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  • Justin Pineda 5:59 pm on June 5, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cybersecurity education, distance learning, networking education, online learning, teaching   

    Effectively Conducting Networking & Cybersecurity Distance Learning Courses 

    Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

    I had the privilege of sharing some of my experiences on how I conduct my networking and cybersecurity classes online to other IT Educators in a recent webinar hosted by the Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

    Regardless of the Learning Management System (LMS) used by the school, technical subjects like networking and cybersecurity are different because of the need to have a working laboratory to have a complete grasp of the courses. LMS provides storage, collaboration, insights, engagement automation of quizzes. But creating a laboratory might be challenging.

    How do I do it online and offline?

    • Search for useful and informative references – Aside from the references that are included in the syllabus, I also add a lot of helpful links, videos, and PDF files that I find relevant for the course. I try to relate it in every module so that students will be provided help in their studies.
    • Customize slides for the class to meet learning objectives – I create my slides for 2 reasons: First, there is so much information out there that cannot be put in a single material. It is important to choose the most important ones and guide students to relate the materials to the other references. For example. if the topic is network architecture, I’ll just discuss the components of it and provide them references on example implementations/practices for each component. They will be given a list of references that can check but the important thing is that the core concepts are properly discussed. Second, publicly available slides from vendors tend to promote their products. I try to make my materials as vendor-neutral as possible and let the students choose which they prefer. In the end, we don’t like students to be exposed to a single brand and then work on a company that uses another brand.
    • Record short lectures to set the context – I also do video recordings of lectures to help explain technical concepts in a way that students will be able to understand easier. Theories are very important because they will be used in any industry or scenario that you may encounter. Another objective is to provide an industrial touch to the discussion. As an industry practitioner, I know that some of the concepts discussed in books are idealistic but some are impractical in the real world. I try to balance both by providing industry insights and let the students make their analysis.
    • Create Virtual Machines (VMs) that students can use to run the tools and exercises, anytime and anywhere. – An important aspect of technical classes is lab exercises. For networking and cybersecurity classes, I create my own VMs that contain the tools, environment, programs that students will need to practice what they learned in the lectures. I set up a web server in one VM and the attack tools on another. The good thing about it is that students will be able to try various ways of accomplishing the exercises in their own time. And if it fails, then they can just delete the current VM and load a new one in an instant.


    I try to make the course very straightforward to students especially the expected outputs and outcomes. Here are the grading components I use for the online classes

    • Learning Log – The learning log is sort of a feedback mechanism from the students. It gives them a venue to speak what is in their mind since not everyone is given time to share in class. Usually, they share their thoughts about the lesson and other things that they observe/experience. They also provide feedback on whether their groupmates are working or if they are having problems with the lesson. The only add-on work for the instructor is to have time to read and respond to these learning logs.
    • Lab Exercise – The lab exercises will validate whether you can use the tools given a specific scenario in a practical sense. The good thing about a lab exercise that is in a VM with a plethora of tools is that there are many ways to achieve the objective. Everything will be based on the strategy of the students.
    • Case Analysis – The usual problem for technical people is that they are tool-centric. They are well-versed on how to use the tools and their features. However, the usual problem is deciding when to use them. The case analysis portion helps students analyze various cases so that they will carefully think about how they will resolve the problem methodically.
    • Exam – Of course, the course will not be complete without an assessment. I usually create an objective multiple-choice exam to check if they know the theories and terms discussed. At the same time, they will also be asked situational questions to check how they will analyze and resolve issues. I try to simulate how IT certification exams work since they will be taking some in the future.

    Sample Lesson

    On the usual lesson, I start with a question to get their attention and interest. Afterward, there will be a discussion and/or debate. For example, What web application attack is the fastest to exploit and difficult to detect? The answer may vary but what I want to discuss is Session Management. But the question will make the students think and spark sharing, discussion, and debate.

    Then I go to the discussion proper. I’ll explain the issues on session management and its best practices when developing a web application etc. Afterward, we do lab exercises and simulate how to check the strength of session ID’s and how to exploit them if found to be weak.

    Lastly, we then analyze real-world cases of the organization that has applications with poor session management. We’ll do a root cause analysis and provide recommendations on how to fix the issues.

    This is just a sample order of instruction that I find helpful for students in their distance education.

    Good Course References

    • Cybrary
    • Peerlyst
    • SANS Reading Room
    • Cisco Networking Academy
    • OWASP
  • Justin Pineda 8:51 pm on April 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: business continuity, covid-19, cybersecurity, , malware, pinedacybersecurity, remote work, security awareness, , wfh, work from home   

    Securing the Organization’s IT Assets Amidst COVID-19 

    man having a video call on his phone

    Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

    How should organizations conduct operations during a pandemic? How should organizations secure their IT assets during a pandemic? For big multinational companies, they have their respective Business Continuity Plans (BCP) that assist them in times like lockdowns, quarantines, or any disruptions to normal business activities. However, a lot of companies were caught off-guard and they were not able to smoothly transition to the “quarantine mode.”

    How organizations are affected by COVID-19

    According to an April 2020 report from Accenture about the effects of COVID-19 to organizations, there are significant impacts on system resilience and business continuity from the perspective of technology.  On a survey that they conducted in 2019 on system resilience, only 10% of the 8,300 respondents answered that their technology is resilient.  They summarized the effects on IT based on the following: business continuity risks, a surge in transaction volumes, workforce productivity challenges, and security risks.
    Common cybersecurity issues faced

    Phishing, scams, malware, access to malicious/bogus sites unknowingly are the common cybersecurity issues that organizations faced during the pandemic. Attacks on NASA have been reported consistently since the spread of COVID-19. Local banks like BPI, have issued a memo warning customers of phishing attacks that spoof BPI online platforms.  Google reported that there were 18 million malware detected in a week that are related to COVID-19. Trend Micro also reported a surge in COVID-19 themed attacks ranging from spam, malware, and malicious domains. Worse, unscrupulous individuals host COVID-19 case trackers and fill it with malware so visitors will be infected as they visit.

    The following are the major cybersecurity issues organizations face:

    • Increased number of phishing and malware attacks that use COVID-19 as bait or theme.
    • There is an increase in cybersecurity risks because employees are in their homes which IT has a hard time managing. On the other end, support on the company networks will also be lessened because of reduced IT staffing.
    • Remote work/Work from home security issues.

    Cybersecurity defense against attacks

    SANS has created the SANS Security Awareness Deployment Guide that is very useful for organizations and employees during this time of reduced IT staff and work from home for a lot of employees. It contains all the materials that organizations will need such as templates, fact sheets, posters, and messaging for employees. It even has short learning videos that are very informative covering wide topics on social engineering, securing your home, and working remotely.

    It is alarming to note as well that a lot of big multinational companies mentioned in the introduction whose technology and security maturity are both at the top of the line still suffer a lot of cybersecurity attacks such as phishing and malware. They have the best industry-grade anti-malware with a lot of advanced features, encryption in the hard drive level, and other security tools. But as we say in security, the technology is just as strong as the weakest link, which is the people. We have to emphasize the need for a consistent and periodic Security Awareness for employees especially now that the IT/Security team has a limited view of the organization’s assets.

    It is also important that the IT/Security team should be accessible not only for support but for security incidents. Attacks can be well-planned and it can target certain people in the organization. Reporting the information about security incidents will help IT/Security team to respond promptly and make important communication to the stakeholders to prevent others from being victimized.

    There also has to be clear guidelines/policies for employees. Remote work is a different and new environment that may need further and detailed guidance. For example, should users be allowed to connect to public Wi-Fi? Or are they only allowed to access their home network? If they are only allowed to use their home network, what necessary configurations should be done? A clear policy/guideline will be very helpful.

    Management support is also of utmost importance. Quick and immediate approval of policies/guidelines is necessary for this volatile time. Budget is also a key element especially when you need to procure additional security software licenses. Management can provide both approval and budget.

    The following are some of the security issues that need to be discussed with employees to take note of:

    Social Engineering – Phishing, spear phishing, vishing, CEO fraud, and USB drop are some of the non-technical attacks that can target your organization. Employees must be trained on how to spot these attacks and report them immediately to the IT/Security team. Usual ways to spot these attacks include a strong sense of urgency, pressuring you to violate a policy, generic e-mail, brief message, and use of personal e-mail.

    Passwords – Since the use of passwords is the most common type of authentication, certain best practices have to be observed so that attackers will have a hard time to access your account. The use of passphrases,  unique passwords for different accounts, password managers (see LastPass and KeePass), and the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) (see Google Auth and LastPass Authenticator) are the best practices to build a layered-defense for your passwords.

    Updated Systems – From your router to your laptops, mobile devices all the way to the applications, you need to ensure that they are always up-to-date. A lot of successful attacks leverage the exploitation of vulnerable systems, those that are not updated.  You need to enable Automatic Updating.

    Backups – Another important practice is to back up your files routinely. The usual expectation of the IT/Security team is that worst-case scenarios will happen such as your workstation will be infected by ransomware or that the device will be lost. Aside from wanting to wipe out the contents of the device, you want to retrieve the information in it. That’s where backups play a vital role.

    VPN – In some organizations, confidential company data must remain in the trusted network (company network). But since a lot of employees are working from home, a secured way of getting access to company data stored internally is through a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

    Device Misuse – Another important practice is to maintain the use of company-issued devices for work use only. A lot of malware nowadays comes from social networking platforms through third-party ads, hoax, etc.  It is important to remove that risk by not using it for personal use. At the same time, company resources should not be accessed on a personal device. It may be accidentally shared or retained unknowingly.  Lastly, children/relatives/guests should not be allowed to use company-issued devices.

    The new normal in the time of pandemic forces business to take drastic and rapid changes in its day-to-day operations. While initially, the move of a lot of organizations is to relax security so that business continuity will not be hindered, it is important that security mechanisms must be restored, reconfigured, and recalibrated so that it will fit the current setup of the organization.

    Here is the slide deck on Securing the Organization’s Assets Amidst COVID-19 v1.0. Feel free to use it to help inform more people on how to secure their respective organizations.



  • Justin Pineda 3:41 pm on April 5, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , security mechanisms, security services   

    Lesson 10: What are Security Services and Mechanisms? 



    Photo Credit: George Becker from https://www.pexels.com/

    In the usual scenario, companies are more reactive than proactive with regard to security. Due to the perception that IT, which includes cybersecurity, is a cost center, procuring technologies may not be appealing to management unless a security incident occurs.  In Lesson 6, we discussed the value of the CISO to help align the company’s strategy and the necessary controls in place to ensure protection.

    Coming from a technical security background, you would like to have the best tools and software available. But remember, the management sees it as a cost without seeing the return on investment since it’s for internal use.  The inconvenient truth list below will make the technical security personnel understand why sometimes (or maybe most of the time), the tools that we want are not approved.

    The Cybersecurity Inconvenient Truths

    • You cannot protect everything from everyone.

    If we will list down all potential threats that an organization can face, it will be a very long one. DDoS, Malware, incompetence resulting in loss of data, ransomware, corporate spies, etc. Since the list of threats is very long, it means that there’s a lot of security controls that we have to put in place. Unfortunately, we don’t have everything to prevent or mitigate all these threats.

    • There are not enough resources and money in the world to totally mitigate all risks.

    Corollary to the discussion regarding the management’s perception of IT/Cybersecurity, the budget for the team is limited. So if resources are limited, we can only do what we can within the budget. And that leads to the next inconvenient truth.

    • Focus on protecting the most important information first, that which must be protected, and that with the highest risk.

    Since we cannot protect everything and we have limited budget, the goal is to prioritize which threats have the highest risk with high severity. In that way, you are able to cover the majority of the security incidents in the organization.

    This activity of prioritizing the controls based on the risk-rating is called Risk Assessment. We will have another discussion about it in another lesson.

    Security Services and Security Mechanisms

    To properly align the organization’s strategy and the cybersecurity team’s goals, we have to define the security services and mechanisms. Security services reflect on how the organization’s objectives are manifested. Security mechanisms, on the other hand, are the specific solutions that we can implement in the organization.

    See example below:

    We conduct risk assessment first before we can come up with the Security Services and Mechanisms.

    • Goal: The organization wants to focus on physical security
    • Security Services: (1)Personnel security; (2) Access control
    • Security Mechanisms: (1) Security clearance, training, rules of behavior; (2) Biometrics, proximity card, mantraps;

    What industry do you think will have this type of security goal?

    It can probably be a bank or law enforcement (government) office.

    It is important to determine the organization’s security services and mechanisms so that the cybersecurity team will also have a level of expectation on the types of controls and tasks that they will be doing.

    So the next time you think about a cybersecurity project, you have to revisit again the defined security services and mechanisms of the team and see if they are aligned with each other. Otherwise, you will have to let it go so you won’t waste your time and effort.




  • Justin Pineda 1:28 pm on April 4, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Lesson 9: How a Court Decision Changed Privacy Laws in the World 

    Privacy as a concept is considered as a subjective phenomenon because of different factors such as culture and beliefs. For example, the Japanese can see each other naked in an onsen which is considered normal to them culturally. However, it is taboo to do the same in the Philippines. It can be considered a breach of the person’s privacy to see other people naked.

    On the other hand, part of Filipino culture is hospitality, which to some extent involves caring and oversharing. Some Filipinos tend to ask too personal questions even if they have just met the person. For the Japanese, this may be breaching their personal privacy.

    The universally acceptable definition of privacy can be, “Any information that an individual wants to protect from becoming public knowledge.” Do you agree?

    There are different philosophical viewpoints of privacy described in Muzamil Riffat’s paper entitled, “Legal Aspects of Privacy and Security: A Case-Study of Apple versus FBI Arguments.” For this article, however, we will only be focusing on one viewpoint, which is the Privacy Right in the United States. 

    Fourth Amendment in the US Constitution

    The Fourth Amendment primarily focuses on the protection of the people against illegal searches and seizures by the government. The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”.

    The amendment is intended for government search and seizures only.  The important questions about the provision are: 1) What constitutes an unreasonable action? (Protected from “unreasonable” searches);  and 2) What is probable cause? (Warrant could only be granted if there is a “probable cause.”)

    Katz vs. United States (1967)

    One of the landmark cases that helped define the scope of the Fourth Amendment in Katz vs. United States in 1967. To summarize the case, the FBI eavesdropped Charles Katz’s phone conversation in a telephone booth upon suspicion that he was giving gambling information to clients in other states.

    The question was whether Katz was protected by the Fourth Amendment against the FBI to eavesdrop the conversation in a public phone booth without a search warrant.

    The Supreme Court voted 7-1 in favor of Katz. According to Justice Potter Stewart, “The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.” The court ruling extended the Fourth Amendment protection beyond homes and properties.

    Justice John Marshall Harlan II on a concurring opinion, interpreted the law by passing a two-part test: 1) That a person has exhibited an actual expectation of privacy; and 2) That the expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.”

    The “Katz Test” has been used in thousands of cases related to privacy especially related to communication, media, and the use of advanced devices.

    Although it was a triumph for Charles Katz, it also opened so many opportunities for criminals to do malicious activities and get protected by the Fourth Amendment later on.


    Photo Credit: Stock Photo from Pexels.com

    Further Reading:

    1. Legal Aspects of Privacy and Security: A Case-Study of Apple versus FBI Arguments, Muzamil Riffat, SANS
    2. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), Justia US Supreme Court
    3. Katz v. United States, Oyez
    4. Katz v. United States, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
    5. Katz v. United States, Wikipedia


  • Justin Pineda 3:33 pm on April 3, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Lesson 8: What are the challenges in responding to cybercrimes? 


    Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

    Cybercrimes are criminal activities punishable by law that are done using a computer or the Internet. It could range from identify theft, vandalism/ defacement of websites, scams or even large-scale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS).

    Sample real-life cybercrimes are listed in the further reading below.

    Types of Cybercrimes

    Primarily, both as an investigator and responder, you need to be able to determine the type of cybercrime committed. It is important for you to be able to determine the correct response (technical and legal) in the incident.

    1. Computer-assisted crime (source) – Computer is the enabler in the commission of the crime. (Ex. Stealing of credit card information through sniffing or phishing)
    2. Computer-targeted crime (destination) – Computer is the primary target of the crime. (Ex. Denial of Service attacks)
    3. Computer-incidental crime (indirect) – The involvement of the computer is secondary but important to the commission of the crime. (Ex. CHILD pornography is stored on a computer. Emphasis on CHILD since pornography in many places is legal but CHILD pornography is NOT)

    Issues on Investigating and Resolving Cybercrimes

    For developing countries like the Philippines, the cybersecurity infrastructure of the government in combatting cybercrimes is far from maturity.  But even the developed and well-funded cybersecurity programs of other advanced countries still face issues on investigating cybercrimes. The list below are the significant ones:

    • Difficult to equate physical and logical assets.

    The common misconception is that people don’t equate physical money to virtual money simply because the latter is not tangible. The P1 million in a bag is perceived as really one million. But transferring P1 million online is perceived as just sending bits and bytes using a web application. Due to this perception, cybercrimes are not treated as serious as physical crimes.

    • Cyber-law environment has not been fully defined by courts.

    For developing countries like the Philippines, cyber-law is not yet fully defined by courts because the basic principles of proving innocence or guilt are different in the cyber world. For instance, the common way of proving innocence is to show proof that you have evidence and witnesses that will show that you are not in the crime scene when the crime happened. However, you can be in the Philippines when you launched an attack in China. It will be hard for lawyers and courts to interrogate further without the proper knowledge in IT.

    • Cybercrime spreads global.

    Why do you think that even though there is a law that prohibits Torrent sites (P2P) that share pirated films and software, there are still a lot of Torrent sites online? A lot of countries may have laws against piracy, but there are still a lot of countries that don’t. Due to jurisdiction issues, our government cannot control everything on the Internet especially those that are not hosted in our own country.

    • Cyber laws are highly technical

    To explain Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks, you need to be able to explain the purpose of port numbers, OSI Model, TCP and UDP to name a few.  The technical aspect of cybercrime adds more challenges in making the courts understand how the incident happened. It is not only the technical knowledge that is crucial but also how you are able to explain it in layman’s term, which is the usual problem in the IT industry. (techy but having a hard time explaining it to normal people)

    These are some of the issues when investigating cybercrimes. The bottom line is that cybersecurity professionals need to be involved in the legal aspects of creating and implementing cybercrime laws. Lawyers may be good at putting into words how crimes work but they need expert inputs to ensure that all aspects are covered. On another angle, the need for cybersecurity professionals’ involvement shows the demand for the profession in the industry.

    Further reading:

    1. Cybercrimes up by 80% in 2018 (Philippine Star, March 2019)
    2. Online child abuse top cybercrime in Philippines (Philippine Start, April 2019)
    3. That Insane, $81M Bangladesh Bank Heist? Here’s What We Know (Wired, May 2016)
    4. Equifax Data Breach Settlement (Federal Trade Commission, January 2020)




  • Justin Pineda 1:58 pm on April 2, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Lesson 7: Why HR Policies complement Information Security 

    The perception of most employees to both the HR and Cybersecurity Department is that they exist so they can look for a mistake and punish you. Some say that HR is the principal’s office, while the Cybersecurity team is the surveillance arm.  Although most of the time during investigations, the cybersecurity team becomes the expert witness to help either acquit or punish the employee. (This will be discussed in another lesson.)

    There is truth in perception and claim. To add to that, a lot of the policies in organizational security (discussed in Lesson 6)have overlapped with HR. This means, either the policy was created by HR or both HR and Cybersecurity teams. For example, the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) outlines the expected behavior of an employee in the organization. A part of the AUP is the Internet Usage Policy (IUP) and other policies related to the acceptable use of the company issued assets such as laptops, mobile phones to name a few. These policies are created and monitored by the cybersecurity team.  The AUP is usually signed by the employee together with his/her job offer/contract prior to onboarding.

    Without HR explicitly contributing to information security, they have made an administrative-deterrent control. (Administrative because it’s a policy; deterrent because it discourages people to violate the rules)

    Other HR policies that help information security are background checks (administrative-preventive control) because they check whether you are good not only in your CV and mandatory vacations (administrative-detective) to check and audit whether you are doing something not on your job description without you being present in the office.

    During operations, HR might have their independent and confidential tasks. But their roles are significant in providing a sound and mature information security environment in the organization.


    Photo Credit: “21 Times Michael Scott’s Hatred For Toby Flenderson Was Out Of Control” https://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseabrown/jerkyjerkface

  • Justin Pineda 2:39 pm on April 1, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Lesson 6: Organizational Security 

    Coming from a technical team, organizational security might be seen as a domain that only focuses on paper-based policies (sometimes, just copy-paste templated policies), budgets and risk assessment results. There’s also a gap between highly technical security members who have been doing hands-on security and those management guys who may have their MBAs but whose background is not even in IT. However, it is important to emphasize that technical security needs organizational security to exist and vice versa.

    In big organizations, a separate C-level position is appointed for cybersecurity. The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is responsible for the over-all cybersecurity operations in the organization. He/she usually reports to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

    What does it mean to have a CISO? 

    The CISO will have a seat and say on the management level – may it be ManCom (Management Committee) or ExeCom (Executive Committee). He/She will be able to provide insights and expert opinions regarding the organization’s cybersecurity posture vis-à-vis the organization’s business strategy. It is very important to have a person who can voice out and be heard about what the technical members think is the best security for the organization. Without a CISO, it may be difficult for management to understand expensive spending on cybersecurity tools. You might be defending a multi-million peso Unified Threat Management (UTM) firewall and the management will only see it as an additional cost. Since management does not understand the value of the UTM firewall, they decided instead to provide a budget for a home firewall. It’s also a firewall, but way cheaper!

    Also, the CISO is ultimately accountable if any security incident happens in the organization.

    The Governance Team

    Aside from the  Technical Team, the Governance Team reports to the CISO too but they focus on organizational security. They primarily draft policies that the organization must follow. Some of these policies include but not limited to:

    • Password Policy
    • Time of Day Restrictions
    • Classification of Information
    • Acceptation Use Policy (AUP)
    • Internet Use Policy (IUP)
    • E-mail Usage Policy (EUP)
    • Disposal and Destruction
    • Privacy Policy

    They also align with the Technical Team on how they can properly articulate the security requirements in the policy. On the other end, they are also responsible for making sure that these policies are understood by the stakeholders very well.

    For more details about policies and policy templates, I highly recommend you visit SANS.org. They have a ton of templates and guides on how to create, modify and implement security policies. Here is the link: https://www.sans.org/security-resources/policies/


    Photo Credit: Structuring the Chief Information Security Officer Organization by Allen, J. et al, Software Engineering Institute (SEI), Carnegie Mellon University

    Further Reading:

    Structuring the Chief Information Security Officer Organization by Allen, J. et al (2015) Retrieved from:

  • Justin Pineda 1:41 pm on March 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply  

    Exploring the Security Issues behind Facebook’s User Tracking from its ‘Big Data’ for Competitive Intelligence 


    Credit: Taken from https://www.mobistealth.com/blog/facebook-spy-tool-lets-read-messenger-conversations/ 

    (First released in September 2016)

    Abstract— Facebook (FB) is one of the most popular social networking sites all over the world. According to Zephoria, there are approximately 1.71 billion FB users worldwide as of July 2016. There are 4.75 billion contents that are shared daily which include status posts, notes, images, videos, etc. [1] From the business perspective, FB remains (and will remain) free as that they continue to make a profit from ads in their website. This article aims to investigate how FB utilizes its collection of big data and draw competitive intelligence that helps them earn a lot of money yet still be able to produce free and quality services. It also discusses the techniques, methodologies, and technologies that FB uses that continuously make them one of the richest and most successful companies worldwide.

    Index Terms— Big data, Facebook, competitive intelligence, cookies, ads


    I. Introduction

    A. Big Data: A Short History

    The term “Big Data” has been widely used today and to some extent bastardized into a lot of discussions and papers with confusing meanings. A lot of technology and data companies have also used the term to sell their products and services related to cloud computing and Storage Area Networks (SAN). However, the concept of big data goes way back in the 1940s when Fremont Rider, a Wesleyan University Librarian, published “The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library” which challenges how information can be extracted and utilized from all the libraries in the world. [2]

    Other initiatives on big data emerged in the 1960s when some researches intended to determine the lineages of the Muslims and create a long family tree out of it. It’s also in the ’60s when the concept of Automated Data Compression was first introduced with the expectation that at some point, data will have to be compressed because of its voluminous size. [3]

    Some other interesting early concepts of big data include the study on war correlation where strategies and motivations for a war on different times and places. It was then used to predict which countries might initiate a war and what their strategies are. Another study in Japan in the 1970s was about determining population growth in their country by using and comparing different data sets of their census. [2]

    In some cases, Big Data is able to conclude those unexpected explanations for such outcomes. For instance, in the book Freakonomics, it stated that the crime rate in New York City, USA went very low in the early 1990s and nobody could explain why. As a matter of fact, economists and analysts predicted that the crime rate will go up. However, after some rigorous research, it was found out that the court ruling in the 1970s that abortion was declared legal pulled down the crime rate numbers. It was concluded that most “would-be criminals” from uneducated, unemployed and in poverty group had been aborted way before they could probably spread their crimes.

    Nowadays, Big Data is used in our daily lives like when Google is properly able to show you the top 10 most relevant results that you are looking for. It is also useful when Waze is able to determine which route you should take based on traffic severity, distance, etc. Everybody who is connected to the Internet is actually using Big Data.

    B. Big Data Characteristics

    In all Big Data 101 lessons, the following are the characteristics given to Big Data:

    • Volume – The data source is very, very big.
    • Variety – The data source has different types of data that can be known or proprietary. Some of the known data types include integers, Boolean, images, strings, and videos. Some of the ‘unknown’ or proprietary data types include DNA, fingerprints, bit-level image, etc.
    • Velocity – The data source can be queried at an acceptable speed.


    C. Facebook

    FB is a known social networking site where users can connect to their friends or acquaintances. They can post their status, images, videos, etc. Interestingly, it continuously improves current features like adding more emoticons, introducing Facebook live and adding the 360-degree movement of posted pictures among others.

    As mentioned, Facebook has 1.7 billion active users to date and it has a net income of at least 3 billion USD. [1] It has also killed popular social networking predecessor sites like Friendster and Multiply because it offers more dynamic features.

    One of their known slogans is, “It’s free and always will be.” Since the group of Mark Zuckerburg launched FB, the entire website has always been free of use. Obviously, the major source of income of FB comes from advertisements that the users are able to see.

    The creativity in Facebook ads involves determining the likes and interests of the user and using these to show ads that are likely to be suited for him/her. In short, FB is able to filter the correct ads for the appropriate market.

    II. Problem Statement

    Given the premise that FB utilizes the user’s information to introduce related advertisements for their profit points to two important issues. First, FB uses big data to conduct competitive intelligence to its users. This means FB analyzes voluminous amounts of data to determine certain patterns of the user. For example, based on your status, FB is able to determine how much are you willing to spend for a particular brand and at what time do you intend to buy it. Second, there are a lot of security issues that can arise because FB is using the personal data of its users. Exploiting one user can be done to other users as well. The only way for the attacker to launch an attack is to look for an application vulnerability.

    With these issues, the problem is focused on security. Particularly, what are the security implications of FB using personal data for their advertisements? The paper will try to look at the different avenues where attacks can be made based on the available attack surface on the application’s interface.

    III. Results and Discussion

    A. FB Context

    From the perspective of FB, everything that you post and configures as a user is collected and stored. When the user signs up for an FB account, he/she agrees to FB’s Data Policy and how the website will use it. [4] Unfortunately, users do not read the policy and just click on submit.

    Last January 2015, FB has modified its policy which included the utilization of tracking cookies to be used for their “services.” These services include providing faster access to its features like suggesting new friends and pages. This also included tracking of the location of the browsing habits of the users. Users who do not agree with this new policy has no option but to leave FB.

    In a BBC article, the tracking cookie can help FB with the following: [4]

    • preventing the creation of fake accounts
    • reducing the risk of users’ accounts being taken over by other people
    • protecting users’ content against theft
    • preventing distributed denial of service attacks

    From a security perspective, the cited reasons may be valid but the extent of their tracking can be excessive as well, as pointed out by a security research team.

    With the issue of the tracking cookies in question, it is important to emphasize three relevant issues on how FB conducts competitive intelligence to its users with its use.

    1. FB is able to track even those who don’t have any FB account or even if you have logged off your FB account. [5]

    Due to the partnership of FB with a lot of marketers and advertisers, FB tracking cookies start even if you access a different website. In an article by The Verge, it discovered that “The researchers found that sites including OkCupid, MTV, and MySpace placed Facebook’s cookies on computers even if the computer user did not click or interact with the site in any way.”

    Usually, this happens when going to a website and there are buttons below or above that says, “Like us on Facebook.” There are other instances where you need to log in FB first before you can comment on a comment section on a website or forum.

    In some public places like malls, the Wi-Fi policy actually requires you to log in FB first before you can use their Internet. That is the trend today and a lot of businesses have been doing this already.

    Another technique of user tracking by FB is when you access a totally different website, it will be stored and analyzed as well. For example, when you go to Agoda.com to look for hotel promos, you will be prompted by a lot of Agoda and hotel ads the next time you go to your FB account. This means that there is an indirect collection of data even outside the FB website.

    1. FB is able to control the mood of the users by providing the content in their news feed. [6]

    Similar to what the media can do which can steer public opinion on a particular topic, FB can also do the same freely, easily and quickly. It can create trends like hating terrorist groups like ISIS to supporting somebody for a cause etc. By creating these trends, FB somehow can gain control of the mood of the users. It can even create a cult or even a mob which most of the netizens categorize them as “keyboard warriors” or “trolls.”

    To be able to control public opinion is key to information warfare. You can be able to destroy a company with these capabilities without really exerting effort aside from spreading information that can sway moods and emotions.

    1. FB is able to get what you do not want them to know. [7]

    This issue is very interesting because what you do not want FB to know is something that they collect too. For example, if you intend to make your profile private and even your feed and information, FB will take note of that. It will also take note who are people you are trying to hide from and possibly why. They can provide you with ads related to privacy later on or use the information for other purposes as well.

    B. Marketing/Advertiser Context

    From the marketing perspective, this becomes way easier for them to advertise their services. They will just create a business page in FB and specify their intended audience. FB will do the rest and provide the results. There’s even a portal where marketers can filter their audience and specify their products and services.

    According to Kissmetrics, advertisers can filter their audience based on the following: [8]

    • Location
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Interests
    • Connections
    • Relationship Status
    • Languages
    • Education
    • Workplaces

    The payment of advertisements will depend on the scope of your filter. Based on the information you have provided, FB will search and locate who these potential customers are. Then they will advertise your products and services through your FB page. There are specialized functions on a business page like sign-up, contact, subscribe, etc.

    In marketing subscription statistics, there are 16 Million local business pages that have been created as of May 2013 which is a 100 percent increase from 8 million in June 2012. [1]

    C. Security Issues

    There are 2 types of security issues that can be seen in FB’s user tracking feature namely, non-technical and technical.

    1) Non-Technical Issues [9]

    1. Scam – There is a variety of scams on FB that have victimized a lot of users. This included spreading hoax news links to a malicious website and messages that ask for personal information. The highest percentage of scams victims are adults aged 30-39, at least with those aged 60 and above.
    2. Cyberstalking – Since personal information is accessible if the profile is publicly available, a lot of users can be stalked or extorted. Pictures or videos of the victims can be stolen, and use publicly available information to launch more sinister attacks like resetting passwords or guessing passwords using birthdays or locations, etc.
    3. Cyberbullying – Cyberbullying is usually the step done after cyberstalking. Users can be bullied or humiliated based on their personalities and beliefs. There are events where the bullies use FB as a medium to post humiliating photos or videos of the victim. In some news, those bullied even commit suicide just to get off with the embarrassment.
    4. Impersonation / Identity Theft – Impersonation or identity theft is also usually done after cyberstalking. The attacker will create another account similar to the victim’s and post stolen photos and create statuses and make it appear it came from the victim. Some impersonators go to the extent of getting money from the victim’s friends.

    2) Technical Issues

    1. Session Management – With FB putting the bulk of development to usability, there is actually a small room for security to be implemented. FB allows users to access their account to any networked device simultaneously after initial authentication. The problem now is if the session is stolen and replayed, it can lead to an authentication bypass without even providing the password or any authentication mechanism.
    2. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) –This is a more complicated issue but it can devastate the user. This involves tricking the user into clicking a link and issuing a transaction request to another website where the user has an account. For instance, I clicked on the link and the link will make a fund transfer request from my account to another account without my knowledge.

    IV. Conclusion and Recommendations

    Technology can never be suppressed and people should learn how to adapt to it. Big Data and Social Media are two big innovations that have come to dominate our world. There is a countless amount of data that needs to be analyzed to provide better results and answers to questions. Correlated data that are transformed into knowledge can help improve the services and quality of businesses.

    However, handling of data is very crucial and should be given priority as well. In the case of FB, it is handling a lot of personal data which includes Personally Identifiable Information (PII). [10] The PII holds the precise identity of the person that if it gets exposed can destroy the person. PII includes address, social security number, credit number, birthday, etc. There are laws both in the United States and the Philippines that mandate organizations to protect the users’ PII. For instance, there is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in the United States while the Philippines has its Cybercrime Prevention Act (RA 10175). The only problem with these laws is the implementation. The law should be enforced and checked if it is applied to web applications like FB where billions of users have an account on. Imagine the effect and consequences of these data have been leaked. There have been efforts by the private and public sectors to investigate and regulate how FB is doing its data collection and to what extent. It is strongly recommended that it should be done periodically by a disinterested third party.

    Lastly, for the users of FB who have the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) tendency even after learning the dangers of using FB on user tracking, it is important to stay vigilant and cautious when using the website. Also, apply the concept of ‘Think before you click,’ where Think stands for [11]

    • Truth – Is it the truth?
    • Helpful – Is it helpful?
    • Inspiring – Is it inspiring?
    • Necessary – Is it necessary?
    • Kind – Is it kind?

    People cannot stop technology. People should not stop technology but learn how to put controls so that its features can be bounded by the policies that we want to enforce.



    [1] Zephoria Digital Marketing, “The Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics – Updated July 2016,” [Online]. Available: https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [2] G. Press, “A Very Short History Of Big Data,” 9 May 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gilpress/2013/05/09/a-very-short-history-of-big-data/#1f0fc6b755da. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [3] J. O’Malley, “How big data is changing history,” 4 April 2016. [Online]. Available: http://littleatoms.com/big-data-changing-history. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [4] J. Wakefield, “What is Facebook doing with my data?,” 10 November 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34776191. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [5] J. Vincent, “Facebook’s tracking cookies affect even users who opt out, claims EU report,” 31 March 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/31/8319411/facebook-tracking-cookies-eu-report. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [6] R. Meyer, “Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment,” 28 June 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/06/everything-we-know-about-facebooks-secret-mood-manipulation-experiment/373648/. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [7] C. Johnston, “Facebook is tracking what you don’t do on Facebook,” 17 December 2013. [Online]. Available: http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/12/facebook-collects-conducts-research-on-status-updates-you-never-post/. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [8] Kissmetrics, “A Deep Dive Into Facebook Advertising,” [Online]. Available: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/deep-dive-facebook-advertising/. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [9] A. Go, K. Alfafara, I. Javellana, E. Lee and N. Nicolas, Online Peers Can Mean Offline Perils, Makati: Asia Pacific College, 2013.
    [10] C. Dwyer, S. R. Hiltx and K. Passerini, “Trust and Privacy Concern Within Social Networking Sites: A Comparison of Facebook and MySpace,” in Americas Conference on Information Systems, USA, 2007.
    [11] EduTech for Teachers, “Think Before You Click!,” [Online]. Available: http://edutech4teachers.edublogs.org/2013/10/23/think-before-you-click-2/. [Accessed 10 September 2016].
    [12] W. Oremus, “There Are Two Kinds of Online Privacy. Facebook Only Likes to Talk About One,” 13 November 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/11/13/facebook_privacy_basics_page_what_it_won_t_tell_you_about_personal_data.html. [Accessed 10 September 2016].



  • Justin Pineda 3:15 pm on February 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cybersecurity career, high demand, IT security, low supply, skills gap   

    Tips and Reasons: A Career in Cybersecurity 

    Is there a career in IT Security/Cybersecurity in the Philippines? – This is the question that is always asked when I give workshops or lectures in the academe. I always answer an astounding “yes.”

    Here are the reasons why:

    • Reason #1: There is a need for cybersecurity professionals because of the increasing number of cybercrimes and data privacy issues.

    We see the news every day, from global news such as the Bangladesh Heist and the San Bernardino shooting, or high-impact news such as the Equifax data breach to local ones such as when the UST Hospital was defaced or when a Public School Teacher’s identity was stolen. No matter how big or small these issues are, a key discipline required is in cybersecurity. There will always be a need for cybersecurity professionals

    • Reason # 2: The demand for cybersecurity professionals is high while the supply is low.

    Various reputable sources say that a lot of cybersecurity roles remain unfilled. According to CSO, there were a million cybersecurity roles that remained vacant in 2014. It is also predicted that there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs that will remain vacant by 2021. 

    ISACA and CyberSeek concur with these trends. At the same time, the cybersecurity unemployment rate is 0% in 2016 and is expected to remain at 0% until 2021.

    How to build your cybersecurity career?

    • Answer #1: Shape your career to be difficult to replace and high-value adding to the industry.

    This idea is not only applicable to cybersecurity but for any role in general. In the human capital matrix, the “easy to replace and low value-added” roles are sure to be automated. “Easy to replace and high value-added” can be outsourced on the other hand.

    A lot of the usual triage or customer service support is already replaced by chatbots that can trace your problem without missing any questions for diagnosis. In the same way that traditional Security Operations Centers (SOC) have matured with the help of Machine Learning (ML) and Analytics that the old Security Analyst roles have already been replaced with more proactive tasks such as threat hunting and intelligence.

    • Answer #2: Assess yourself in the following aspects: Desire, Ability, and Practicality

    I have always shared this in career talks- Desire, Ability, and Practicality are things that you have to seriously consider when choosing a career path. For cybersecurity, it is very straightforward. A lot of the roles require the cybersecurity professional to be critical, stealthy and skeptic. In the ability angle, the cybersecurity professional has to have knowledge of programming, networking and system administration to name a few. Lastly, there are so many opportunities for the cybersecurity professional that the practicality aspect is not a problem. I usually use the practicality question for those who intend to study very unique courses with little to no opportunities after graduation.

    • Answer #3: Start your career with operational roles going to management roles.

    I started my career as a Security Analyst in a Security Operations Center (SOC) in a US company that caters to more than 500 financial institutions. The work was demanding and there was so much to learn- searching for logs, communicating with clients specifically C-level executives. , classifying which alerts are true and false positives, meeting the SLA, optimizing the SIEM, conducting QA on devices, etc. Our shift back then was 12-hours long and I spent the majority of my stay there in the night shift. The work was very tiring and not advisable for the older and/or family guys. But that stint helped me boost my cybersecurity career.

    In my next work, I learned other domains in cybersecurity. I did risk management and a lot of vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT). Afterward, I moved to handle administrative tasks and became part of the management team creating programs and projects to strengthen cybersecurity in the organization.

    I strongly believe that to be a good IT security leader, you must have a solid understanding of some important domains in cybersecurity. Management training alone may not be enough because of the cybersecurity’s nature that requires you to have experience working with frameworks and tools. Although you will not be configuring the tools on your own, it will help you in your decision-making if you will buy the tool/s based on the business requirements of the organization.

    • Answer #4: Invest in education and certifications.

    I am not a fan of comparing universities and claim that one is superior to the other. I’ve met a lot of outstanding cybersecurity professionals from all over the world. Some came from the known schools while some graduated from relatively new schools. Some didn’t even finish their degrees but they are great at work.

    Obtaining a college degree is a qualification (usually first in the list) in most cybersecurity jobs. Other than a qualification, I think significant experience is a better measurement of cybersecurity mastery. Schools may try to provide the best lab for the students but it is still different in the real-world. Cyber attacks don’t have scope and limitations. They just hit and harm.

    Lastly, I personally think that certifications are important too. Aside from that, it is also a qualification, it helps you learn the body of knowledge in a standardized and systematic manner. It will also validate what you know and give you more inputs to advance your skill. I know there are different schools of thought on certifications and I agree with the important points. I even wrote a blog entry about it. But there are far more advantages to taking them to equip people with the right skills and knowledge for the job.

    You can view the IT Certification Roadmap from CompTIA for a guide and sample here.

    So what are you waiting for? Start your cybersecurity now!




    You can download my presentation slide on this topic here: A Primer on IT Security Career Privacy and Ethics v1.


  • Justin Pineda 5:09 pm on December 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: mensrea, penetrationtesting, , vapt   

    4 Reasons Why All-In-One/Automated Penetration Testing is a Fallacy 

    COMING from the business side, I have met and seen various vendors who promise heaven and earth to answer IT problems in your organization. There are the ‘yes’ guys who will always answer ‘yes’ when you ask if the solution can do this or that. There are the ‘deflectors’ who try to confuse or worse, mislead you when their solution cannot solve your IT issue. Then there are just the plain highfalutin ones who use terms such as AI or ML carelessly just to make a sale.

    Now that I am on the side of the vendor, I have also met and seen fellow vendors- ambitious, innovative yet idealistic. For instance, there’s a vendor that sells the-only-anti-malware-that-you-will-need-for-your-organization. You don’t need perimeter security. Just install the solution to all your machines and you’re 100% protected from all attacks. Apparently, there are a lot of disclaimers and caveats in the Terms and Conditions, one is to assume that the attacks are known in their database and another is that the attacks should only be host-based.

    I think as IT professionals, we have the responsibility to correct the ‘fake news’ in our own turf, similar to what scientists, doctors, lawyers, and other professions do to protect their respective reputations. As an IT security professional, I am both shocked and amazed at companies that claim that the entire VAPT can be automated and that their tool can do everything that a pen tester can do. I’ve seen a couple of different products on LinkedIn and some I’ve met and had a (heated) discussion.

    I have listed 4 reasons why All-In-One/Automated Penetration Testing is a fallacy contrary to the claims of some companies that their solutions will replace actual pen testers.

    By the way, one of the common misconceptions is that the Vulnerability Assessment (VA) activities and Penetration Testing (PT) activities are the same. They are not. To cut the story short, VA looks for existing vulnerabilities while PT exploits these vulnerabilities found. Some “self-proclaimed IT pundits” don’t even have a clear understanding of the definitions making the misinformation worse.

    Anyway, so here are my reasons:

    • Mens rea of the attacker
      • In the study of law, mens rea is defined as the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime. An attacker’s mens rea cannot be fully scoped by an automated tool. A tool can scope a certain known part of the assessment. But in the real world, exploits can be done by a gullible legitimate employee who accidentally clicks on a link that triggers the malware or a connivance/inside job to bypass stringent security measures. Scenarios mentioned can only be done by real people, not tools.
    • An attacker’s out of the box perspective or the attack’s art (creativity)
      • The tool is limited by the signatures or known behaviors in its knowledge-based. Hackers/attackers are creative. For example, they will try to scan fast but not too fast so it can evade IDS tools. They will attempt to password guess but not reach the threshold and wait for a reset period before attempting to crack passwords again. The criminal mind is colorful and options are plentiful. Tools may have automating capabilities but limited to their applicability in actual testing.
    • Timing and repetition attacks
      • There are attacks that require timing and repetition to actually exploit certain vulnerabilities. In a way, tools are a good complement for these attacks but it is the strategy of the attacker that dictates the success of the attack. For example, for applications that have so many pages of forms to fill before being allowed to submit, the tool alone cannot automate adding random data in all of these form fields. A human has to analyze and determine which parameters can the application accept and which can be used for automation.
    • Logic attacks
      • Simply put, understanding logic, program flow, and its parameters are things that humans can handle easily compared to automated tools. Imagine if you are browsing an application and you encountered a transaction feature that requires you to input a 6-digit OTP from your registered phone through SMS. You know as a tester that you can automate a test that will input all possible combinations of 6-digits and use it to brute force the transaction. Tools, on the other hand, do not know that by default. Humans must still intervene. And the list goes on…

    I think I am obliged to write this blog to emphasize that security testing involves both human testers and tools. They work hand in hand and the tools cannot work alone no matter how big the signature database is. The problem with these predatory solutions is that they promise too much, things that are too good to be true. Imagine if you use their tools and the tool didn’t find anything then you will feel secure. But a week later, you still get defaced through social engineering. So how would you respond?

    Another very interesting and important advantage of using pen testers is the human tendency to exhaust all knowledge and techniques to find vulnerabilities. The hunger and desire of pen testers to find vulnerabilities is a big motivation to help the organizations find real security issues.


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