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Q&A: The drivers behind the stark rise — and security implications — of ‘memory attacks’

By Byron V. Acohido

A distinctive class of hacking is rising to the fore and is being leveraged by threat actors to carry out deep, highly resilient intrusions of well-defended company networks.

Related: Memory hacking becomes a go-to tactic

These attacks are referred to in the security community as “fileless attacks” or “memory attacks.” The latter conveys a more precise picture: memory hacking refers to a broad set of practices, which can include fileless attacks, that constitute this go-deep form of network break-ins.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to discuss memory hacking with Willy Leichter, vice president of marketing, and Shauntinez Jakab, director of product marketing, at Virsec, a San Jose-based supplier of advanced application security and memory protection technologies.

They walked me through how threat actors are cleverly slipping snippets of malicious code past perimeter defenses and then executing their payloads  – undetected while applications are live, running in process memory.

For a long time, memory hacking was the exclusive province of nation-state backed operatives. But over the past couple of years, memory attacks have come into regular use by common cybercriminals. Garden-variety threat actors are now leveraging memory hacking tools and techniques to gain footholds, move laterally and achieve persistence deep inside well-defended networks.

For a comprehensive drill down, please view the accompanying YouTube video of my full interview with Leichter and Jakab at RSA 2019’s broadcast alley. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and length:

LW: Can you frame this new class of hacking? …more

GUEST ESSAY: Six risks tied to social media marketing that all businesses should heed

By Mike James

While the internet and social media have been very positive for businesses, there remains an inherent risk when it comes to how brands manage their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

Related: Defusing weaponized documents

While social media on every platform has benefits, there remains risks that must be addressed so as to keep your companies’ image and data safe.

No matter how large or small your business may be, the ability of social media to help you reach new customers and interact with consumers is unparalleled; however, there are danger areas. Here are five potential pitfalls of social media marketing.

Risk no. 1: Cybercrime

Businesses should always be very aware of the threat of cybercriminals, and social media also poses very real cyber-security risks.

Hackers use social media to learn more about you, and they can be very skilled when it comes to working out your passwords thanks to your posts about your pets, family, or even birthday plans.

When your social media accounts are shared between your personal account and your business pages, then even your own profile pages may be a way for hackers to gain access to company data.

In order to minimize the risks, you need to establish a strong online security culture across every level of your company. Teach your employees about the need for stronger passwords, and how to make use of both password generators and password management systems.

Risk no. 2: Trolls

There are some people online who enjoy attacking strangers on social media, and businesses are not exempt from this unpleasant attention. Whether it’s online bullying on Facebook, attacks to your brand on Twitter, or even leaving unfounded negative reviews online, those trolls cost UK businesses as much as £30k a year. …more

MY TAKE: ‘Cyberthreat index’ shows SMBs recognize cyber risks — struggling to deal with them

By Byron V. Acohido

Small and midsize businesses — so-called SMBs — face an acute risk of sustaining a crippling cyberattack. This appears to be even more true today than it was when I began writing about business cyber risks at USA TODAY more than a decade ago.

Related: ‘Malvertising’ threat explained

However, one small positive step is that company decision makers today, at least, don’t have their heads in the sand. A recent survey of more than 1,000 senior execs and IT professionals, called the AppRiver Cyberthreat Index for Business Survey, showed a high level of awareness among SMB officials that a cyberattack represents a potentially devastating operational risk.

That said, it’s also clear that all too many SMBs remain ill equipped to assess evolving cyber threats, much less  effectively mitigate them. According to the Cyberthreat Index, 45 percent of all SMBs and 56% of large SMBs believe they are vulnerable to “imminent” threats of cybersecurity attacks.

Interestingly, 61 percent of all SMBs and 79 percent of large SMBs believe cyberhackers have more sophisticated technology at their disposal than the SMBs’ own cybersecurity resources.

“I often see a sizable gap between perceptions and reality among many SMB leaders,” Troy Gill a senior security analyst at AppRiver told me. “They don’t know what they don’t know, and this lack of preparedness often aids and abets cybercriminals.”

What’s distinctive about this index is that AppRiver plans to refresh it on a quarterly basis, going forward, thus sharing an instructive barometer showing how SMBs are faring against cyber exposures that will only continue to steadily evolve and intensify.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to discuss the SMB security landscape at length with Gill. You can give a listen to the entire interview at this accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Sizable need

AppRiver is in the perfect position to deliver an SMB cyber risk index. The company got its start in 2002 in Gulf Breeze, Florida, as a two-man operation that set out to help small firms filter the early waves of email spam. It grew steadily into a supplier of cloud-enabled security and productivity services, and today has some 250 employees servicing 60,000 SMBs worldwide. …more

BEST PRACTICES: Mock phishing attacks prep employees to avoid being socially engineered

By Byron V. Acohido

Defending a company network is a dynamic, multi-faceted challenge that continues to rise in complexity, year after year after year.

Related: Why diversity in training is a good thing.

Yet there is a single point of failure common to just about all network break-ins: humans.

Social engineering, especially phishing, continues to trigger the vast majority of breach attempts. Despite billions of dollars spent on the latest, greatest antivirus suites, firewalls and intrusion detection systems, enterprises continue to suffer breaches that can be traced back to the actions of a single, unsuspecting employee.

In 2015, penetration tester Oliver Münchow was asked by a Swiss bank to come up with a better way to test and educate bank employees so that passwords never left the network perimeter. He came up with a new approach to testing and training the bank’s employees – and the basis for a new company, LucySecurity.

Lucy’s’s software allows companies to easily set-up customizable mock attacks to test employees’ readiness to avoid phishing, ransomware and other attacks with a social engineering component. I had the chance at RSA 2019 to sit down with Lucy CEO Colin Bastable, to discuss the wider context. You can listen to the full interview via the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways: …more

MY TAKE: NIST Cybersecurity Framework has become a cornerstone for securing networks

By Byron V. Acohido

If your company is participating in the global supply chain, either as a first-party purchaser of goods and services from other organizations, or as a third-party supplier, sooner or later you’ll encounter the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

Related: How NIST protocols fit SMBs

The essence of the NIST CSF is showing up in the privacy regulations now being enforced in Europe, as well as in a number of U.S. states. And the protocols it lays out inform a wide range of best-practices guides put out by trade groups and proprietary parties, as well.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to visit with George Wrenn, founder and CEO of CyberSaint Security, a cybersecurity software firm  that plays directly in this space.

Prior to launching CyberSaint, Wrenn was CSO of Schneider Electric, a supplier of technologies used in industrial control systems. While at Schneider, Wrenn participated with other volunteer professionals in helping formulate the NIST CSF.

The participation led to the idea behind CyberSaint. The company supplies a platform, called CyberStrong, that automatically manages risk and compliance assessments across many types of frameworks. This includes not just the NIST CSF, but also the newly minted NIST Risk Management Framework 2.0, and the upcoming NIST Privacy Framework. For a full drill down on the wider context, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Collective wisdom

Think of NIST as Uncle Sam’s long-established standards-setting body. “They are the people who brought you 36 inches in a yard,” Wrenn observed. To come up with its cybersecurity framework, NIST assembled top experts and orchestrated a global consensus- building process that resulted in a robust set of protocols. The CSF is comprehensive and flexible; it can be tailored to fit a specific organization’s needs. And the best part is it’s available for free. …more

NEW TECH: How Semperis came to close a huge gap in Active Directory disaster preparedness

By Byron V. Acohido

In today’s complex IT environments, a million things can go wrong, though only a few systems touch everything.

Related: Why Active Directory is so heavily targeted

For companies running Microsoft Windows, one such touch-all system is Active Directory, or AD, the software that organizes and provides access to information across the breadth of Windows systems. Over 80 percent of recent headline-grabbing attacks have involved breaking into  AD — the “keys to the kingdom” if you will.

Semperis is a security company, launched in 2014, that is entirely focused on AD – or, to put it more precisely, on delivering state-of-art AD cyber resilience, threat mitigation and rapid recovery from cyber breaches.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to visit with Semperis CEO Mickey Bresman. He filled me in on how the company, based in the new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, got started; and I learned more about why Semperis is thriving. To hear our full conversation, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are a few key takeaways:

The beginning

Active Directory is a critical part of a vast majority of enterprise networks; some 90 percent of all companies rely on AD. It holds the keys to pretty much everything in your company, as it stores all of the company’s user information. Downtime can result in loss of access to line-of-business applications, lost revenue and, in some cases, a complete organizational shutdown.

With so much at stake, it’s a marvel that AD disaster recovery protocol traditionally has been based on a 60-page white paper that needs to be manually followed. This clunky solution to a potentially catastrophic failure, typically has required bringing in a specialist troubleshooter to get the company up and running again.

This, in fact, was the service Semperis set out to provide when it launched in 2014. At the time, most AD attacks were the work of a malicious insider. In one situation, prior to forming Semperis, Semperis co-founders  parachuted into a live, unfolding disaster recovery assignment: …more

MY TAKE: How digital technology and the rising gig economy are exacerbating third-party risks

By Byron V. Acohido

Accounting for third-party risks is now mandated by regulations — with teeth.

Related: Free ‘VRMM’ tool measures third-party exposure

Just take a look at Europe’s GDPR, NYDFS’s cybersecurity requirements or even California’s newly minted Consumer Privacy Act.

What does this mean for company decision makers, going forward, especially as digital transformation and expansion of the gig economy deepens their reliance on subcontractors?

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to discuss that question with Catherine Allen, chairman and CEO of the Santa Fe Group, and Mike Jordan, senior director of Santa Fe’s Shared Assessments program.

Allen is a widely respected thought leader on this topic, having launched Shared Assessments in 2005 as an intel-sharing and training consortium focused on third-party risks. And Jordan has had a hands-on role working third-party risk issues for more than a decade.

To hear the full interview, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are a few key takeaways.

Addressing third-parties

Allen founded The Santa Fe Group in 1995 and established it as a leading consultancy, specializing on emerging technologies. With subcontractors playing a rising role and third party risk covering so many complex fields of expertise, six big banks and the Big Four accounting/consulting firms tasked her with coming up with a standardized approach for assessing third party vendor risk.

What emerged was a quasi-trade association – Shared Assessments. The founding participants developed assessment regimes and tools, all having to do with measuring and assessing, essentially, third-party risks. It was a natural step to expand and evolve these protocols and tools, and to invite companies from other sectors to participate. Collaborating in advance on what’s important in third party risk lets organizations and their vendors come to a faster agreement on what to do about those risks. That out of the way, business can proceed with less risk. …more