Why you should sit and study for CISSP

Almost every day I see people on social media whining about the antivirus or firewall being outdated, not working, etc.

This puzzles me.

Logs of these security controls show these controls work just fine. They detect, block and remove a lot of stuff.

Not everything, but lots of it.

This is how security controls work. They cover lots, but not everything.

The fact 0days are being found in the security software does not change the fact they are offering a huge benefit to any organization that runs an open ecosystem (people can install or run code w/o any restriction). Imagine the world w/o them and the internet and all services delivered via this channel collapse.

I start to think that most of people who complain about security controls don’t really understand their function.

Enter CISSP.

I advocate that every single IT security specialist should study CISSP material. You may sit the exam if you want, or not – who cares – but fundamentally, at least eyeball the material to get familiar with the security concepts presented there.

They are the core concepts.

They tell you that the world is NOT perfect and teach you what expectations you should have towards security controls.

They prepare you to recognize threats and manage risk.

They convert you from a techie frog sitting in a comfortable well of your personal interest and hobby into a professional connected to a real imperfect world where shit happens on regular basis, no matter what you do. It’s all about handling it gracefully.

SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) and Incident Response – Part 2


After I posted this piece Ryan (Thanks!) pinged me to highlight a few aspects related to SCCM which are worth mentioning, so I am adding some more notes below:

  • For performances reasons the indexing is often limited to certain directories and file extensions; this is a very important point and it’s good to review the inventory config and adjust it accordingly to your needs (if SCCM admins agree 🙂 )
    • I have seen inventories limited to .exe files, and multimedia files (e.g. mp3)
  • There is an option to copy files to SCCM
  • SCCM can be asked to query the environment for specific file names (even non .exe) – it is kinda similar to sweeps, but it’s relatively slow and quite a burden to the system
  • You may know SCCM as SMS (Systems Management Server), ConfigMgr 2012, ConfigMgr 2007 or ConfigMgr) – see wiki for more details

Old post

A while ago I wrote that SCCM can help IR guys to hunt for anomalies in the environment. I always wanted to come back to this topic with some more concrete examples so that I can show what is actually possible.

As mentioned in the first post – if you never used SCCM or don’t know what it is please ask your admin or whoever owns the ‘win’ platform in your company (the function may be called Desktop Management, Windows Admin, or sth along these lines) to give you the URL (and access rights) to the SCCM reporting tool.

The URL will lead you to a page where you can choose various reports presenting information about asset inventory of your company. I won’t cover the details here – all you need to do is to choose a specific report, fill-in the form and submit it to the web site. In return you will get the report.

An example form looks like this:

sccm1The screenshot comes from some random forum post so I hid the domain name to protect the innocent.

When you submit this form the data will be sent to the web site using a GET request. This is cool, because it means you can dynamically change them in your browser’s address bar – it’s easy to experiment with the variable holding the file name.

Let’s see how it works like in practice.

The URL to your SCCM report looks like this:



  • SCCM = address of your SCCM reporting page – usually sth like “SMSReporting_<org name>/”
  • ### – a number assigned to the report called “Computers with a specific file” (find it on the main SCCM reporting page)

The data you provide is passed via an argument called ‘variable’.

Submitting an example query to show all computers that host ‘tor.exe’ could look like this:


When the page comes back you can get 3 types of reports:

  • No report, because the page timed out 😉 – you need to use a different query (most likely, the tor.exe query won’t time out since the name is quite unique, but if you searched f.ex. for notepad.exe the chances are high).
Response object error 'ASP 0251 : 80004005'
Response Buffer Limit Exceeded
  • No results – this is usually good news, since it means there is no ‘tor.exe’ on any system
  • The actual list of systems hosting ‘tor.exe’ – these you need to chase after ASAP

The example report highlighting one system hosting ‘tor.exe’ looks like this:


This is a good example of an actionable data. You can now go directly to the system and investigate. You can question the owner of the system. Finally, you can remove that ‘tor.exe’ instance from the system.

Obviously, to make the best use of the tool you need to know what queries to use. There is (luckily) a long list of tool names and programs both hackers and admins (as well as stupid users) use and you can start the hunting initiative querying f.ex. for:


The last 2 examples contain wildcards (looking for torrent clients) and regular expressions (looking for 3-digit file names) – it is very handy that these are supported by SCCM – they not only help us with more complicated queries, but also narrow down the results (otherwise the time out will tell you your query was not that good 🙂 ).

Once you define what queries you want to run on regular basis you can automate it using Visual Basic Script, python, or whatever else you like. You can also start building white lists or exclusions lists. This is because SCCM has a tendency to keep some records ‘forever’ and even if you clean up the system sometimes you may find some old records ‘hanging’ in SCCM for a very long time. You can either delete them manually directly from SCCM DB, or just keep them there, and also use the aforementioned ‘ignore’ lists to automatically exclude these known systems / files from the output of your parser. Going even further you can report it to SIEM, or you can start sending alerts via email.

The web based report is cool, but it has a serious limitation. It only accepts very simple queries. You can add more fields to the form (e.g. location), but still, it will be quite difficult to use it on regular basis. This is because the inner workings of this form rely on a very simple SELECT query.

If you want more (and you should), the natural progression is therefore talking directly to the SQL Database. Once you know the DB schema you can start creating very specific queries f.ex.:

  • Show me all files added to any system that are dropped under c:\windows within last 8h
  • Show me all files dropped under user profile
  • Show me all files with a single letter file name
  • Show me all files made up of digits only
  • etc.

Using time intervals you can build automatic reports about all .exe files added within last XYZ hours. Eyeballing this may be a bit tricky (don’t be surprised to see gazillions of new .exes landing in your corporate environment every day), so implementing some ‘ignore’ lists may really come handy. In any case, the sky is the limit here and a bunch of SCCM queries ran on regular basis can become a very strong complementary detective security control. Note that you don’t need to install anything, build anything, run sweeps, etc. It’s all there, juicy data waiting to be queried.

Btw. if you are wondering why I am not providing example SQL queries it is because they will vary. Table names are usually organization-specific. If you are curious you can just google around for “sccm sql SoftwareFile” and you will find plenty of examples.

While SCCM can’t be obviously as flexible as a dedicated IR solution it can give you an edge if you don’t have plans /or budget/ to deploy something more IR-centric. Apart from a typical malware / hacking angle, it may also help you to keep systems ‘clean’ for auditing purposes, discover malicious insiders, and perhaps even win a few brownie points from your management.