Get your magnifying glass – time to detect! BEC Series #4

A few weeks ago, we published the Business Email Compromise (BEC) Checklist. The question arose – what if you’re new to security, or your security program isn’t very mature?

Since the checklist is based on the NIST model, there’s a lot of information here to help your security program mature, as well as to help you mature as a security practitioner. MSI’s engineers have discussed a few ways to leverage the checklist as a growth mechanism.

Part 1 and Part 2 covered the first checkpoint in the list – Discover. Part 3 covered the next checkpoint – Protect. Now we’re going to move on to the next point – Detect.

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Time to protect – BEC Series #3

A few weeks ago, we published the Business Email Compromise (BEC) Checklist. The question arose – what if you’re new to security, or your security program isn’t very mature?

Since the checklist is based on the NIST model, there’s a lot of information here to help your security program mature, as well as to help you mature as a security practitioner. MSI’s engineers have discussed a few ways to leverage the checklist as a growth mechanism.

Part 1 and Part 2 covered the first checkpoint in the list – Identify.

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How do you Identify? Business Email Compromise #1

Business Email Compromise

business email compromise

Recently, we posted the Business Email Compromise (BEC) checklist. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on the checklist…as well as a few questions. What if you’re new to security? What if your organization’s security program is newer, and still maturing? How can you leverage this list?

Since the checklist is based on the NIST model, there’s a lot of information here to help your security program mature, as well as to help you mature as a security practitioner. MSI’s engineers have discussed a few ways to leverage the checklist as a growth mechanism.

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DOJ Best Practices for Breach Response

I stumbled on this great release from the US Department of Justice – a best practices guide to breach response.

Reading it is rather reminiscent of much of what we said in the 80/20 Rule of Information Security years ago. Namely, know your own environment, data flows, trusts and what data matters. Combine that with having a plan, beforehand, and some practice – and you at least get some decent insights into what your team needs and is capable of handling. Knowing those boundaries and when to ask for outside help will take you a long way.

I would also suggest you give our State of Security Podcast a listen. Episode 6, in particular, includes a great conversation about handling major breaches and the long term impacts on teams, careers and lives.

As always, if we can assist you in preparing a breach response process, good policies, performing those network mappings or running table top exercises (or deeper technical red team exercises), let us know. We help companies around the world master these skills and we have plenty of insights we would love to share!

What YOU Can Do About International Threats

Binary eye

With the addition of RedDragon Rising (@RedDragon1949) to the blog, we are now pushing forth a new stream of threat data and insights about the growing problem of international threats. Since we added that content to the site, many of you have written in or asked me on Twitter, what is it that YOU can do about these threats? I wanted to take a few minutes and expand on my responses.

First of all, you can remain aware and vigilant. Much of the information we post here isn’t directly actionable. It isn’t designed to be a roadmap of actions for you to take. It’s designed to be a continual source of data that slowly helps you see a clearer picture of the threat, the actors and their capability. It’s designed to keep you AWAKE. It’s custom made to help you understand your adversary. Knowledge is power and insight is key. We make this content to give you both!

Second, you can communicate the threat and knowledge to your management. This helps them remain aware. It also presents to them that you are monitoring the threats and keeping your eye on the rising tides, even as you help them steer the ship through safe waters. You can use this information to build rapport with them, to give them new insights into your decisions when you explain to them various risks and to help them understand the changing nature of the interconnected world.

You can use the information here as an impetus to get the basics of information security right. While there aren’t any panaceas to fight off the threat and there isn’t a single thing you can buy to make it better ~ we do know that focusing on the basics of infosec and getting them done efficiently, effectively and well is the best defense against a variety of threats. That said, consider doing a quick and dirty review of your security initiatives against our 80/20 Rule for Information Security. This is a set of simple projects that represent the basics of information security and map easily to other standards and baselines. Simply judging your maturity in these areas and following the roadmap to improvement will go a long way to getting the basics done right in your organization. 

Invest in detection and response. If your organization is doing the basics of prevention, that is you have hardening in place and are performing ongoing assessment and mitigation of your attack surfaces, then the next thing to do is invest in detection and response capabilities. Today, one of the largest advantages that attackers enjoy is the lack of visibility and effective response capabilities in our organizations. You should have some visibility into every segment and at every layer of your environment. You should be able to identify compromises in a timely manner and move to isolate, investigate and recover from any breaches LONG BEFORE they have become widespread and heavily leveraged against you. If you can’t do that today, make it your next major infosec goal. Need help?Ask us about it.

Lastly, share information with your peers. The bad guys are good at information sharing. They have excellent metrics. They openly share their experiences, successes, failures and new techniques. Much of crime and espionage (not all, but MUCH) is “open source” in nature. The cells of attackers free float in conglomerations of opportunity.  They barter with experience, tools, data and money. They share. The more we begin to share and emulate their “open source” approaches, the better off we can be at defending. If knowledge is power, more brains with more knowledge and experience equals MORE POWER. Be a part of the solution.

That’s it for now. Just remain calm, get better at the basics, improve your visibility and stay vigilant. As always, thanks  for reading State of Security and for choosing MicroSolved as your information security partner. We are striving to dig deeper, to think differently and to give you truly actionable intelligence and threat data that is personalized, relevant to your organization and meaningful. If you’d like to hear more about our approach and what it can mean for your organization, get in touch via Twitter (@lbhuston), email (info(at)microsolved/dot/com) or phone (614-351-1237 ext 250). 

Surface Mapping Pays Off

You have heard us talk about surface mapping applications during an assessment before. You have likely even seen some of our talks about surface mapping networks as a part of the 80/20 Rule of InfoSec. But, we wanted to discuss how that same technique extends into the physical world as well. 

In the last few months, we have done a couple of engagements where the customer really wanted a clear and concise way to discuss physical security issues, possible controls and communicate that information to upper management. We immediately suggested a mind-map style approach with photos where possible for the icons and a heat map approach for expressing the levels of attack and compromise.

In one case, we surface mapped a utility substation. We showed pictures of the controls, pictures of the tools and techniques used to compromise them and even shot some video that demonstrated how easily some of the controls were overcome. The entire presentation was explained as a story and the points came across very very well. The management team was engaged, piqued their interest in the video and even took their turn at attempting to pick a couple of simple locks we had brought along. (Thanks to @sempf for the suggestion!) In my 20+ years of information security consulting, I have never seen a group folks as engaged as this group. It was amazing and very well received.

Another way we applied similar mapping techniques was while assessing an appliance we had in the lab recently. We photographed the various ports, inputs and pinouts. We shot video of connecting to the device and the brought some headers and tools to the meetings with us to discuss while they passed them around. We used screen shots as slides to show what the engineers saw and did at each stage. We gave high level overviews of the “why” we did this and the other thing. The briefing went well again and the customer was engaged and interested throughout our time together. In this case, we didn’t get to combine a demo in, but they loved it nonetheless. Their favorite part were the surface maps.

Mapping has proven its worth, over and over again to our teams and our clients. We love doing them and they love reading them. This is exactly how product designers, coders and makers should be engaged. We are very happy that they chose MSI and our lab services to engage with and look forward to many years of a great relationship!

Thanks for reading and reach out on Twitter (@lbhuston) or in the comments if you have any questions or insights to share.

Raising Your Security Vision







If your security program is still focused on patching, responding to vulnerability scans and mitigating the monthly churn of product updates/hotfixes and the like, then you need to change.

Sure, patching is important, but that should truly NOT be the focus of your information security initiative.

Today, organizations need to raise their vision. They need to be moving to automate as much of prevention and baseline processes of detection, as possible. They need to be focused on doing the basics better. Hardening, nuance detection, incident investigation/isolation/mitigation — these are the things they should be getting better at. 
Their increased vision and maturity should let them move away from vulnerability-focused security and instead, concentrate their efforts on managing risk. They need to know where their assets are, what controls are in place and what can be done to mitigate issues quickly. They also should gain detection capability where needed and know how to respond when something bad happens. 
Check out tools like our 80/20 Rule for Information Security for tips on how to get there. Feel free to reach out and engage us in discussion as well. (@lbhuston) We would be happy to set up a call with our security experts to discuss your particular needs and how we can help you get farther faster.
As always, thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

Fighting Second Stage Compromises

Right now, most organizations are fighting a losing battle against initial stage compromises. Malware, bots and client side attacks are eating many security programs alive. The security team is having a nearly impossible time keeping up with the onslaught and end-user systems are falling left and right in many organizations. Worse, security teams that are focused on traditional perimeter security postures and the idea of “keeping the bad guys outside the walls” are likely unaware that these threats are already active inside their networks.

There are a number of ways that second stage compromises occur. Usually, a compromised mobile device or system comes into the environment via remote access, VPN or by being hand carried in by an employee or consultant. These systems, along with systems that have been exploited by client-side vulnerabilities in the day to day network represent the initial stage compromise. The machines are already under attacker control and the data on these machines should already be considered as compromised.

However, attackers are not content with these machines and their data load. In most cases, they want to use the initial stage victims to compromise additional workstations and servers in whatever environment or environments they can ride those systems into. This threat is the “second stage compromise”. The attackers use the initial stage victims as “pivot points” or bots to attack other systems and networks that are visible from their initial victim.

Commonly, the attacker will install bot-net software capable of scanning other systems and exploiting a few key vulnerabilities and bad passwords. These flaws are all too common and are likely to get the attacker quite a bit of success. The attacker then commands the bot victim to scan on new connections or at designated times, thus spreading the attacker’s presence and leading to deeper and deeper compromise of systems and data.

This pattern can be combated in a number of ways. Obviously, organizations can fight the initial stage compromise. Headway has been made in many organizations, but the majority are still falling quite short when it comes to protecting against a growing diverse set of attack vectors that the bot herders and cyber-criminals use. Every day, the attackers get more and more sophisticated in their campaigns, targeting and approach. That said, what can we do if we can’t prevent such attacks? Perhaps, if we can’t prevent them easily, we can strengthen our defenses in other ways. Here are a couple if ideas:

One approach is to begin to embrace enclave computing. This is network and system trust segregation at the core. It is an approach whereby organizations build their trust models carefully, allowing for initial stage compromises and being focused on minimizing the damage that an attacker can do with a compromised workstation. While you can’t prevent compromise, the goal is to create enough defensive posture to give your team time to detect, isolate and respond to the attack. You can read more about this approach in our 80/20 rule of Information Security.

A second idea is to use HoneyPoint decoy hosts on network segments where exposures and initial stage compromise risks are high. These decoy hosts should be dropped where they can be easily scanned and probed by infected hosts. VPN segments, user segments, DMZs and other high exposure areas are likely candidates for the decoy placement. The idea is that the systems are designed to receive the scans. They offer up services that are fake and implemented just for this purpose. The decoy systems have no other use and purpose than to detect scans and probes, making any interaction with them suspicious or malicious. Decoy services, called HoneyPoints, can also be implemented on the servers and other systems present in these network segments. Each deployed HoneyPoint Agent ups the odds of catching bots and other tools deployed by the attacker in the initial stage compromise.

Both of these strategies can be combined and leveraged for even more defense in depth against initial stage compromises. If you would like to learn more about how these tools and techniques can help, drop us a line or give us a call. We would be happy to discuss them with you.

In the meantime, take a look at how your team is prepared to fight initial stage compromises. What you find may be interesting, especially if your team’s security focus has been on the firewall and other perimeter controls.