Home Podcasts Videos Guest Posts Q&A My Take Bio Contact
 

SHARED INTEL: How NTA/NDR systems get to ‘ground truth’ of cyber attacks, unauthorized traffic

By Byron V. Acohido

The digital footprints of U.S. consumers’ have long been up for grabs. No one stops the tech giants, media conglomerates and online advertisers from intensively monetizing consumers’ online behaviors, largely without meaningful disclosure.

Related: The state of ransomware

Who knew that much the same thing routinely happens to enterprises? A recent report by network detection and response vendor ExtraHop details how third-party security and analytics tools routinely “phone home” in order to exfiltrate network behavior data back to their home base, without explicitly asking permission.

It’s tempting to chalk this up to competitive frenzy – a simple case of third-party suppliers seeking whatever edge they can get away with. But there is a larger lesson here. ExtraHop’s finding vividly shows how, as digital transformation ramps up, companies really have no clue what moves back and forth, nor in and out, of their networks on a daily basis.

In one case, ExtraHop tracked a made-in-China surveillance cam sending UDP traffic logs, every 30 minutes, to a known malicious IP address with ties to China. It appears the cam in question was unwittingly set up by an employee for personal security reasons.

In another case, a device management tool was deployed in a hospital and used the WiFi network to insure data privacy, as it provisioned connected devices. But ExtraHop noticed that the tool also opening encrypted connections to vendor-owned cloud storage, a major HIPAA violation.

Getting to ground truth

I had a chance to discuss the wider implication of these findings with Raja Mukerji, co-founder and chief customer officer at ExtraHop. We met at Black Hat 2019. Mukerji and fellow co-founder Jesse Rothstein, ExtraHop’s chief technology officer, were colleagues at Seattle-based network switching systems supplier F5 Networks.

Launched in Seattle in 2007, ExtraHop set out to help companies gain an actionable understanding of their IT environments. Since then it has raised $61.6 million in VC backing, grown to more than 450 employees and now finds itself in the thick of a hot emerging cybersecurity space, Network Traffic Analysis (NTA,) as so declared by tech industry consultancy Gartner. ExtraHop refers to what it does as Network Detection and Response (NDR.) (more…)

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

MY TAKE: Peerlyst shares infosec intel; recognizes Last Watchdog as a top cybersecurity influencer

By Byron V. Acohido

Sharing intelligence for the greater good is an essential component of making Internet-centric commerce as safe and as private as it needs to be.

Related: Automating threat feed analysis

Peerlyst is another step in that direction. Started by infosec professionals, Peerlyst takes the characteristics of B2B communications we’ve become accustomed to on Twitter and LinkedIn and directs it toward cybersecurity.

By signing up for Peerlyst, company decision makers focused on mitigating cyber risks, as well as vendor experts, academics and independent researchers, are provided with a personalized feed of content based on specific interests, as well as the topics and people you follow.

One fresh resource issued this week is a new eBook: 52 Influential Cyber Security Bloggers and Speakers, a …more

MY TAKE: What everyone should know about the promise and pitfalls of the Internet of Things

By Byron V. Acohido

The city of Portland, Ore. has set out to fully leverage the Internet of Things and emerge as a model “smart” city.

Related: Coming soon – driverless cars

Portland recently shelled out $1 million to launch its Traffic Sensor Safety Project, which tracks cyclists as they traverse the Rose City’s innumerable bike paths. That’s just step one of a grand plan to closely study – and proactively manage – traffic behaviors of cyclists, vehicles, pedestrians and joggers. This is all in pursuit of the high-minded goal of eliminating all accidents that result in death or serious injury.

Portland is shooting high, and it is by no means alone. Companies in utilities, transportation and manufacturing sectors are moving forward with the …more

MY TAKE: A primer on how ransomware arose to the become an enduring scourge

By Byron V. Acohido

“All we know is MONEY! Hurry up! Tik Tak, Tik Tak, Tik Tak!”

This is an excerpt from a chilling ransom note Baltimore IT officials received from hackers who managed to lock up most of the city’s servers in May. The attackers demanded $76,000, paid in Bitcoin, for a decryption key. Baltimore refused to pay – choosing, instead, to absorb an estimated $18 million in recovery costs.

Related:  ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’ happens every day

Some 15 months earlier, in March 2018, Atlanta was hit by a similar assault, and likewise refused to pay a $51,000 ransom, eating $17 million in damage.

Stunning as these two high-profile attacks were, they do not begin to convey the full scope of what a pervasive and destructive phenomenon ransomware has become – to individuals, to companies of all sizes and, lately, to poorly defended local agencies.

Probing and plundering

Ransomware is highly resilient and flexible. Its core attraction for criminals is that it is about as direct a channel to illicitly-garnered cash as any conman could dream up – few middlemen required.

From a high level, ransomware is essentially an open platform that operates on market principles, around which a thriving ecosystem of suppliers and specialists has taken shape. This has opened the door for newbie purveyors, with modest technical skill, to enter the field, giving these novices easy and cheap access to powerful turnkey tools and services. Meanwhile, the advanced hacking collectives invest in innovation and press forward. The net result is a continuation of proven styles of ransomware attacks, as well as constant probing for vulnerable pockets and plundering along fresh pathways.

According to the FBI, the absolute number of daily ransomware attacks actually dipped slightly last year. However, that’s more a function of hackers targeting individuals less, and companies and governments more. And as highlighted by the assaults on Baltimore and Atlanta, municipalities are among the hottest targets of the moment. A survey of local media reports by Recorded Future tallied 38 ransomware attacks against cities in 2017, rising to 53 attacks in 2018. In the first four months of 2019 alone, some 22 attacks have been disclosed.

…more

ROUNDTABLE: Huge Capital One breach shows too little is being done to preserve data privacy

By Byron V. Acohido

Company officials at Capital One Financial Corp ought to have a crystal clear idea of what to expect next — after admitting to have allowed a gargantuan data breach.

Capital One’s mea culpa coincided with the FBI’s early morning raid of a Seattle residence to arrest Paige Thompson. Authorities charged the 33-year-old former Amazon software engineer with masterminding the hack.

Related: Hackers direct botnets to manipulate business logic

Thompson is accused of pilfering sensitive data for 100 million US and 6 million Canadian bank patrons. That includes social security and social insurance numbers, bank account numbers, phone numbers, birth dates, email addresses and self-reported income; in short, just about everything on an identity thief’s wish list.

Just a few days before Capital One’s disclosure,  Equifax rather quietly agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle consumer claims and federal and state investigations into its 2017 data breach that compromised sensitive information of more than 145 million American consumers. Also very recently,  the Federal Trade Commission slammed Facebook with a record $5 billion fine for losing control over massive troves of personal data and mishandling its communications with users.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long (less than 24 hours) for Keven Zosiak, a Stamford, Connecticut resident and Capital One credit card holder, to file a lawsuit  against Capital One for its failure to protect sensitive customer data. Many more lawsuits, as well as federal probes and Congressional hearings, are sure to follow.

Oh, and let’s not forget how Equifax summarily canned five top execs, including Equifax CEO Richard Smith, in the aftermath of its big breach. Not even doing this YouTube video apology was enough to save Smith his job.  It’s going to be interesting to see who Capital One’s board of directors designates to throw under the bus on this one.

Larger lessons

Arguably the most fascinating twist to the Capital One caper is the FBI’s rather quick arrest of Paige Thompson. Arrests in network breaches are rare, indeed. For instance, we know a lot of details about the Equifax breach, thanks to a GAO investigation and report. But no suspects have ever been publicly named.

What’s more, the usual suspects in high-profile breaches – i.e. professional Russian, Eastern European, Chinese and North Korean hacking collectives – appear to be out of the loop with respect to this particular caper. The Capital One breach, it seems to me, vividly highlights the depth and breadth of the Internet underground. Anyone with technical aptitude, diligence and a lack of scruples, such as an out-of-work IT staffer, can engage in criminal activity at a fairly high level. …more

NEW TECH: A couple of tools that deserve wide use — to preserve the integrity of U.S. elections

By Byron V. Acohido

As the presidential debate season ramps up, the specter of nation-state sponsored hackers wreaking havoc, once more, with U.S. elections, looms all too large.

It’s easy to get discouraged by developments such as  Sen. McConnell recently blocking a bi-partisan bill to fund better election security, as well as the disclosure that his wife, Transportation Security Elaine Chao, has accepted money from voting machine lobbyists.

Related: Why not train employees as phishing cops?

That’s why I was so encouraged to learn about two new tools that empower individual candidates – and local election officials – to take proactive steps to make election tampering much more difficult to successfully pull off. In the current geo-political environment, every forthright step can make a huge difference.

First, there’s a tool called the Rapid Cyber Risk Scorecard. NormShield, the Vienna, VA-based, cybersecurity firm that supplies this service, recently ran scores for all of the 26 declared presidential candidates —  and found the average cyber risk score to be B+.

What this tells me is that the presidential candidates, at least, actually appear to be heeding lessons learned from the hacking John Podesta’s email account – and all of the havoc Russia was able to foment in our 2016 elections. NormShield found that all of the 2020 presidential hopefuls, thus far,  are making sure their campaigns are current on software patching, as well as Domain Name System (DNS) security; and several are doing much more.

My takeaway: other candidates can use this scorecard, which runs assessments of 10 cyber risk categories, as a starting point to harden their campaigns.

Another such service that can do a ton of good was announced last week by Global Cyber Alliance (GCA), in partnership with Craig Newmark Philanthropies and the Center for Internet Security. It’s a free cybersecurity toolkit for elections that gives local election authorities actionable guidance on how to mitigate the most common risks to trustworthy elections.

…more

MY TAKE: CASBs help companies meet ‘shared responsibility’ for complex, rising cloud risks

By Byron V. Acohido

Cloud Access Security Brokers – aka “caz-bees” — have come a long way in a short time.

CASBs, a term coined by tech industry consultancy Gartner, first cropped about seven years ago to help organizations enforce security and governance policies as they commenced, in earnest, their march into the cloud.

Related: Implications of huge Capital One breach

CASBs supplied a comprehensive set of tools to monitor and manage the multitude of fresh cyber risks spinning out of the rise in in corporate reliance on cloud services. In doing so, CASBs became the fastest growing security category ever, as declared by Gartner. Yet, somehow, catastrophic cloud breaches continued to occur, ala Capital One recently losing 100 million customer records kept in its Amazon Web Services S3 data storage buckets.

I had the chance to speak with Mahesh Rachakonda, vice president of products and solution engineering at CipherCloud, a San Jose, CA-based CASB, about this. We met at Black Hat 2019 and had a wide ranging discussion about the complex challenges companies face meeting their end of the security burden, while using cloud services. For a drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Fresh attack tiers

CASBs innovated like crazy to make it OK for enterprises to steadily move more and more of their on-premises operations onto a cloud service. Leading-edge CASB systems gave companies granular visibility and control over infrastructure (IaaS,) platform (PaaS) and software applications (SaaS) supplied by a cloud services vendor.

Still, the added complexities of cloud migration translated into fresh tiers of wide-open attack vectors. It turned out that moving traditional on-premises systems for HR, IT services, management, finance, accounting, ERP and CRM onto a cloud service run by a third party – made it much more difficult to implement a unified enforcement policy, Rachakonda says. …more

SHARED INTEL: What it takes to preserve business continuity, recover quickly from a cyber disaster

By Byron V. Acohido

To pay or not to pay? That’s the dilemma hundreds of organizations caught in the continuing surge of crippling ransomware attacks have faced.

Related: How ransomware became such a scourge

The FBI discourages it, as you might have guessed. What’s more, the U.S. Conference of Mayors this summer even passed a resolution declaring paying hackers for a decryption key anathema.

Yet there are valid arguments for what scores of municipalities and businesses caught with their networks frozen by extortionist hackers have been compelled to do: pay the ransom demand. Tech industry consultancy Forrester has even seen fit to issue guidance to help companies figure out whether paying the ransom demand might actually be their best option.

That pay or not to pay debate aside, there’s a more central question raised by the ransomware plague. Company decision makers need to be asking themselves this: just how good is their organization’s business continuity and disaster recovery preparedness?

This issue is in Mickey Bresman’s wheelhouse. Bresman is co-founder and CEO of Semperis, an identity-driven cyber resilience company based in the new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Semperis helps companies running Microsoft Windows-based networks preserve and protect Active Directory, or AD.

AD is the administrative software that directs access to servers and applications across the breadth of Windows in tens of thousands of companies and agencies. As such it variably gets caught in the crossfire of ransomware strikes. It’s here that Semperis is helping companies build resiliency. I had the chance to visit with Bresman at Black Hat 2019. For a full drill down, please give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

An attack scenario

Due to the ubiquitous use of Windows networks, Active Directory functions as the keys to the kingdom all across enterprise networks — in 90 percent of organizations. Hackers recognize this and so AD has become a favorite target. Here’s a scenario for how AD is factoring into ransomware attacks: …more

NEW TECH: Human operatives maintain personas, prowl the Dark Net for intel to help companies

By Byron V. Acohido

It seems like any discussion of cybersecurity these days invariably circles back to automation.

Our growing fixation with leveraging artificial intelligence to extract profits from Big Data – for both constructive and criminal ends—is the order of the day.

Related: Why Cyber Pearl Harbor is upon us

Vigilante is a cybersecurity startup that cuts against that grain. With an operational launch in October, Vigilante is the spin-off of an elite intelligence unit of InfoArmor, the identity monitoring technology supplier that was acquired by Allstate late last year.

At its core, Vigilante is comprised of operative teams who’ve spent years deeply-embedded in the virtual threat space, nurturing their dark net personas and proactively gathering intelligence on behalf of specific clients.

“We go out into the criminal space, on our clients’ behalf, to gather threat intelligence and put it into useful context,” Adam Darrah, Vigilante’s director of intelligence, told me. “This gives our clients an advantage in their security decision making.”

I met with Darrah at Black Hat 2019. We had a fascinating discussion about the distinctive services Vigilante will now seek to make more widely available on a commercial basis. For a full drill down, please give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Fresh feeds

Threat intelligence feeds gathered from automated defenses, such as next-gen firewalls and SIEMs, make up the vast majority of information companies have in hand depicting the activity of threat actors. In order to better defend their networks, companies struggle on a daily basis with the massive challenge of ingesting and extracting actionable insights from a fire hose.

Vigilante directs a team of operatives who serve, in effect, as intelligence gathering agents on patrol on the ground floor of the cyber underground. “We operate exclusively outside of our clients’ networks,” Darrah told me. “We don’t touch their networks. …more

MY TAKE: The case for assessing, quantifying risks as the first step to defending network breaches

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s clear that managed security services providers (MSSPs) have a ripe opportunity to step into the gap and help small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) meet the daunting challenge of preserving the privacy and security of sensitive data.

Related: The case for automated threat feeds analysis

Dallas-based Critical Start is making some hay in this space — by striving to extend the roles traditionally played by MSSPs. The company has coined the phrase managed detection and response, or MDR, to more precisely convey the type of help it brings to the table.

I had the chance to meet with Randy Watkins, Critical Start’s chief technology officer at Black Hat USA 2019. Since its launch in 2012, the company has operated profitably, attracting customers mainly in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas and growing to 131 employees.

With a recent $40 million Series A equity stake from Bregal Sagemount, and fresh partnerships cemented with tech heavyweights Microsoft, Google Chronicle and Palo Alto Networks, among others, Critical Start is on a very promising trajectory. It wants to grow nationally and globally, of course.

Even more ambitiously, the company wants to lead the way in pivoting network security back to a risk-oriented approach, instead of what Watkins opines that it has all too often become: a march toward meeting controls-based checklists. We had a fascinating discussion about this. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and length:

LW:  What’s the difference between taking a ‘risk-oriented’ versus a ‘controlled-based’ approach to security?

Watkins: Security really is the art of handling risk. We used to enumerate the risks that exist inside of an organization, try to assign a value to the impact it would have, if that risk was exploited. And then we’d assign either mitigation or acceptance or transference of the risk, based on potential impact and the probability that it would happen. …more

SHARED INTEL: Threat actors add a human touch to boost effectiveness of automated attacks

By Byron V. Acohido

Trends in fashion and entertainment come and go. The same holds true for the cyber underground.

Related: Leveraging botnets to scale attacks

For a long while now, criminal hackers have relied on leveraging low-cost botnet services to blast out cyber attacks as far and wide as they could, indiscriminately. Over the past 18 months or so, a fresh trend has come into vogue. It essentially involves applying hands-on human cleverness to the task of extracting highest value from assets gained in the automated sweeps.

British antimalware and network security vendor Sophos refers to this new tactic as “automated, active attacks.” Sophos Senior Security Advisor John Shier broke it down for me. We met at Black Hat 2019. For a full drill down, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

Human touch

It has long been common practice to use botnets to blast out wave after wave of e-mails carrying tainted PDFs or Word docs, or a web link pointing to a booby-trapped page – and seeing who would bite. Lately, progressive criminal rings are taking a page out of the playbook of nation-state sponsored APT strikes — by adding more human nuances to their attacks.

“They may discover their targets through some sort of automated technique, which gets them a toehold into the company, or they might just simply go to Shodan (search engine) to discover open, available RDP hosts,” Shier told me. “Once they’re in the front door, now the humans get involved.”

Related: How ransomware became a scourge

Specialists get assigned to poke around, locate key servers and find stealthy paths to send in more malware. They’ll take more manual steps to encrypt servers, exfiltrate data – or do both.

“Cyber criminals are getting into the environment, elevating privileges as much as they can and moving laterally to other segments of the network,” Shier says. “And then, instead of encrypting one or two or ten machines, they’ll encrypt everything.”

The wave of catastrophic ransomware attacks that wrought tens of millions in recovery costs for the cities of Baltimore and Atlanta and prompted numerous small cities to pay six figure ransoms for decryption keys is a prime example of this, Shier says. …more