Basics of Windows Incident Response

For most people, including me, it is difficult to determine just what is “normal” when looking for signs of a compromised host. As someone who has done multiple CCDC’s as a blue teamer, I can say that this is easily one of the biggest struggles since it affects incident response as well as identifying a compromise.

I recently watched a webinar from Black Hills Info Sec that covered the basics of live Windows IR from the SANS 504 course. I recommend watching it, you can find it on YouTube HERE.

Obligatory thank you to BHIS and SANS.


Some of the most reliable tools for basic IR are built into Windows and Linux. This post will cover mostly Windows IR and definitely is nothing in depth but will get you started in the right direction. Windows has an extremely powerful tool named WMIC. WMIC stands for Windows Management Instrumentation Command-Line. It is extremely useful for IR as well as penetration tests. Between WMIC, netstat and tasklist, you likely have enough to notice some of the telltale signs that you have an infected host.

The biggest thing about these tools is recognizing what is not normal. The best way to do that is to become familiar with the output of the tools. Look at the associated DLLs for common processes like svchost so that you can determine whether or not it’s actually a malicious executable or that the associated DLLs are legitimate. Of course, there are numerous ways around this from an attacker’s standpoint but you get the idea.

SANS Instructor Mark Bagget developed a fairly neat tool that spawns a backdoor and quizzes you to find some information about that backdoor using some of the tools I go over.

You can download that tool HERE.

I have a walk through for the tool below, it is very straight forward but is a good introduction to Windows IR.

Most of the commands used to determine the answers to the questions can be found on the SANS IR Cheat Sheet.

Linux IR Cheat Sheet

Windows IR Cheat Sheet

Log Review Cheat Sheet

Windows IR Commands:

Event Logs

Event logs can be a great source of information, that is if you know what you are looking for. I would prefer querying it for known bad indicators versus looking at 25,000 logs that really don’t tell us anything useful. Luckily, there is an easy way to look for specific logs.

Wevtutil enables us to retrieve information from event logs via the Windows command line, which is pretty awesome. You can do all this stuff from a remote machine and supply the command line with credentials as well.

For more reading on Wevtutil, check out:

Some of the logs that might be useful to use are Security logs that indicate user account changes or additions, failed user login attempts, or service status changes.

This command will query the Security logs for event ID 4720 (User Account Creation)

wevtutil qe security /q:”*[System[(EventID=4720)]]” /c:5 /f:text /rd:true

qe: What logs to query, here you would place system for system logs etc.

/q: Specifies the query. The only thing you really need to change in here is the EventID, just replace it for the one you want. You can use truth operators in here as well as query specific alert levels. Check out that link above for more information on that.

/c: specifies the number of events to display. (If you place nothing here, it will find all matching events)

/f: Specifies the output type, by default it uses XML which can be difficult to read.

/rd: This takes True or False. Set this to true in order to see the newest logs first.


netstat is an awesome tool that comes with Windows and Linux. It allows you to display active TCP connections, listening ports and a whole bunch of other stats including what Process ID the connection is associated with.

This command will display all active TCP connections as well as listening TCP and UDP ports. You would want to run this to determine if this host is connecting to any strange locations, or if your host has something listening that shouldn’t be.

netstat -anob

-a: Displays all active TCP connections and the TCP and UDP ports on which the computer is listening.

-n: Displays active TCP connections, however, addresses and port numbers are expressed numerically and no attempt is made to determine names.

-o: Displays active TCP connections and includes the process ID (PID) for each connection.

-b: This will display the PID’s actual filename and requires elevation.


tasklist displays a list of applications and services with their Process ID. It is very useful for determining what process is associated with a PID. For example, if you notice a strange connection in the netstat output, you can determine the process with this tool.

This command will display the associated task as well as the associated DLL’s.

tasklist /m /fi “pid eq <Insert Process ID here w/out the brackets>”

/m: Displays the associating modules.

/fi: Allows you to use truth statements to refine your command.


net commands have a variety of uses. The net family has multiple siblings. All of them are helpful in identifying system information as well as active network activity.

These commands display open sessions with your host.

net session

net use

Some other commands include:

net user

net view

net user USERNAME


WMIC is an extremely useful tool for all sorts of IT folks. Having WMIC in your toolkit can immensely speed up the process of determining system information in IR, pen tests and system administration. There are some neat scripts out there that will gather a bunch of system data through WMIC for post-exploitation and enumeration as well. The link to the script is at FuzzySecurity’s write up on Windows privilege escalation.

This command will display the name and parent process ID of a given process ID. This would be the next step after determining which process is performing strange network activity. The parent process will be the process that spawned the suspicious process.

wmic process get name,processid,parentprocessid|find “<Insert PID here without the brackets>”

You can then follow up with running the same command with the parent process ID to determine the name of the parent process.

You can also determine the command used to run the process.

wmic process where processid=”PID without the quotes” get commandline

To determine startup tasks.

wmic startup get caption,command

To kill a process:

wmic process where name=”nc.exe” delete

Some other useful commands to know:

To verify firewall state

netsh firewall show state

To view scheduled tasks

schtasks /query /fo LIST /v

View running Windows services

net start

SANS 504 Incident Response Quiz

You probably want to shut your firewall off for this quiz since it will run a harmless backdoor on your host.

Begin by running the executable from an elevated command prompt.

You can use the netstat -anob to determine what is listening in which port. Typically, powershell.exe should not be listening on a random port so this should raise a red flag.

Since we used the b switch with netstat, we determined the PID as well as the listening port.

To find the parent process, we can use WMIC. We can run it twice to find the name of the parent process, we can see that our quiz executable is the parent process.

This part will be easiest done with netcat. You can find the windows pre-compiled version all over the place if you don’t have it. If you don’t know how to use netcat, check out the SANS cheat sheet or some tutorials on it, it is an extremely useful tool.

As you can see, when we connected to that port, this flag was returned to us.

Now things get a little more tricky since we have to use tasklist to determine malicious processes running. As you can see, I determined powershell.exe was running even though I definitely did not spawn it.

Now in order to determine the command line, we can use the wmic commandline option.

Since it is Base64 decoded, you can use your favorite decoder to find the flag.

And.. That’s all! As you can see, it is very simple but it does get you somewhat familiar with some of the built in tools that can help with determining a compromised host.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send me an email at admin(at)jordan potti . com or reach me on twitter. @ok_bye_now


What To Know For Your First InfoSec Interview

There are a whole bunch of sites out there that have common interview questions for careers in information security. I took those and compiled a list of concepts that those questions are based off of. While most of this stuff you should already know if you have an interview, it’s nice to have a refresher sheet. This most likely won’t be anything earth shattering but it will be a collection of concepts that a budding information security professional should understand. This is also a dynamic post so things will likely be added over the next couple months.

This is by no means a complete list but it should be a guide on some of the common concepts we should understand. I created this more for myself as a refresher since I will be graduating soon but I hope you can find it useful as well.

Disclaimer: I am a student as well, this was done as a way to gain a better understanding of these concepts. I am not a seasoned professional so don’t accept everything I post on here as absolute fact, this goes for everything on my site. In fact, it goes for everything. Always question what you’re told, especially on the internet. 

XSS – Cross Site Scripting

XSS is a client side attack. What this means is that an attacker is able to place malicious code on a website and when a user visits that web page, their web browser runs the code locally. Typically, this is JavaScript but it can be any client side language.

So what can an attacker do with a XSS vulnerability? There are a number of things that can be done. The most common is stealing cookies or other session information.

For example, you log into your favorite shopping site. The site issues your web browser a cookie which is your unique identifier. If an attacker is able to place malicious code on any site you browse to, he can grab your cookie, which allows him to access your favorite shopping site as you.

There are two main types of XSS attacks; Stored and Reflected.

Stored is basic, it means that the malicious code is stored on the web server. It can be stored in a comment field, in a database or wherever else you can place your code on the website. Reflected is a bit more convoluted. This requires a victim to access a malicious resource such as a website which then sends a message to the vulnerable web server, which then reflects its response to the victim.

One thing to keep in mind is that if the user is running a web browser that has code execution vulnerabilities, you may be able to execute code on the victims device via an XSS attack.

So how do we fix these types of vulnerabilities? While it completely depends on the circumstances there some common ways to prevent many XSS vulnerabilities. Escaping any character that can affect your web app. Depending on the language you are using, there are typically plugins or functions for this. Validate all user data, if it is expecting a phone number, make sure your web app only accepts a phone number. Escape all data outputted to the user. The other proven method of preventing the damage of a XSS attack is secure cookies and content-security-policy headers. These force SSL/TLS on the cookies and enforce the HTTP response behavior.

Two notable XSS attacks were TweetDeck and Samy. Both of these were not particularly dangerous but they did represent the vast effect that these types of vulnerabilities are capable of.

To learn more, check out OWASP’s guide on XSS.

CSRF – Cross Site Request Forgery

CSRF is another client side attack. This attack requires an attacker to have some knowledge of the web application as well as who their target is. CSRF is basically a way for an attacker to force you to execute an action by sending you a link.

For example, the victim gets an email at work while logged into an internal web app that controls access to a VPN portal. The victim clicks on the link which actually points towards that internal web app which adds a new user to the VPN portal. As you can see, this could be catastrophic to an organization if executed correctly.

There are two main types of CSRF attacks. One is used for the example above, it requires some social engineering in order to trick the user into clicking the link. The other type is Stored. Stored CSRF takes place when the CSRF link is stored on the web server itself. This can also be executed in part with a XSS vulnerability which would in turn would target a wide amount of users.

So how do we fix these types of vulnerabilities? Most web frameworks have built in methods to guard against CSRF vulnerabilities. Other ways include checking the referrer header to verify it matches the target origin, checking the origin header to verify it matches the target origin and CSRF tokens. CSRF tokens are unique to each session and are generated at random for each session. If the request does not pass the verification, the request fails.

An alternate way to deter CSRF attacks, as well as just being a good idea, is using CAPTCHA‘s.

In 2008, uTorrent had a CSRF vulnerability that definitely warrants a read if you want to get a better understanding of CSRF attacks. Check it out here.

To learn more, check out OWASP’s guide on CSRF.

Encryption Stuff

In symmetric encryption, both communicating parties will need a copy of the same key to decrypt and encrypt data. In an asymmetric encryption (Public/Private key), both parties will need each others public key. An encrypted message which is encrypted with a public key, can only be encrypted with each users private key which is kept hidden.

Encryption Algorithms are simply algorithms that scramble data based on some complicated math by using a key. Some of the common ones are Triple DES, RSA, Blowfish, AES. I would assume that unless you will be working on projects directly related to an organizations PKI (Public Key Infrastructure), you won’t be expected to have a deep understanding of these beyond knowing which of the common ones are symmetric or asymmetric. Some symmetric algorithms are AES, DES and 3DES. The most common asymmetric algorithm is RSA.

Key Exchange is the method in which an encrypted communication channel is established.  A common key exchange protocol is Diffie-Hellman. The problem with this initial key exchange is that before the two parties exchange keys, they cannot communicate securely. This introduces the problem of a Man-In-The-Middle attack. Luckily, there is a way to assist with that issue by using Digital Signatures. This is where your SSL certificates come into play. SSL certs are issued by a Certificate Authority such as VeriSign. Another common to verify a parties identity is the use of PGP, or pretty good privacy. Instead of trusting a third party to verify a certificate, each user is responsible for sharing their public key. This is a form of asymmetric cryptography.

RSA is similar to Diffie-Hellman with some variations. RSA is also an asymmetric protocol but it takes care of signing the digital certificate as where Diffie-Hellman couldn’t do that.

In a nutshell, if asked the difference between the two, RSA is more of an encryption algorithm where Diffie-Hellman is more of a key-exchange protocol.

Hashing is not to be confused with encrypting. Hashing is irreversible where as encryption is reversible. MD5 and SHA-1 are fairly common hashing types but are no longer consider secure. SHA-256 is considered much stronger. A salt is used in conjunction with a hash in order to make it more difficult to defend against dictionary attacks or rainbow table attacks. What a salt does is append a random value to a password before it is hashed in order to prevent having the same hashes in a database if two users happen to use the same password.

Encoding is the simplest to reverse as its not designed for obscuring or hiding data. A common form of encoding is base64. What encoding does is converts data to a common form to be transferred over a medium in order to protect the integrity of the data.


CVSS stands for Common Vulnerability Scoring System. This is a universal language to describe the severity of a vulnerability. Scores range from 0 to 10, where 10 is the most critical. There are multiple metrics that go into calculating the score and these scores change over time depending on the number of target systems, damage potential, exploitability among others.

CVE stands for Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures. This is a standard way to identify a vulnerability with a standard naming convention. This is where you see CVE-YEAR-SOME RANDOM NUMBERS. “CVE-2016-3578”. Mitre has a database of all CVE’s as well as NIST where you can see some details about each CVE as well as the associated CVSS score.


Get familiar with the Owasp Top Ten. They have a pretty nice cheat sheet you can study off of. You should be familiar with at least one example based off each vulnerability.


  1. Injection– SQL injection
  2. Broken Authentication – Login form over HTTP.
  3. XSS – Stolen authentication token.
  4. Insecure Direct Object References – Normal users can add admin users.
  5. Security Misconfigurations – Anything you can think of basically. A common one is default credentials.
  6. Sensitive Data Exposure – A users password is displayed to him in his settings tab which means passwords are stored in plain text.
  7. Missing Function Level Access Control – The admin tab is not shown to a normal user but it can still be accessed by plugging in “/categories/admin” after the host name.
  8. CSRF – User unknowingly performs an action orchestrated by an attacker.
  9. Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities – Running a WordPress plugin that has known vulnerabilities.
  10. Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards – A user is redirected to a malicous website.

OSI Model

OSI stands for Open Systems Interconnection model.  This is a theoretical model that helps us design and understand how data communication works.

Image Credit:

Examples of each layers:

Some key differences between a router, a switch and a hub are what they connect. A router connects networks and a switch connects hosts. A hub just connects hosts and instead of using logic to divert packets, it just sends to everyone. A router uses IP addresses for transmitting data, a switch uses MAC addresses and a hub doesn’t care since it is broadcasting all received data.

Since ICMP is a Layer 3 protocol, it doesn’t use ports which take place at Layer 4. That is why pinging does not require a port to be open. Using commands like tracert to determine the path of a packet also uses ICMP (Windows). This works by setting the TTL (Time To Live) to a low number and incrementing by one each time you get a response. The response will be an ICMP error message since the TTL was reached before reaching the packet’s destination. This way, your device is able to build a list of devices that a packet crosses all the way to the destination. Linux uses a similar method by using UDP instead of ICMP.

Some of the Interview Questions Asked To Me Personally

Some of these questions were asked “pre-interview” at a job fair so some of them are pretty simple. 

What is XSS and how would you prevent a XSS attack?

What is CSRF and how would you prevent a CSRF attack?


What is a buffer overflow?

What is a block cipher?

Asymmetric vs symmetric encryption?

What is Diffie-Hellman?

What are some static/dynamic analysis tools?

Whats your favorite security tool?

ForgottenSec’s Github with some awesome content

Related Links from Rob Fuller’s (mubix) repo

Evading Anti-Virus Without Being A Wizard

Recently, I became curious just how different AV evasion tools actually worked. This is a very interesting topic as AV  vendors seem to be playing catch-up. Granted, they are pretty good at this cat and mouse game but the problem is that they are the mouse.

Lots of posts I have seen on AV evasion are simple tutorials on how to run the tools but I don’t find that very helpful. Without understanding what you’re doing, you aren’t going to be able to propose a solution. Anyways, the techniques used to trick AV are pretty clever!

This is not meant to be a simple tutorial since there are plenty of those out there; what I wanted this to be is a way to understand how AV bypass tools work.

Hyperion: Hyperion is an older tool that is only on this list to demonstrate a pretty cool obfuscation technique. Hyperion use a technique that encrypts your malicious binary with a shortened AES key. The decrypter, or stub, which is not encrypted, gets packed into the binary as well. What that does is brute forces the AES key every time the binary is run. The problem with this is that AV vendors look for this brute forcing stub which forces Hyperion to rely on original obfuscation techniques such as Assembly Ghostwriting. Assembly Ghostwriting is in short placing junk inside your program in order to hide its true purpose.



Veil-Evasion: Veil is a framework that can use multiple obfuscation techniques. One of these is taking the same method Hyperion uses. It also can take a python shell and using py2exe, Pyinstaller, or pwnstaller, it can bypass AV. Since Pyinstaller is a fairly common tool, AV rarely flags binaries created with it. Pwninstaller is a variation of Pyinstaller. What it does is recompiles a part of Pyinstaller to force your binary to NOT opt-in for DEP protection which can increase the reliability of your binary.

Another method Veil uses is custom code, obfuscating code and using non-standard code for Windows binaries. Hopefully, you can already see a trend. There are multiple ways to obfuscate malicious code, no one way works for all AV vendors and no one way will work for very long before they catch up.

Here is a chart of how well AV vendors are faring against Veil payloads:



Shellter: This tool is simply a PE injector. It allows you to inject a shell into a binary. Because you can choose any application to inject code into, as well as choose any injection point, you basically have an extremely polymorphic malicious binary tool. Shellter also has options to load several built in meterpreter shells. This is also the only Closed-Source project on this list so you might want to take that into consideration before using this tool.




There are of course many other ways to bypass AV. This post was meant to gain an understanding of the point-n-click tools for AV bypass.

Hyperion fares the worst since its “stub” or decryption code is well known by AV vendors. This could be bypassed by writing your own stub. After obfuscating my meterpreter shell, the detection rate actually went up.

Veil fares pretty well! Its framework also has a bunch of other convenient tools as well which makes it the most robust tool on this list. You can check out this list of proven bypassed AV vendors above.

Shellter actually seemed to be the most in depth AV obfuscation tool on this list. With my first try, I got a meterpreter shell with a perfect score on Virus Total. Once again, with this tool being closed-source, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for AV to catch up!

OSCP – Penetration Testing With Kali – Overview




My experience with penetration testing before taking this course was nearly nothing.


1-2 years of system administration

Almost done with a BS in IT Security

Several years of captaining a CCDC team. (Collegiate Cyber Defense Team)

Other than that, I was comfortable with Linux, Server Administration, Python and other sys-adminy type stuffs. I would highly recommend at least getting comfortable with the following concepts before jumping into the labs:

Web Servers,Linux, Windows Servers, DNS, FTP, SMB, SMTP, POP3, SNMP, etc.

You don’t need to know everything about these concepts but you should know enough to explain what they are and how they generally work.


The exercises are pretty well laid out. They advance slowly and near the end of the exercises, you are required to understand earlier exercises. They skim many of the concepts needed to get through the labs and it is up to the student to expound on any given topic. If you already have lots of professional experience, you might not need to go through the exercises but if you are like me, the exercises are definitely necessary.


The labs are pretty impressive. Lots of blogs go over the structure of the lab so I will save my characters. However, the range of concepts needed to successfully get access to most of the boxes is very broad. Only a couple boxes have repeat vulnerabilities and these typically have multiple paths to root. The notoriety of gh0st, pain, sufferance and humble is definitely well deserved. I spent lots of time with these and ended up with a low priv shell on pain and nothing on sufferance. I did end up getting root on gh0st and humble though. Had I extended my lab, sufferance would have been on the agenda.

The labs were awesome at making the student build his own toolkit and create his own methodology which is where I think its real value comes in. Figuring out what tools worked best was a huge part of the learning process.


The exam was hard. I went in not really knowing what to expect. Even though my toolkit was proven throughout the labs, it seemed as if it wasn’t enough for the exam. I spent 18 hours on the exam and at 3 AM, when my brain wasn’t working quite well, I decided to call it a day.

Fast forward a couple days.. And I got that awesome email..

We are happy to inform you that you have successfully completed the Penetration Testing with Kali Linux certification exam and have obtained your Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification.


Overall, I would say I learned more from the PWK and OSCP process than I have from any one course in school. Like everyone else who took it, I would highly recommend the course! It is a very rewarding exam, it will be interesting to see how much this stuff pertains to actual penetration testing! I do wish there was more AD stuff but that was about my only thought on improvements!

How the Hacking Team Got Hacked

For Fisher, Hacking Team was a perfect target.

The Hacking Team is a group of 50+ hackers who provide offensive tools for governments across 6 continents. In mid-2015, they were exposed to the world. Everything from their source code to their email database was published on their defaced Twitter page via a torrent.

Little was known about the attack. Until several days ago. Phineas Fisher posted a full write-up on the steps taken to gain access and ex filtrate the goods.

His write-up can be found here on Ghost Bin.

The tactics used by Fisher are very complicated. It’s easy to say that this guy definitely is not a noob. You can check out the link about for the full write-up which is pretty interesting or if you don’t got time for that, I summarized for you.

For Fisher, Hacking Team was a perfect target. According to him, it was run by a “Fascist” and worked against “journalists, activists, political opposition, and other threats to their power”

Fisher followed the typical steps to gather information for a target. He used Google, Subdomain Enumeration, Whois and Port Scanning. These are your typical beginning steps. After this he began to collect information from social sites such as LinkedIn and Metadata from public files. Once again, these are all typical steps for reconnaissance.

Fisher avoided social engineering, after all, the Hacking Team are experts at it so they likely know how to spot spear phishing!

With all this information collected, Fisher found that they don’t have much exposed to the internet. What they did have was a website, a mail server, a couple routers, two VPN appliances and a spam filter.

His options were pretty slim so he began to search for a 0day in an embedded device. This is that impressive part..

After two weeks of reverse engineering, he had a remote root exploit. And after some more testing and assuring that it would not raise a red flag, he created a back door firmware to hide his 0day.

He did not include his exploit or the device used since he claims that it still is not patched.

Once he was in their network, his process was pretty straight forward. Slow network scans and a NetBios poisoner

He soon finds their backups and attained access to their email database and eventually their development network. He used iscsi to access their backups and mounted them using some clever iptables rules.

He ended up pulling all their passwords as well which he lists in the report.

HACKINGTEAM         c.pozzi         P4ssword

Using powershell, he downloaded all the mailboxes and then used his proxy and smb to download all the files.

All of the emails leaked can be found here.

He included quite a few links to all the tools he used and some good times and use cases for those. I would recommend you check that out!

It appears that at the end of his summary he encourages similar behavior. Heres an excerpt from his report..

“Hacking guides often end with a disclaimer: this information is for
educational purposes only, be an ethical hacker, don’t attack systems you
don’t have permission to, etc. I’ll say the same, but with a more rebellious
conception of “ethical” hacking. Leaking documents, expropriating money from
banks, and working to secure the computers of ordinary people is ethical
hacking. However, most people who call themselves “ethical hackers” just work
to secure those who pay their high consulting fees, who are often those most
deserving to be hacked.”


However, the Hacking Team seems to call Fisher out on some of the details..

Moral of the story, no one is invincible, and there is always someone out there ready to play your game better than you.

hackingteam hacked logo

Credit: Steve Ragan / Twitter



Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act and your privacy

Since the first computer virus in 1989, the US government has been struggling to keep up with the rapidly evolving world of cybersecurity. Hackers use constantly evolving methods while Congress sluggishly passes inefficient measures against these hackers. Over the past 30 or so years, multiple bills have been put in place to battle this misuse of technology. The most recent bill is the CISA.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed in the Senate in Oct. with a whopping vote of 74-21. This bills main purpose is to help prevent data breaches like the famous Office of Personnel Managements breach that exposed the personal data of more than 20 million current and former federal employees.

CISA aims to do this by offering legal protection to companies who opt in, enabling these companies to share information without the risk of legal repercussion. In theory, when a company is attacked, the federal government is alerted immediately and the warning is distributed to all companies taking part in CISA.

Why does this need to go through Congress?

CISA eliminates a company’s liability, thus, protecting them from lawsuits for sharing too much information.

Some privacy advocates however have major concerns regarding CISA. Several senators took heed of these warnings and proposed amendments to the bill, such as requiring companies to remove personal data from any information before sharing. Ultimately, all of the proposed amendments were shut down and the bill was passed without any of the privacy reforms.

Privacy advocates also aren’t sure how much the bill will even promote data sharing to mitigate attacks. This is based on the argument that data sharing is already taking place among many companies and introducing the government has not historically improved matters. Ben Johnson, Chief Security Strategist is quoted saying in a Forbes article:

“While cyber defense, security and safety should be a top national priority, the time the federal government continues to spend on CISA demonstrates that’s not the case. Threat intelligence is already being shared bountifully. It is the processing of that information, the application of that information, the operationalizing [sic] of that information, and finally the incorporation of that information into an overarching cyber strategy and risk mitigation platform that is sorely lacking. Threat intelligence sharing is not the problem.”

CISA is also criticized for lacking clarity – the bill does not specifically define just how the information will be shared or managed. Nowhere in the bill does it disallow shared information from being used outside the scope of cybercrime investigations. On the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, passing a bill that allows the NSA to gather personal information even easier, could be seen as ironic.

For those of you unfamiliar with Edward Snowden, Snowden revealed thousands of documents exposing the US governments vast reach of information gathering. Ex-NSA contractor Snowden is currently hiding in Russia and according to this CNN article, he criticizes CISA, commenting that the FBI and NSA already collect this kind of hacking data all over the internet, but CISA would allow them to collect even more directly from companies.


This bill may have good intentions, but due to its vagueness, it can be very costly and may cause problems. Some view it as progress but many view it as just another infraction on our right to privacy. Currently, CISA has only made it through the Senate and now must be combined with several other cyber security bills at the House and finally, the President must sign off on it. However, the Obama Administration has already made it clear that they support the bill.

Your Information is For Sale

Big data is a booming business in today’s world. With companies wanting more information about consumers, and data analytics becoming easier for large companies, you might want to be informed of what information they are gathering.

So, where is all this information collected from?

You. Whenever you purchase something from almost any store, your information is collected. It may not be surprising that stores keep a record of what you buy, but it is noteworthy that these stores are all more than willing to sell your information to big data collectors like Datalogix.

Is any of my data private?

There are some limits on what can and cannot be sold. Unfortunately, this list of restrictions are not very long. Of course, medical data cannot be sold under HIPAA regulations. Other information, such as anything that may have to do with your credit score is also somewhat prohibited from selling or purchasing under the Fair Credit Act. These restrictions however, are fairly loose.

Finding out that you have a medical condition is not very difficult for these big data companies. For example, if you search online for allergy medicine or home remedies for back pains, your search data is collected and then sold to these companies. In fact, some health insurance are purchasing data to predict future medical conditions based on purchases such as plus-sized clothing.

Target gives us an example of data analytics gone wrong. According to an article featured in Forbes, Target knew that a young girl was pregnant before her parents knew. Target began sending the girl coupons for baby clothes and cribs and the father confronted Target thinking that they were encouraging her teenage daughter to get pregnant. After speaking with his daughter, he found out that she was in fact pregnant and Target’s algorithms had picked this up and began targeting the girl.

After this scandal, Target changed the way they targeted consumers.

A Target executive is quoted in the New York Times saying, “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance. And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

The largest asset to data collection companies is social media.

Facebook recently purchased a patent from Friendster, a company that created algorithms from big data collections. In this case, Facebook can now determine your credit score based on your online friends. While the Fair Credit Opportunity Act prohibits certain ways to determine how an individual can get a loan, this algorithm may be used to decide on people who are borderline to begin with.

Would it make you feel better to know that you can find out what information they know about you and have them delete it?

Well, that’s not possible, at least not yet. Some companies that collect data will tell you what data they have about you, but often this is not the full report. There is usually a fee and it’s not one single company you would have to request the information from. There is an option to opt-out of this as well, but taking the time to track down all of the data brokers may take quite a bit of time.

Are you using Windows 10?

Windows 10 by default includes Cortana Digital Assistant. This includes access to all your personal information as well as sending your searches to Bing to improve future results and ads. This is data collection, so as long as you are fine with Microsoft building a database about you and predicting what food you like, what ads you want to see, as well as a host of other personal information, don’t worry about any of this.

For those with Windows 10, a quick Google search will lead to instructions to disable Cortana from collecting data. This is not just Microsoft. Google, Apple and most of your favorite stores also use your information for their own gain.