Your Network Is The Modern Day Castle, And It Is Under Seige.

‘In cyber space, computers are attacked from the moment they connect to the Internet’ – Ed Skoudis, Counter Hack Reloaded.

As I am studying for my next Certificate, the SANS GCIH, I am drawn back to the memories of my summer vacations with my grandfather in Hawaii. Every summer began by reading a book of his choosing, and when I arrived in Oahu, we would spend the next six weeks discussing it while going on the greatest adventures.

The last summer I spent with him our discussion focused on Sun Tzu’s Art of War 孫子兵法.  My grandfather would say that ‘life is challenging, its distractions will pull you in a million directions. In order to succeed, you need to apply a filter that takes all the chaos and puts it into perspective. Rather than seeing problems you now see opportunities.’ – Sean Maximus Murphy

The Art of War has survived for 2,500 years because its advice is not only persuasive, but concise, easy to grasp, and malleable. The Art of War is a series of recommendations that can be continuously adapted to a diverse set of circumstances. At its core, The Art of War is about human nature, and more importantly, how it can be exploited.

This post will explore how the Art of War principals and stratagems can apply directly to the modern world of Cyber Security.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War begins with a forewarning:  ‘The Art of War is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.’― Sun TzuThe Art of War

Sun Tzu stresses throughout his treatise; ‘Know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

So who is this enemy?

Professional criminals are well funded ‘businessmen’ who have adopted ‘corporate best practices’ establishing professional business models that outsource cybercrime called Crime-as-a-Service (CaaS). It is a distributed system where anyone with an agenda canobrela-security-industries-8-638 simply rent, lease or purchase an ‘‘As-A-Service’, services and ‘cash in’ on their crimes.

Some of the more of the well-known services include

  • Distributed Denial of Service as a Service (DDoSaaS)
  • Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)
This list is growing exponentially.

An advanced persistent threat (APT) is an attack campaign carried out by a team of sophos-apt-lifecycle1highly sophisticated cyber criminals with substantial financial backing.

The APT’s intent is to establish an unlawful, long-term presence on a network harvesting intellectual property and/or sensitive data usually by installing malware downloaded by advanced social engineering techniques such as Whaling campaigns.

Insider Threats are employees who have access to the organization’s network and are able to misappropriate data, use data exfiltration or destroy/alter the data. More often than not they are able to use legitimate credentials and permissions in order to access the data, consequently evading detection.

  • According to the 2017 Crowd Search Partners Insider Threat findings,
    • 56% of security professionals say insider threats have become more frequent in the last 12 months.
    • 60% privileged users, such as managers with access to sensitive information, pose the biggest insider threat to organizations followed by 57% third parties and 51% of regular employees.
    • More than 75% of organizations estimate insider breach remediation costs could reach $500,000 while 25% believe the cost exceeds $500,000 and can reach in the millions.

Hacktivists are motivated by personal, political, religious or other beliefs, and they are intent on causing destruction and disruption including

  • Data theft
  • Reputational Damage (Release of emails/confidential information)
  • Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS)
  • Defacing websites

Nation States Bad-Actors who are preparing for

  • Cyber-war
    • Utilizing malware in order to disrupt or disable key infrastructures including power grids, water treatment plants, and nuclear power plants.
  • Network Infiltration
    • Launching distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) in order to shut down access to government websites, emergency systems, and transportation systems.
  • Espionage
    • Collecting information for leverage such as blackmail.

 


 

‘Just As Water Retains No Constant Shape, In Warfare There Are No Constant Conditions’― Sun TzuThe Art of War

Cyber criminals are ruthless in their pursuit of finding a weakness they can exploit via rootkits, keyloggers, RATs, botnet attacks and countless other attack types and vectors. If successful, they will go back and collect their treasures that can be readily bought or sold on the Darknet including credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank account data and intellectual property. Worse yet, take control of your system to be used in a botnet in order to carry out future attacks on other systems.

Organizations can no longer remain the slow moving dinosaurs of the past using the excuse ‘we have always done it this way.’ Organizations need to be consistently evolving and adapting by upgrading systems, introducing new technologies and/or changing business models. The goal of securing your network is an ongoing, never-ending task; Organizations should be utilizing a best practice framework for IT, such as COBIT 5.vijf

‘You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

In 2017; your network is constantly under attack.  The typical system will be attacked hundreds if not thousands of times in a given day. However, cyber criminals are lazy and will always ‘attack a weakness,’ over a stronghold. Employees, weak passwords, unhardened, and unpatched systems are their favorite ‘go-to’s.’

  • Employees are targets
    • Your employees are the principal targets for cyber criminals to gain access to your organization’s resources with Phishing attacks being the most common means by which breaches occur.
  • Weak passwords are a vulnerability
    • ‘Weak’ passwords may be the difference between a future breach and the security of your organization’s data.
    • Organizations control access to their data and systems 1409797915660227through ‘authentication,’ i.e., ‘the extension of trust’ based on a form of furnished proof of identity, that proof is more often than not a password.
    • Educate employees on why using strong passwords is essential, not a hassle.
      • A strong password should be at least eight characters and should include uppercase, lowercase, and special characters – like @#?%^&*.
      • Adding just one capital letter, and one special character changes the processing time for a cyber criminal to crack an eight character password from 2.4 days to 2.10 centuries. Think about that!
  • ‘Out of the Box’ is not secure
    • The majority of individuals want ease of use in their devices. However, ‘out of the box’ or default configuration settings are far from secure and are easily ‘hacked.’ Default accounts and passwords need to be changed, and unnecessary services should be removed.
  • Patch Everything
    • Organizations can significantly reduce their cyber-risk by running the latest software and applications on all devices.

‘The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent.’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

Worlds-Biggest-Data-Breaches-1-August-2016

When data becomes compromised, the consequences can be devastating. High-profile data breaches and ransomware attacks are increasing daily. Critical data should be encrypted both at rest and in transit.

Simply, data is always either in transit, moving via applications, email, through website connections and browsers; While at rest, it is stored in databases, the cloud, hard drives, and mobile devices.

  • Organizations that manage information have an obligation to protect it.
  • In the case of sensitive/confidential information, it is the law.
  • Encryption, using the science of cryptography, jumbles plain text into an unreadable cipher text using an algorithm that is irreversible without the decryption key.
  • At a minimum
    • Mobil devices should have their hard drives encrypted, thus reducing the risk of information exposure if the device is lost or stolen.
    • Servers, databases, backup media and all files containing sensitive/confidential information should be encrypted.
    • Encrypt data that is synced with the cloud.
    • All employees especially contractors and third-parties,  that access resources remotely should do so through a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Backup, Backup, Backup

  • This principle can not be stressed enough. Backup your data people.
  • There are two kinds of organizations: those who have lost critical your-money-or-your-data-ransomware-cyber-security-and-todays-threat-landscape-18-638data as the result of not backing up their data, and those who will.
  • Backing up your data can literally be the only thing that ensures that your organization is able to continue to operate if critical data has been appropriated, corrupted, or held hostage by ransomware.
  • The threat is defused if you have a physical copy, a second copy off-site and a third in the cloud.

All warfare is based on deception.’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

Social Engineering is the ‘art of deception on the grandest of scales,’ and your employees are the weakest link in the chain. Cyber criminals prefer social engineering because ‘it is much easier to hack a human than a secured network.’  Social engineering attacks are a choreographed strategy against many employees, i.e., Phishing or a high valued target, i.e., Whaling.

However, social engineers also use an assortment of in-person or over the phone techniques to steal data, identities, credentials, money and/or infect a computer with viruses, keyloggers, trojans, and spyware.

In recent years, social engineering has been the primary cause of many high profile cyber-attacks. The impacts can be staggering including

  • Economic Loss
  • Business Failure
  • Loss of Privacy
  • Loss of Goodwill
  • Lawsuits
  • Regulatory Issues (PCI-DSS, HIPPA)

‘First lay plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to battle’― Sun TzuThe Art of War

When we know what assets cyber criminals are likely to target, organizations can better focus on protecting them.

  • Asset Management
    • Before you can confirm that your organization’s IT Resources are secure, you have to know what they are and where they are.
    • Create an inventory of your resources including their location, hardware, software and operating systems and update it regularly.
  • Physical security assessment
    • Review perimeter barriers, access controls, fencing, and electronic security systems.
  • Operational Security Assessment (OPSEC)
    • The majority of security failures occur on the operational side.
    • OPSEC emboldens organizations to view operations from the perspective of an outsider (i.e., competitor or cyber criminal) in order to identify vulnerabilities.
    • If an organization is able to remove their data while impersonating an outsider, the odds are high that cyber criminals can too.
      • OPSEC consists of a five step process
        • Identify the Critical Information
        • Determine the Threats
        • Analyze the Vulnerabilities
        • Assess the Risks
        • Apply Applicable Countermeasures

‘Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

There is no ‘Silver Bullet’ for cybersecurity. The only way to know that you have taken reasonable safeguards is to monitor and test them.

  • Real-Time Systems Monitoring
    • Monitoring systems in real-time for any unusual activity or suspicious behavior that could indicate a breach is in progress. This can alert security teams to shut down any access before criminals can do significant damage.
  • Your systems’ security logs are your friend
    • Log monitoring is a best practice and a crucial part of performing due diligence.
      • They identify event patterns
      • They pre-empt insider attacks
      • Real-time alerts can detect, alert, and avert network security attacks
      •  They are a pro-active measure, thus reducing the risk to business continuity
  • Endpoint Assessments
    • Ensure that all desktop, laptop, printers or any internet-capable computer hardware device on a TCP/IP network within the organization have not been compromised.
  • Perform Vulnerability Assessments (especially on legacy resources, i.e., older systems.)
    • Network Vulnerability Assessments look outward to your publicly exposed (i.e., internet-connected) firewalls, routers, servers and other devices in order to identify weaknesses.
    • Servers Vulnerability Assessments look internally focusing on applications and software running on servers providing reassurance that a breach has not occurred and looked to identify security holes.
  • Website Assessment
    • Any devices connected to the internet represents a likely attack vector for cyber criminals to enter your network. Some of the most dangerous attack methods include
      • SQL Injection (SQLi) Number 1 issue listed on OWASP 
      • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
      • Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
    • Testing detects vulnerabilities within web applications that are accessible from both inside and outside the organization and indicates what needs to be corrected.
  • Penetration Testing (Pen Testing)
    • Pen testing captures a picture of the current security posture and identifies potential security breach points. Moreover, it tests the effectiveness of existing security processes and ensures that configuration management has been followed through on assiduously.
  • Employee Awareness
    • Test your employee’s knowledge from the C-Suite to the mailroom.
    • Engage your IT department or hire an outside firm to run Phishing campaigns, Phone-based and In-person Social Engineering tests.
      • The phishing tests will determine how likely your employees are to click on a malicious link.
      • Phone based/In-person tests will demonstrate how much confidential data was able to be extracted from your employees.

‘In The Midst of Chaos, There Is always Opportunity’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

It ‘is not if but when’ your network will be attacked. Security teams and management should capitalize on the experience as an opportunity to learn. The more security teams can learn, the more effective they can become. Incorporate the intelligence that was learned from previous security incident(s) into the company’s overall security strategy and make practical and efficient use of it in order to make better-informed decisions.

‘Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.’ ― Sun TzuThe Art of War

So far in 2017 (as of 6/30/2017), there have been over 790 security breaches with more than 12,389,462 records exposed. Cyber criminals are not static; they exist in a state of flux. Altering methods, strategies and exploit tools. When it comes to defeating this elusive enemy, organizations must move from a position of defense-waiting for a cyber criminal to breach their network, to one of offense-controlling the cyber criminals actions and denying them the wherewithal to call the shots

In conclusion, Cyber criminals are increasingly harder to trace and even harder to remediate. They are creative collaborators, sharing successful techniques and progressively more dangerous malware. They are stealthier, using multiple vectors and entry points in order to navigate around network defenses and breach them; not to mention remaining hidden in our systems longer, thus becoming more costly for organizations. Business continuity is crucial for the success of any organization. Insecure systems are detrimental. Follow the teachings of Sun Tzu. ‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win’― Sun TzuThe Art of War

 

It’s A Brave New Bot-Filled World, With Great Possibilities And Even Greater Risks

‘Bots’ short for robots, are essential to the Internet ecosystem. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of botwebsite traffic is not human, but bots. Bots are essentially software programs that perform automated, repetitive, pre-defined tasks.  These tasks can include almost any interaction with software that has an Application Program Interface (API).

There are many varieties of bots. Some are just basic programs that execute physical work such as ‘Crawlers’ who run continuously in the background, primarily procuring data from other APIs or websites. Then there are specialized crawlers called ‘Spiders’ that extract URLs from documents, download the content and then pass it off to an indexing system to analyze, and construct into searchable indexes like Googlebot. Some only monitor e-commerce websites for price changes, and still, countless others, monitor for site errors, bugs, and performance issues. However this is not the end of the story, but merely just the beginning.

The evolution of bots focuses on the boundless possibilities and opportunities for both businesses and individuals. Add in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Natural Language Processing (NLP) all of which enable greater accuracy in understanding both spoken and typed words are bringing never-before-imagined levels of personalization and predictive assistance to generations of mobile-intuitive consumers who are content and self-assured with messaging as a communication paradigm.

These smarter bots have a unique server-side processing component that allows seamless interaction as they are able to understand and respond to queries balanced with a live network for assistance. We interact with these bots through Mobile messaging and/or Chatbots. These natural language interfaces enable retailers, restaurants, and multitudes of other companies to communicate with customers in an innovative and compelling way from hailing a cab, ordering takeout, designing that unique pair of shoes, or paying your credit card bill.

Then there are the autonomous bots, the most rapidly accelerating bot space which includes the Internet of Things (IoT) devices encompassing the self-driving car; to  ‘Amy Ingram,’ a virtual assistant; to Amazon’s Delivery Drones. These bots will eventually require zero human intervention to their jobs.

In contrast, no conversation about bots would be complete without an overview of the Malicious bots which are capable of causing enormous damages to organizations network infrastructures, reputations, brands or their bottom lines.

As technology advances and becomes more easily accessible, bots are becoming the go-to tool of choice for cybercriminals accounting for over 80 percent of all cyberattacks. Add in human characteristics from AI, and these bots become harder to detect by the authorities. While other malicious software corrupts and damages the infrastructure of their targets, these advanced bots are also known as ‘Impersonators’ infect networks in a way that escapes the immediate notice, and the damages can quickly run into the millions.

Here’s how it works: Cybercriminals use Social Engineering techniques such as Phishing, spam, or malicious websites to entice users to download and install various forms of malware, i.e., malicious software including

Traditional-Botnet

A malicious bot, also known as a “Zombie,’ not unlike a worm, is self-propagating malicious software designed to infect a host and connect to a C&C or central command and control server(s). Bots are part of a network of infected computers, known as a ‘botnet,’ which can stretch across the globe controlled by a ‘botnet herder.’

No network is immune.

Once the botnet infiltrates, they go to work logging keystrokes, collecting passwords, amassing e-mails, gathering financial information, spreading spam, capturing and analyzing packets, hijacking servers, and launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

DDoS attacks are an ever-growing threat to businesses, growing in both scope and DDos-attack-modeoccurrence every year. Moreover, they are becoming harder to thwart because the attacks are allocated across sundry public anonymous proxies including TOR enabling the substitution of users’ IP addresses with untraceable proxies.

A discussion of impersonators would not be complete without the mention of Googlebot-again. These imposter bots gain privileged access and capture tons of sensitive, valuable online information. Additionally, they are utilized for DDoS attacks. According to the folks at Incapsula, ‘1 out of 25 bots are up to no good.’ Source: Incapsula

two-faces-of-google-dr-crawlit-mr-hack

Cybersecurity is often described as an arms race, Security professionals vs. Cybercriminals. Both sides are tirelessly working to stay ahead of each other. When one side finds a newer more resilient defense, the other side develops a shrewder more destructive offense. What was a sure thing today, is sure to be old news tomorrow. Never stop learning.

Protecting yourself and your organization requires immediate action. 

  • Never open e-mails from unknown senders.
  • Never download attachments or click on links from unknown senders.
  • Never click on pop-ups.
  • Never insert an unknown USB stick into your PC, Laptop, etc.
  • Never store sensitive or critical data only on your PC. Have at least two backups– an external hard drive and in the cloud.
  • Adjust your browsers’ security and privacy settings.
  • Use an HTTPS connection for all credit card transactions.
  • Keep your operating system and software up to date.
  • Never log in as an administrator. Rather choose a guest with limited privileges.
  • Removed outdated plugins and add-ons.
  • Disable ActiveX content in Microsoft Office applications.
  • Block TOR and I2P.
  • Disable remote desktop.
  • Use an anti-virus product.
  • Use a traffic filtering solution that can provide proactive anti-ransomware protection.
  • Block binaries running from %APPDATA% and %TEMP% paths.
  • Work with the C-Suite to enact social engineering awareness training for all employees.
  • Consider a Computer Incident Response Team (CIRT), based on the organization’s needs and available sources.
  • Have a tested business continuity plan in the event of any cyberattack.

P.S., I am not a bot annie2

Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. Stop. Think. Connect.