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RSAC insights: Sophos report dissects how improved tools, tactics stop ransomware attack

By Byron V. Acohido

A new report from Sophos dissects how hackers spent two weeks roaming far-and-wide through the modern network of a large enterprise getting into a prime position to carry out what could’ve been a devasting ransomware attack.

Related: DHS embarks on 60-day cybersecurity sprints

This detailed intelligence about a ProxyLogon-enabled attack highlights how criminal intruders are blending automation and human programming skills to great effect. However, in this case, at least, they were detected and purged before hitting paydirt, demonstrating something that doesn’t get discussed often enough.

Enterprises actually have access to plenty of robust security technology, as well as proven tactics and procedures, to detect and defuse even leading-edge, multi-layered attacks. It’s clear to me that cybersecurity technical innovation and supporting frameworks, which includes wider threat intelligence sharing, are taking hold and making a material difference, albeit incrementally.

I had a lively discussion with Dan Schiappa, Sophos’ chief product officer, about this. For a drill down, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Exploit surge

ProxyLogon refers to the critical vulnerability discovered in Microsoft Exchange mail servers early this year. Criminal hacking rings have been hammering away at this latest of a long line of zero-day flaws discovered in a globally distributed system. The pattern is all too familiar: they marshal their hacking infrastructure to take advantage of the window of time when there is a maximum number of vulnerable systems just begging to be hacked.

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.

RSAC insights: CyberGRX finds a ton of value in wider sharing of third-party risk assessments

By Byron V. Acohido

The value of sharing threat intelligence is obvious. It’s much easier to blunt the attack of an enemy you can clearly see coming at you.

Related: Supply chains under siege.

But what about trusted allies who unwittingly put your company in harm’s way? Third-party exposures can lead to devastating breaches, just ask any Solar Winds first-party customer.

So could sharing intelligence about third-party suppliers help?

With RSA Conference 2021 technical sessions getting underway today, I sat down with Fred Kneip, CEO of CyberGRX, to hash over the notion that a lot of good could come from more systematic sharing of the risk profiles that large enterprises routinely compile with respect to their third-party contractors.

For a full drill down on our discussion, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

The genesis of risk-profiles

It turns out there is a ton of third-party risk profiles sitting around not being put to any kind of high use. Back in the mid-1990s, big banks and insurance companies came up with something called “bespoke assessments” as the approach for assessing third party vendor risk.

This took the form of programmatic audits. In order to get the blessing of financiers and insurers, enterprises had to set up systems to get their third-party suppliers to fill out extensive risk-profile questionnaires; and this  cumbersome process had to be repeated on a periodic base for as many contractors as they could get to.

CyberGRX launched in 2016 as a clearinghouse for companies to pool and share standardized assessment data and actually analyze the results for action. The idea was to benefit both the first-party contractors and the third-party suppliers, Kneip says. Thus, the Fortune 1,000 companies who collected and consumed the security profiles of major suppliers could see and analyze that data in aggregate and thus conduct a much higher level of risk analysis.

NEW TECH: Silverfort helps companies carry out smarter human and machine authentications

By Byron V. Acohido

Doing authentication well is vital for any company in the throes of digital transformation.

Digital commerce would fly apart if businesses could not reliably affirm the identities of all humans and all machines, that is, computing instances, that are constantly connecting to each other across the Internet.

Related: Locking down ‘machine identities’

At the moment, companies are being confronted with a two-pronged friction challenge, when it comes to authentication. On the one hand, they’re encountering crippling friction when attempting to migrate legacy, on-premises systems to the cloud. And on the other hand, there’s no authentication to speak of  – when there needs to be some — when it comes to machine-to-machine connections happening on the fly to make digital processes possible.

I had an enlightening discussion about this with Dana Tamir, vice president of market strategy for Silverfort, a Tel Aviv-based supplier of agentless multi-factor authentication technology. We spoke at RSA 2020. For a full drill down of the interview, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and length:

LW: Can you frame the authentication challenge companies face today?

Tamir: One of the biggest changes taking place is that there are many more remote users, many more employees bringing their own devices, and many more cloud resources are being used. This has basically dissolved the network perimeter. You can’t assume trust within the perimeter  because the perimeter doesn’t exist anymore.

And yet we know that threats exist everywhere, within our own environments, and out in the cloud. So that changes the way security needs to be applied, and how we authenticate our users. We now need to authenticate users everywhere, not only when they enter the network.

LW: What obstacles are companies running into with cloud migration?

BEST PRACTICES: How testing for known memory vulnerabilities can strengthen DevSecOps

By Byron V. Acohido

DevOps wrought Uber and Netflix. In the very near future DevOps will help make driverless vehicles commonplace.

Related: What’s driving  ‘memory attacks’

Yet a funny thing has happened as DevOps – the philosophy of designing, prototyping, testing and delivering new software as fast as possible – has taken center stage. Software vulnerabilities have gone through the roof.

Over a five year period the number technical software vulnerabilities reported to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s National Vulnerability Database  (NVD) more than tripled – from 5,191 in  2013 to a record 16,556 in 2018.

Total vulnerabilities reported in the NVD dropped a bit in 2019, down to 12,174 total flaws. Some credit for that decline surely goes to the DevSecOps movement that has come into its own in the past two to three years.

DevSecOps proponents are pushing for security-by-design practices to get woven into the highly agile DevOps engineering culture. Still, 12,000-plus fresh software vulnerabilities is a lot, folks. And that’s not counting the latent vulnerabilities getting overlooked in this fast-paced environment – flaws sure to be discovered and exploited down the line by opportunistic threat actors.

San Jose-based application security vendor, Virsec, is seeking to tilt the balance a bit more to the side of good.

NEW TECH: CASBs continue evolving to help CISOs address multiplying ‘cloud-mobile’ risks

By Byron V. Acohido

It can be argued that we live in a cloud-mobile business environment.

Related: The ‘shared responsibility’ burden

Most organizations are all caught up, to one degree or another, in migrating to hybrid cloud networks. And startups today typically launch with cloud-native IT infrastructure.

Mobile comes into play everywhere. Employees, contractors, suppliers and customers consume and contribute from remote locations via their smartphones. And the first tools many of them grab for daily is a cloud-hosted productivity suite: Office 365 or G Suite.

The cloud-mobile environment is here to stay, and it will only get more deeply engrained going forward. This sets up an unprecedented security challenge that companies of all sizes, and in all sectors, must deal with. Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs), referred to as “caz-bees,” are well-positioned to help companies navigate this shifting landscape.

I had the chance to discuss this with Salah Nassar, vice president of marketing at CipherCloud, a leading San Jose, CA-based CASB vendor. We met at RSA 2020 and had a lively discussion about how today’s cloud-mobile environment enables network users to bypass traditional security controls creating gaping exposures, at this point, going largely unaddressed.

NEW TECH: Why it makes more sense for ‘PAM’ tools to manage ‘Activities,’ instead of ‘Access’

By Byron V. Acohido

Privileged Access Management (PAM) arose some 15 years ago as an approach to restricting  access to sensitive systems inside of a corporate network.

Related: Active Directory holds ‘keys to the kingdom’

The basic idea was to make sure only the folks assigned “privileged access’’ status could successfully log on to sensitive servers. PAM governs a hierarchy of privileged accounts all tied together in a Windows Active Directory (AD) environment.

It didn’t take cyber criminals too long to figure out how to subvert PAM and AD – mainly by stealing or spoofing credentials to log on to privileged accounts. All it takes is one phished or hacked username and password to get a toehold on AD. From there, an intruder can quickly locate and take control of other privileged accounts. This puts them in position to systematically embed malware deep inside of compromised networks.

Shoring up legacy deployments of PAM and AD installations has become a cottage industry unto itself, and great strides have been made. Even so, hacking groups continue to manipulate PAM and AD to plunder company networks. And efforts to securely manage privileged access accounts isn’t going to get any easier, going forward, as companies increase their reliance on hybrid IT infrastructures.

I had the chance to discuss this with Gerrit Lansing, Field CTO at Stealthbits Technologies, a Hawthorne, NJ-based supplier of software to protect sensitive company data. We spoke at RSA 2020. For a full drill down of our discussion, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways.

Enticing target

For 90 percent of organizations, Windows Active Directory is the hub for all identities, both human and machine. AD keeps track of all identities and enables all human-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications that take place on the network. PAM grants privileges to carry out certain activities on higher level systems.