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MY TAKE: How ‘credential stuffing’ is being deployed to influence elections, steal Covid-19 relief

By Byron V. Acohido

What do wildfires and credential stuffing have in common?

Related: Automated attacks leverage big data

For several years now, both have flared up and caused harm at the fringes of population centers and our digital economy. And, now, in 2020, both have escalated to catastrophic proportions.

Just after Labor Day, dried out trees and shrubs combined with high winds to erupt into massive wildfires that swiftly engulfed rural towns and even suburban areas of California, Oregon, Washington and several other states. Millions of acres of land got consumed, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated and dozens lost their lives.

Meanwhile, all year long and continuing through the fall, opportunistic cybercriminals have launched wave after wave of automated credential stuffing campaigns. These bad actors are wreaking havoc in two arenas: Stealing Covid-19 relief payments on a massive scale as well as meddling, once again, in the election of a U.S. president.

The wildfires eventually subsided with calmer, damper meteorological conditions. However, massive surges of credential stuffing have persisted, fueled by a seemingly endless supply of already stolen, or easy-to-steal, personal information along with the wide availability of sophisticated hacking tools. (more…)

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SHARED INTEL: How ransomware evolved from consumer trickery to deep enterprise hacks

By David Balaban

Ransomware is undoubtedly one of the most unnerving phenomena in the cyber threat landscape. Numerous strains of this destructive code have been the front-page news in global computer security chronicles for almost a decade now, with jaw-dropping ups and dramatic downs accompanying its progress.

Related: What local government can do to repel ransomware

Ransomware came into existence in 1989 as a primitive program dubbed the AIDS Trojan that was spreading via 5.25-inch diskettes. This debut was followed by the emergence of several marginal blackmail threats in the mid-2000s that never gained significant traction among online criminals. The epidemic went truly mainstream with the release of CryptoLocker back in 2013, and it has since transformed into a major dark web economy spawning the likes of Sodinokibi, Ryuk, and Maze lineages that are targeting the enterprise on a huge scale in 2020.

Although most people think of ransomware as a dodgy application that encrypts data and holds it for ransom, the concept is much more heterogeneous than that. It additionally spans mild-impact screen lockers, data wipers disguised as something else, infections that overwrite the master boot record (MBR), and most recently, nasties that enhance the attack logic with data theft.

The above-mentioned AIDS Trojan hailing from the distant pre-Internet era was the progenitor of the trend, but its real-world impact was close to zero. The Archiveus Trojan from 2006 was the first one to use RSA cipher, but it was reminiscent of a proof of concept and used a static 30-digit decryption password that was shortly cracked. None of these early threats went pro. In this timeline, I will instead focus on the strains that became the driving force of the ransomware evolution.

FBI spoofs

2012 – 2013. During this period, the ransomware ecosystem was dominated by Trojans that locked the screen or web browser with fake alerts impersonating law enforcement agencies. These warnings would state that the victim committed a … more

NEW TECH: Cequence Security’s new ‘API Sentinel’ helps identify, mitigate API exposures

By Byron V. Acohido

Application Programming Interfaces – APIs. Without them digital transformation would never have gotten off the ground.

Related: Defending botnet-driven business logic hacks

APIs made possible the astounding cloud, mobile and IoT services we have today. This happened, at a fundamental level, by freeing up software developers to innovate on the fly. APIs have exploded in enterprise use over the past several years.

However, API deployments have scaled so high and so fast that many companies don’t know how many APIs they have, which types they’re using and how susceptible their APIs might be to being compromised.

Cequence Security, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based application security vendor, today is launching a new solution, called API Sentinel, designed to help companies jump in and start proactively mitigating API risks, without necessarily having to slow down their innovation steam engine. I had the chance to discuss this with Matt Keil, Cequence’s director of product marketing. For a full drill down, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are key takeaways from our conversation:

API 101

Digital transformation took off when companies discovered that instead of developing monolithic applications that were updated annually – at best – they could tap into the skill and creativity of their developers. This was possible because APIs – the conduits that enable two software applications to exchange information – are open and decentralized, exactly like the Internet.

Q&A: NIST’s new ‘Enterprise Risk Management’ guidelines push cyber risks to board level

By Byron V. Acohido

Enterprise risk management (ERM) is a comparatively new corporate discipline. The basic notion is that in today’s complex operating environment, it is important for businesses to proactively identify operational hazards and have a plan in place to account for them.

Related: Poll shows senior execs get cybersecurity

A hazard is anything that can interfere with a company meeting its objectives; it could be something physical, such as a fire, a theft or a natural disaster; or it could  be an abstract risk, such as a lawsuit or a regulatory fine.

As part of its role promoting cybersecurity best practices, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has stepped forward to make sure complex and expanding cybersecurity exposures become part and parcel of evolving ERM frameworks.

NIST has been getting positive feedback to draft guidelines it issued in late March which essentially serves as a roadmap for enterprises to account for complex cybersecurity exposures when implementing ERM strategies. The guidelines — NISTIR 8286, Integrating Cybersecurity and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) – are specifically aimed at fostering the integration of cybersecurity risk management best practices and ERM frameworks.

The Internet Security Alliance (ISA) is a trade association and think tank whose members include prominent corporations in a wide cross section of industries. In February, ISA, in partnership with the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), published the 2020 edition of their Cyber-Risk Oversight Handbook for Corporate Boards.

ISA President Larry Clinton noted how well the trade groups’ handbook meshes with NIST’s new guidelines. “The NIST filing does an excellent job linking many of the principles directors have articulated as necessary for effective cybersecurity,” he says. “The NISTIR, like the NACD-ISA handbook, urges enterprises to utilize the modern models that are being developed to help organizations appropriately balance economic growth and cyber risk.”

I had the chance to drill down on this with … more

SHARED INTEL: New book on cyber warfare foreshadows attacks on elections, remote workers

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s difficult to convey the scope and scale of cyber attacks that take place on a daily basis, much less connect the dots between them.

Related: The Golden Age of cyber spying

A new book by Dr. Chase Cunningham —  Cyber Warfare – Truth, Tactics, and Strategies —   accomplishes this in a compelling, accessible way. Cunningham has the boots-on-the-ground experience and storytelling chops to pull this off. As a  cybersecurity principal analyst at Forrester,  he advises enterprise clients on how to stay in front of the latest iterations of cyber attacks coming at them from all quarters.

Cunningham’s 19 years as a US Navy chief spent in cyber forensic and cyber analytic operations included manning security controls at the NSA, CIA and FBI. He holds a PhD and MS in computer science from Colorado Technical University and a BS from American Military University focused on counter-terrorism operations in cyberspace.

Cunningham sets the table in Cyber Warfare by relating detailed anecdotes that together paint the bigger picture. Learning about how hackers were able to intercept drone feed video from CIA observation drones during the war in Iraq, for instance, tells us a lot about how tenuous sophisticated surveillance technology really can be, out in the Internet wild.

And Cunningham delves into some fascinating, informative nuance about industrial systems attacks in the wake of Stuxnet. He also adds historical and forward-looking context to the theft and criminal deployment of the Eternal Blue hacking tools, which were stolen from the NSA, and which have been used to cause so much havoc, vis-à-vis WannaCry and NotPetya. What’s more, he comprehensively lays out why ransomware and deep fake campaigns are likely to endure, posing a big threat to organizations in all sectors for the foreseeable future.

STEPS FORWARD: How the Middle East led the U.S. to implement smarter mobile security rules

By Byron V. Acohido

We’ve come to rely on our smartphones to live out our digital lives, both professionally and personally.

When it comes to securing mobile computing devices, the big challenge businesses have long grappled with is how to protect company assets while at the same time respecting an individual’s privacy.

Reacting to the BYOD craze, mobile security frameworks have veered from one partially effective approach to the next over the past decade. However, I recently learned about how federal regulators in several nations are rallying around a reinvigorated approach to mobile security: containerization. Containerizing data is a methodology that could anchor mobile security, in a very robust way, for the long haul.

Interestingly, leadership for this push came from federal regulators in, of all places, the Middle East.  In May 2017, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) implemented its Cyber Security Framework mandating prescriptive measures, including a requirement to containerize data in all computing formats. A few months later the United Arab Emirates stood up its National Electronic Security Authority (NESA) which proceeded to do much the same thing.

Earlier this year, US regulators essentially followed the Middle East’s lead by rolling out sweeping new rules — referred to as Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC)  — which require use of data containerization along much the same lines as Saudi Arabia and the UAE mandated some three years ago. The implementation of CMMC represents a big change from past U.S. federal data handling rules for contractors, for which compliance was by-and-large voluntary.

BEST PRACTICES: Mock attacks help local agencies, schools prepare for targeted cyber scams

By Byron V. Acohido

Cyber criminals who specialize in plundering local governments and school districts are in their heyday.

Related: How ransomware became a scourge

Ransomware attacks and email fraud have spiked to record levels across the U.S. in each of the past three years, and a disproportionate number of the hardest hit organizations were local public agencies.

Lucy Security, a security training company based in Zug, Switzerland that works with many smaller public entities, has been in the thick of this onslaught. The company’s software is used to run public servants and corporate employees through mock cyberattack training sessions. There’s an obvious reason smaller public entities have become a favorite target of cybercriminals: most are run on shoestring budgets and corners tend to get cut in IT security, along with everything else operationally.

I had a chance to discuss this with Lucy Security Inc. CEO Colin Bastable at RSA 2020. Another factor I never thought about, until meeting with Bastable, is that public servants typically possess a can-do work ethic. This can make them particularly susceptible to social engineering trickery, the trigger for online extortion and fraud campaigns, Bastable told me.

For a drill down on my full interview with Bastable, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Simple, lucrative fraud

What happened in the state of Texas earlier last January is a microcosm of intensifying pressure all local agencies face from motivated hackers and scammers.

Fraudsters did enough online intelligence gathering on the Manor Independent School District, in Manor, Texas, to figure out which vendors were in line to receive large bank transfers as part of the school district spending the proceeds of a large school bond. They also studied the employees who handled the transactions.

MY TAKE: Lessons learned from the summer of script kiddies hacking Twitter, TikTok

By Byron V. Acohido

Graham Ivan Clark, Onel de Guzman and Michael Calce. These three names will go down in the history of internet commerce, right alongside Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

Related: How ‘Zero Trust’ is compatible with agile computing

We’re all familiar with the high-profile entrepreneurs who gave us the tools and services that underpin our digital economy. However, Clark, de Guzman and Calce are equally notable as leading members of the Hall of Fame of script kiddies – youngsters who precociously shed light on the how these same tools and services are riddled with profound privacy and security flaws.

The trouble is Clark, 17, of Tampa, Florida, is teaching us much the same lessons in the summer of 2020 that de Guzman and Calce did in the spring of 2000. De Guzman authored the I Love You email virus that circled the globe infecting millions of PCs; Calce, aka Mafiaboy, released the Melissa Internet worm that knocked offline Amazon, CNN, eBay and Yahoo.

Judging from the success of script kiddies, the tech giants apparently have not learned very much about security in 20 years. Clark was arrested in late July and charged with masterminding the hijacking of the Twitter accounts of A-list celebrities, and then Tweeting from those accounts to pull off a Bitcoin scam. His caper is worrisome on two counts. First it shows how resistant companies continue to be with respect to embracing very doable cyber hygiene practices – measures that would prevent these sorts of hacks. And second, it reminds us how much capacity to wreak havoc truly malicious parties — not just script kiddies – possess. This is chilling considering the times we’re in. On the cusp of electing a U.S. president, with the world struggling to recover from a global pandemic, there are nuanced lessons we can learn from the Twitter Bitcoin hack. Here’s what all consumers and companies should heed going forward.

NEW TECH: Trend Micro flattens cyber risks — from software development to deployment

By Byron V. Acohido

Long before this awful pandemic hit us, cloud migration had attained strong momentum in the corporate sector. As Covid19 rages on, thousands of large to mid-sized enterprises are now slamming pedal to the metal on projects to switch over to cloud-based IT infrastructure.

A typical example is a Seattle-based computer appliance supplier that had less than 10 percent of its 5,000 employees set up to work remotely prior to the pandemic. Seattle reported the first Covid19 fatality in the U.S., and Washington was among the first states to issue shelter at home orders. Overnight, this supplier was forced to make the switch to 90 percent of its employees working from home.

As jarring as this abrupt shift to remote work has been for countless companies, government agencies and educational institutions, it has conversely been a huge boon for cyber criminals. The Internet from its inception has presented a wide open attack vector to threat actors. Covid19 has upgraded the Internet — from the criminals’ point of view — to a picture-perfect environment for phishing, scamming and deep network intrusions. Thus the urgency for organizations to put all excuses aside and embrace stricter cyber hygiene practices could not be any higher.

It’s a very good thing that the cybersecurity industry has been innovating apace, as well. Cybersecurity technology is far more advanced today than it was five years ago, or even two years ago.

GUEST ESSAY: Skeptical about buying life insurance online? Here’s how to do it — securely

By Cynthia Madison

Purchasing life insurance once meant going to an insurer’s office or booking an appointment with an insurance agent. Then, in most cases, you’d have to undergo a medical examination and wait a few weeks to get approved and complete the whole process. But this scenario doesn’t seem to fit the fast-paced world we live in anymore. Today’s generation is used to getting everything done fast and easy, so life insurance providers had to get with the times and cover all customers’ needs and requirements.

Related: Life insurance types explained

From shopping to socializing or paying their bills, people seem to be doing everything online these days, so it was only a matter of time until insurance companies stepped into the digital world. Now everyone has the possibility to purchase life insurance from the comfort of their home by simply going online and looking for the policies that will fit their needs. Even major life insurance companies have stepped up their game and now provide a variety of online resources to cater to all consumers.

But with all the convenience also came concern. Some are still reluctant to purchase life insurance online for safety reasons and because they’re still unfamiliar with the steps they should follow. When you search for life insurance online, you’re on your own, with no one to guide you through the process, so how can you be sure you won’t make any costly mistakes? Here we’re going to tackle these issues and more to help you make an informed decision if you decide to buy life insurance online.

The pros

Apart from providing a hassle-free process, there are other notable advantages to buying life insurance online. For one, online platforms give you the possibility to compare insurance options from different providers, something that’s not possible if you go the traditional route. Different companies will offer different prices for the same type of policy, so you’ll have to … more

NEW TECH: A better way to secure agile software — integrate app scanning, pen testing into WAF

By Byron V. Acohido

The amazing array of digital services we so blithely access on our smartphones wouldn’t exist without agile software development.

Related: ‘Business logic’ hacks on the rise

Consider that we began this century relying on the legacy “waterfall” software development process. This method required a linear plan, moving in one direction, that culminated in a beta deliverable by a hard and fast deadline. To set this deadline required a long, often tortured planning cycle. And this invariably led to the delivery of a bug-ridden version 1.0, if not outright project failure.

By contrast, the agile approach, aka DevOps, thrives on uncertainty. DevOps expects changes as part of being responsive to end users. Agile software development is all about failing fast — discovering flaws quickly and making changes on the fly. Agile has given us Netflix, Twitter, Uber, TikTok and much more.

Of course the flip side is that all of this speed and agility has opened up endless fresh attack vectors – particularly at the web application layer of digital commerce. “The heart of any business is its applications,” says Venky Sundar, founder and chief marketing officer of Indusface. “And application-level attacks have come to represent the easiest target available to hackers.”

Based in Bengalura, India, Indusface helps its customers defend their applications with a portfolio of services that work in concert with its flagship web application firewall (WAF,) a technology that has been around for about 15 years. WAFs have become a table stakes; any company with a public-facing website should by now have a WAF. Fundamentally, WAFs monitor all of the  HTTP traffic hitting a company’s web servers and block known malicious traffic, such as the threats listed in the OWASP Top 10 application level attacks

A few of the big-name vendors in the WAF space include Imperva, Cloudflare, Akamai and Barracuda and even Amazon Web Services offers a WAF. Indusface has differentiated itself by … more

MY TAKE: Even Google CEO Sundar Pichai agrees that it is imperative to embed ethics into AI

By Byron V. Acohido

It took a global pandemic and the death of George Floyd to put deep-seated social inequities, especially systemic racism, front and center for intense public debate.

Related: Will ‘blockchain’ lead to more equitable wealth distribution?

We may or may not be on the cusp of a redressing social injustice by reordering our legacy political and economic systems. Only time will tell. Either way, a singular piece of technology – artificial intelligence (AI) — is destined to profoundly influence which way we go from here.

This is not just my casual observation. Those in power fully recognize how AI can be leveraged to preserve status-quo political and economic systems, with all of its built-in flaws, more or less intact.

Conversely, consumer advocates and diversity experts can see how AI could be utilized to redistribute political power more equitably, and in doing so, recalibrate society – including blunting systemic racism.

In late January, as COVID-19 was beginning to spread, the most powerful people on the planet flew to Davos, Switzerland to attend the 50th annual World Economic Forum. AI was prominent on their agenda. These heads of state and captains of industry even coined a buzz phrase, “stakeholder capitalism,” to acknowledge the need to take into account the interests of the economically disadvantaged and politically powerless citizens of the world as they bull ahead with commercial and political uses of AI.“AI is one of the most profound things we’re working on as humanity,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent holding company, told Bloomberg News in Davos. “It’s more profound than fire or electricity.”

Q&A: Sophos poll shows how attackers are taking advantage of cloud migration to wreak havoc

By Byron V. Acohido

Cloud migration, obviously, is here to stay.

Related: Threat actors add ‘human touch’ to hacks

To be sure, enterprises continue to rely heavily on their legacy, on-premises datacenters. But there’s no doubt that the exodus to a much greater dependency on hybrid cloud and multi-cloud resources – Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platforms-as-a-Service (PaaS) – is in full swing.

Now comes an extensive global survey from Sophos, a leader in next generation cybersecurity, that vividly illustrates how cybercriminals are taking full advantage. For its State of Cloud Security 2020 survey, Sophos commissioned the polling of some 3,500 IT managers across 26 countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa. The respondents were from organizations that currently host data and workloads in the public cloud.

Sophos found that fully 70% of organizations experienced a public cloud security incident in the last year. Furthermore, 50% encountered ransomware and other malware; 29% reported incidents of data getting exposed; 25% had accounts compromised; and 17% dealt with incidents of crypto-jacking. The poll also showed that organizations running multi-cloud environments were 50% more likely to suffer a cloud security incident than those running a single cloud.

Those findings were eye-opening, yes. But they were not at all surprising. Digital commerce from day one has revolved around companies bulling forward to take full advantage of wondrous decentralized, anonymous characteristics of the Internet, which began a military-academic experiment.