your data to salvage what you can and do a factory reset on the device. We can take our chances with disinfecting, but a reset is always the safest bet if you can afford it.

Indicators of Compromise

While none of these are issues in and of themselves, technology is messy and sometimes things happen. But if you experience these symptoms regularly, it’s increasingly likely that there is an issue.

Decreased Performance

Different behavior from a device is the first indicator that something may be afoot. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean just being slow because that is an inherent trait of the Android platform. Much like your laptop or desktop, these devices need maintenance in order to run properly. You may just need to do some housekeeping. We’ll look more at removing malware and doing general housekeeping later on in the post, but let’s look at some signs of infection.

Bad Battery Life

Another IoC is when batteries mysteriously drain quicker than usual. Users generally have a good idea of how long their battery should last. Sudden, increased battery usage is likely due to something suspicious. Continuously displaying aggressive ads, for example, can impact battery life significantly. Malware may hide in plain sight by pretending to be a regular application or try to stay hidden from the user, abnormal battery drainage can indicate the presence of an Android infection.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Disruptions during a conversation or dropped calls are another indication of a possible infection. While this can also be the fault of your carrier, malware could be the culprit. Call your service provider to determine if there are any service issues with the network in your area. It’s important to determine if this is the fault of the carrier, or if something more worrisome is going on.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

Android malware can steal data from your device, send text messages to premium numbers, and even make phone calls from a compromised device. This malware  may send an SMS message irregularly to fly under the radar, or may self-destruct after making substantial charges, uninstalling from the device without a trace. Consider setting up usage quotas to help identify anomalies here. Finally, check your phone bill often to determine if anything nefarious is going on.


If you’re still reading, I’ll presume that you’ve determined, using the Indicators of Compromise above, that your device is compromised. The next step is to start cleaning up the mess. Following these steps can help get things back to normal.

Out with the Bad

The very first thing you want to do, in the event of an infection, is to uninstall anything you no longer need or use. Going through your application manager allows you to identify, and remove, any apps that might be causing problem. It’s also important to look at things you didn’t install as Android malware has been known to act as a “trojan dropper” which simply assists in getting more devious malware onto a compromised device. A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used the application in the last 3 months, it can probably go.

Scan for Threats

The next step is to scan the device using some security software. I’ll talk more about general antivirus solutions for android later, but I highly recommend Malwarebyte’s AntiMalware for this task. While nothing is perfect, MBAM is a good starting point for disinfecting an infected device.

Clean the Crap

By this point, we have established at least a little faith in the device. Next it’s important to delete the remnants of unwanted data and free up as much space as we can. Crap Cleaner, or CCleaner, from Pirform Software has long since been a solid housekeeping solution for laptops and desktops for some time. I was elated when they released a mobile version! CCleaner is able to clean cached data, downloaded files, and even gets rid of the old APK files that have been left over after installing apps. Use this handy app regularly to free up space and keep your device running smoothly.

Install Antivirus

Antivirus has served a valuable place in computing for decades and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. If you’re using a device that’s connected to the internet, you should be using some form of antivirus. This goes for your mobile device(s) just as for a laptop or desktop or anything else. There are many solutions out there and I have no intention of opening this can of worms right now. Consider researching the options and determining which is best for you. It’s never a bad idea to test several options but remember, test only one antivirus solution at a time as multiple installations could create conflicts and actually decrease the efficacy of the software. Here is a link to some content by sources I respect. Take some time to do your homework and pick the solution that’s best for you.

Stay Vigilant

These devices have become increasingly important in our day-to-day lives, and they contain more and more sensitive data as a result. Because of this dependence, we have to protect these devices in order to protect our data. While there is no “silver bullet”, and anything can be hacked, these steps can at least make you a harder target.

Default Settings

Am I actually advocating for leaving default settings in place? Yes, I am. Android devices come shipped with several security controls in place which work to prevent compromise in the event of dangerous situations. Leaving these settings in place can help to prevent attacks such as a trojan dropper. Another good default setting to mention here is that of keeping the USB Debugging feature turned OFF. Turning USB Debugging on could allow unauthorized users to gain access to sensitive data on the device without permission.

Shop Responsibly

The Google Play Store is the only source you should trust for installing applications on your Android device. Let me say that again. The Google Play Store is the only source you should trust for installing applications on your Android device.  Google Protect provides several layers of security around the apps that make it to the Play Store and has been proven time and again to quickly address any potential issues that fall through the cracks. Avoid installing apps from other sources that might not be so diligent.

Police your Permissions

One of the longest standing complaints I’ve had about the Android platform is the unnecessarily permissive app requests. For example, if you’re downloading a simple game like Angry Birds, why does it need access to your contact list? Unfortunately, Android users are in a pickle. If you want to use the app, you have to accept the permissions. There’s really no way around it. So, when you’re installing an app, just review these carefully and ask yourself if it’s really necessary.


At the end of the day, due diligence pays off. Knowing what you’re installing and having confidence in the source, as well as paying attention to anomalies, all go a long way to keeping your device safe. Perform regular maintenance on your device by checking for rogue apps and deleting any files that aren’t needed. Take the chance to reduce the attack surface wherever you can and you’ll make yourself a harder target to hit.

Profiling a WordPress Attack

Hacking the Hackers

WordPress SecurityWelcome back to those of you playing along at home. This site has been down for a considerable amount of time, but I’m back! And I bring with me tales from the battlefield. Let’s talk a little about WordPress and security, shall we?

A WordPress honeypot

Some time ago, while doing maintenance on the site, I identified an opportunity for a research project. I decided it would be fun to turn the WordPress installation into a honeypot and collect some threat intelligence.  I decided it was time once again to delve into the current state of WordPress security. So I disabled the security controls, stopped updating the software and sat back to watch the world burn.

It didn’t take long before I started seeing scans pour in. And in a matter of days I captured some malware and began to catalog the attack patterns of WordPress attackers. It’s fascinating to see the evolution of PHP malware as related to WordPress specifically. I spent some time doing extensive research into the breach, analyzing the attack patterns, and even tracing the honey data that was posted in various parts of the internet. Eventually I’ll be writing that up as a blog series later in the year to show you how it all played out, but for now I’m getting things back online and ready to roll it out, so here we go!

So welcome back and thanks for joining me for the next chapter of the adventure! I’ll be repopulating the database in the near future to re-establish a lot of the old content, and going forward if there is content you like please say so and I will mark it for salvation in case this happens again. As always, if you have questions or if there is some content you’d like to see covered here, don’t hesitate to contact me! I’m always happy to engage others and to push myself to produce desired content. I appreciate you for taking the time to visit and hope to see you around the internet.

Grand Re-Opening