My Personal Soapbox
Minion: What, Why, and How
Once we get where we want to with Minion, we will talk more about what we plan to do with it within Mozilla, both through a public webcast, and on the Mozilla Security blog, but right now we just aren’t ready for it.  Instead, I will explain Minion, and lay out my personal goals for the project.


At Mozilla I work with a team of really bright people who are working hard on some of the challenges of building secure software and managing the IT security related risks associated with a high-profile open source project.  One of the biggest challenges we face is that Mozilla is a public benefit organization; this means that we don’t tend to drive the same scale of insane profits that some of our competitors do (and profits aren’t bad thing!), which means that we have to find new and interesting ways to scale; I spoke about some of these things at AppSecUSA at the end of October, and the video should be available online soon.

Adding to this challenge is the state of the Application Security workforce.  For skilled AppSec people, the unemployment rate is essentially 0%.  For under-skilled[1] AppSec people, it is not much higher; this provides the challenge of trying to recruit skilled, knowledgeable people to help with some of our activities.  We have had a huge amount of success over the last two years in growing and building an effective team, but like every other security team, we are increasingly competing for a small number of high value individuals.  (Hey, interested in applying for jobs?  Look here:

To even further complicate matters the amount of competition in the security space, and the history of the security community telling everyone that security sucks, security is hard, and they aren’t smart enough to get security right, have all contributed to the proliferation of Security As a Service vendors.  Unless you have a huge amount of financial resources, compelling and interesting problems to work on, or some other incentive, it is very difficult to attract security talent when vendors are offering top dollar for people to work in their bug mills (again, not a bad thing; good quality teams are expensive, and vendors can help offer access to good talent).


For the last year I have been preaching automation to our team, and last spring we started growing our Security Automation Engineering team.  Following that, we recently started to build out a new team to focus on developer oriented tools.  We wanted an “security tool automation system”.  We envision a tool that will provide basic automation for a range of security tools, with intelligently selected configurations for ease of use, and well thought out configuration options to allow the user to configure a range of tools by modifying a small set of values.  This tool is called Minion.

Minion is intended to be disruptive. 

First, it will help us break out of the pattern of running and using security tools within our team; we want all of the developers in our organization to use them.  We want our developers to do horrible things to the applications and services they write, and we want it to be as easy as the push of a button.  If my team is asked to review an application[2] for release to production, having passed through Minion should be one of the first steps.

Second, we want Minion to become a Security As A Service platform.  Automation is not the answer to everything; In the long term, Minion should provide a solid toolkit that any security team can use to organize around.  Once we finish the core feature set of Minion, we will start to focus on the team oriented aspects of the platform.  It should be easy to extend, easy to adopt, and support hooking into each step of the SDLC.  In short, we want to create a platform that allows any good security team to compete with the established Security As A Service players in terms of service delivery, documentation, and workflow, without constraining people to a specific philosophy or process.

Finally, we want Minion to be a framework.  As an information gathering tool, it is effectively useless if that information feeds into a write-only repository.  To that end we are working to define clear, extensible formats that can be used to integrate with and consume data from Minion.  Want to create a fancy dashboard for C-Level executives?  Minion should allow that.  Want to write a module to automate generating a report worthy of a typical audit firm?  Minion should allow you to do that!  Want to perform data mining to find out vulnerabilities that are most common in the applications you test?  Minion should allow that!  By building Minion around REST APIs and modern web standards, it is possible to build any kind of mashup you can think of with the data that Minion collects and the results it tracks.


I pushed for Minion to be created, but it would still be a poorly written set of PoC scripts if it wasn’t for the hard work of Matthew Fuller, Simon Bennetts, and Stefan Arentz.  These guys have done an amazing job, and I look forward to seeing how they continue to push the project forward!  If you are interested in Minion, you can check out the repo at, join the mailing list at or join us on #minion on
Thanks for reading!
[1] “Underskilled”: Securing web applications is hard.  Securing applications is hard.  Securing applications that people use to build web applications and access web applications is really hard.  Not everyone is cut out for the job, and there is nothing wrong with that; there are a lot of opportunities for people that don’t demand staying on the bleeding edge of technology.

[2] Note that this is different from the consultative security work we do over the course of a project; Minion is not a substitute for a security program, it simply offloads some of the testing burden to automated tools and lays a foundation that the security team can look at when starting a final review before a product or service is released.

Pretty much your average day at Mozilla.


Pretty much your average day at Mozilla.

Saying No.

Working in security I spend a fair amount of time reviewing and looking at work other people do.  Turns out when you do that for 10 years, eventually people start seeing you like this:

While some of the things I have seen make me feel that way, the reality is that I have tried to spend most of my career helping people to try to do things better, not to stop them doing new and cool things.

I have lost count of the number of times someone has said in a meeting “We can’t do that, security won’t let us!” with me sitting right there!  Ok, fair enough, sometimes it’s true, but most of the time we are really trying to say “Not like that!”.  You need a remote access solution?  Sure, but lets but that RDP service behind a VPN.  Need to install a new, untested web service on our domain?  Ok, but why don’t we do some testing and maybe some fuzzing on it first.  You want to ship all of our employee data to that 3rd party?  Lets have a chat with them first so that we can make sure their security practices are reasonable first.

If I am talking to you about a security issue and you think I just said “No”, make sure you listen the rest of the “t like that!” because I am probably trying to help you[1]!

[1] The exception to the rule is if you are talking about PHP or Perl.  Then I mean no.

#BSidesSF 2012 videos are up…

The BSidesSF 2012 videos are up on BrightTalk; you can watch my presentation below; the slides to accompany the video can also be found here.

If you have any questions about the content, feel free to contact me (my contact info is on the last slide).

HR wants your password? Be careful…

There have been a number of articles recently covering the practice of prospective employers requesting access to social media sites, personal email accounts, or other deeply personal stores of information.

Despite this being an egregious violation of privacy, it is a growing practice, and one that requires clear guidance and regulation or legislation to protect users.  The good news is that the tech industry doesn’t need to wait; most of the major players have clearly defined policies which forbid this practice.

Facebook asks its users to commit not to share their passwords or accounts as part of their “rights and responsibilities” which stands in place of the terms of service.  LinkedIn has a similar requirement in theirs.  I am not going to do an exhaustive survey, but it is highly likely that these terms are included in most others as well.

These service providers should clearly and publicly respond to this usage pattern and inform businesses that if they continue this unethical (and potentially illegal) activity, they will be blocked from accessing the services. 

There is not much of a motivation for them to do so, but Social Media sites should also take technical measures to detect and actively warn users that are granting access to 3rd parties that they may be violating the terms of service.

A few strategic short-term bans on users who grant this type of access would create a a world of hurt for recruiters and compel users to refuse to participate in this behavior.

On splitting hairs…

This probably isn’t as constructive as it could be, but arguing that something is or isn’t a concern based on multiple definitions of a word is generally ineffective when the root cause of the argument is over the multiple definitions of the word.

"Without wanting to have the same arguments again (not the point of this
thread), there are two overlapping uses of the verb ‘discriminate’.”


"I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it."

Considering the source for the modern “legal” definition of marriage in most of the “Western World”, I think that is far to narrow an attempt to define it.  For the judeo-christian perspective, please consult this handy chart:


Security Conferences are making me sad…

Over the course of my career I haven’t had the opportunity to attend many security conferences, for two reasons:

When I started at Mozilla I was super excited about both attending and participating at conferences since not only could I actually attend them, but pretty much everything important that we do at Mozilla is done in the open!  Since presenting and participating in security conferences would help me work on the social anxiety bit, and I would learn stuff, it was a huge win!

The conferences I attended several years ago left me inspired, excited, with a pile of ideas for problems to tackle, and tools to develop.  The conferences I have attended in the last year have left me thinking “That was a really great rehash of stuff that has already been done to death, with a minor twist at the end.” 

To a certain extent this is likely the result of the degree of advances in the field.  Ground-breaking, revolutionary new attacks are going to become increasingly rare; you can read more about why here, but basically, IT Security and InfoSec is starting to mature as a research field.  Another reason why is the increasing desire to extract direct value from security research; if it can’t be used for marketing, or sold explicitly in a vulnerability market, the it is a trade secret that can be rehashed as special consulting secret sauce.  Coupled with the proliferation of security conferences of varying degree of quality, and the glut of “me too” presentations, I think this is going to get worse before it gets better (at least for offensively focused conferences)

Despite my concerns on this, I have continued to attend because I still want to build a better network; first, because sharing ideas and info is fun and cool, and second, because we have a bunch of neat open jobs, and talking to smart people about Mozillas mission and work is a great way to try to recruit people!  Unfortunately this also makes me sad.  At virtually every conference I have been to, it is virtually impossible for me to ‘meet people’ and ‘network’.  I blame myself for this because of the reason listed above, but it is also the result of the cliquey nature of communities.

There are some exceptions to my conference malaise, and those were the BSidesSF events; even though the talks were less engaging[1] this year than they were in 2011.  The BSides events were very interesting because although there were still cliques, they were easy to mix into.  The groups were small, and the attitudes of people generally more positive, and everyone I spoke to was interested in chatting and getting to know people.

Rather than just complaining about it, I am going to try to do something about it.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to present at a cool conference, but my employer at the time interfered.  Now that Mozilla is actively promoting our mission, and supports pushing the security component, I am going to push hard to complete two distinct research projects over the next year, and aim to present the results and tools.  Although either of the topics would likely be suitable for a major “mainstream” security conference such as BlackHat, RSA, (Can|Pac|Eu)Sec, I will aim to present at smaller regional conferences, or conferences that are focused on open communities such as MozCamp, OWASP, or BSides events.

My Projects

The first one builds on the Garmr tool that Mozilla released earlier this year, and will help security teams to perform low to moderate risk assessments at scale.  I aim to present these application security tools at a conference in Q3 of 2012, with a tool release in late Q2 or early Q3.  The focus of this tool will be implementing some the concepts and ideas I wrote about when I joined Mozilla, with the aim to enable teams to perform security work at scale.

The second one will be an attempt to combine some of the AppSensor / Attack Aware Application work that OWASP published with some really cool new technologies to take security event monitoring in a different direction.  This is a joint project with another person and will not be ready until sometime in 2013.

I hope to see people at future conferences, and will continue to chip away at building a better network and meeting people, but I really hope that shifting focus can help me to recapture some of the inspiration I used to get from the security community!

[1] YMMV! Several of the talks touched on areas I have done work in the past, so there was not much new ground covered for me.

Opening Identity

I gave a talk on federated identity protocols at BSidesSF last week, and again here in Vancouver yesterday.  The slides for the talk can be found [here]

Here are some other things I mentioned during the talk:

BrowserID Security Review

BrowserID Security Discussion

Collusion -
Ghostery -

Voicing an opinion

Mozilla is a fascinating place to work. I am surrounded by brilliant people who inspire me on a daily basis.

One of the great bits about brilliant people is that they usually have a some very well thought out opinions or beliefs, and most people tend to be very vocal about them.
Because we are an open community at Mozilla, we also have many ways to share information, including Mozilla-hosted and personal blogs, social networking tools, etc, etc, etc, and we also host an aggregator for this content at

Yesterday a prominent member of the Mozilla community posted a call to action for his particular set of beliefs that was picked up by planet and shared with the entire Mozilla community, and a huge “discussion”[1] ensued.

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire

So let me be 100% clear. Gerv’s comments were his own. The are based on his world-view, and to many people, they are patently offensive and discriminatory.
That said, Gerv has every right to voice his opinion. His opinion is offensive to liberal minded people, but suppressing offensive speech or writing is a dangerous first step to oppression. Consider this: if the gay rights movement, or the black civil rights movement, or the women’s rights movement didn’t have the advantage of freedom of speech, those nascent movements would have been killed before they accomplished the laudable goals they achieved.

Because the people who launched these movements in the west had (for the most part) the luxury of freedom of speech, the voices of the individuals who opposed the advancement of human rights were drowned out by the voices of those pushing for freedom and equality.

"A great many people mistake opinions for thought." - Herbert Prochnow

Suppression of offensive opinions or beliefs (I hesitate to call them ideas, because it implies there is something innovative, new or original about the opinion) is not the correct approach. Keeping things in the dark is a great way to allow a subculture of hate and fear to grow, and silencing a hateful voice pushes it into hiding.

Do not silence someones opinion through censorship, instead, drown out the voices of hate and discrimination with shouts of support, and calls for equality and freedom.

And on an additional note, it is important to note that throughout the history of humanity, anyone who stands opposed to equality and human rights is on the wrong side of history.

[1] and by discussion, I mean shitstorm.