Workshop: MEI Security’s Cyber Live-Fire Arena

MEI Security Training Room

Arena Workshop Prep Workstations Booted

MEI Security presents the alpha release of version 4.0 of our Cyber Live-Fire Arena.

On Thursday evening, March 14 2019 (pi day) MEI Security will sponsor an online and in-person workshop for the alpha release of Arena v4.0.

MEI Security’s Arena is a training environment for improving participant’s skills in attacking and/or defending servers in a live-fire environment.  Each team has a set of VMs running web servers which provide specific files to the scoring server every 2 minutes.  If an opponent gains access to your VM and places their team name in your score files, that opponent scores points for a successful attack while you do not score defensive points that round.  Teams may choose to focus on attacks & exploits, purely on defending their VMs, or both.  The goal is to have fun & polish skill sets in a riskless exercise.

This workshop will be for up to 8 teams with up to three people per team.  This exercise is held at no cost to participants.

Contact us before March 12 for your credentials to connect to the arena. You will receive a openvpn config files for connecting to the arena as well as identity files for connecting to ssh on your team’s machines.

The event will be held both online via google Hangouts Meet and in person at MEI Security’s offices in Stoughton, Massachusetts, USA. Seating is limited to 12 people at the office, and credentials for connecting to the arena whether in person or remote are limited to 24 people overall.

Please signup at the meetup page to attend in person and/or contact us via email to get your credentials for access to the arena.


Presenter: Vik Solem, President, MEI Security

Agenda: (Times are Boston local time)

6:30 PM – 7:00 PM : Networking and light refreshments

7:00 PM – 7:05 PM : Introductions

7:05 PM – 7:30 PM : Presentation: Training Cyber Security Defenders

7:30 PM – 8:30 PM : Demo/Workshop: MEI Security’s Cyber Live Fire Arena

This meeting will be available via google Hangouts Meet.
Please signup ahead of time to receive your credentials for connecting to the arena workshop online.

MEI Security’s InfoSec Industry Certification Study Group

Information Security
Industry Certification Study Group

Who: MEI Security and You
What: InfoSec Industry Cert Study Group
When: Thursday, 3/1/2018, 6-8PM
Where: 5 Cabot Place, 2nd Floor, Stoughton, MA 02072 USA
Why: “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of IT security jobs is expected to have increased 18% by 2024, but as (ISC)2 has discovered, there will be nowhere near enough skilled candidates to fill those jobs… Meanwhile, cyber threats get progressively worse, becoming more frequent and damaging. Studies suggest many organizations need to better prepare to address the cybersecurity challenge. For instance, a Crowd Research Partners study released in early 2017 shows 62% of respondents had moderate to no confidence in their security measures.”

• The path to a career in cyber security can vary greatly… Industry certifications are a means of increasing earning potential and are well recognized by employers. All working in or interested in information technology and information security are welcome to attend. The material covered is a benefit to the attendee’s professional and personal life. 18+ please – sorry, it’s an insurance thing.
• The focus is CompTIA’s Security+. A soft copy of the latest study guide can be had via Amazon for ~$10. Local libraries also have study materials available. All material will be projected onto a screen, having an individual copy of the study guide is recommended.
• The prior session covering Chapter 1: Mastering Security Basics will be quickly reviewed. The session will proceed into Chapter 2: Understanding Identity and Access Management.
• An industry certification holder is scheduled to attend each session. Real world examples are provided to add context to concepts. Discussion and Q&A are encouraged.
• The building is handicapped accessible via a ramp at the rear of the building, take the elevator to the 2nd floor. Snacks and beverages are provided. These sessions are offered at no charge, the setting is informal.

For questions, additional information or to RSVP please call 617-544-7233, option 1, or email

MEI’s Capture The Flag @ BASC 2017 recap

MEI’s Vik Solem as Chief Arena Officer, at the helm

In recognition of October being National Cyber Security Awareness Month MEI Security supported an Attack & Defend CTF at OWASP Boston’s BASC at Microsoft in Burlington (MA) Saturday, 10/14/17. We fielded 7 Defender workstations with multiple VM’s and IoT devices on the network as additional targets courtesy of Pwnie Express.  Attacking Teams brought their own laptops and attack tools to infiltrate the Defender network resources.

The day began with a participant briefing at 9am.  Competing teams were given descriptions of the network, scoring methodology and the active VM schedule. Defending Teams were given credentials for the stations and resources they were to defend.  Scoring went live at 10am and continued until 4pm.  Early in the session Team Skadi jumped out to lead in both Defensive & Offensive points, leads which they built upon throughout the challenge.  The middle of the day was briefly marred by failure of a formerly trusty switch – but MEI quickly tracked down the root cause and deployed a replacement.  Along the way, MEI issued advisories to simulate real-world information breaches, requiring adjustments by both Defenders & Attackers. In the last hour of live scoring, Attacking & Defending Teams came together and shared their strategies & experiences making for a productive and fun conclusion for all participants.  At 4pm, Scoring was halted and Team Skadi claimed the Best Defender & Best Attacker crowns.

Thanks are due MEI’s volunteers & many others for providing guidance & support along the way.  Without their thoughtful & generous contributions of time & materials, this successful workshop event would not have been possible.  Cheers to OWASP Boston for sponsoring the annual Boston Application Security Conference and for providing a cadre of highly skilled & eager volunteers.  Thanks also to Microsoft for their courteous staff and use of their facility. #OWASPBOSTON #NCSAM #CyberAware

CTF Event @ BASC 2017



MEI Security (Stoughton, MA) will support a Cyber “Capture The Flag” Workshop at the Boston Application Security Conference in Burlington, MA, October 14th. The conference is free of charge.

MEI’s Arena workshop is an Attack/Defend Information Security challenge where teams of competitors defend their own services (web services and others) and launch attacks against competing teams. Teams may choose to attack or defend (or both).  Additional challenges include recovering after attacks, handling common InfoSec tasks like investigations, advisories, requirements to spin up new services, and gaining control of IoT devices which may be available on the network.  It’s like running your own IT Security team (in a relatively safe and relatively isolated, fictional network environment) but – you CAN’T get fired for a breach and you CAN attack your adversaries!!

Capture the Flag exercises are useful tools to help individuals and organizations harden their information security postures, reduce attack surfaces, and burnish penetration testing skills, to decrease risk to organizations and individuals in our ever-changing threatscape.

The Boston Application Security Conference is held courtesy of OWASP Boston. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month coordinated and led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). MEI Security is pleased be an NCSAM Champion and to partner with these organizations and programs. @OWASPBOSTON @BASConf @StaySafeOnline #NCSAM #CyberAware

Conference tickets and tickets to the workshop are found here.  Workshop participants must first have a conference ticket and present ID to gain access to the host facility, then an additional ticket for the workshop.  All tickets are free of charge.  A participant briefing describing the arena and rules of engagement will be held at 9am.  The challenge will commence at 10am, scoring will conclude at 4pm.  As Defender seats and resources are limited, please do not register for a Defender ticket if your team is not committed to defending provided resources throughout the challenge.

For more information contact MEI Security at 617-544-7233,, @meisecurity

The Equifax Breach: Why it’s big, and how to stay safe.

Yesterday, Equifax admitted publicly that they were breached, and that personal information was exposed for 143,000,000 U.S. Consumers.  While this is not the largest data breach in number of records exposed, it is arguably the worst data breach ever due to the type of data that criminals accessed.  Whether or not you believe that your information was exposed there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Why This Breach is Historic

This breach involved personal information, not just credit card numbers.  If a criminal gets hold of your credit card information you can cancel the card, and if they are able to make any charges you can dispute those with the credit card company.  It’s slightly worse if a criminal gets your debit card information. In that case you can get a new card, but you may have to fight with the bank to get your cash back into your bank account.

In this breach identity information was stolen.  If a criminal gets hold of your identity information it’s much harder for you to change that, and the criminal can continue to use it for years.  Even if you are able to change your social security number (which may require proof of criminal activity) many companies will continue to have your previous number, and may grant access to your information based on that.

According to the information available today criminals gained access to names, social security numbers, addresses, and other information for more than one hundred million people in the U.S.  In some, or perhaps most, of these cases the people who are now at risk never had any dealings directly with Equifax.  Even so, the failure of Equifax to protect consumers’ data now costs time and money of millions of people.  Time and money which will be required to protect people and/or to react to criminal activity committed in their name.

Even worse is the fact that Equifax has been breached before!

And they’re not alone.  Experian has been in the news for its own share of issues.

Because of the number of people who are now subject to identity theft, this is quite possibly the worst data breach in history.


What You Can Do

Even if you haven’t been breached yet, there are at least two things you can do to protect yourself and to prevent criminals from using your information.  Note: option 1 is more expensive and is optional if you complete all of option 2; however option 1 is the easiest over the long term.

Option 1: Sign up for credit monitoring.  You may choose to do this via Equifax for free, or you may choose not to place your trust in the company that has lost control of consumer data 5 times in 5 years.  There are alternatives.  (e.g. Lifelock, Transunion, Fast3CreditScores, Experian Identity Works, Privacy Guard ) Numerous sites are available for evaluating these.

  • Pro:
    • You will receive alerts when anyone attempts to open a new credit account in your name.
    • Some of these credit monitoring companies will help you if your identity is compromised.  Choose carefully.
  • Con:
    • This is more expensive than the $15 per year for a freeze. (assuming you only apply for one new credit account per year)


Option 2: Contact each of the four consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, Trans Union), and request a Credit Freeze.  This may cost up to $15 per bureau, depending on your state of residency.

  • Pro:
    • If a criminal attempts to open a credit account in your name they will be refused.
  • Con:
    • When you wish to open a new credit account you will have to do the following.
      • Ask the company from which you are requesting credit to tell you which credit bureau they use,  Equifax, Experian, Innovis, or Trans Union.
      • Contact that credit bureau and release the freeze.
      • Apply for the new credit account or loan.
      • Contact that credit bureau and request the freeze again – this will likely cost an additional $15.  If you do this less than once per season then this is much less than you will likely pay for credit monitoring.  It is of course less convenient.


Because of the large number of identities stolen (143,000,000) this is likely the worst data breach ever.  Whether or not your personal information was breached in this incident, there are steps you can take to prevent criminals from using your identity to commit crimes.

60% of Small Businesses Close After Cyber Attack

Running a small business can be hard enough, but cyber crime makes it even harder. According to multiple sources, once a business suffers a cyber attack there is a 60% chance that they will be closed, out of business within a year. [CS] [FC] [GM] This is a tough number to hear, especially given that small businesses have fewer resources available for I.T. Security.

Furthermore, 71% of small business report that they have been attacked, and back in 2015 the average cost of each attach was $20,753. [FC] How will it cost your business? How much should you spend to prevent attacks or to be able to survive a successful attack?

You don’t have to spend tens of thousands, and you don’t need to hire MEI Security (although we are happy to help). You can find options for lowering your risk. We sponsor free meetings, on the second Thursday of the month. Ours are in Stoughton, MA, but you may be able to find some in your area. We also have a list of resources that include free options for small to medium sized companies. Whatever your budget, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from cyber criminals. We urge you not to wait until after an attack. For 60% of small businesses that was too late for survival.



[CS] DJ Jordan, Joel Hannahs, “Collins Subcommittee Examines Small Business Cyber-Security Challenges With New Technologies”, 2013-03-21,

[FC] , “60% Of Small Businesses Will Close Within Six Months Of A Cyber Attack… Will Your Company Survive?”, 2015-10-22,

[GM] Gary Miller, “60% of small companies that suffer a cyber attack are out of business within six months.”, 2016-10-23,

Has the Cyber Security Industry Failed

Illustration of insecure scripts

Request to run insecure scripts illustrates security problems.

In an article on Aneri Pattani appears to be saying that the cyber security industry has failed.  Aneri refers to breach-after-breach and points to the fact that simple, old-school expoits & attack methods continue to work against newly deployed software.  While the facts are true, I believe that Aneri has missed the point completely.  I suggest that the failure is not in the industry as much as in the people who choose not to take the advice of security professionals.  There are two components here.  First, Cyber Security professionals may need to improve how they educate people on the subject of risk.  Second, those in control of businesses must take ownership when things fail if the failure happened after they elected not to enact recommended security measures.  Blaming the Security industry for breaches is inaccurate and distracts from the real cause of security issues.

Regarding educating people on risk, let’s take one example. Aneria says “The best way to fight this cyberwar is to get back to basics, like knowing how many computers a company has and gaining control over them in seconds.”  This is true.  The industry has been saying this for years.  Take, for example, the SANS Top 20 Critical Security Controls, now the CIS security controls.  Number one on the list.  “CSC 1: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Devices”  That would correspond to “knowing how many computers a company has”.  This simple step is the number one thing that companies can do, and yet many, many companies don’t do so.  (There’s a poster too, which I recommend.)

Regarding how companies encourage bad behavior while ignoring the security industry’s recommendations, let’s consider the very web page accusing the industry of failure.  The industry has said for years  that running lots of scripts on a web page increases risk.  Each time a user opens up their browser to run more scripts they have exposed themselves to more code from unknown sources.  For this reason many people, like myself, use script blockers as part of keeping our browsers secure from attack.  When I tried to read the comments on the article I specifically allowed scripts to run for the current page.  I did this three times.  Each time allowing more and more scripts to run.  In the end I was still not able to view the comments, and the page still wanted to run more scripts.  (Yes. I know that MEI Security’s web page asks for some scripts to run, but it does function with scripting disabled.)

In conclusion, the article proclaiming that the security industry has failed shows by it’s very nature that businesses continue to ignore the advice of the security industry, and they push for users to bring more risk into their own environments.  If you refuse to secure yourself then you’ve decided to take that risk.  When you are breached don’t blame the folks who told you not to take the risk in the first place.

Source Boston 2016 Promotion

MEI Security wants to see YOU

at the Source Boston conference, May 18 and 19.

Join us where Security and Business come together at Source Boston 2016, and drink in the Security know-how.

Each person who signs up with the affiliate code “AFFILIATE_VIKSOLEM” gets a portable USB battery, a slide-able webcam cover, and their choice of an MEI hat or T-shirt.

Here’s what to do

  1. Sign Up – Sign up for Source using the affiliate code “AFFILIATE_VIKSOLEM” – which gets you a $50 discount right off the bat!
  2. Email Us – Email us at, let us know you signed up with our code, and indicate (1) your choice of logo and (2) your choice of hat or T-shirt (and T-shirt size).
  3. Learn and Enjoy – Go to the conference and drink in the security know-how!


Don’t forget to pick a logo (Consulting or Training) for your battery, webcam cover, and hat/T-Shirt.




We will have your battery, webcam cover, and hat / T-shirt at the conference or delivered to you afterwards, depending on availability.

Two Cyber Security Secrets about the FBI v Apple Case



Speaking as a cyber security professional, there are two “secrets” about the FBI v Apple case that seem obvious but don’t appear to have much visibility in the news.  (1) If you want to break into an encrypted device you hire people who do that for a living not the manufacturer, and (2) if a back-door is built into any system it will be used by those who don’t care about obeying the law.

There are many specialties in cyber security.  Picking three for illustration, there are companies that unshred documents – see our upcoming post on how to use a shredder properly.  There are companies that specialize in breaking into online sites.  And there are companies that break into mobile devices.  If you need documents rescued from the shredding bin you call a deshredding company, not the shredder manufacturer.  If you want to see how vulnerable your web site is to attacks then you hire a company that does that all day every day, never hire the company that built the web site – especially if you built it yourself!  And if you need to break into a mobile device, in this case an iPhone, then you hire a company that breaks into these devices all the time.  You do not go to the manufacturer.  (Of course, if your goals is swaying public opinion instead of breaking into the phone then perhaps you make a federal case of it.)   SECRET #1: If you need to break into something you hire a specialist who does that for a living.

Knowing that a back-door exists completely changes how you try to break into something.  As long as a secured container is thought to be secured, the attacks against it are typically frontal assault / brute force attacks or coercion / candy-for-your-password attacks.  The moment that a back door is known to exist the known “attack surface”  changes, as do the methods of attack expected to succeed.  If a back door were to be built into a class of mobile devices (e.g. all iphones) then that back door would become the area of focus for getting into the phones.  Instead of breaking into a single phone, one successful exploit gets an attacker into all phones (of a certain version etc.)  The idea that the special back door will only be used when appropriate (e.g. with a warrant) is just silly.  Once the back door has been built, the security of the system is broken, and government funded (possibly not the U.S. government) and criminally funded attackers will get the key.  Yes.  I said “will get” not “might get”.  If it exists they will obtain it, and they don’t care about warrants or other legal issues.  What started as a Law Enforcement Only back door will then be use to steal private information for use by other governments and criminals around the world.  How would a foreign intelligence agency use “private” text messages and emails against a government employee having money trouble or family issues?  How useful would it be for a burglar to know the precise location of every member of your family at all times? Breaking the security of the iphone – or of any ecosystem – is a serious loss for all good people.  The notion that law enforcement or apple can keep the secret key a secret is immaterial. The very existence of a back door makes it a very valuable targe. SECRET #2: Once a back-door key exists the back-door becomes the attack point, and attackers will get in, no warrant required.

The very notion of asking a manufacturer to break into their own device indicates that the goal is not the data on that one device, and if the manufacturer provides that access then it opens up all devices to those who (unlike law enforcement) don’t care about the rule of law, freedom, or personal privacy.