The Cost of False IT Security Alarms

Think about the burglar alarm systems that are common in residential neighborhoods. In the eye of the passive observer, an alarm system makes a lot of sense. They watch your home while you’re asleep or away, and call the police or fire department if anything happens. So for a small monthly fee you feel secure. Unfortunately, there are a few things that the alarm companies don’t tell you.

1)      Between 95% and 97% of calls (depending on the time of year) are false alarms.

2)      The police regard calls from alarm companies as the lowest priority and it can take anywhere between 20-30 minutes for them to arrive. It only takes the average burglar 5 minutes to break and enter, and be off with your valuables.

3)      In addition to this, if your call does turn out to be a false alarm, the police and fire department have introduced hefty fines. It is about $130 for the police to be called out, and if fire trucks are sent, they charge around $410 per truck (protocol is to send 3 trucks). So as you can see, one false alarm can cost you well over $1,200.

With more than 2 million annual burglaries in the U.S., perhaps it’s worth putting up with so many false positives in service of the greater deterrent? Yes, provided we can sort out the false alarms which sap the first responder.

The same is true of information security. If we know which alerts to respond to, we can focus our time on those important alerts. Tuning the system to reduce the alerts, and removing the false positives so we can concentrate only on valid alerts, gives us the ability to respond only to the security events that truly matter.

While our technology does an excellent job of detecting possible security events, it’s our service, which examines these alerts and provides experts who make it relevant using context and judgement, that makes the difference between a rash of false positives and the ones that truly matter.



SIEM: Sprint or Marathon?

Winning a marathon requires dedication and preparation. Over long periods of time. A sprint requires intense energy but for a short period of time. While some tasks in IT Security are closer to a sprint (e.g., configuring a firewall), many, like deploying and using a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution, are closer to a marathon.

What are the hard parts?

  1. Identifying the scope
  2. Ingesting log data and filtering out noise events
  3. Reviewing the data with discipline

Surveys show that 75% of organizations need to perform significant discovery to determine which devices, platforms, applications and databases should be included in the scope for log monitoring. The point is that when most companies really evaluate their log monitoring process, most of them don’t really know what systems are even available for them to include. They don’t know what they have. Additionally, 50% of organizations later realize that this initial discovery phase is not sufficient to meet their security needs. So, even after performing the discovery, they are not sure they have identified the right systems.

While on-boarding new clients, we usually identify legacy systems or firewall policies that generate large volumes of unnecessary data. This includes discovery of service accounts or scripts with expired credentials that appear to generate suspicious looking login failures. Other common items uncovered include network health monitoring systems which generate an abnormal amount of ICMP or SNMP activity, backup tools and internal applications using non-standard ports and cleartext protocols. Each of these false positives or legitimate activities add straw to the haystack(s), which makes it more difficult to find the needle. Every network contains activities that might appear suspicious or benign to an outside observer that lacks background on everyday activities of the company being monitored. It is important for network and security administrators to provide monitoring tools with additional context and background detail to account for the variety of networks that are thrown at them.

Reviewing the data with discipline is a difficult ask for organizations with a lean IT staff. Since IT is often viewed as a “cost center,” it is rare to see organizations (esp. mid-sized ones) with suitably trained IT Security staff.

Take heart — if getting there using only internal resources is a hard problem, our SIEM Simplified service gets you there. The bonus is the cost savings compared to a DIY approach



5 IT Security resolutions

Ho hum. Another new year, time for some more New Year’s resolutions. Did you keep the ones you made last year? Meant to but somehow did not get around to it? This time how about making it easy on yourself?

New Year Resolutions for IT security

Here are some New Year’s resolutions for IT security that you can keep easily — by doing nothing at all!

5) Give out administrator privileges freely to most users. Less hassle for you. They don’t need to bother asking you install software or access some files.

4) Don’t bother inventorying hardware or software. It changes all the time. It’s hard to maintain a list, and what’s the point anyway?

3) Allow unfettered mobile device usage in the network. You know they are going to bring their own phone and tablet anyway. It’s better this way. Maybe they’ll get more work done now.

2) Use default configurations everywhere. It’s far easier to manage. Factory default resets are needed anyway and then you can find the default password on google.

And our favorite:

1) Ignore logs of every kind — audit logs, security logs, application logs. They just fill up disk space anyway.



SIEM and Return on Security Investment (RoSI)

The traditional method for calculating standard Return on Investment (RoI) is that it equals the gain minus the cost, divided by the cost. The higher the resulting value, the greater the RoI. The difficulty in calculating a return on security investment (RoSI), however, is that security tends not to increase profits (gain), but to decrease loss – meaning that the amount of loss avoided rather than the amount of gain achieved is the important element.

Following the standard RoI approach, RoSI can be calculated by the sum of the loss reduction minus the cost of the solution, divided by the cost of the solution. In short, a high result is better for RoI, and a low result is better for RoSI.

This is where it gets difficult: how do you measure the ‘loss reduction’? To a large extent it is based on guesswork and surveys. Bruce Schneier in The Data Imperative concluded, “Depending on how you answer those two questions, and any answer is really just a guess — you can justify spending anywhere from $10 to $100,000 annually to mitigate that risk.”

What we find as a practical outcome of delivering our SIEM-as-a-service offering (SIEM Simplified) is that many customers value the anecdotes and statistics that are provided in the daily reports and monthly reviews to demonstrate RoSI to management. Things such as how many attacks were repulsed by the firewalls, how many incidents were addressed by criticality, anecdotal evidence of an attack disrupted or misconfiguration detected. We publish some of these anonymously as Catch of the Day.

It’s a practical way to demonstrate RoSI which is easier to understand and does not involve any guesses.



Stuff the turkey, not the SIEM

Did you know that SIEM and Log Management are different?

The latter (log management) is all about collecting logs first and worrying about why you need them second (if at all). The objective is “let’s collect it all and have it indexed for possible review. Why? Because we can.”

The former (SIEM) is about specific security use cases. SIEM is a use-case driven technology. Use cases are implementation specific, unlike antivirus or firewalls.

Treating SIEM like Log Management, is a lot like a turducken.

Don’t want that bloated feeling like Aunt Mildred explains here? Then don’t stuff your SIEM with logs absent a use case.

Need help doing this effectively? A co-managed SIEM may be your best bet.



Effective cyber security by empowering people

You have, no doubt, heard that cyber security is everyone’s job. So then, as the prime defender of your network, what specifically are you doing to empower people so they can all act as sentries? After all, security cannot be automated as much as you’d like. Human adversaries will always be smarter than automated tools and will leverage human ingenuity to skirt around your protections.

But, marketing departments in overdrive are busy selling the notion of “magic” boxes that can envelope you in a protective shell against Voldemort and his minions. But isn’t that really just fantasy? The reality is that you can’t replace well-trained security professionals exercising judgment with computers.

So what does an effective security buyer do?

Answer: Empower the people by giving them tools that multiply their impact and productivity, instead of trying to replace them.

When we were designing EventTracker 8, an oft repeated observation from users was the shortage of senior analysts. If they existed at all in the organization, they were busy with higher level tasks such as policy creation, architecture updates and sometimes critical incident response. The last task on their plates was the bread-and-butter of log review and threat monitoring. Such tasks are often the purview of junior analysts (if they exist). In response, many of the features of EventTracker 8 are designed specifically to enable junior administrators to make effective contributions to cyber security.

Still feeling overwhelmed by the daily tasks that need doing, consoles that need watching, alerts that need triaging? Don’t fret – that is precisely what our SIEM Simplified service (SIEMaas) is designed to provide – as much, or as little help as you need. Become empowered, be effective.



Diagnosing Account Lockout in Active Directory

Symptom

Account Lockouts in Active Directory

Additional Information

“User X” is getting locked out and Security Event ID 4740 are logged on respective servers with detailed information.

Reason

The common causes for account lockouts are:

  • End-user mistake (typing a wrong username or password)
  • Programs with cached credentials or active threads that retain old credentials
  • Service accounts passwords cached by the service control manager
  • User is logged in on multiple computers or disconnected remote terminal server sessions
  • Scheduled tasks
  • Persistent drive mappings
  • Active Directory delayed replication

Troubleshooting Steps Using EventTracker

Here we are going to look for Event ID 4740. This is the security event that is logged whenever an account gets locked.

  1. Login to EventTracker console:

EventTracker login

2. Select search on the menu bar

Search EventTracker

3. Click on advanced search

Advanced Search EventTracker

4. On the Advanced Log Search Window fill in the following details:

  • Enter the result limit in numbers, here 0 means unlimited.
  • Select the date, time range for the logs to be searched.
  • Select all the domain controllers in the required domain.
  • Click on the inverted triangle, make the search for Event ID: 4740 as shown below.

Once done hit search at the bottom.

Advanced Search EventTracker details

You can see the details below. If you want to get more information about a particular log, click on the + sign

Log Details EventTracker

Below shows more information about this event.

Event Details EventTracker

Now, let’s take a closer look at 4740 event. This can help us troubleshoot this issue.

Log Name Security
Source Microsoft-Windows-Security-Auditing
Date MM/DD/YYYY HH:MM:SS PM
Event ID 4740
Task Category User Account Management
Level Information
Keywords Audit Success
User N/A
Computer COMPANY-SVRDC1
Description A user account was locked out.
Subject:
Security ID NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM
Account Name COMPANY-SVRDC1$
Account Domain TOONS
Logon ID 0x3E7
Account That Was Locked Out:
Security ID S-1-5-21-1135150828-2109348461-2108243693-1608
Account Name demouser
Additional Information:
Caller Computer Name DEMOSERVER1
Field My Description
DateTime This shows Date/Time of event origination in GMT format.
Source This shows the Name of an Application or System Service originating the event.
Type This shows Warning, Information, Error, Success, Failure, etc.
User This is the user/service/computer initiating event. (Name with a $ means it’s a computer/system initiated event.
Computer This shows the name of server workstation where event was logged.
EventID Numerical ID of event.
Description This contains the entire unparsed event message.
Log Name The name of the event log (e.g. Application, Security, System, etc.)
Task Category A name for a subclass of events within the same Event Source.
Level Warning, Information, Error, etc.
Keywords Audit Success, Audit Failure, Classic, Connection etc.
Category This shows the name for an aggregative event class, corresponding to the similar ones present in Windows 2003 version.
Subject: Account Name Name of the account that initiated the action.
Subject: Account Domain Name of the domain that account initiating the action belongs to.
Subject: Logon ID A number that uniquely identifying the logon session of the user initiating action. This number can be used to correlate all user actions within one logon session.
Subject: Security ID SID of the locked out user
Account Name Account That Was Locked Out
Caller Computer Name This is the computer where the logon attempts occurred

Resolution

Logon into the computer mentioned on “Caller Computer Name” (DEMOSERVER1) and look for one of the aforementioned reasons that produces the problem.

To understand further on how to resolve issues present on “Caller Computer Name” (DEMOSERVER1) let us look into the different logon types.

LogonType Code 0
LogonType Value System
LogonType Meaning Used only by the System account.
Resolution No evidence so far seen that can contribute towards account lock out
LogonType Code 2
LogonType Value Interactive
LogonType Meaning A user logged on to this computer.
Resolution User has typed wrong password on the console
LogonType Code 3
LogonType Value Network
LogonType Meaning A user or computer logged on to this computer from the network.
Resolution User has typed wrong password from the network. It can be a connection from Mobile Phone/ Network Shares etc.
LogonType Code 4
LogonType Value Batch
LogonType Meaning Batch logon type is used by batch servers, where processes may be executing on behalf of a user without their direct intervention.
Resolution Batch file has an expired or wrong password
LogonType Code 5
LogonType Value Service
LogonType Meaning A service was started by the Service Control Manager.
Resolution Service is configured with a wrong password
LogonType Code 6
LogonType Value Proxy
LogonType Meaning Indicates a proxy-type logon.
Resolution No evidence so far seen that can contribute towards account lock out
LogonType Code 7
LogonType Value Unlock
LogonType Meaning This workstation was unlocked.
Resolution User has typed a wrong password on a password protected screen saver
LogonType Code 8
LogonType Value NetworkCleartext
LogonType Meaning A user logged on to this computer from the network. The user’s password was passed to the authentication package in its unhashed form. The built-in authentication packages all hash credentials before sending them across the network. The credentials do not traverse the network in plaintext (also called cleartext).
Resolution No evidence so far seen that can contribute towards account lock out
LogonType Code 9
LogonType Value NewCredentials
LogonType Meaning A caller cloned its current token and specified new credentials for outbound connections. The new logon session has the same local identity, but uses different credentials for other network connections.
Resolution User initiated an application using the RunAs command, but with wrong password.
LogonType Code 10
LogonType Value RemoteInteractive
LogonType Meaning A user logged on to this computer remotely using Terminal Services or Remote Desktop.
Resolution User has typed wrong password while logging in to this computer remotely using Terminal Services or Remote Desktop
LogonType Code 11
LogonType Value CachedInteractive
LogonType Meaning A user logged on to this computer with network credentials that were stored locally on the computer. The domain controller was not contacted to verify the credentials.
Resolution No evidence so far seen that can contribute towards account lock out as domain controller is never contacted in this case.
LogonType Code 12
LogonType Value CachedRemoteInteractive
LogonType Meaning Same as RemoteInteractive. This is used for internal auditing.
Resolution No evidence so far seen that can contribute towards account lock out as domain controller is never contacted in this case.
LogonType Code 13
LogonType Value CachedUnlock
LogonType Meaning This workstation was unlocked with network credentials that were stored locally on the computer. The domain controller was not contacted to verify the credentials.
Resolution No evidence so far seen that can contribute towards account lock out as domain controller is never contacted in this case.

How to identify the logon type for this locked out account?

Just like how it is shown earlier for Event ID 4740, do a log search for Event ID 4625 using EventTracker, and check the details.

Security IDNULL SID

Log Name Security
Source Microsoft-Windows-Security-Auditing
Date date
Event ID 4625
Task Category Logon
Level Information
Keywords Audit Failure
User N/A
Computer COMPANY-SVRDC1
Description An account failed to log on.
Subject:
Security ID SYSTEM
Account Name COMPANY-SVRDC1$
Account Domain TOONS
Logon ID ID
Logon Type 7
Account For Which Logon Failed:
Account Name demouser Account Domain TOONS Failure Information: Failure Reason An Error occurred during Logon. Status 0xc000006d Sub Status 0xc0000380 Process Information: Caller Process ID 0x384 Caller Process Name C:\Windows\System32\winlogon.exe Network Information: Workstation Name computer name Source Network Address IP address Source Port 0 Detailed Authentication Information: Logon Process User32 Authentication Package Negotiate Transited Services Package Name (NTLM only) Key Length 0

Logon Type 7 says User has typed a wrong password on a password protected screen saver.

Now we understand what reason to target and how to target the same.

Applies to

Microsoft Windows Servers
Microsoft Windows Desktops

Contributors

Ashwin Venugopal, Subject Matter Expert at EventTracker
Satheesh Balaji, Security Analyst at EventTracker

 



Index now, understand later

Late binding is a computer programming mechanism in which the method being called upon an object or the function being called with arguments is looked up by name at runtime. This contrasts with early binding, where everything must be known in advance. This method is favored in object-oriented languages and is efficient but incredibly restrictive. After all, how can everything be known in advance?

In EventTracker, late binding allows us to continue learning and leveraging new understanding instead of getting stuck in whatever was sensible at the time of indexing. The upside is that it is very easy to ingest data into EventTracker without knowing much (or anything) about its meaning or organization. Use any one of several common formats/protocols, and voila, data is indexed and available for searching/reporting.

As understanding improves, users can create a “Knowledge Pack” to describe the indexed data in reports, search output, dashboards, co-relation rules, behavior rules, etc. There is no single, forced “normalized” schema and thus no connectors to transform incoming data to the fixed schema.

As your understanding improves, the knowledge pack improves and so does the resulting output. And oh by the way, since the same data can be viewed by two different roles in very different ways, this is easily accommodated in the Knowledge Pack. Thus the same data (e.g., Login failures) can be viewed in one way by the Security team (in real time, as an alert, with trends) and in an entirely different way by the Compliance team (as a report covering a time-span with annotation to show due care).



Hallmarks of a successful security monitoring team

Over the years, we have seen many approaches to implementing a security monitoring capability.

The “checkbox mentality” is common—when the team uses the out-of-the-box functionality, including perhaps rules/reports, to meet a specific regulation.

The “big hero” approach is found in chaotic environments where tools are implemented with no planning or oversight, in a very “just do it” approach. The results may be fine, but are lost when the “big hero” moves on or loses interest.

The “strict process” organizations that implement a waterfall model and have rigid processes for change management and the like frequently lack the agility and dynamics required by today’s constantly evolving threats.

So what then are the hallmarks of a successful approach? Augusto Barrios described these factors here. Three factors are common:

  • Good people: Team members who know the environment and can create good use cases. Members who know the selected technology and can weave the rules, configuration and customize to suit.
  • Lightweight, but clear processes: Recognize that it’s very hard to move from good ideas to real (and deployed) use cases without processes. Absent this, things go to a slow death.
  • Top down and lateral support: The security team may have good people and processes to put together the use cases, but they are not an island. They will need continuous support to bring in new log sources, context data and the knowledge about the business and the environment required for implementation and optimization. They will need other people’s (IT ops, business applications specialists) time and commitment, and that’s only possible with top down support and empowerment.

Since it’s quite hard to get all of it right, an increasingly popular approach is to split the problem between the SIEM vendor and the buyer. Each has strengths critical to success. The SIEM vendor is expert with the technology, likely has well defined processes for implementation and operational success, whereas the buyer knows the environment intimately. Together, good use cases can be crafted. Escalation from the SIEM vendor who performs the monitoring is passed to the buyer team to provide lateral support. This approach has the potential to ramp up very quickly, since each team plays to their existing strengths.

The Gartner term for this approach is “co-managed SIEM.”

Want to get started quickly? Here is a link for you.



Where to focus efforts: Endpoint or Network?

The release of EventTracker 8 with new endpoint threat detection capabilities has led to many to ask: a) how to obtain these new features and b) where the focus on monitoring efforts should be, on the endpoint or on traditional attack vectors.

The answer to “a” is fairly simple and involves upgrading to the latest version; if you have licensed the suitable modules, the new features are immediately available to you.

The answer to “b” is not so simple and depends on your particular situation. After all, endpoint threat detection is not a replacement of signature based network packet sniffers. If your network permits BYOD or allows business partners to connect entire networks to yours, or permits remote access, why then network-based intrusion detection would be a must (how can you insist on sensors on BYOD?).

On the other hand, malware can be everywhere and anti-virus effectiveness is known to be weak. Phishing and drive-by exploits are real things. Perhaps even accurate inventory of endpoints (think traveling laptops) is hard. This all leads to endpoint-focused efforts as being paramount.

So really, it’s not endpoint or network-focused monitoring; rather it’s endpoint and network-focused monitoring efforts.

Feeling overwhelmed at having to deploy/manage so much complexity? Help is at hand. Our co-managed solution called SIEM Simplified is designed to take the sting out of the cost and complexity of mounting an effective defense.