Skip to main content
May 28, 2008

Trip Report: PH-Neutral

I spent the weekend in Berlin attending a conference called PH-Neutral, run primarily by the Phenoelit crew. This was the first European security conference I've attended and I found it quite different from any North American security gathering I've been to, such as BlackHat, CanSecWest, SOURCE Boston, BlueHat, or RSA. Everything was far more casual and laid back, which is something I had heard about European conferences but hadn't experienced until now (even EUSecWest is held in a club whereas CanSecWest is in a Marriott).

The event was held at Die Insel, on a tiny island a few kilometers outside of Berlin's city center, near Treptower Park. The venue is mostly used for live music so basically it feels like a dark, somewhat dingy club (certainly the bathrooms are reminiscent of a club). The presentations were on the 3rd floor in a room that probably held about 60 people in close quarters; to handle overflow, a closed-circuit feed was being simulcast on the 4th floor, which was a bit less crowded and, more importantly, opened out onto a rooftop deck which meant better ventilation. The bottom floor led out to a Biergarten with tables, beach chairs, and a stage which was used for DJing. The layout was actually pretty efficient for allowing around 200 people to mill about and socialize/network while not having to stray too far from where the talks were presented.

As far as the event itself, when I said "laid back" earlier, don't interpret that to mean disorganized or watered down in any way. It was run with stereotypical German efficiency, from badging to presentations to the after-hours parties. The presentations were just as technical and relevant as any of the more "corporate" conferences. Unfortunately for me, I don't know that many people in European security circles, and most of the ones I do know weren't in attendance. Those I did meet, however, were impressively smart and well-versed. Nobody was trying to conduct business transactions or slip away for meetings, which is inevitably what happens when only technical folks are present! For me, a few talks stood out. Fukami and BeF's talk on SWF and the Malware Tragedy discussed methods for automated static detection of malware in Flash movies. Much of it centered on heuristics related to inconsistencies in the file format or tag structure, abnormal concentrations of strings in the constant pool, or the existence of various obfuscation techniques. Ultimately, there are false positive issues to be addressed but that is just a fact of life with static analysis, and it will be an iterative process to refine those heuristics as the attack vectors evolve. I thought this talk was particularly timely given the increasing prevalence of Flash as a conduit for exploits/malware, such as the most recent Flash 0day that made the news (granted, this was an exploit against Flash itself, not just using Flash as a delivery mechanism, but close enough).

I also enjoyed pierre's talk on counterintelligence, basically a mélange of wiretapping and other bugging devices discovered in the wild. War stories are always interesting, particularly when it comes to the realm of physical security. One of the x-ray images he showed of a bugged pen was identical to a pen that I own (minus the bugging device of course... I hope). The feel of the talk reminded me a bit of James Atkinson's talk at SOURCE, "Telephone Defenses Against the Dark Arts", which also got rave reviews. All in all, it was a good trip and I enjoyed the opportunity to see how things are done across the pond, and to do a little sightseeing in a historic and beautiful city. Mike Eddington's presentation on Peach 2 fuzzing framework was also quite interesting. Peach 2 was released several months back but I haven't really been paying much attention to it or any other fuzzing tool for some time. In fact the last time I really had to implement a protocol fuzzer, I was using SPIKE 2.9, so that gives you some indication of how long it's been. Peach 2 includes some powerful built-in capabilities such as node relationships (e.g. field 1 represents the length of field 2; field 10 is a CRC-32 of fields 1 through 9), data transforms (those with battle scars from ASN.1 will be happy), state machines (packets 1 and 2 have to be normal in order to fuzz packet 3), monitoring agents (detecting when a crash happens and under what conditions), and much more. I am itching to go fuzz something now just so I can tinker with Peach.  

FREE Security Tutorials from Veracode

Flash Security Settings
SQL Injection Tutorial
Cyber Threats
Mobile Security Threats
CRLF Injection

Veracode Security Solutions

Binary Analysis
Application Testing
Software Security

Veracode Data Security Resources

Data Leaks
Secure Data
Data Breach

Chris Eng, Chief Research Officer, is responsible for integrating security expertise into Veracode’s technology. In addition to helping define and prioritize the security feature set of the Veracode service, he consults frequently with customers to discuss and advance their application security initiatives. With over 15 years of experience in application security, Chris brings a wealth of practical expertise to Veracode.

Love to learn about Application Security?

Get all the latest news, tips and articles delivered right to your inbox.