Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Live Test of FUD Value: Pro/Con?

Can you achieve “security goodness” (and common good) by FUD and [possibly] stretching the truth? Let’s debate this one!
The story started here with this letter from an unknown-but-now-infamous PoS (=point of sale aka cash register – for the non-PCI crowd) vendor about using Windows 2000 after Microsoft EOL’s it and no more security updates come. The letter makes an argument that any OS no longer supported by the vendor will be automatically out of compliance. StorefrontBacktalk, that covers retail tech (and payment security), has a good story on this here. They say:
“For your overflowing folder marked “Ludicrous PCI Scare Tactics That Too Many People Believe” comes a renewed effort from some security vendors to say that out-of-date operating systems this year will cause instant PCI non-compliance. ”
So, the statement about “no security patches –> no PCI compliance” clearly does not hold water. It is what is known as “a lie.” Compensating controls can definitely be used in this case and PCI Council even has a FAQ entry about this very subject (quote: “Systems that use operating systems that are no longer supported with new security patches by the vendor, OEM, or developer are not necessarily out of compliance.”)
While embedded and highly “cut down” Windows 2000 can be “made secure” (with whatever definition: secure enough to run while directly connected to the Internet) even in the absence of patches (especially if some whitelisting software is deployed), I personally will trust neither a typical merchant nor a typical PoS vendor to actually do it. If I were a QSA in this case, I’d accept heavy OS changes plus no user access plus host firewalling plus application whitelisting as adequate compensating controls. However, I doubt that this is the case for most of those “W2K holdouts.”  So, IMHO, that outdated stuff “must die” since it puts everyone at risk (think: botnets). If their W2K install dies together with the merchant – then so be it.
Overall, many security folks treat merchants resisting PCI DSS as either stupid or malicious and irresponsible (or both). The merchants, on the other hand, are simply trying to survive and run their businesses. However, at what cost to society? Every one of those W2K boxes CAN BE (and, in many cases, probably IS) used to attack other sites (think: SCADA) and spread malware. Still, is lying the right tactic to get them to upgrade?
For me, this is a hard call to make.
What do you think? “Go FUD!” or “Truth and W2K Rulez!”?
Possibly related posts:

Dr Anton Chuvakin