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GUEST ESSAY: Why the next round of cyber attacks could put many SMBs out of business

By Steve Akridge

In the last year, the news media has been full of stories about vicious cyber breaches on municipal governments.  From Atlanta to Baltimore to school districts in Louisiana, cyber criminals have launched a wave of ransomware attacks on governments across the country.

Related: SMBs struggle to mitigate cyber attacks

As city governments struggle to recover access to their data, hackers are already turning their sites on their next targets: small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

A 2018 study by the Ponemon Institute showed that 67 percent of SMBs experienced a cyber attack. Even worse, according to Ponemon, 47 percent of SMBs said they have no understanding of how to protect their companies from cyberattacks.

Most small and medium-sized organizations are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks because they usually don’t have a sufficiently strong information technology infrastructure, limited internal staff, or can’t afford to external consultants to handle data security.

When you realize that 54 percent of organizations that suffer an attack spend about $500,000 to restore their systems and 62 percent of SMBs close their doors after an attack, the damage to the economy becomes very apparent.

New SMB security solution

Unfortunately, most cybersecurity firms focus their attention on large organizations and corporations that can afford to pay their fees – leaving SMBs even more vulnerable to potential cyber criminals. While large corporations can get cyber security insurance and engage legions of consultants, the question is: …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

MY TAKE: How state-backed cyber ops have placed the world in a constant-state ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’

By Byron V. Acohido

Cyber espionage turned a corner this spring when Israeli fighter jets eradicated a building in the Gaza Strip believed to house Hamas cyber operatives carrying out attacks on Israel’s digital systems.

Related: The Golden Age of cyber spying is upon us.

That May 10th  air strike by the Israel Defense Force marked the first use of military force in direct retaliation for cyber spying. This development underscores that we’re in the midst of a new age of cyber espionage.

This comes as no surprise to anyone in the military or intelligence communities. State-sponsored cyber operations have been an integral part of global affairs for decades. And, in fact, cyber ops tradecraft has advanced in sophistication in lock step with our deepening reliance on the commercial Internet.

Here are a few things everyone should know about the current state of government-backed cyber ops.

Russia’s tradecraft

A lot of dots have been connected recently with respect to Russia’s cyber spying, initially thanks to Barack Obama’s leveling of sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Among more than two dozen Russians named as co-conspirators by the Obama sanctions were a pair of notorious cyber robbers, Evgeniy Bogachev of Russia and Alexsey Belan of Latvia.

At the time, both were well-known to the FBI as profit-motivated cyber thieves of the highest skill level. Bogachev led a band of criminals that used the Gamover Zeus banking Trojan to steal more than $100 million from banks and businesses worldwide. Then somewhere along the way, Bogachev commenced moonlighting as a cyber spy for the Russian government.

The Obama sanctions helped security analysts and the FBI piece together how Bogachev, around 2010, began running unusual searches on well-placed PCs he controlled, via Gameover Zeus infections. Bogachev’s searches explicitly sought out intelligence of direct strategic benefit to Russia – just prior to Russia making adversarial moves in the Republic of Georgia, the Ukraine and Turkey, respectively.

Meanwhile, details of Alexsey Belan’s Russian-backed escapades came to light in March 2017 when the FBI indicted Belan and three co-conspirators in connection with hacking Yahoo to pilfer more than 500 million email addresses and gain deep access to more than 30 million Yahoo accounts.

The Obama sanctions ultimately linked both Bogachev and Belan to the hack of the Democratic National Committee and several other organizations at the center of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The pair were not the first private-sector cybercriminals recruited to serve as Russian assets, and very likely won’t be the last, said Bryson Bort, CEO of security company SCYTHE, a supplier of attack simulation systems.

“Russia explicitly recruits folks already engaged in criminal activities, and once recruited, they are contracted and connected to military organizations for direction and oversight,” Bort told me. “Those activities have criminal end-goals of corporate espionage and theft, but to be clear, they are government-directed.”

Both Bogachev and Belan remain on the FBI’s most wanted cybercriminals list: Bogachev with a $3 million bounty and Belan with a $100,000 bounty. The assumption is that they both reside in Russia under the protection of the Russian government.

“We have not effectively deterred Russia, as a nation, from executing these operations,” Bort said. “So we can expect them to continue to recruit criminal hackers, grow their capabilities, and continue to use them.”

China’s tradecraft

It’s fully expected that Russia’s cyber spying will continue to revolve around spreading propaganda and influencing elections, as well as maneuvering for footholds, in critical infrastructure and financial systems, in order to put Russia into an improved position from which to manipulate global politics of the moment.

By contrast China takes a long view, as explicitly outlined in its Made in China 2025 manifesto. China has been taking methodical steps to transform itself from the source of low-end manufactured goods to the premier supplier of high-end products and services.

…more

NEW TECH: Early adopters find smart ‘Zero Trust’ access improves security without stifling innovation

By Byron V. Acohido

As we approach the close of the second decade of the 21st century, it’s stunning, though perhaps not terribly surprising, that abused logon credentials continue to fuel the never-ending escalation of cyber attacks.

Related: Third-party risks exacerbated by the ‘gig economy’

Dare we anticipate a slowing — and ultimately the reversal – of this trend? Yes, I believe that’s now in order.

I say this because tools that give companies the wherewithal to make granular decisions about any specific access request – and more importantly, to react in just the right measure — are starting to gain notable traction.

For the past four years or so, leading security vendors have been championing the so-called Zero Trust approach to network architectures. All of this evangelizing of a “never trust, always verify” posture has incrementally gained converts among early-adopter enterprises.

PortSys is a US-based supplier of advanced identity and access management (IAM) systems and has been a vocal proponent of Zero Trust.  I recently had the chance to visit with PortSys CEO Michael Oldham, and came away with a better grasp of how Zero Trust is playing out in the marketplace.

He also reinforced a notion espoused by other security vendors I’ve interviewed that Zero Trust is well on its way to being a game changer. Key takeaways from our discussion:

Entrenched challenges

It takes a cascade of logons to interconnect the on-premises and cloud-based systems that enterprises rely on to deliver digital commerce as we’ve come to know and love it. And it remains true that each digital handshake is prone to being maliciously manipulated by a threat actor, be it a criminal in possession of stolen credentials or a disgruntled insider with authorized access.

To be sure, advances have come along in IAM technologies over the past two decades. Yet, high-profile breaches persist. Some 78% of networks were breached in 2018, based on CyberEdge’s poll of IT pros in 17 countries. What’s more, an IBM/Ponemon study pegs the global average cost of a data breach at $3.86 million, and predicts a 28 percent likelihood of a victimized organization sustaining a recurring breach in the next two years.

This has to do with entrenched investments in legacy security systems, such as traditional firewalls and malware detection systems that were originally designed to protect on-premise systems. As remote access, mobile devices and cloud computing …more

MY TAKE: Let’s not lose sight of why Iran is pushing back with military, cyber strikes

By Byron V. Acohido

It is not often that I hear details about the cyber ops capabilities of the USA or UK discussed at the cybersecurity conferences I attend.

Related: We’re in the golden age of cyber spying

Despite the hush-hush nature of Western cyber ops, it is axiomatic in technology and intelligence circles that the USA and UK possess deep hacking and digital spying expertise – capabilities which we regularly deploy to optimize our respective positions in global affairs.

Last week, President Trump took an unheard of step: he flexed American cyber ops muscle out in the open. An offensive cyber strike by the U.S. reportedly knocked out computing systems controlling Iranian rocket and missile launchers, thus arresting global attention for several news cycles.

“The digital strike against Iran is a great example of using USCYBERCOM   as a special ops force, clearly projecting US power by going deep behind enemy lines to knock out the adversary’s intelligence and command-and-control apparatus,” observes Phil Neray, VP of Industrial Cybersecurity for CyberX, a Boston-based supplier of IoT and industrial control system security technologies.

Some context is in order. Trump’s cyber strike against Iran is the latest development in tensions that began in May 2018, when Trump scuttled the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which was the result of 10 years of negotiation between Iran and the United Nations Security Council. The 2015 Iran accord, agreed to by President Obama, set limits on Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.

For his own reasons, Trump declared the 2015 Iran accord the “worst deal ever,” and has spent the past year steadily escalating tensions with Iran, for instance, by unilaterally imposing multiple rounds of fresh sanctions.

Iran pushes back

This, of course, has pushed Iran into a corner, and forced Iran to push back. It’s important to keep in mind that Iran, as well as Europe and the U.S., were meeting the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, prior to Trump scuttling the deal.  Let’s not forget that a  hard-won stability was in place, prior to Trump choosing to stir the pot.

Today, Iran is scrambling for support from whatever quarter it can get it. It’s moves, wise or unwise, are quite clearly are calculated to compel European nations to weigh in on its behalf. However, many of Iran’s chess moves have also translated into fodder for Trump to stir animosity against Iran. …more

MY TAKE: Why locking down ‘firmware’ has now become the next big cybersecurity challenge

By Byron V. Acohido

Locking down firmware. This is fast becoming a profound new security challenge for all companies – one that can’t be pushed to a side burner.

Related: The rise of ‘memory attacks’

I’m making this assertion as federal authorities have just commenced steps to remove and replace switching gear supplied, on the cheap, to smaller U.S. telecoms by Chinese tech giant  Huawei. These are the carriers that provide Internet access to rural areas all across America.

Starks

Federal Communications Commission member Geoffrey Starks recently alluded to the possibility that China may have secretly coded the firmware in Huawei’s equipment to support cyber espionage and cyber infrastructure attacks.

This isn’t an outlier exposure, by any means. Firmware is the coding that’s embedded below the software layer on all computing devices, ranging from printers to hard drives and motherboards to routers and switches. Firmware carries out the low-level input/output tasks, without which the hardware would be inoperable.

However, the security of firmware has been largely overlooked over the past two decades. It has only been in the past four years or so that white hat researchers and black hat hackers have gravitated over to this unguarded terrain – and begun making hay.

I recently had the chance to discuss this with John Loucaides, vice-president of engineering at Eclypsium, a Beaverton, OR-based security startup that is introducing technology to scan for firmware vulnerabilities. Here are the big takeaways:

Bypassing protection

Firmware exposures are in the early phases of an all too familiar cycle. Remember when, over the course of the 2000s and 2010s, the cybersecurity industry innovated like crazy to address software flaws in operating systems and business applications? Vulnerability research took on a life of its own.

As threat actors wreaked havoc, companies strove to ingrain security into code writing, and make it incrementally harder to exploit flaws that inevitably surfaced in a vast threat landscape. Then, much the same cycle unfolded as virtual computing came along and became popular; and then the cycle repeated itself, yet again, as web browsers took center stage in digital commerce. …more

GUEST ESSAY: The story behind how DataTribe is helping to seed ‘Cybersecurity Valley’ in Maryland

By Steve Kaufman

There’s oil in the state of Maryland – “cyber oil.”

With the largest concentration of cybersecurity expertise –– the “oil” — in the world, Maryland is fast changing from the Old Line State into “Cybersecurity Valley.”

Related: Port Covington cyber hub project gets underway

That’s because Maryland is home to more than 40 government agencies with extensive cyber programs, including the National Security Agency, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Defense Information Systems Agency, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, USCYBERCOM, NASA and the Department of Defense’s Cyber Crime Center. Within these government labs and agencies, taking place is a groundswell of innovation in deep technology cyber disciplines to the tune of billions of dollars annually over the past three decades.

In addition, the state is home to 16 nationally designated cybersecurity Centers of Excellence and a state university and college system that graduates more cyber-degreed engineers than any other state. The state counts approximately 109,000 cyber engineers.

Not only does the advanced development at these government agencies contribute to the success of cybersecurity in the state, but also so do many Maryland-based cybersecurity companies. Two notable examples are Sourcefire, acquired by Cisco for $2.7B and Tenable, which went public in 2018 with a market capitalization of approximately $4 billion.

Maryland and environs, including Virginia and Washington D.C., has also attracted a powerful and growing flow of venture capital to the region – about $1 Billion in 2018 and growing at an incredible pace.

Such bona fides led to the inaugural private “by invitation”  Global Cyber Innovation Summit (GCIS) in Baltimore in May 2019.  GCIS was a Davos-level conference with no vendors and no selling, where scores of chief security information officers (CISOs), top CEO’s, industry and government thought leaders and leading innovators discussed the myriad challenges in and around cybersecurity and possible solutions in today’s environment.

All this represents the early phases of a foundation-building process that is on track to eventually create a grander landscape. In the eyes of many cyber pros and investors, Maryland is becoming such a fast-growing cybersecurity hub that many believe it will replace the cyber component of Silicon Valley, hence becoming “Cybersecurity Valley,”  within the next five years. …more