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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

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

NEW TECH: Breakthrough ‘homomorphic-like’ encryption protects data in-use, without penalties

By Byron V. Acohido

Homomorphic encryption has long been something of a Holy Grail in cryptography.

Related: Post-quantum cryptography on the horizon

For decades, some of our smartest mathematicians and computer scientists have struggled to derive a third way to keep data encrypted — not just the two classical ways, at rest and in transit.

The truly astounding feat, aka homomorphic encryption, would be to keep data encrypted while it is being actively used by an application to run computations. Cryptographically speaking, this is the equivalent of moving the Himalayas, not just Mt. Everest.

There is an esoteric two-horse race that a small circle of folks in the cybersecurity and venture capital communities are riveted on. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s a race to deliver a commercially-viable homomorphic encryption tool – something that’s going to be needed if we are to vault into higher tiers of digital innovation.

Galloping along the rail, Google, Intel and Microsoft are leading a methodical effort to come up with consensus homomorphic encryption standards, even as a handful of VC-backed startups are hustling to overcome limitations in current working versions of their prototype tools.

Charging hard from post position no. 2, another group of start-ups, flush with VC cash, is gaining ground with “homomorphic-like” technologies they claim have the same benefits as the purely homomorphic tools, but none of the performance penalties.

A prominent member of this latter group is Mountain View, CA-based Fortanix, which has attracted $31 million in VC backing and grown to 60 employees since its launch in June 2017. Having written a few stories on homomorphic encryption, I was eager to meet with Fortanix co-founder and CEO Ambuj Kumar at Black Hat 2019. For a full drill down on our wide-ranging discussion, please give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

Runtime in focus

You might well ask yourself: why is keeping data encrypted while an application is using a data set so vital to the future of computing? It’s because elite threat actors already possess the ability to insinuate themselves deep inside of company networks and launch stealthy, quick-strike attacks – in memory, during runtime. …more

SHARED INTEL: Here’s one way to better leverage actionable intel from the profusion of threat feeds

By Byron V. Acohido

Keeping track of badness on the Internet has become a thriving cottage industry unto itself.

Related: ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’ is upon us

There are dozens technology giants, cybersecurity vendors, government agencies and industry consortiums that identify and blacklist IP addresses and web page URLs that are obviously being used maliciously; and hundreds more independent white hat hackers are doing much the same.

This activity results in a rich matrix of overlapping threat feeds that, if all of the slices could somehow be combined, would present a heat map of an Internet throbbing with malicious traffic that unceasingly changes and steadily intensifies. Many of the badness trackers do, in fact, publish their blacklists for the greater good. This intel often gets leveraged by firewall suppliers who tap into a small selection of what they figure to be the most helpful threat feeds to configure their products.

Centripetal has gone several steps further. This 10-year-old cybersecurity services vendor pulls in threat feeds from some 90 plus sources, assigns a team of cybersecurity analysts to make sense of this intel, and then makes the output of this heavy lifting available to companies to help them better defend their networks. Byron Rashed, Centripetal’s vice president of marketing, broke this down for me. We had a chance to visit at Black Hat 2019. For a drill down of our conversation, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are key takeaways: 

Effective blocking

Centripetal’s CleanINTERNET service is built around correlating and analyzing threat feeds pulled in from some 90 commercial, government and open-source entities. The heavy lifting Centripetal does on behalf of its customers involves correlating billions of threat indicators to derive a set of robust correlation rules that, in turn, become the basis for which traffic is allowed to enter – or leave — a customer’s network.

This rule enforcement is done at Centripetal’s RuleGATE Threat Intelligence Gateway in such a way that minimizes false positives yet doesn’t sacrifice performance. Centripetal also delivers a Splunk-based SIEM (some clients opt for integration into their existing SIEM) that enables the client and Centripetal’s team of cyberthreat analysts to view events and work directly …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