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NEW TECH: DigiCert Document Signing Manager leverages PKI to advance electronic signatures

By Byron V. Acohido

Most of us, by now, take electronic signatures for granted.

Related: Why PKI will endure as the Internet’s secure core

Popular services, like DocuSign and Adobe Sign, have established themselves as convenient, familiar tools to conduct daily commerce, exclusively online. Yet electronic signatures do have their security limitations. That’s why “wet” signatures, i.e. signing in the presence of a notary, remains a requirement for some transactions involving high dollars or very sensitive records.

Clearly, a more robust approach to verifying identities in the current and future digital landscape would be useful. After all, conducting business transactions strictly online was already on the rise before Covid 19, a trend that only accelerated due to the global pandemic.

And this is why DigiCert recently introduced DigiCert® Document Signing Manager (DSM) – an advanced hosted service designed to increase the level of assurance of the identities of persons signing documents digitally.

I had the chance to learn more about this new tool from Brian Trzupek, DigiCert’s senior vice president of product DigiCert is best known as a Certificate Authority (CA) and a supplier of services to manage Public Key Infrastructure. And PKI, of course, is the behind-the-scenes authentication and encryption framework on which the Internet is built. (more…)

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ROUNDTABLE: Kaseya hack exacerbates worrisome supply-chain, ransomware exposures

By Byron V. Acohido

It was bound to happen: a supply-chain compromise, ala SolarWinds, has been combined with a ransomware assault, akin to Colonial Pipeline, with devasting implications.

Related: The targeting of supply chains

Last Friday, July 2, in a matter of a few minutes,  a Russian hacking collective, known as REvil, distributed leading-edge ransomware to thousands of small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) across the planet — and succeeded in locking out critical systems in at least 1,500 of them. This was accomplished by exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in Kaseya VSA, a network management tool widely used by managed service providers (MSPs)  as their primary tool to remotely manage IT systems on behalf of SMBs.

REvil essentially took full control of the Kaseya VSA servers at the MSP level, then used them for the singular purpose of extorting victimized companies — mostly SMBs —  for payments of $45,000, payable in Minera. In a few instances, the attackers requested $70 million, payable in Bitcoin, for a universal decryptor.

Like SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline, Miami-based software vendor, Kaseya, was a thriving entity humming right along, striving like everyone else to leverage digital agility — while also dodging cybersecurity pitfalls. Now Kaseya and many of its downstream customers find themselves in a  crisis recovery mode faced with shoring up their security posture and reconstituting trust. Neither will come easily or cheaply.

SHARED INTEL: ‘Credential stuffers’ leverage enduring flaws to prey on video game industry

By Byron V Acohido

The video game industry saw massive growth in 2020; nothing like a global pandemic to drive  people to spend more time than ever gaming.

Related: Credential stuffers exploit Covid 19 pandemic

Now comes a report from Akamai detailing the extent to which cyber criminals preyed on this development. The video game industry withstood nearly 11 billion credential stuffing attacks in 2020, a 224 percent spike over 2019. The attacks were steady and large, taking place at a rate of millions per day, with two days seeing spikes of more than 100 million.

This metric shows how bad actors redoubled their efforts to rip off consumers fixated on spending  real money on character enhancements and additional levels. The big takeaway, to me, is how they accomplished  this – by refining and advancing credential stuffing.

Credential stuffing is a type of advanced brute force hacking that leverages software automation to insert stolen usernames and passwords into web page forms, at scale, until the attacker gains access to a targeted account.

We know from a Microsoft report how hacking groups backed by Russia, China and Iran have aimed such attacks against hundreds of organizations involved in both the 2020 presidential race and U.S.-European policy debates. And credential stuffing was the methodology used by a Nigerian crime ring

MY TAKE: Equipping SOCs for the long haul – automation, edge security solidify network defenses

By Byron V. Acohido

Network security is in the throes of a metamorphosis. Advanced technologies and fresh security frameworks are being implemented to deter cyber attacks out at the services edge, where all the action is.

Related: Automating security-by-design in SecOps

This means Security Operations Centers are in a transition. SOCs came on the scene some 20 years ago as the focal point for defending on-premises datacenters of large enterprises. The role of SOCs today is both expanding and deepening, and in doing so, perhaps modeling what it will take to defend IT systems going forward – for organizations of all sizes.

I recently moderated a virtual panel on this topic featuring Scott Dally, director of security operations center Americas at NTT Security, and Devin Johnstone, senior security operations engineer at Palo Alto Networks.

For a full drill down please give a listen to the accompanying podcast version of that discussion. Here are the takeaways:

Pressurized landscape

Organizations today must withstand a constant barrage of cyber attacks. Primary vectors take the form of phishing campaigns, supply chain corruption and ransomware attacks, like the one that recently resulted in the shut down of Colonial Pipeline.

What’s happening is that digital transformation, while providing many benefits, has also dramatically expanded the attack surface. “An old problem is that many companies continue to cling to the notion that cybersecurity is just another cost center, instead of treating it as a potentially catastrophic exposure – one that needs to be continually mitigated,” Dally says.

MY TAKE: Massive data breaches persist as agile software development fosters full-stack hacks

By Byron V. Acohido

Data leaks and data theft are part and parcel of digital commerce, even more so in the era of agile software development.

Related: GraphQL APIs stir new exposures

Many of the high-profile breaches making headlines today are the by-product of hackers pounding away at Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) until they find a crease that gets them into the pathways of the data flowing between an individual user and myriad cloud-based resources.

It’s important to understand the nuances of these full-stack attacks if we’re ever to slow them down. I’ve had a few deep discussions about this with Doug Dooley, chief operating officer at Data Theorem, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based software security vendor specializing in API data protection. Here are a few key takeaways:

Targeting low-hanging fruit

Massive data base breaches today generally follow a distinctive pattern: hack into a client -facing application; manipulate an API; follow the data flow to gain access to an overly permissive database or S3 bucket (cloud storage). A classic example of this type of intrusion is the Capital One data breach.

Suspected Capital One hacker Paige Thompson was indicted for her alleged data breach and theft of more than 100 million people including 140,000 social security numbers and 80,000 linked bank accounts. The 33-year-old Amazon Web Services (AWS) software engineer was also accused of stealing cloud computer power on Capital One’s account to “mine” cryptocurrency for her own benefit, a practice known as “cryptojacking.”

Thompson began pounding away on the Capital One’s public-facing applications supposedly protected by their open-source Web Application Firewall (WAF), and succeeded in carrying out a  “Server Side Request Forgery” (SSRF) attack. By successfully hacking the client-facing application, she was then able to relay commands to a legacy AWS metadata service to obtain credentials.

Password and token harvesting is one of the most common techniques in hacking. Using valid credentials, Thompson was able to gain access using APIs … more

MY TAKE: Why monetizing data lakes will require applying ‘attribute-based’ access rules to encryption

By Byron V. Acohido

The amount of data in the world topped an astounding 59 zetabytes in 2020, much of it pooling in data lakes.

Related:  The importance of basic research

We’ve barely scratched the surface of applying artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics to the raw data collecting in these gargantuan cloud-storage structures erected by Amazon, Microsoft and Google. But it’s coming, in the form of driverless cars, climate-restoring infrastructure and next-gen healthcare technology.

In order to get there, one big technical hurdle must be surmounted. A new form of agile cryptography must get established in order to robustly preserve privacy and security as all this raw data gets put to commercial use.

I recently had the chance to discuss this with Kei Karasawa, vice president of strategy, and Fang Wu, consultant, at NTT Research, a Silicon Valley-based think tank which is in the thick of deriving the math formulas that will get us there.

They outlined why something called attribute-based encryption, or ABE, has emerged as the basis for a new form of agile cryptography that we will need in order to kick digital transformation into high gear.

For a drill down on our discussion, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Cloud exposures

Data lakes continue to swell because each second of every day, every human, on average, is creating 1.7 megabytes of fresh data. These are the rivulets feeding the data lakes.

A zettabyte equals one trillion gigabytes. Big data just keeps getting bigger. And we humans crunch as much of it as we can by applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to derive cool new digital services. But we’re going to need the help of quantum computers to get to the really amazing stuff, and that hardware is coming.

As we press ahead into our digital future, however, we’ll also need to retool the public-key-infrastructure. PKI is the authentication and encryption framework … more

MY TAKE: How SASE has begun disrupting IT — by shifting cybersecurity to the ‘services edge’

By Byron V. Acohido

One of the hottest topics at RSA Conference 2021 taking place virtually this week is the Secure Access Services Edge (SASE) security framework.

Related: Cybersecurity experts react to Biden’s EO

SASE (pronounced sassy) essentially is a roadmap for infusing privacy and security deeply into the software coding that gives life to our smartphones, IoT devices and cloud infrastructure, i.e. at the “services edge,” where all the action is taking place.

Coined by Gartner in late 2018, SASE is gaining momentum as a generational disruptive force. It calls for organizations to start proactively managing the myriad new attack vectors they’ve opened up in the pursuit of digital agility — by embracing a bold new IT architecture that extends network security far beyond the traditional perimeter

However, disruption doesn’t happen without displacement. And at this early stage, things are a bit chaotic. As established and newer cybersecurity vendors scramble to catch the SASE wave, marketing messages have sometimes been less than clear.

From the customer’s point of view, some early-adopter enterprises have experienced buyer’s remorse trying out SASE services that don’t really make the grade, says Mike Spanbauer, security evangelist at Juniper Networks, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based supplier of networking technology.

“What we’ve heard from out in the marketplace is that a number of SASE solutions that supposedly could deliver everything as promised, were found to be lacking in many capacities,” Spanbauer says.

ROUNDTABLE: Experts react to President Biden’s exec order in the aftermath of Colonial Pipeline hack

By Byron V. Acohido

As wake up calls go, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware hack was piercing.

Related: DHS embarks on 60-day cybersecurity sprints

The attackers shut down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., compelling Colonial to pay them 75 bitcoins, worth a cool $5 million.

This very high-profile caper is part of an extended surge of ransomware attacks, which  quintupled globally between the first quarter of 2018 and the fourth quarter of 2020, and is expected to rise 20 percent to 40 percent this year,  according to insurance giant Aon.

Ransomware is surging at at time when the global supply chain is being corrupted from inside out, as so vividly illustrated by the SolarWinds supply chain debacle.

In response, President Biden last week issued an executive order requiring more rigorous cybersecurity practices for federal agencies and contractors that develop software for the federal government. Last Watchdog asked a roundtable of cybersecurity industry experts for their reaction. Here’s what they said, responses edited for clarity and length:

Chenxi Wang, founder & general partner, Rain Capital

The new executive order is a swift response from the administration. It’s refreshing to see a government executive order that understands technology trends such as “zero trust”, is able to delineate “Operational Technology (OT)” from “information technology (IT,)” and can talk intelligently about supply chain risks.

While some of the measures stipulated in the order are considered table stakes like multi-factor authentication, the fact that the order exists will help to raise the collective security posture of products and services. It will not be sufficient to defend against sophisticated adversaries, but it will help organizations on the lower end of the capability spectrum to improve their cyber posture and defense.

Keatron Evans, principal security researcher, Infosec Institute

President Biden’s order was drafted with heavy involvement from actual cybersecurity experts, and this is encouraging. Requiring federal agencies to produce an actionable plan to implement Zero Trust Architecture is … more

RSAC insights: ‘SASE’ disrupts networking by meshing security, connectivity at the services edge

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s accurate to say that security has been bolted onto modern business networks.

It also has become very clear that we won’t achieve the full potential of digital transformation without security somehow getting intricately woven into every layer of corporate IT systems.

We’re still a long way from achieving that, but a promising roadmap has emerged. It’s a new model for architecting enterprise IT systems, dubbed Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), a term coined by top security analysts at tech advisory firm Gartner.

I had the chance to visit with Kelly Ahuja, CEO of Versa Networks, a supplier of SASE systems. For a full drill down on our discussion on why SASE could be game changer, please give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

Connectivity vs. security

Corporate networks exist to connect users to applications. Traditionally this was done by setting up a datacenter at company headquarters, and having employees enter the building and access applications using company-managed equipment. Thus, local area networks, or LANs, were born.

Then along came wide area networks, or WANs, as a means to securely connect several LANs set up in geographically dispersed branch offices. Over time WANs proved to be expensive and inflexible, so they began to be replaced with software-defined wide area networks, or SD-WANs, which offered heightened data-transfer efficiencies.

However, the first-generation of SD-WAN solutions were notable for one key thing: they were solely focused on improving connectivity and did little to account for security.

RSAC insights: SolarWinds hack illustrates why software builds need scrutiny — at deployment

By Byron V. Acohido

By patiently slipping past the best cybersecurity systems money can buy and evading detection for 16 months, the perpetrators of the SolarWinds hack reminded us just how much heavy lifting still needs to get done to make digital commerce as secure as it needs to be.

Related: DHS launches 60-day cybersecurity sprints

Obviously, one change for the better would be if software developers and security analysts paid much closer attention to the new and updated coding packages being assembled and deployed on the fly, in pursuit of digital agility.

I recently had the chance to discuss this with Tomislav Pericin, chief software architect and co-founder at software security firm ReversingLabs. We talked about how the capacity to, in essence, rapidly reverse engineer new software and software updates — without unduly hindering agility — could make a big difference.

For a full drill down, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Targeting the build

One thing I did not realize about the SolarWinds hack is precisely how the attackers fooled more than 18,000 organizations into accepting an infected update of the widely-used Orion network management tool. I had assumed that they either stole or spoofed a SolarWinds digital certificate, which they then used to authenticate the tainted update. The payload malware: Sunburst, a heavily-obfuscated backdoor.

Actually, these attackers went through a lot of effort to first gain deep access inside of SolarWinds’ network. Next, they located and took control of the build process used to compile the various pieces of coding that SolarWinds’ software developers assembled to make up its Orion software updates.

“People tend to focus on the Sunburst malware, the actual backdoor that ended up in the affected update package,” Pericin told me. “But there was another malicious component, Sunspot, which was a piece of malware specifically designed to run in the Solar Winds environment, on a build machine.

MY TAKE: How consumer-grade VPNs are enabling individuals to do DIY security

By Byron V. Acohido

Historically, consumers have had to rely on self-discipline to protect themselves online.

Related: Privacy war: Apple vs. Facebook.

I’ve written this countless times: keep your antivirus updated, click judiciously, practice good password hygiene. Then about 10 years ago, consumer-grade virtual private networks, or VPNs, came along, providing a pretty nifty little tool that any individual could use to deflect invasive online tracking.

Consumer-grade VPNs have steadily gained a large following. And over the past two to three years, adoption has climbed steeply.

It only recently dawned on me that this rise in popularity of VPNs is probably directly related to the chaotic social unrest, not to mention the global health crisis, we’ve all endured over the past few years.

We’ve become accustomed to hunkering down. As part of this mindset, more consumers are subscribing to a personal VPN service which they use to shield themselves from disinformation sweeps and to protect themselves from Covid 19-related hacks and scams.

ROUNDTABLE: Mayorkas’ 60-day cybersecurity sprints win support; also a prove-it-to-me response

By Byron V. Acohido

The Biden Administration is wasting no time fully re-engaging the federal government in cybersecurity.

Related: Supply-chains become top targets

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has assumed a very visible and vocal role. Mayorkas has been championing an extensive portfolio of initiatives to rally public-private collaboration to fend off cyber criminals and state-sponsored threat actors.

The need is great, of course. The Solarwinds hack and Microsoft Exchange breach, not to mention the latest rounds of massive thefts of personal data from Facebook and LinkedIn demonstrate this in spades.

Mayorkas announced a series of 60-day sprints to quell ransomware and to bolster the cyber defenses of industrial control systems, transportation networks and election systems. Mayorkas also pledged to increase the diversity of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s workforce, noting that roughly a third of CISA’s workers are part of minority groups.

This reminds me of how President Obama used his bully pulpit back in 2015 to promote accelerated sharing of threat intelligence and to push for a consumers’ bill of rights for online privacy.

GUEST ESSAY: ‘Cybersecurity specialist’ tops list of work-from-home IT jobs that need filling

By Scott Orr

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic turned many office workers into work-from-home (WFH) experts, the trend toward working without having to commute was clear.

Related: Mock attacks help SMBs harden defenses

As internet bandwidth has become more available, with homes having access to gigabit download speeds, a whole new world of career paths has opened for those who want to control their work hours and conditions. Maybe you want better pay, to be home near your kids or you just like the idea of avoiding the daily drive to an office. Whatever the reason, you can likely find work online.

One of the hottest fields right now on the WFH radar is the information technology (IT) sector. But you’ll first need to learn the specifics to get to work. Fortunately, there are online classes you can take to get that knowledge – and best of all, you can take them for free.  Let’s look at what’s available and how you might jumpstart a new career.

Most IT jobs require you to have some sort of experience before you can start charging enough to make them viable as full-time employment. And some are more like a side hustle or temp job.

Having said that, here are some examples of IT careers you can learn online through free courses:

Security specialist

The more we do online, the more criminals want to take advantage of us. That makes fighting cybercrime a definite growth industry. A wide range of companies, in just about every field, are adding computer security specialists. In fact, these jobs are expected to increase a whopping 31% by 2029. This job involves planning and implementing security measures for large and small companies that rely on computer networks. You will need to develop the ability to anticipate techniques used in future cyberattacks so they can be prevented.

MY TAKE: Apple users show strong support for Tim Cook’s privacy war against Mark Zuckerberger

By Byron V. Acohido

Like a couple of WWE arch rivals, Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have squared off against each other in a donnybrook over consumer privacy.

Cook initially body slammed Zuckerberg — when Apple issued new privacy policies aimed at giving U.S. consumers a smidgen more control over their personal data while online.

Related: Raising kids who care about their privacy

Zuckerberg then dropped kicked Cook by taking out full-page newspaper ads painting Apple’s social responsibility flexing as bad for business; he then hammered Cook with a pop-up ad campaign designed to undermine Apple’s new privacy policies.

But wait. Here’s Cook rising from the mat to bash Z-Man at the Brussels’ International Privacy Day, labeling his tormentor as an obsessive exploiter who ought to be stopped from so greedily exploiting consumers’ digital footprints for his personal gain.

This colorful chapter in the history of technology and society isn’t just breezing by unnoticed. A recent survey of some 2,000 U.S. iPhone and iPad users, conducted by SellCell.com, a phone and tech trade-in website, shows American consumers are tuned in and beginning to recognize what’s at stake.

Fully 72 percent of those polled by SellCell said they were aware of new privacy changes in recent Apple software updates, not just in a cursory manner, but with a high level of understanding; some 42 percent said they understood the privacy improvements extremely well or at least very well, while 21 percent said they understood them moderately well.

Another telling finding: some 65 percent of respondents indicated they were extremely or very concerned about websites and mobile apps that proactively track their online behaviors, while only 14 percent said they were not at all concerned.

GUEST ESSAY: Who do you think impacts privacy, free markets more: Big Government or Big Tech?

By Scott Cleland

Proposed bipartisan legislation to modernize U.S. antitrust law and enforcement standards for the 21st century digital marketplace calls for a fact-driven comparison of Big-Tech’s unchecked power relative to Big Government’s Constitutionally limited power.

Related: Apple vs. Facebook privacy war

Big-Tech has proven its monopoly and cartel power can be more powerful than Big Government.

Big Government’s Constitutional limits denied two impeachment attempts to remove President Trump from office and to prevent his ability to run again. In mid-January, Big Tech collusively cancelled President Trump, his eighty million online followers, and his right-of-center, competitive social media alternatives – with impunity.

When unchecked by antitrust law, Big-Tech monopoly gatekeepers together are dominant enough to determine what Americans see and say online. This means in 21st century America, there no longer is a real competitive marketplace for ideas, and no longer are public squares open to all political voices.

The political reality of Big-Tech monopoly intermediaries is that the public and politicians must go through, and trust, Big-Tech to not interfere with them, and to not dictate political discourse or outcomes. The most respected research on this problem, Dr. Robert Epstein’s seminal research on Big-Tech manipulation, shows how unmonitored Big-Tech has the power to manipulate elections.

GUEST ESSAY: Why online supply chains remain at risk — and what companies can do about it

By Aanand Krishnan

The Solarwinds hack has brought vendor supply chain attacks — and the lack of readiness from enterprises to tackle such attacks — to the forefront.

Related: Equipping Security Operations Centers (SOCs) for the long haul

Enterprises have long operated in an implicit trust model with their partners. This simply means that they trust, but don’t often verify, that their partners are reputable and stay compliant over time. Given the dynamic nature of websites today and the constantly changing integrations to a site, this implicit trust model no longer suffices.

So what does the average modern website look like? More than 70 percent of the content that loads on an end user’s browser does not come from the website’s server at all. Enterprises are designing client heavy applications that are executed through JavaScript at runtime, and these browsers are acting as modern day OSes.

Let’s discuss how the SolarWinds hack relates to a regular website supply chain. Web architecture from the past decade followed a trend where most web applications were server heavy, and enterprises’ data centers handled the bulk of the processing. The web browser was more of a graphical interface or a rendering engine.

Due to optimized speeds and improved computing capacity on client devices, the architecture has evolved over the last few years.

SHARED INTEL: Microsoft discloses how the Nobelium hacking ring engages in routine phishing

By Byron V. Acohido

Microsoft has blunted the ongoing activities of the Nobelium hacking collective, giving us yet another glimpse of the unceasing barrage of hack attempts business networks must withstand on a daily basis.

Related: Reaction to Biden ‘s cybersecurity executive order

Nobelium is the Russian hacking collective best known for pulling off the milestone SolarWinds supply chain hack last December. That caper required the intricate counterfeiting of software updates sent out automatically by SolarWinds to 18,000 customers. And yet, for all of its sophistication, Nobelium also engages in routine phishing campaigns to get a foothold in targeted organizations. This of course is how they get a toehold to go deeper.

In this case, the attackers leveraged information gleaned from a Microsoft worker’s computing device. In a blog posting, Microsoft disclosed that it “detected information-stealing malware on a machine belonging to one of our customer support agents with access to basic account information for a small number of our customers” and that “the actor used this information in some cases to launch highly targeted attacks as part of their broader campaign.”

Microsoft said it notified the targeted 150 organizations, which included “IT companies (57%), followed by government (20%), and smaller percentages for non-governmental organizations and think tanks, as well as financial services.”

MY TAKE: A path for SMBs to achieve security maturity: start small controlling privileged accounts

By Byron V. Acohido

The challenge of embracing digital transformation while also quelling the accompanying cyber risks has never been greater for small- and mid-sized businesses.

Related: How ‘PAM’ improves authentication

SMBs today face a daunting balancing act. To boost productivity, they must leverage cloud infrastructure and participate in agile software development. But this also opens up a sprawling array of fresh security gaps that threat actors are proactively probing and exploiting.

Somehow SMBs must keep pace competitively, while also tamping down the rising risk of suffering a catastrophic network breach.

There’s a glut of innovative security solutions, to be sure, and no shortage of security frameworks designed to help companies mitigate cyber risks. Leading-edge cybersecurity systems in service today apply machine learning in some amazing ways to help large enterprises identify and instantly respond to cyber threats.

However, this is overkill for many, if not most, SMBs. Day in and day out their core security struggle boils down to making it harder for intruders to attain and manipulate remote access. And it doesn’t take enterprise-grade security systems to accomplish this.

I’ve had several discussions about this with Maurice Côté, vice president of business solutions at Devolutions, a Montreal, Canada-based supplier of remote desktop management services. We talked about how Devolutions has been guiding its SMB customers