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Steps forward

 

SHARED INTEL: New book on cyber warfare foreshadows attacks on elections, remote workers

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s difficult to convey the scope and scale of cyber attacks that take place on a daily basis, much less connect the dots between them.

Related: The Golden Age of cyber spying

A new book by Dr. Chase Cunningham —  Cyber Warfare – Truth, Tactics, and Strategies —   accomplishes this in a compelling, accessible way. Cunningham has the boots-on-the-ground experience and storytelling chops to pull this off. As a  cybersecurity principal analyst at Forrester,  he advises enterprise clients on how to stay in front of the latest iterations of cyber attacks coming at them from all quarters.

Cunningham’s 19 years as a US Navy chief spent in cyber forensic and cyber analytic operations included manning security controls at the NSA, CIA and FBI. He holds a PhD and MS in computer science from Colorado Technical University and a BS from American Military University focused on counter-terrorism operations in cyberspace.

Cunningham sets the table in Cyber Warfare by relating detailed anecdotes that together paint the bigger picture. Learning about how hackers were able to intercept drone feed video from CIA observation drones during the war in Iraq, for instance, tells us a lot about how tenuous sophisticated surveillance technology really can be, out in the Internet wild.

And Cunningham delves into some fascinating, informative nuance about industrial systems attacks in the wake of Stuxnet. He also adds historical and forward-looking context to the theft and criminal deployment of the Eternal Blue hacking tools, which were stolen from the NSA, and which have been used to cause so much havoc, vis-à-vis WannaCry and NotPetya. What’s more, he comprehensively lays out why ransomware and deep fake campaigns are likely to endure, posing a big threat to organizations in all sectors for the foreseeable future.

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.

NEW TECH: Semperis introduces tools to improve security resiliency of Windows Active Directory

By Byron V. Acohido

Ransomware continues to endure as a highly lucrative criminal enterprise.

Ransomware hacking groups extorted at least $144.35 million from U.S. organizations between January 2013 and July 2019. That’s the precise figure recently disclosed by the FBI — the true damage is almost certainly a lot steeper, given only a portion of cyber crimes ever get reported to law enforcement.

To get a foot in the door, ransomware purveyors direct weaponized email at a targeted employee. Once inside a network, they move laterally to locate and encrypt mission-critical systems; a ransom demand for a decryption key follows. In many cases, the lateral movement phase is being facilitated by the hijacking of an ubiquitous network administrator’s tool: Windows Active Directory, or AD.

I had a chance, once again, to discuss the yin vs. yang relating to Active Directory’s pivotal placement in the heart of corporate networks with Mickey Bresman,  co-founder and CEO of Semperis, an identity-driven cyber resilience company based in the new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. We met at RSA 2020. For a drill down on our discussion, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are key excerpts.

Ransomware uptick

AD enables IT staffers to manage access to servers and applications across the breadth of any Windows-based network; it’s used in 90 percent of U.S. organizations, which translates into tens of thousands of companies and agencies. In the spring of 2017, the WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware worms blasted around the globe, freezing up the Active Directory systems of thousands of companies.

STEPS FORWARD: How the Middle East led the U.S. to implement smarter mobile security rules

By Byron V. Acohido

We’ve come to rely on our smartphones to live out our digital lives, both professionally and personally.

When it comes to securing mobile computing devices, the big challenge businesses have long grappled with is how to protect company assets while at the same time respecting an individual’s privacy.

Reacting to the BYOD craze, mobile security frameworks have veered from one partially effective approach to the next over the past decade. However, I recently learned about how federal regulators in several nations are rallying around a reinvigorated approach to mobile security: containerization. Containerizing data is a methodology that could anchor mobile security, in a very robust way, for the long haul.

Interestingly, leadership for this push came from federal regulators in, of all places, the Middle East.  In May 2017, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) implemented its Cyber Security Framework mandating prescriptive measures, including a requirement to containerize data in all computing formats. A few months later the United Arab Emirates stood up its National Electronic Security Authority (NESA) which proceeded to do much the same thing.

Earlier this year, US regulators essentially followed the Middle East’s lead by rolling out sweeping new rules — referred to as Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC)  — which require use of data containerization along much the same lines as Saudi Arabia and the UAE mandated some three years ago. The implementation of CMMC represents a big change from past U.S. federal data handling rules for contractors, for which compliance was by-and-large voluntary.

MY TAKE: ‘Network Detection and Response’ emerges as an Internet of Things security stopgap

By Byron V. Acohido

There’s no stopping the Internet of Things now.

Related: The promise, pitfalls of IoT

Companies have commenced the dispersal of IoT systems far and wide. Data collected by IoT devices will increasingly get ingested into cloud-centric networks where it will get crunched by virtual servers. And fantastic new IoT-enabled services will spew out of the other end.

The many privacy and security issues raised by IoT, however, are another story. The addressing of IoT privacy and security concerns lags far, far behind. Commendably, the global cybersecurity community continues to push companies to practice cyber hygiene. And industry groups and government regulators are stepping up efforts to incentivize IoT device makers to embed security at the device level.

Very clearly, something more is needed. That’s where a cottage industry of security companies in the Network Detection and Response (NDR) space comes into play. NDR vendors champion the notion that it’s a good idea for someone to be keeping an eagle eye on the rivers of packets that crisscross modern enterprise networks, especially packets flooding in from IoT systems. That can be done very efficiently today, and would markedly improve network security without waiting for better security practices or tougher industry standards to take hold, they argue.

I had a fascinating discussion about this with Sri Sundaralingam, vice president of cloud and security solutions at ExtraHop, a Seattle-based supplier of NDR technologies. We spoke at RSA 2020. For a full drill down on our conversation, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

IoT surge

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global IoT market will top $1.1 trillion by 2026, up from $190 billion in 2018. That’s a compounded annual growth rate of a whopping 24.7 percent.

BEST PRACTICES: Mock attacks help local agencies, schools prepare for targeted cyber scams

By Byron V. Acohido

Cyber criminals who specialize in plundering local governments and school districts are in their heyday.

Related: How ransomware became a scourge

Ransomware attacks and email fraud have spiked to record levels across the U.S. in each of the past three years, and a disproportionate number of the hardest hit organizations were local public agencies.

Lucy Security, a security training company based in Zug, Switzerland that works with many smaller public entities, has been in the thick of this onslaught. The company’s software is used to run public servants and corporate employees through mock cyberattack training sessions. There’s an obvious reason smaller public entities have become a favorite target of cybercriminals: most are run on shoestring budgets and corners tend to get cut in IT security, along with everything else operationally.

I had a chance to discuss this with Lucy Security Inc. CEO Colin Bastable at RSA 2020. Another factor I never thought about, until meeting with Bastable, is that public servants typically possess a can-do work ethic. This can make them particularly susceptible to social engineering trickery, the trigger for online extortion and fraud campaigns, Bastable told me.

For a drill down on my full interview with Bastable, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Simple, lucrative fraud

What happened in the state of Texas earlier last January is a microcosm of intensifying pressure all local agencies face from motivated hackers and scammers.

Fraudsters did enough online intelligence gathering on the Manor Independent School District, in Manor, Texas, to figure out which vendors were in line to receive large bank transfers as part of the school district spending the proceeds of a large school bond. They also studied the employees who handled the transactions.

BEST PRACTICES: Why pursuing sound ‘data governance’ can be a cybersecurity multiplier

By Byron V. Acohido

Deploying the latest, greatest detection technology to deter stealthy network intruders will take companies only so far.

Related: What we’ve learned from the massive breach of Capitol One

At RSA 2020, I learned about how one of the routine daily chores all large organizations perform — data governance — has started to emerge as something of a cybersecurity multiplier.

It turns out there are some housekeeping things companies can do while ingesting, leveraging and storing all of the data churning through their complex hybrid cloud networks. And by doing this housekeeping – i.e. by improving their data governance practices — companies can reap higher efficiencies, while also tightening data security.

This nascent trend derives from a cottage industry of tech vendors in the “content collaboration platform” (CCP) space, which evolved from the earlier “enterprise file sync and share”  (EFSS) space. I had the chance to sit down with Kris Lahiri, CSO and co-founder of Egnyte, one of the original EFSS market leaders. For a drill down on our discussion about how data governance has come to intersect with cybersecurity, give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Storage efficiencies

With so much data coursing through business networks, companies would be wise to take into consideration the value vs. risk proposition of each piece of data, Lahiri says. The value of data connected to a live project is obvious. What many organizations fail to do is fully assess – and set policies for — data they hang on to after the fact.

One reason for this is storage is dirt cheap. It has become common practice for companies to store a lot of data without really thinking too hard about it. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made for meticulously archiving all stored data, as well as getting on a routine of purging unneeded data on a regular basis.