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The Latest Research in Software Engineering and Cybersecurity

The threat of insiders causing physical harm to fellow employees or themselves at an organization is real. In 2015 and 2016 alone, there were shootings in the U.S. by current or former employees in various workplaces, including at a television station in Virginia, a mowing equipment manufacturer in Kansas, an air force base in Texas, a transportation company in Texas, and a supermarket in Pennsylvania. These incidents resulted in seven fatalities and an additional 17 people injured. Additionally, the December 2015 shooting in San Bernadino, a mixture of workplace violence and radicalization, resulted in 14 deaths and 22 people injured.

According to an FBI report on workplace violence, 80 percent of the active-shooter situations that happened in the United States between 2000 and 2013 took place at work. Of those active-shooter incidents cited in the report, more than 46 percent were perpetrated by employees or former employees and 11 percent involved employees who had been terminated that day. The CERT Insider Threat Center conducted two back-to-back research initiatives to gain a deeper understanding of incidents of workplace violence in the context of insider threat. In this blog post, I describe our most recent research initiative to explore the technical detection of intended harm to self and/or others.

Invalid memory accesses are one of the most prevalent and serious of software vulnerabilities. Leakage of sensitive information caused by out-of-bounds reads is a relatively new problem that most recently took the form of the Open SSL HeartBleed vulnerability. In this blog post, I will describe research aimed at detecting the intended bounds of memory that given pointers should be able to access.

As part of an ongoing effort to keep you informed about our latest work, this blog post summarizes some recently published SEI reports, podcasts, and presentations highlighting our work in cyber warfare, emerging technologies and their risks, domain name system blocking to disrupt malware, best practices in network border protection, robotics, technical debt, and insider threat and workplace violence. These publications highlight the latest work of SEI technologists in these areas. This post includes a listing of each publication, author(s), and links where they can be accessed on the SEI website.

This blog post is also authored by William Klieber.

Exfiltration of sensitive data on mobile devices is a major concern for the DoD, other organizations, and individuals. Colluding apps in public use have been discovered by security researchers. The Mobile App Collusion attack, which spread across thousands of Android packages, is an example. Colluding apps, or a combination of a malicious app and leaky app, can use intents (messages sent to Android app components) to extract sensitive or private information from an Android phone. This blog post details our work to more precisely detect (i.e., with significantly fewer false positives) malicious exfiltration of sensitive information from an Android phone (even across multiple components), in a practical time and memory bound. In doing this work, we developed a new method for the broader class of problems, not limited to Android, involving information flow analysis for software systems that communicate by message passing: modular analysis with parameterized summaries of flow of sensitive information.

As the defense workforce attracts younger staff members, this digital native generation is having an effect. "To accommodate millennial IT workers, so-called 'digital natives,'" wrote Phil Goldstein in a May 2016 FedTech article, "the service branches of the Department of Defense need to square cybersecurity with the attitudes and behaviors of younger employees, according to senior defense IT officials." Digital natives approach technology differently than digital immigrants, which includes those born before the widespread use of technology. In this blog post, I explore five classic transition models to determine what, if any, considerations we need to account for in today's environment that are different from when they were first published, many of them before the digital natives phenomenon was identified.

The five models are related to technology transition and adoption, and they answer the following questions:

  • What kind of technology is it?
  • How big is the adoption being contemplated?
  • Who will be adopting the new technology?
  • What must change agents or technologists do to improve the chance of the technology's success?
  • How do we help people get from their current environment to one that leverages the new technology?

Each of these questions is supported by one or more 20th century transition models. Some are still useful as is; others may need to be adapted to the current environment. The observations about digital natives and digital immigrants come from my personal observations over the last 15 years in working with both populations, primarily transitioning practice-based technologies, such as Agile methods.

Insider threat continues to be a problem with approximately 50 percent of organizations experiencing at least one malicious insider incident per year, according to the 2017 U.S. State of Cybercrime Survey. Although the attack methods vary depending on the industry, the primary types of attacks identified by researchers at the CERT Insider Threat Center--theft of intellectual property, sabotage, fraud, and espionage--continue to hold true. In our work with public and private industry, we continue to see that insider threats are influenced by a combination of technical, behavioral, and organizational issues. To address these threats, we have published the fifth edition of the Common Sense Guide to Mitigating Insider Threats, which highlights policies, procedures, and technologies to mitigate insider threats in all areas of the organization. In this blog post, excerpted from the latest edition of the guide, I highlight five best practices that are important first steps for an organization interested in establishing a program to implement to protect and detect insider threats.

The first post in this series introduced the basic concepts of multicore processing and virtualization, highlighted their benefits, and outlined the challenges these technologies present. The second post addressed multicore processing, whereas the third and fourth posts concentrated on virtualization via virtual machines (VMs) and containers (containerization), respectively. This fifth and final post in the series provides general recommendations for the use of these three technologies--multicore processing, virtualization via VMs, and virtualization via containers--including mitigating their associated challenges.

by Dan Klinedinst
Vulnerability Analyst
CERT Division

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technology, information security vulnerabilities emerge from the deepening complexity. Unexpected interactions between hardware and software components can magnify the impact of a vulnerability. As technology continues its shift away from the PC-centric environment of the past to a cloud-based, perpetually connected world, it exposes sensitive systems and networks in ways that were never before imagined.

The information security community must be prepared to address emerging systemic vulnerabilities. To help identify these vulnerabilities, a team of researchers--in addition to myself, the team included Joel Land and Kyle O'Meara--identified at-risk, emerging technologies by breaking down major technology trends over the next 10 years. This blog post, which is abstracted from our technical report on this work, highlights the findings of our research, which helps the Department of Homeland Security United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) in their work towards vulnerability triage, outreach, and analysis.