Data Breaches are a Global Problem

For those of you who maybe just thought that data breaches were only happening against US companies, and only by a certain country as the culprit, we wanted to remind you that this certainly isn’t so.

In fact, just in the last several weeks, breaches against major companies in the UK, Australia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, China and others have come to light. Sources of attacks show evidence of criminal groups working from the US, Brazil, Northern Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Asia among others. Just follow the data for a few weeks, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a GLOBAL problem and is multi-directional.

Even loose alliances seem to come and go amongst these criminal groups. They often steal data, talent, techniques, tools and resources from each other. They work together on one deal, while treating each other as competitors in other deals simultaneously. The entire underground is dynamic, shifting in players, goals and techniques on almost moment by moment basis. What works now spreads, and then gets innovated.

This rapidly changing landscape makes it hard for defenders to fight against the bleeding edge. So much so, in fact, that doing the basics of information security and doing them well, seems to be far more effective than trying to keep up with the latest 0-day or social engineering techniques.

That said, next time you read a report that seems to cast the data breach problem as a US issue versus the big red ghost, take a breath. Today, everyone is hacking everyone. That’s the new normal…

Compliance-Based Infosec Vs Threat-Based Infosec

In the world of Information Security (infosec), there are two main philosophies: compliance-based infosec and threat-based infosec. Compliance-based infosec means meeting a set of written security standards designed to fulfill some goal such as the requirements of statute law or financial information privacy requirements. Threat-based infosec, on the other hand, means applying information security controls in reaction to (or anticipation of) threats that organizations currently (or soon will) face. 

Compliance-based infosec is generally applied smoothly across the organization. In other words, all the security controls mandated in the security standard must be put in place by the organization, and the relative effectiveness of each control is largely ignored. In contrast, security controls are applied in a hierarchical manner in threat-based infosec. The most effective or greatly needed security controls are applied first according to the threats that are most likely to occur or that will cause the most damage to the organization if they do occur. 

The difference is sort of like the defensive strategy of the Chinese versus that of the Normans in post-conquest England. The Chinese built very long walls that went from one end of their territory to the other. Their goal was to keep out all invaders everywhere. This is a grand idea, but takes a very large amount of resources to implement and maintain. In practice, it takes tons of men and infrastructure and the defensive capabilities at any one place are spread thin. The Normans in England, on the other hand, built strong castles with many layers of defense in strategic locations where the threats were greatest and where it was easiest to support neighboring castles. In practice, there are fewer defenses at any one point, but the places where defenses are implemented are very strong indeed. Both of these strategies have merit, and are really driven by the particular set of circumstances faced by the defender. But which is better for your organization? Let’s look at compliance-based infosec first.

Compliance-based infosec, when implemented correctly, is really the best kind of defense there is. The problem is, the only place I’ve ever seen it really done right is in the military. In military information security, failure to protect private information can lead to death and disaster. Because of this, no expense or inconvenience is spared when protecting this information. Everything is compartmentalized and access is strictly based on need to know. Every system and connection is monitored, and there are people watching your every move. There are rules and checklists for everything and failure to comply is severely punished. In addition, finding better ways to protect information are sought after, and those that come up with valuable ideas are generously rewarded.

This is not the way compliance-base infosec works in the private sector, or even in non-military government agencies. First, statute law is tremendously vague when discussing implementing information security. Laws make broad statements such as “personal health information will be protected from unauthorized access or modification”. Fine. So a group of people get together and write up a body of regulations to further spell out the requirements organizations need to meet to comply with the law. Unfortunately, you are still dealing with pretty broad brush strokes here. To try to get a handle on things, agencies and auditors rely on information security standards and guidelines such as are documented in NIST or ISO. From these, baseline standards and requirements are set down. The problems here are many. First, baseline standards are minimums. They are not saying “it’s best if you do this”, they are saying “you will at least do this”. However, typical organizations, (which generally have very limited infosec budgets), take these baseline standards as goals to be strived for, not starting points. They very rarely meet baseline standards, let alone exceed them. Also, NIST and ISO standards are not very timely. The standards are only updated occasionally, and they are not very useful for countering new and rapidly developing threats. So, unless your organization is really serious about information security and has the money and manpower to make it work, I would say compliance-based infosec is not for you. I know that many organizations (such as health care and financial institutions) are required to meet baseline standards, but remember what happened to Target last year. They were found to be compliant with the PCI DSS, but still had tens of millions of financial records compromised.

Now let’s look at threat-based infosec. To implement a threat-based information security program, the organization first looks at the information assets they need to protect, the threats and vulnerabilities that menace them and the consequences that will ensue if those information assets are actually compromised (basic asset inventory and risk assessment). They then prioritize the risks they face and decide how to implement security controls in the most effective and efficient way to counter those particular risks. That might mean implementing strong egress filtering and log monitoring as opposed to buying the fanciest firewall. Or it might mean doing something simple like ensuring that system admins use separate access credentials for simple network access and administrative access to the system. Whatever controls are applied, they are chosen to solve particular problems, not to meet some broad baseline that is designed to meet generally defined problems. Also, threat-based infosec programs are much better at anticipating and preparing for emerging threats, since reassessments of the security program are made whenever there are significant changes in the system or threat picture.

These are the reasons that I think most of us in non-military organizations should go with threat-based infosec programs. Even those organizations that must meet regulatory requirements can ensure that they are spending the bulk of their infosec money and effort on the effective controls, and are minimizing efforts spent on those controls that don’t directly counter real-world threats. After all, the laws and regulations themselves are pretty vague. What counts in the long run is real information security, not blind compliance with inadequate and antiquated baselines. 

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

Accepting Identity Theft

I can recall a time when I wasn’t concerned about data theft. Eventually, buzz words such as “breach” and “identity theft” became a regular part of my vocabulary.  I began to wonder if I would ever be affected by a data breach. In 2003, I received a letter in the mail informing me that my personal data had been stolen. I remember asking myself, “when will this happen next?” In 2004, I once again became a victim of a data breach. Despite my young age at the time, I had already started to think of identity theft in the cynical terms of “not if but when”. It then became apparent to me that I could no longer think in terms of “if” or “when” but I should focus on “how often”.

I find it helpful to compare identity theft to personal health care. Eating the right foods, taking all the trendy vitamins and getting the recommended amount of exercise isn’t enough to guarantee perfect health. You are still susceptible to diseases that you can’t detect on your own. This is why you typically see a doctor for checkups on a regular basis. You should use the same thought process when considering the possibility of identity theft. Regardless of how much effort you put into securing your identity, your personal data will be stolen. This is why I feel strongly that we should focus on monitoring and preparing for identity theft with the same time and energy that we devote to trying to prevent it.

Just like your health care, it’s also worthwhile to take a proactive approach to handling identity theft. It’s important to have multiple methods of discovering if you are a victim of fraud. This can be as simple as checking your debit/credit card statements and using an automated solution (such as LifeLock) to monitor for irregularities in your credit report. Don’t just wait to receive a notice in the mail or find out about the latest hack on the news. It can take the companies that handle your personal data and process your credit cards months before they realize that they have been hacked. This gives the attackers ample time to take advantage of your stolen data.

It’s also worthwhile to prepare yourself for how to handle an incident when it occurs. This can be as simple as keeping a list of the contact information for all of your financial institutions so that you can notify them as soon as you detect suspicious activity. Also, a majority of the aforementioned credit monitoring solutions include assistance services in the event that a criminal begins using your identity. Be sure to take advantage of these resources as these organizations have the necessary institutional knowledge to help assist you.

In short, continue doing what you can to prevent your identity from being stolen. Simple things like setting complex passwords and avoiding the reuse of your passwords between different services can go a long way to prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft. However, the next time you’re configuring a lengthy password, be sure to ask yourself “Am I prepared for identity theft?”

This article courtesy of Adam Luck – @adamjluck.

Shellshock: Got Inventory?

Im sure youve all heard of Shellshock by now? If not, its a security flaw in Bash that allows attackers to take control of systems. Bash is really an acronym/pun meaning Bourne-again shellthat was written as a free software replacement for the Bourne shell that preceded it. It is a UNIX shell that acts as a command processor and also reads commands from scripts. The problem is that Bash is present in all kinds of things including Web servers and operating systems. This is a very serious flaw! Worse than any other code vulnerability I can name off hand. There are several serious exploits already extant in the wild. Hundreds of millions of devices and credit cards are at immediate risk of compromise across the globe. Institutions are strongly recommending that people not use their credit cards to make Internet purchases for at least the next several days. Imagine the loss in revenue and buyer confidence this is going to cause! Productivity may well go down and prices may well go up as a consequence of this flaw.

Luckily there are good patches already available to combat this glitch, and I’m sure additional fixes and tweaks are in the offing. But to have any level of safety you need to patch everything on your network that is vulnerable, and you need to do it quickly. Do you know exactly what devices are a part of your network and exactly what operating systems, software and firmware versions are installed on them? Specifically, do you know where Bash is running? If you dont, you may install patches furiously over the next few days and still end up being vulnerable without knowing it. Can you in all good conscience assure your Web customers that their transactions and private information are safe?

Shellshock may have one hidden benefit though; it may be the cold dose of reality that causes organizations to finally get serious about information security and adopt best practices security recommendations, especially where inventories of devices and software are concerned. There is a reason why guidance such as the MSI 80/20 Rule of Information Security and the Top 20 Critical Controls for Effective Cyber-Security list making inventories their number one information security project. If you dont know what you have, how can you possibly secure it?!

Right now, if you are among the prescient few who do keep complete dynamic inventories, ensure that input to all available software fields is validated and have configured each device on your network with a unique admin password, you are sitting pretty! You have the knowledge and time necessary to deal with this problem, and will probably earn kudos and market share from you customers. Isnt that kind of assurance worth spending some time and money on America? 

This blog post contributed by John Davis.

Patch for ShellShock ASAP!

If you haven’t paid attention to the Bash Shellshock vulnerability – NOW IS THE TIME!

Source IPs for probes looking for the vulnerability are growing slowly in number and scope of scans. (As of 9/30/14, 10am Eastern).

There are many vulnerable devices and systems available to exploit and a variety of exploitation vectors exist – including web CGIs, DHCP clients, OpenVPN, SSH, etc. It is highly likely that a wide variety of embedded systems are also vulnerable that meet these capabilities. So far, we have seen attack traffic in the HITME coming from a few SOHO routers and a couple of other embedded network devices. Items like printers, some routers & managed switches, home gadgets, cameras, etc. are likely targets as well.

In the industrial control world, there are a variety of embedded devices leveraging Linux at the core, and many with exposed CGI mechanisms for remote management and monitoring. These need to be inspected as well, as they may also prove vulnerable and potentially exploitable via one or more vectors. Patching may require firmware upgrades in some cases. Contact the vendor for more information.

But, no matter what systems you use and manage, NOW IS THE TIME. Pay attention to this issue and get moving on patching, adding compensating controls and rolling forward with enhanced detection mechanisms. GET BUSY!

As always, if we can assist, feel free to give us a call or drop us a line. We have HoneyPoint emulations for HPSS clients that can help identify sources of traffic and we have assessment signatures for up to the moment known attack vectors. Let us know if we can help!

Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there! 

UPDATE: Good news on Shellshock for embedded devices: If it runs BusyBox, it’s likely NOT vulnerable.

The Big Three Part 4: Awareness

Cyber-attacks are a simply a part of reality now, and are very much like home burglaries. We can install locks and lights, cameras and alarm systems, and despite our best efforts at protection and prevention, a certain number of robberies are still bound to happen. That is the reason we need to steel ourselves to this fact and prepare ourselves to resist cyber-attacks the best way that we can. And the Big Three; incident detection, incident response and user security education and awareness are some of our best tools for meeting this problem.

The importance of user education and awareness to information security cannot be over emphasized. Of all the firewalls, IPS systems and other security sensors available, none can compare to human beings in their ability to detect cyber-attacks and security risks. But to take advantage of this resource, it is necessary that users know how to recognize security problems and it is necessary that they want to be engaged in the security process. To accomplish this, companies need to do several things.

First, they should provide all of their personnel with information security training both as new hires, and then periodically thereafter. This training should include the company information security policies that apply to all, plus information security training that is specific to each users particular role in the organization. Providing extra information security training for individuals such as code developers, system administrators and help desk personnel is particularly beneficial.

Next, it is also very important to provide all company personnel with information security awareness reminders. These serve two purposes. First, they help keep the need for good security practices fresh in usersminds. But more importantly than that, good security awareness tips let your personnel know exactly what kind of attacks are out there and how they take place. Thats why it is important to base your awareness reminders on cutting-edge, real-world information security threats. For example, perhaps your employees gets a perfectly legitimate-looking email message from one of their co-workers that solicit them to check out a certain website and give an opinion on it. So they innocently click on the embedded link and wham! Suddenly their machines have been infected with malware and they dont have a clue that anything is wrong. Awareness reminders can help keep such things from happening.

On top of good information security training and awareness, we think that there is one more element that is needed to really make the process pay off. It is important to engage the interest of your employees and make them feel that they are an essential part of the information security effort. This

isnt really hard or expensive to do either. Explain their importance in the program to your personnel and ask for their help. Most everyone really likes to help out, and it makes them feel good inside. In addition, recognize those that have contributed to the information security cause and give them some kind of reward. This can be as simple as a little praise at the weekly staff meeting, or can include things like days off or preferred parking spaces. It doesnt have to be big, just visible. One thing is sure, it makes better business sense to utilize this free and effective security resource to the hilt than spend a million dollars on a vaunted new IDS/IPS system! 

This post by John Davis.

Never Store Anything on the Cloud that You Wouldn’t Want Your Mamma to See

It’s great now days, isn’t it?

You carry around devices with you that can do just about anything! You can get on the Internet and check your email, do your banking, find out what is new on Facebook, send a Tweet or a million other things. You can also take a picture, record a conversation, make a movie or store your work papers – and the storage space is virtually unlimited! And all this is just great as long as you understand what kind of risks this freedom poses to your privacy.

Remember that much of this stuff is getting stored on the cloud, and the only thing that separates your stuff from the general public is a user name, password and sometimes a security question. Just recently, a number of celebrities have complained that their photos (some of them explicit) have been stolen by hackers. These photos were stored in iCloud digital vaults, and were really very well defended by Apple security measures. But Apple wasn’t at fault here – it turns out that the celebrities themselves revealed the means to access their private stuff.

It’s called Phishing, and there are a million types of bait being used out there to fool or entice you. By clicking on a link in an innocent-looking email or answering a few simple questions, you can give away the keys to the kingdom. And even if you realize your mistake a couple of hours later, it is probably already too late to do anything about it. That naughty movie you made with your spouse during your romantic visit to Niagara Falls is already available from Peking to Panama!

Apple announced that they will soon start sending people alerts when attempts are made to change passwords, restore iCloud data to new devices or when someone logs in for the first time from new Apple devices. These are valuable controls, but really are only detective in nature and won’t actually prevent many data losses. That is why we recommend giving yourselves some real protection.

First, you should ensure that you educate yourself and your family about the dangers hackers and social engineers pose, and the techniques they use to get at your stuff. Second, it is really a lot better to store important or sensitive data on local devices if possible. But, if you must store your private data in the cloud, be sure it is well encrypted. Best of all, use some sort of good multi-part authentication technique to protect your stuff from being accessed easily by hackers. By that I mean something like a digital certificate or an RSA hard token – something you have or something you are, not just something you know.

If you do these things, then it’s a good bet your “special moments” won’t end up in your Momma’s inbox!

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

Crypto Locker Down, but NOT Out

So, the US govt and law enforcement claim to have managed the disruption of crypto locker. And officials are either touting it as a total victory or a more realistic slowdown of the criminals leveraging the malware and bot-nets.

Even as the govt was touting their takedown, threat intelligence companies around the world (including MSI), were already noticing that the attackers were mutating, adapting and re-building a new platform to continue their attacks. The attackers involved aren’t likely to stay down for long, especially given how lucrative the crypto locker malware has been. Many estimates exist for the number of infections, and the amount of payments received, but most of them are, in a word, staggering. With that much money on the line, you can expect a return of the nastiness and you can expect it rather quickly.

Takedowns are effective for short term management of specific threats, and they make great PR, but they do little, in most cases, to actually turn the tide. The criminals, who often escape prosecution or real penalties, usually just re-focus and rebuild. 

This is just another reminder that even older malware remains a profit center. Mutations, variants and enhancements can turn old problems like Zeus, back into new problems. Expect that with crypto locker and its ilk. This is not a problem that is likely to go away soon and not a problem that a simple takedown can solve.

ATM Attacks are WEIRD

So this week, while doing some TigerTrax research for a client, I ran into something that was “new to me”, but apparently is old hat for the folks focused on ATM security. The attacks against ATMs run from the comical, like when would-be thieves leave behind cell phones, license plates or get knocked out by their own sledge hammers during their capers to the extremely violent – attacks with explosives, firearms and dangerous chemicals. But, this week, my attention caught on an attack called “Plofkraak”. 

In this attack, which is apparently spreading around the world from its birth in Eastern Europe, an ATM is injected with high levels of flammable gas. The attackers basically tape up all of the areas where the gas could easily leak out, and then fill the empty spaces inside the ATM with a common flammable gas. Once the injection is completed, the gas is fired by the attacker, causing an explosion that emanates from INSIDE the ATM.

The force of the explosion tears the ATM apart, and if the attackers are lucky, cracks open the safe that holds the money, allowing them to make off with the cash and deposits. Not all attackers are lucky though, and some get injured in the blast, fail to open the safe and even torch the money they were seeking. However, the attack is cheap, fast, and if the ATM doesn’t have adequate safeguards, effective.

The collateral damage from an attack of this type can be pretty dangerous. Fires, other explosions and structural damages have been linked to the attack. Here is an example of what one instance looked like upon discovery. 

Some ATM vendors have developed counter measures for the attack, including gas sensors/neutralizing chemical systems, additional controls to prevent injection into the core of the machine, hardening techniques for the safe against explosions and other tricks of the trade. However, given the age of ATM machines in the field and their widespread international deployment, it is obvious that a number of vulnerable systems are likely to be available for the criminals to exploit.

While this is a weird and interesting technique, it did give me some reminders about just how creative and ambitious criminals can be. Even extending that into Information Security, it never ceases to amaze me how creative people will get to steal. Spend some time today thinking about that. What areas of your organization might be vulnerable to novel attacks? Where are the areas that a single failure of a security control could cause immense harm? Make a note of those, and include them in your next risk assessment, pen-test or threat modeling exercise.

Don’t forget, that just like the inventors of Plofkraa”, attackers around the world are working on the odd, novel and unexpected attack vector. Vigilance is a necessary skill, and one we need more of, in infosec. As always, thanks for reading, and stay safe out there! 

Spend Your First Hour Back the Right Way – Go Malware Hunting!

So, you’ve been out of the office for a quick holiday break or vacation. Now you face a mountain of emails and whole ton of back-logged tasks. Trust me, put them aside for one hour.

Instead of smashing through emails and working trouble tickets, spend an hour and take a look around your environment – go hunting – target malware, bots and backdoors. At a macro level, not a micro level. Were there an abnormal number of trouble tickets, outbound connections, AV alerts, IDS and log entries while you were gone? What does egress look like during that period? Were there any abnormal net flows, DNS anomalies or network issues that would indicate scans, probes or tampering on a larger scale?

Spend an hour and look for high level issues before you dig into the micro. Read some logs. See what might be getting lost in your return to work overwhelm. It is not all that uncommon for attackers to use holidays and vacations as windows of opportunity to do their nasty business.

Don’t fall victim to the expected overwhelm. Instead, use it as a lens to look for items or areas that correlate to deeper concerns. You might just find that hour invested to be the one that makes (or breaks) your career in infosec.

Good luck and happy hunting!

PS – Thanks to Lee C. for the quick edits on 7/4/14.