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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 and command line interfaces (CLIs) to a wide variety of low-hanging fruit stored in S3 buckets with valuable data. (more…)

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GUEST ESSAY: Data poverty is driving the growth of cybercrime – here’s how to reverse the trend

By Robert Panasiuk

Data poverty is real and it’s coming for your user accounts.

Related: Credential stuffing soars due to Covid-19

The current state of data in cybersecurity is a tale of The Haves and The Have-WAY-mores. All tech companies have data, of course, but the only data that’s truly valuable and provides insights—actionable data—isn’t as universal as it should be.

This “data poverty,” or dearth of actionable insights, is a problem for companies across many verticals. Cybersecurity should not be one of them. The sentinels working to prevent the next SolarWinds breach need all the Grade-A data they can get, and fast. Data democratization, on a privacy-compliant basis, is the only way they’ll get it.

The simple truth is that no cybersecurity company can compete with the data stacks of the FAAMG behemoths, which is why cybercrime is seeing a 63 percent boost over the past year.

It’s time to take steps to democratize data and fortunately there are examples of what this looks like in other industries that show how competing security outfits can link arms and still remain competitive.

Why can’t we be friends?

“Coopetition”—competing companies working together and sharing information—is not uncommon across other industries. Casinos trade intel on card counters. E-tailers partner with physical stores to increase their brick-and-mortar presence. Rival software companies exchanging data can involve more red tape, but fundamentally the information they share achieves the same goals: making more money and ensuring their customers receive the best possible service.

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: A full checklist on how to spot pharming attacks — and avoid becoming a victim

By Peter Baltazar

Cybercriminals use various techniques for conducting cyberattacks. One such popular way to infiltrate a system is Pharming. It is an online scam attack quite similar to Phishing.

Related: Credential stuffing explained

The term Pharming is a combination of two words Phishing and Farming. It is a type of social engineering cyberattack in which the website’s traffic is manipulated to steal confidential credentials from the users. Cybercriminals design a fake website, basically the clone of an official one, and use various means to redirect users to the phony webpage when visiting any other legit site.

Primarily the Pharming attack is planned to gain sensitive data like login credentials, personally identifiable information (PII), social security numbers, bank details, and more. The attackers can also use it for installing malware programs on the victim’s system.

Pharming vs phishing

Though Pharming and Phishing share almost similar goals, the approach to conduct Pharming is entirely different from Phishing. Unlike Phishing, Pharming is more focused on sabotaging the system rather than manipulating the victims. However, we will later know how Phishing plays a vital role in conducting Pharming.

The Pharming attacks are carried out by modifying the settings on the victim’s system or compromising the DNS server. Manipulating the Domain Name Service (DNS) protocol and rerouting the victim from its intended web address to the fake web address can be done in the following two ways:

•Changing the Local Host file. In this method of manipulating DNS, the attackers infiltrate the victim’s device and change the local host file. A local host file is a directory of IP addresses. The modified local host file would redirect users to the fake website whenever they try to open the legit site the next time. The phony website is designed similar to the one victims intended to visit so that the users are not alarmed.

To modify the local host file, the attacker primarily uses the Phishing technique so … more

ROUNDTABLE: Experts react to DHS assigning TSA to keep track of cyber attacks on pipelines

By Byron V. Acohido

The same federal agency that makes you take your shoes off and examines your belongings before boarding a flight will begin monitoring cyber incidents at pipeline companies.

Related: DHS begins 60-day cybersecurity sprints

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday issued a directive requiring all pipeline companies to report cyber incidents to DHS’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA.)

This, of course, follows a devastating ransomware attack that resulted in a shutdown of Colonial Pipeline.

It can be argued that this is one small step toward the true level of federal oversight needed to protect critical infrastructure in modern times. I covered the aviation industry in the 1980s and 1990s when safety regulations proved their value by compelling aircraft manufacturers and air carriers to comply with certain standards, at a time when aircraft fleets were aging and new fly-by-wire technology introduced complex risks.

We’re a long way from having regulatory frameworks for data privacy and network security needed for critical infrastructure — akin to what we have to keep aviation and ground transportation safe and secure. However, the trajectory of ransomware attacks, supply chain corruption, denial of service attacks and cyber espionage is undeniable.

It seems clear we’re going to need more regulations to help guide the private sector into doing the right things. The discussion is just getting started, as you can see by this roundtable of comments from industry experts:

Edgard Capdevielle, CEO, Nozomi Networks

Most critical infrastructure sectors don’t have mandatory cyber standards, and until now that included oil and gas. The requirement for mandatory breach reporting will help shine a light on the extent of the problem in this sector.  Cybersecurity is a team sport.

GUEST ESSAY: ‘World password day’ reminds us to embrace password security best practices

By Chad Cragle

We celebrated World Password Day on May 6, 2021.

Related: Credential stuffing fuels account takeovers

Did you know that this unconventional celebration got its start in 2013, and that it’s now an official holiday on the annual calendar? Every year, the first Thursday in May serves as a reminder for us to take control of our personal password strategies.

Passwords are now an expected and typical part of our data-driven online lives. In today’s digital culture, it’s not unusual to need a password for everything—from accessing your smartphone, to signing into your remote workspace, to checking your bank statements, and more. We’ve all grown used to entering passwords dozens of times per day, and because of this, we often take passwords for granted and forget how crucial they are.

With that in mind, what steps can you take to ensure that your personal data is protected at all times? As a data-driven, security-focused company, we’ve rounded up our top tips inspired by World Password Day to help you improve your password game.

Password overhaul

We know… just the mere thought of coming up with (and remembering) yet another new password is daunting. The average person has about 100 different passwords for the various tools, apps, websites, and online services they use on a regular basis. With so many passwords to keep track of, those familiar “Update Password” prompts tend to get bothersome.

But, unfortunately, we live in a world of constant hacking attempts and security breaches. While changing passwords may be inconvenient at times, following this password best practice can help prevent the following data catastrophes:

Last Watchdog podcast: Unwrapping ‘resilience’ guidance discussed at RSA Conference 2021

By Byron V. Acohido

Resilience was the theme of RSA Conference 2021 which took place virtually last week.

Related: Web attacks spike 62 percent in 2020

I’ve been covering this cybersecurity gathering since 2004 and each year cybersecurity materially advances. By the same token, the difficulties of defending modern IT systems has redoubled as organizations try to balance security and productivity.

The outside pressures are indeed as daunting as ever. Migration to cloud infrastructure is accelerating; reliance on wide-open, modular software development is deepening; and the shortage of skilled security analysts is wider than ever. Meanwhile, deep, damaging network breaches persist, affecting companies of all sizes and in all industries.

I visited with Bruce Snell and Setu Kulkarni from NTT Security to discuss this.

Snell is vice president of security strategy; his resume includes a stint as McAfee’s cybersecurity and privacy director.

And Kulkarni joined NTT Security last fall as vice president of corporate strategy, coming over with NTT’s acquisition of WhiteHat Security, where he was VP, Corporate Strategy & Business Development (Editor’s note: an earlier version misstated this title.) For a lively debrief of RSA Conference 2021, please give the accompanying podcast a listen.

 

Acohido

Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.