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  • 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 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.


  • Justin Pineda 12:06 pm on March 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: hydra, research conference   

    Proud of my students’ achievements @ UA&P event 

    Last February 24, 2017, me and my undergraduate students went to the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) in Pasig City to present their project Hydra in a school-initiated research conference.

    The event was not very big but various students from undergrad to PhD were prepared to present their papers. I was really pushy but cautious to my students at the same time- I would like to guide them in their project and prepare them to present it by themselves in front of academicians.


    A copy of the Parallel Session schedule and Abstract

    And so the day came… my students Kent and Letty created their presentation slides. I told them to limit it to 6-10 slides only and practice explaining their project in the simplest and shortest way possible… which they were able to do very well.

    That moment when my student started presenting made me feel proud as their teacher. 🙂

    Congrats Kent and Letty for a job well done! Although I still have a lot of waiting to do for the expense reimbursement haha



    With my students, Kent Miculob and Letty Laureta

    To read the paper we submitted, you may visit this link.


    Post statement- Use an old Roman encryption to decrypt the message below


  • Justin Pineda 4:20 pm on January 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Presented at the 14th NCITE and toured Dipolog City 2016 

    It was my first time to submit a research paper in a national conference. In the academe, getting support is a challenging task because you need to convince the admin that the paper you will be presenting is worth the expenses.

    I’m happy that my boss, the dean of the school was supportive of this initiative. The research was about how to detect anonymous traffic within a local area network (LAN) using different patterns. You can read my paper here and here.

    I submitted the paper twice because of the recommendations given by the reviewers. Overall, the paper got a good rating and was given a go signal for presentation.


    Before presenting… Didn’t expect that the PM session will be moved in the auditorium!


    While presenting…


    With my students and co-authors, Aliana Lachica and Wisdom Abinal; my supportive fiancee, Ashley beside me


    With my former professor in PLM, Dr. Neil Balba, who was the session facilitator


    The travel time from Manila to Dipolog is around 50 minutes. I stayed in Hotel Camila 1 which is 15 minutes away from the airport. Most of the hotels provide a service from the airport to their place.

    The hotel I stayed in was modest but it had the basic amenities in a usual hotel. For the 3 nights I stayed, I only paid around 3,300 pesos, although I had to buy breakfast on my own.

    Dipolog is generally safe. The city is not yet fully developed and the mode of commute around the place is through tricycles. I was surprised because majority of the time that I was in the hotel, a lot of the people there were carrying guns. Some of them were in military uniform while others were not.

    There were a couple of times too that we (Ashley and I) felt that somebody was following us. That’s why I advise those who plan to visit to remain vigilant and alert always.

    The tricycle drivers, waiters and waitresses, vendors, receptionists and majority of those I interacted with were helpful and hospitable. We were able to walk around the famous boardwalk at the Sunset Blvd. and had food trips in different restaurants/cafe such as D’Hotel and Chapters A Book Cafe. One notable thing with their food is that it is cheap but with quality.


    From the airport


    At Sunset Blvd.


    Selfie with Ashley en route to the Dipolog airport c/o Hotel Camila’s service


    One of Dipolog’s Modern malls. 🙂 


    Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral

  • Justin Pineda 6:17 pm on February 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Vulnerability Proof-of-Concept and Analysis 

    The objective of this activity is to simulate and existing vulnerability (it can be an application, network, etc.) and create an analysis based on research. The ultimate goal is for the students to come up with an outlook of the vulnerability on how it has affected and will affect the computing world in the future.

    For instance, there Vulnerability X works on Platform Y.1. Computers need to update to Platform Y.2 to become protected. However, a lot of computers didn’t update because of compatibility issues. What will happen to these “unpatched computers?” How many of them are found in critical data centers etc? Will Vulnerability X evolve into a more complex and more dangerous vulnerability?

    Sample works:

    Android Rooting Vulnerability – Android Rooting

    iOs Jailbreak Vulnerability – iOS Jailbreak

    Heartbleed Vulnerability – Heartbleed

    Shellshock Vulnerability – Shellshock Vulnerability

    Remote Desktop Protocol Vulnerability – RDP

    Adobe Flash Vulnerability – Adobe Flash



  • Justin Pineda 5:41 pm on February 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Machine Project in Infosec 


    ■To be able to configure, implement an open-source security tool.

    ■To simulate a real-world attack scenario where the security tool can be used.

    ■To show how to configure necessary functionalities of the security tool.


    ■Each group will be assigned a specific security tool. Each group will research about the topic and download an open-source version of the tool.

    ■The group can use a recommended tool or look for a preferred application as long as it is open source.

    ■The group will configure and deploy a working prototype and simulate the functionalities of the tool with the prescribed test/s in a lab environment.

    ■The group will demonstrate the output in the 12th week of the term.


    ■Network Firewall (PFSense)

    ■NIDS- Network Intrusion Detection System (Snort)

    ■HIDS- Host Intrusion Detection System (OSSEC)

    ■WAF- Web Application Firewall (Iron Bee)

    ■Honeypot (Honeyd)

    ■DLP- Data Loss Prevention (OpenDLP)

    ■Anti Spam (SpamAssassin)


    Tool Test
    Firewall Allow/Block Website based on IP/hostname

    Allow/Block Website based on Category

    NIDS Detect a port scan

    Detect a backdoor connection

    HIDS Detect a keylogger

    Detect a port scan

    WAF Prevent a SQLi attack.

    Prevent a port scan.

    Honeypot Log port scan to server.

    Log remote access to server.

    DLP Prevent sending of email based on message

    Prevent sending of email based on file type

    Anti-Spam Detect SPAM based on message

    Detect SPAM based on quantity


    ■Week 3 – Finalization of security tool

    ■Week 6 – Security tool configured

    ■Week 7- 10 – Testing

    ■Week 12/13 – Project Demo + Documentation Submission

    Deliverables & Grading

    ■Working prototype 40%

    ■Tests completed 40%

    ■Documentation 20%

    Paper Format

    ■Abstract – Summary of your project

    ■Introduction – Discuss what the tool is all about

    ■Results and Discussion – Discuss the tests done (include screen shots)

    ■Conclusion – Lessons learned

    Sample Projects:

    Video Links

    IDS- SnortV1, SnortV2, SnortV3

    Honeypot – Honeybot, KFSensor

    Firewall – PFSense


    NIDS (Snort, Snorby and Barnyard Installation & Configuration) – comsecinstallation

    HIDS (OSSEC Installation, Configuration & Testing) – USER MANUAL OF OSSEC

    SPAM Filter (MailWasher) – INFOSEC_MachineProject_MailWasher

    Honeypot (Honeybot) – INFOSEC_MachineProject_Honeypot

  • Justin Pineda 4:21 pm on February 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Research Paper on Emerging Technologies 


    A Case Study will be held as an academic symposium during the midterms week to discuss various emerging technologies in the field of information security. Each group will be tasked to research on a specified topic, explore and answer key issues about the subject.

    As its culminating activity, an academic paper with a required format will be submitted and a 15-minute presentation will be presentation will be presented with the classmates and special faculty and industry guests. Question and answer will be followed after the presentation.


    1. Security in Social Networking Sites
      1. Cite current issues pertaining to crimes/violations in social networking sites. Describe the usual scenarios.
      2. Show some statistics on social networking related crimes.
      3. What are the actions taken by social networking organizations and government agencies?
      4. How do you see the future of social networking sites? Future attacks and remedy?
    2. Mobile Malware
      1. Can mobile devices get infected by malware?
      2. State news about devices getting infected. What happens to these devices?
      3. Show statistics on mobile malware.
      4. Is there an initiative from AV companies and government about it?
      5. How do you prevent mobile devices from getting infected?
    3. Business Continuity Planning (BCP) for Disaster Prone Areas
      1. Cite news of business disruption due to a disaster and its effects on the business.
      2. Show statistics of business losses due to either natural or man-made disasters.
      3. Are there initiatives/laws that require businesses for BCP?
      4. Discuss usual business continuity planning and disaster management and recovery plans.
      5. Discuss any standard/template regarding BCP.
    4. Internet Surveillance
      1. Is Internet surveillance possible?
      2. What are ways to conduct Internet surveillance?
      3. What are limitations of current security capabilities?
      4. What are solutions for existing Internet surveillance?
    5. Cybercrime Laws and Issues (choose scope)
      1. Discuss current cybercrime laws. (if there are any)
      2. Discuss issues that warrant cybercrime laws. Prove that there is a need for these laws.
      3. Discuss limitations and or threats of these cybercrime laws.
      4. Discuss if there is a need for more laws.
    6. Security in Automated Controlled Vehicles
      1. What are automated controlled vehicles?
      2. Why is there a need for automated controlled vehicles?
      3. Research companies that are utilizing these types of vehicles.
      4. Research for news that show threats on automated controlled vehicles.
      5. Discuss solutions for automated controlled vehicles.
    7. Drones
      1. History on the implementation of drones.
      2. News and development on drones.
      3. What are positive and negative issues (factual) on drones?
      4. Do drones bypass due process?
      5. Do drones violate privacy and freedom?


    The Case Study is 10% of your final grade.

    Group Grade is 70% (to be given by the professor)

    Individual Grade is 30% (to be given by the group leader; leader gets 100% in the individual grade)


    Content (Paper) – 50%

    Is the paper complete and comprehensive?

    Mastery – 30%

    Is the group knowledgeable on the topic?

    Did the group have the ability to analyze related real-world problems?

    Did the group answer the related questions?

    Delivery – 10%

    Did the group communicate the message properly?

    Presentation – 10%

    Did the presentation contain creative and comprehensible visuals?

    Required Sections in the Paper

    Section Description


    Abstract Your abstract is a maximum of 200-word summary of your case study. It describes briefly about your topic and what you intend to research further. You are establishing the boundaries of your study in the abstract.


    Introduction The introduction is a maximum of 300-word overview of the topic. This means you need to discuss the current technology of your topic. Discuss the features, benefits and limitations of the current technology.


    Problem Statement Based on your introduction, you have to establish your problem statement. What are the problems or issues that the current technology is facing? You have to state that piece by piece and justify why it has to be resolved.


    Results and Discussion Research and establish the solutions for the problems found in the problem statement. Explain processes and procedures of the solutions that you recommend and how it can be done.


    Conclusion and Recommendation Provide a conclusion of the case study that you have conducted. Based on your study, will your solutions be helpful in resolving the issues in the problem statement? Give recommendations that can be further investigated and researched in the future to strengthen your study. Make sure the recommendation is out of the scope of your study.


    References List all the references for your case study. You need to follow the IEEE reference format. For your guidance, you need to have at least:

    Five (5) technical references related to the topic (journal, scientific publication, conference proceeding)

    Five (5) news article reference related to the topic (newspaper, magazine)

    Three (3) books related to the topic.

    Note: Never plagiarize. It’s equivalent to cheating.


    Format of paperMSW_A4_format

    For the presentation:
    1. Create a presentation of your paper. It should be a summary of all sections: Abstract, Introduction, Problem Statement, Discussion, Conclusion.
    2. Follow the 6×6 rule. Each slide should have a maximum of 6 bullet points with maximum of 6 words per bullet point.
    3. Use interesting font/colors. Use images that will help explain your paper.
    4. Everybody should have a part in the presentation.
    5. You have 15 minutes to present your paper followed by Q&A.
    6. Wear business attire for the presentation.

    1. Send a PDF copy of your final paper and PPT presentation to justinp@apc.edu.ph & pineda.justin@rocketmail.com with Subject- Case Study Final Deliverable – (Case topic) by Group (Group Name)
    2. Print a hard copy of the paper.
    3. Submit (1) & (2) requirements before the class.

    Sample papers:

    On Social Networking: Online Peers Can Mean Offline PerilsOnline Peers Can Mean Offline Perils-Presentation

    On Mobile Malware: Prevalence of Malware in Mobiles (1)Prevalence of Malware in Mobiles

    On Internet Surveillance: Internet Surveilance by Team ZAFT_presentInternet Surveilance by Team ZAFT draft 4

    On Social Networking: Using Facebook in TOR, INFOSEC PDF

    On Internet Surveillance: Internet Surveillance

    On Drones: Drones Case Study (1), Drones

    On Cybercrime Law: Revised-Cybercrime

    On Mobile Malware: Mobile-Malware-A-Case-Study-in-Information-Security-1


  • Justin Pineda 8:12 am on September 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , mobile security, websecurity   

    Vulnerability Scanning & Risk Mitigation Project 

    In INFOSEC, the focus of the discussion is a bird’s eye view of the different domains of Information Security. More importantly, the curriculum followed is the CompTIA Security+ lessons. The final project’s objective is to be able to explore on security tools and software such as firewall, IDS, honeypot and to demonstrate the functionalities by doing test scenarios.

    For COMSEC1, the focus shifts into a more specific topic on ethical hacking. The course discusses the steps on ethical hacking and its importance. For the final project, students are required to conduct a static code analysis and vulnerability scan in an existing project and fix the risks to an acceptable risk level.

    Some of the projects include:

    Web application – Web_COMSEC1

    Mobile application – Mobile_COMSEC1

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