Eric’s Top 7 Ways To Get Ready For Security Awareness This Summer

Once upon a time, I believed that security awareness trainings were simply boring computer-based training videos that compliance requirements forced upon companies.  You’d simply “next, next, next” your way through and learn nothing of value.  However, in my current role I am directly responsible for developing the security program for my company and with a small team, I’ve realized how important it is to build a security culture to move my initiatives forward. To that end, security awareness trainings (if done properly) can be an effective method for educating employees and developing a security culture.

Given that I actually want people to learn about security and help me achieve my security goals, I set out to create an engaging and entertaining training.  Having done these for over a year now, I’ve found that people generally just aren’t knowledgeable about security and if you show them how it applies to their everyday lives and how to do things in a more secure manner, they become far more interested and engaged.

So here’s what I think makes for an effective security awareness training.

  1. Deliver it live and in-person.  Granted, this isn’t always possible, especially if you work for a large, geographically spread out company. But if you can do this, I highly recommend it.  We as security professionals don’t like sitting through computer-based trainings or vendor-purchased cookie-cutter security programs, so what makes us think our coworkers would enjoy it any better?  Doing it live puts a face to your company’s security program and allows for back-and-forth discussion and a chance for people to ask questions.  These are good things, I promise.
  2. Make it an integral part of new hire orientation.  By making this part of a new hire’s first day, it tells each new employee that your company takes security seriously and ultimately helps to build a culture of security.  Work with your HR department and explain why this is critical.  You’ll likely be able to lean on any compliance controls you may be required to follow (SOX, PCI, etc.) that mandate some kind of security training for new employees.
  3. Introduce the Security Team. Explain the purpose of the team and why the team exists.  I tell everyone that our team’s goal is to protect the company’s assets to enable the business to succeed.  That’s easily understandable and free of any technical jargon or fancy language.  It also ties it back to the business and its overall goal of wanting to succeed to increase profits.  If the team is small enough, mention names and roles.  If it’s large, outline the roles at a high level.
  4. Explain why security matters.  Give examples and then give more examples.  Talk about breaches and malware that’s been in the news.  In my training, I do this and cover interesting statistics and trends that have been reported by reputable security sources.  These include how long an attacker goes undetected on average and how often a weak password leads to compromise.  These statistics combined with my own commentary illustrate how security is critical to any business and that the struggle is in fact real.
  5. Discuss why someone would target your company.  If your company generates any kind of revenue or holds valuable assets and information, you can be certain that someone will target it.  Think about what your company does and what would be of most interest to an attacker.  I tell people that our company’s assets include our people, products, money, data, and brand reputation.  Each of these would be impacted by a security breach.
    The best way to drive this point home is by sharing a past security incident that occurred at your company to explain how the company’s already been successfully compromised.  Naturally, you should obtain the approval of your executive and legal teams prior to sharing this type of information.  One type of breach that most are comfortable with sharing is regarding any successful phishing scams as this is a common type of attack that most people have already experienced both in business and in their personal lives.
  6. Present the safeguards in place and provide actionable steps to secure company assets.  You’ve worked hard to implement some amazing security technologies and controls.  While not everyone will understand (or care) about each of these, highlight the more user-facing ones.  In my training, I discuss the importance of patching and the periodic  prompts to install updates, the convenience of our single sign-on solution, how to create strong passwords using passphrases, how to securely access mobile email through our MDM solution, the importance of using our secure file storage and sharing solution, and how to quickly lock their screen to limit unauthorized access.  These are all relevant and actionable steps that end users can take to secure valuable company assets.
  7. Most importantly, engage people and include them as part of the Security Team.  Present the material in an engaging manner.  While security is a serious topic, that doesn’t mean it has to be dry.  Use humor, tell stories, answer questions.  And always with a smile, even if HR scheduled for you to talk at 8 AM at the last minute. 😛  Easier said than done, sure, but this goes a long long way to keeping people interested in what is otherwise a typically bland topic for most.
    Finish by telling them that they’re not only part of their respective department/team but now that they’ve taken your training, they’re also part of the Security Team.  Explain that you can’t secure everything on your own and that you need everyone’s help to prevent and respond to security incidents.  Reiterate that security is not just one team’s responsibility, but in fact, everyone’s responsibility.

I’ve applied these methods for over a year in my own trainings and I’ve seen people engage my team in ways I never experienced in previous roles.  People ask for our opinions on security regarding technologies and processes and they actively report suspicious activities be it strange emails or abnormal computer behavior.  We’ve been told by others that they support security and are grateful for the efforts of my team.

This is truly amazing, and I have no doubt that these 30-45 minute trainings that I deliver a few times each month have played a significant part in this.  You may think you’re a 1337 haxx0r that can defend your company’s network on your own, but you’re fooling yourself if you do.  You may be the security expert and all around technical wizard, but if people don’t value security or understand what security’s purpose is, your own people will continue to be your biggest security hole.  Why not spend the time and effort to flip that around and make them one of security’s biggest assets?


Palo Alto Firewall: External Dynamic Lists

I recently attended Palo Alto’s annual Ignite conference for the first time.  It was a great experience for learning about best practices and networking with others.  One of the things I learned was Palo Alto’s way of handling basic threat intelligence feeds.  When I say basic I’m referring to IPs, domains, and URLs.

It turns out that with an active Threat Prevention license, you’ll immediately get access to two Palo Alto-provided threat intelligence feeds.  I’ve listed them below with their provided-descriptions.:

  • Palo Alto Networks – Known malicious IP addresses: Malicious IP addresses that are currently used almost exclusively by malicious actors for malware distribution, command-and-control, or for launching various attacks.
  • Palo Alto Networks – High risk IP addresses: High risk IP addresses, shared IP addresses that have recently been featured in threat activity advisories distributed by high-trust organizations, however Palo Alto Networks does not have direct evidence of maliciousness.

There are of course a myriad of these types of malicious IP lists available.  Lucky for us, someone has compiled several of these sources and formatted the data such that Palo Alto can properly ingest them.  I added most of these to my own configuration and added one from’s Ransomeware Tracker.

It’s pretty easy to add these lists, just follow the steps below.

Create External Dynamic Lists

  1. Once logged into the Palo Alto firewall, navigate to Objects -> External Dynamic Lists.
  2. If you have a valid Threat Prevention license, you should already see the two Palo Alto-provided lists noted above.  Click Add to add a custom external dynamic list.
  3. Populate the required fields:
    • Name: Give a name for the list.
    • Type: Select the type of list, for this entry we’ll use IP List.
    • Description: Enter a helpful description for the list.
    • Source: This is the URL of the threat intelligence feed.  It is preferred that https URLs be used so that the feeds are not compromised in transit.  However, I did notice that the firewall would not properly download from the https-version of
    • Server Authentication: The Certificate Profile to authenticate to the Source. This is optional.
    • Repeat: The frequency for updating the list.  I’ve set all of mine to hourly.

    You can optionally click on Test Source URL to confirm that the firewall can successfully reach the URL.

  4. Once finished, click OK to save the new list.
  5. Repeat for any additional threat intelligence feeds you may have.
  6. Optional. Select a rule and click Import Now to download list data and verify everything is in working order.
  7. Commit the changes to save the configuration.

Note: There are limits to the list capacities.  At the time of this writing they are as follows:

  • IPs: 50,000
  • Predefined IPs: 20,000
  • Domains: 50,000
  • URLs: 50,000

Now that we’ve got our External Dynamic Lists created, we need to create a security policy rule that blocks traffic to the malicious IPs contained in these lists.

Create Security Policy Rule to block traffic to External Dynamic Lists

  1. Navigate to Policies -> Security and click Add.  First populate the General tab.
  2. In the Source tab, click Add to add your trusted internal zones and/or addresses.  In my case, my internal network is all within the Trust-L3 zone.
  3. In the Destination tab, click Add to your untrusted zones and addresses.  This step is critical as you’ll want to add both the zone AND the addresses from the External Dynamic Lists.  Completing only the Destination Zone and NOT the Destination Address will result in all outbound traffic from being blocked.  You probably don’t want that. 😛
    In my case, anything outside my internal network, namely the Internet, is referred to as the Untrust-L3 zone.  Under Destination Address, click Add and find the lists we created earlier under the External Dynamic List section.

    Repeat this step for each of the lists you’d like to add.

  4. In the Actions tab, select Deny under Action Setting.
  5. Click OK to save the new policy rule.  Place your new rule at the top of all other rules so that it supersedes any Internet outbound rules.
  6. Commit the changes to save the configuration.
  7. Now let’s test our rule to ensure we’re blocking traffic.  I’ve taken one of the IPs from the list above and tried pinging it.
➜ ~ ping
PING ( 56 data bytes
Request timeout for icmp_seq 0
Request timeout for icmp_seq 1
Request timeout for icmp_seq 2
Request timeout for icmp_seq 3

Looks pretty good from the client side.  Let’s see what the firewall sees.

Success!  Looks like everything’s working as expected.  Assuming our External Dynamic Lists are of high quality, any hits to this rule should be a strong indicator of possible compromise on our network.  We could update our security policy rule to send us an email anytime this rule was triggered.

To take this even further, you could sign up for an open source threat intelligence repository like Critical Stack’s Intel feeds and write a script to download this data, format it for Palo Alto, and then use Palo Alto’s API to automatically generate and update these lists in your firewall.  Perhaps a future blog post. 🙂

Palo Alto Firewall on a home network

My very own Palo Alto!

I’m a big fan of Palo Alto Networks firewalls due to their focus on security and giving both network and security professionals incredible insight into network traffic.  To improve my understanding of these firewalls, I recently purchased my very own PA-220 for my home network.  I successfully set it up but not without running into a few issues.  Since it took a fair amount of Google-searching to troubleshoot and resolve the issues, I’m sharing my experiences below in the hopes that it will help others.

Initial Setup

Problem: Configure Outbound Internet Security Policy

For initial setup, I highly recommend using the “Setting Up the PA-200 for Home and Small Office” guide, found on Palo Alto’s “Live Community” site.  For the most part, I followed it exactly except the section regarding the outbound internet security policy.  When creating this policy, the guide does not mention editing the “Service/URL Category” tab.  Notably, if you do not edit this, Palo Alto defaults to the “application-default” option as shown below.

What does this mean?  From the firewall’s help page it states that: The selected applications are allowed or denied only on their default ports defined by Palo Alto Networks. This option is recommended for allow policies because it prevents applications from running on unusual ports and protocol which, if not intentional, can be a sign of undesired application behavior and usage.

This sounds reasonable, except that it broke my ability to use and more importantly, broke my Apple/iOS Mail clients from connecting to Gmail via IMAP.  It turns out, that those apparently don’t use what Palo Alto thinks are “application-default” ports.  Unless you’re cool with that behavior, you’ll actually want to select “any” instead.


Problem: DNS Proxy

Like most people, I was using my wireless router as my DNS server for resolving hosts on my local network.  It’s not critical as there are only a few devices on my home network, but it is convenient to have a few “A records” configured.  Wanting to maintain this same functionality, I configured my Palo Alto firewall using the “DNS Proxy” option.

After a hard day’s work, we decided to watch some Netflix and I noticed the Netflix app on my TV and Apple TV no longer worked.  Interestingly, there was no issue streaming Netflix on my laptop, iPhone, or iPad.  After much searching, I found a helpful “Live Community” post regarding DNS Proxy as the possible issue.

It turns out that DNS Proxy, at least on PAN-OS 8.x (which is what the PA-220 ships with as of today), does not play well with Netflix.  As soon as I disabled DNS Proxy, Netflix streamed without issue.

Online Console Gaming

Problem: NAT Dynamic IP & Port Policy

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a giant Nintendo fanboy.  Shortly after setting up the Palo Alto firewall, I decided to play some online Mario Kart, only to find that my new Nintendo Switch would no longer connect.  Sadface.

It turns out that Palo Alto firewalls do not support “Universal Plug and Play” (UPnP) which had allowed me to connect easily on my consumer-grade wireless router.  This makes sense from an enterprise-grade firewall perspective as you would want to explicitly control what’s allowed inside and outside of your network.

Back to searching and I found this knowledge base article discussing how Palo Alto handles game console traffic.  It turns out you need to create a specific NAT policy ahead of your default internet outbound NAT rule. This NAT policy should specify the IP of your video game console as the source address and use only “dynamic-ip” source translation instead of “dynamic-ip-and-port” source translation.

So that I don’t have to periodically update the Nintendo Switch’s source address in the NAT rule due to DHCP, I configured the firewall’s DHCP relay to always assign my Switch the same IP and created an Address Object on the firewall using this same IP.  See the screenshot below for how the NAT policies ultimately looked in the end.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro

Problem: Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Application Layer Gateway (ALG)

At home, I use a Ring Video Doorbell Pro and it has worked great for seeing who’s at our front door whether we’re at home or not.  Ring will send push notification alerts whenever it detects motion or if someone presses the doorbell.  From the alert you can then view a live stream of who is at your door.  You can also trigger the live stream on-demand.

I noticed that once the Palo Alto was in place, the live streams, whether based on alerts or on-demand, would always hang and never load.  After a few minutes I’d be able to watch the recorded video after the fact.  Not ideal.

This particular problem took the most time to figure out.  I found a few articles that spoke of similar issues but nothing quite exactly what I was seeing.  I started playing around with the on-demand live stream functionality and observing the traffic in the firewall’s Monitor tab to see what type of traffic was being generated and if anything was being blocked.  At first I thought it might’ve been a NAT issue, similar to what I saw with my Nintendo Switch.

Eventually, I noticed that Ring used the session initiation protocol (SIP) when creating these live stream communications.  Looking through the “Live Community” again, I found an article regarding how to disable SIP Application Layer Gateway (ALG) in Palo Alto.  It mentioned that SIP ALG can cause issues with certain SIP implementations.  Figuring I had nothing to lose I followed the steps and lo and behold, live streaming worked again.  Yay.


I hope these tips help anyone else that was crazy enough to purchase a Palo Alto firewall for their home network.  I’ll continue to post more about my experience if I run into more issues or test out additional functionality and integrations.