You’re in the Cybersecurity Fight No Matter What: Are You Prepared?

“You’re in the fight, whether you thought you were or not”, Gen. Mike Hayden, former Director of the CIA and NSA. It may appear at first to be a scare tactic or an attempt to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt, but truly, what this means is that it’s time to adopt the Assume Breach paradigm.

Mr. Hayden also said, “You are almost certainly penetrated.” These words ring true and it’s time to acknowledge that a breach has either already occurred or that it’s only a matter of time until it will. It is more likely that an organization has already been compromised, but just hasn’t discovered it yet. Operating with this assumption will reshape detection and response strategies in a way that pushes the limits of any organization’s infrastructure, people, processes, and technologies.

Traditional security methodologies have largely been focused on prevention. It is a defensive strategy aimed at eliminating vulnerabilities and thereby mitigating security breaches before they happen. However, as the daily news headlines bear witness, perfect protection is not practical. So, monitoring is necessary.

Many businesses think of IT security as a nice-to-have option – just a second priority to be addressed, if IT budget dollars remain. However, compliance with regulations is seen as a must-have, mostly due to fear of the auditor and potential shame or penalty in the event of an audit failure. If this mindset prevails, then up to 70% of the budget under security and compliance will be allocated to the latter, with the rest “left over” for security. And as the total amount shrinks, this leads to the undesirable phenomenon known as checkbox compliance. Article after article explains why this is a bad mindset to have.

Remember, you’re in the fight, whether you knew it or not. Accept this and compliance becomes a result of good security practice. The same IT security budget can become more effective.

If you’re overwhelmed at the prospect of having to develop, staff, train, and manage security and compliance all by yourself, there are services like EventTracker’s SIEMphonic, that will do the heavy lifting. See our “Catch of the Day” to see examples of how this service has benefited our customers.

Avoid Three Common Active Directory Security Pitfalls

While the threats have changed over the past decade, the way systems and networks are managed have not. We continue with the same operations and support paradigm, despite the fact that internal systems are compromised regularly. As Sean Metcalf notes, while every environment is unique, they all too often have the same issues. These issues often boil down to legacy management of the enterprise Microsoft platform going back a decade or more.

There is also the reality of what we call the Assume Breach paradigm.  This means that during a breach incident, we must assume that an attacker a) has control of a computer on the internal network and b) can access the same resources of legitimate users through recent log on activity.

Active Directory (AD) is the most popular Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) implementation and holds the keys to your kingdom. It attracts attackers, as honey attracts bees. There are many best practices to secure Active Directory, but to start, let’s ensure you stay away from common pitfalls. Below are three common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Too many Domain Admins: Active Directory administration is typically performed by a small number of people. Membership in Domain Admins is rarely a valid requirement.Those members have full administrative rights to all workstations, servers, Domain Controllers, Active Directory, Group Policy, etc., by default. This is too much power for any one account, especially in today’s modern enterprise. Unless you are actively managing Active Directory as a service, you should not be in Domain Admins.
  2. Over-permissioned Service Accounts: Vendors have historically required Domain Admin rights for Service Accounts even when the full suite of rights provided is not actually required, though it makes the product easier to test and deploy. The additional privileges provided to the Service Account can be used maliciously to escalate rights on a network. It is critical to ensure that every Service Account is delegated only the rights required, and nothing more. Keep in mind that a service running under the context of a Service Account has that credential in LSASS (protected memory), which can be extracted by an attacker. If the stolen credential has admin rights, the domain may be quickly compromised due to a single Service Account.
  3. Not monitoring admin group membership: Most organizations realize that the number of accounts with admin rights increases on a yearly, if not monthly basis, without ever going down. The admin groups in Active Directory need to be scrutinized, especially when new accounts are added. It’s even better to use a system that requires approval before a new account is added to the group. This system can also remove users from the group when their approved access expires.

By avoiding these pitfalls, and securing Active Directory properly, you are on your way to keeping your “kingdom” safe. But like Thomas Paine said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” There are a number of ways to reap the benefits of a secure infrastructure, but there are many intracacies required to make this a reality. Solutions, like SIEMphonic Enterprise, takes on “fatigue” required to with a dedicated 24/7 SOC.

Click here for more details or sign up for a free demo today.

Three myths surrounding cybersecurity

A common dysfunction in many companies is the disconnect between the CISO, who views cybersecurity as an everyday priority, versus top management who may see it as a priority only when an intrusion is detected. The seesaw goes something like this: If breaches have been few and far between then leaders tighten the reins on the cybersecurity budget until the CISO proves the need for further investment in controls. On the other hand, if threats have been documented frequently, leaders may reflexively decide to overspend on new technologies without understanding that there are other, nontechnical remedies to keep data and other corporate assets safe.

Does your organization suffer from any of these?

Myth: More spending equals more security

McKinsey says, “There is no direct correlation between spending on cybersecurity (as a proportion of total IT spending) and success of a company’s cybersecurity program.” Companies that spend heavily but are still lagging behind their peers may be protecting the wrong assets. Ad hoc approaches to funding (goes up when an intrusion is reported, goes down when all is quiet on the western front) will be ineffective in the long term.

Myth: All threats are external

Too often, the very people who are closest to the data or other corporate assets are the weak link in a company’s cybersecurity program. Bad habits — like sharing passwords or files over unprotected networks, clicking on malicious hyperlinks sent from unknown email addresses, etc. — open up corporate networks to attack. In this study by Intel Security, threats from inside the company account for about 43 percent of data breaches. Leaders must realize that they are actually the first line of defense against cyberthreats, which is never the sole responsibility of the IT department.

Myth: All assets are equally valuable

Are generic invoice numbers and policy documents that you generate in-house as valuable as balance sheets or budget projections? If not, then why deploy a one-size-fits-all cybersecurity strategy? Does leadership understand the return they are getting on their security investments and associated trade-offs? Leaders must inventory and prioritize assets and then determine the strength of cybersecurity protection required at each level. McKinsey cites the example of a global mining company that realized it was focusing a lot of resources on protecting production and exploration data, but had failed to separate proprietary information from that which could be reconstructed from public sources. After recognizing the flaw, the company reallocated its resources accordingly.

These three myths are common, but the list goes on…Now it’s time to decide what to do about it. Research is a great start, but time is of the essence. According to a 2017 Forbes survey, 69% of senior executives are already re-engineering their approach to cybersecurity. What’s your next step?

EventTracker reviews billions of logs daily to keep our customers safe. See what we caught recently and view our latest demo.

Can general purpose tools work for IT security?

This post got me thinking about a recent conversation I had with the CISO of a financial company. He commented on how quickly his team was able to instantiate a big data project with open source tools. He was of the view that such power could not be matched by IT security vendors who, in his opinion, charged too much money for demonstrably poorer performance.

The runaway success of the ELK stack has the DIY crowd energized. Why pay security vendors for specialist solutions when a “big data” project that we already have going on, based on this same stack, can work so much better, the thinking goes. And it’s free, of course.

What we know from 10+ years of rooting around in the security world is that solving the platform problem gets you about a quarter of the way to the security outcome. After that comes detection content, and then the skills to work the data plus the process discipline. Put another way, “Getting data into the data lake, easy. Getting value out of the data in the lake, not so much.”

In 2017, it is easier than ever to spin up an instance of ELK on premises or in the cloud and presume that success is at hand just because the platform is now available. Try using generic tools to solve the security problem and you will soon discover why security vendors have spent so much time writing rules and why service providers spend so much effort on process/procedure and recruitment/training.

Are you lowering your expectations to meet your SIEM performance?

It’s an old story. Admin meets SIEM. Admin falls in love with the demo provided by the SIEM vendor. Admin commits to a 3 year relationship with SIEM.

And now the daily grind. The SIEM requires attention, but the Admin is busy. Knowledge of what the SIEM needs in order to perform starts to dissipate from memory as the training period recedes in the past. Log volume constantly creeps up, adding to sluggishness.

Soon you are at a point where the SIEM could have theoretically performed but actually does not. It’s a mix of initial underestimation of hardware needs, increasing log volume, apathy and dissipation of knowledge about SIEM details.

How now?

In most implementations, this vicious cycle feeds on itself and the disillusionment reinforces itself. The SIEM is either abandoned or the user is resigned to poor performance.

What a revoltin’ development.

It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. Our SIEMphonic offerings were designed to address each of these problems. Don’t just buy a SIEM, get results!

Equifax’s enduring lesson — perfect protection is not practical

Recently Equifax, one of the big-three US credit bureaus, disclosed a major data breach. It affects 143 million individuals — mostly Americans, although data belonging to citizens of other countries, for the most part Canada and the United Kingdom, were also hit.

It’s known the data was stolen, not just exposed. Equifax disclosed it had detected unauthorized access. So this isn’t simply a case of potential compromise of data inadvertently exposed on the web. Someone came in and took it.

How the breach occurred remains publicly unknown, and Equifax has been close-mouthed about the details. But there’s considerable speculation online that the hackers exploited a patchable yet unpatched flaw in Equifax’s website.

Quartz suggests an Apache Struts vulnerability. Markets Insider says it’s unclear which vulnerability may have been exploited. The Apache Struts team has issued a statement which says: Regarding the assertion that especially CVE-2017-9805 is a nine year old security flaw, one has to understand that there is a huge difference between detecting a flaw after nine years and knowing about a flaw for several years. If the latter was the case, the team would have had a hard time to provide a good answer why they did not fix this earlier. But this was actually not the case here –we were notified just recently on how a certain piece of code can be misused, and we fixed this ASAP. What we saw here is common software engineering business –people write code for achieving a desired function, but may not be aware of undesired side-effects. Once this awareness is reached, we as well as hopefully all other library and framework maintainers put high efforts into removing the side-effects as soon as possible. It’s probably fair to say that we met this goal pretty well in case of CVE-2017-9805.

So where to turn? Is it reasonable to assume that Equifax should be rigorous in updating its systems, especially public facing ones with access to such valuable data? Yes, of course. But it frankly doesn’t matter what it was written in, how it was deployed, or whether it was up to date. How do you explain (apparently) no controls to monitor unusual activity? That’s dereliction of duty, in 2017.

Perfect protection is not practical, thus monitoring is necessary. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam, it seems.

Looking for an expert set of eyes to monitor your assets? SIEMphonic can help. See what we’ve caught.

Three critical advantages of SIEMphonic Essentials

By now it’s accepted that SIEM is a foundational technology for both securing a network from threats as well as demonstrating regulatory compliance. This definition from Gartner says: Security information and event management (SIEM) technology supports threat detection and security incident response through the real-time collection and historical analysis of security events from a wide variety of event and contextual data sources. It also supports compliance reporting and incident investigation through analysis of historical data from these sources. The core capabilities of SIEM technology are a broad scope of event collection and the ability to correlate and analyze events across disparate sources.”

However, SIEM is not fit-and-forget technology, nor is it technically simple to implement and operate. In order to bring the benefits of SIEM technology to the small network, with a decade of experience behind us, we developed SIEMphonic Essentials to address the problems beyond mere technology. Here’s three specific advantages:

1) No hardware to procure or maintain

SIEMphonic Essentials is hosted in our Tier-1 data center freeing you from having to procure, maintain and upgrade server class hardware. Disk in particular is a challenge. Log data grows exponentially and while consumer disk cost is relatively inexpensive, the same cannot be said for business class disk cost.

2) More data? Fixed cost!

The hallmark of a successful SIEM implementation is growing volumes of data. Many SIEM solutions are priced based on log volume indexed or received (the so-called events per second). More data inevitably means more unforeseen cost. With SIEMphonic Essentials, you get simple t-shirt sizing (Small, Medium, Large) and you can leave both the cost and implementation of data storage to us.

3) Skill shortage

There is an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In fact, it takes various skills to RUN and WATCH a SIEM solution. This specific problem is why many SIEM implementations become shelfware. Writing and tuning detection rules, performing incident investigations, and understanding how to search means that analysts need both security knowledge and specialized SIEM tool expertise. The IT Security space has zero unemployment, high staff acquisition costs and ongoing training costs. Buying a SIEM solution is easy. There are many providers and an end-of-quarter discount is always around the corner. Getting value from it? Not so much. With SIEMphonic Essentials, we start with a proper implementation (after all as Aristotle noted, well begun is half done) and then our 24/7 Security Operations Center escalates P1 events to your team.

SIEMphonic Essentials delivers visibility and detection across your enterprise. Not just technology…results!

Think you are too small to be hacked?

As a small business, how would you survive an abrupt demand for $250,000? It’s ransomware, and as this poll shows, that’s what an incident would cost a small business. Just why has ransomware exploded on to the scene in 2017? Because it works. Because most bad guys are capitalists and are driven by the profit motive. Because most small business have not taken the time to guard their data. Because they are soft targets. What makes the news headlines are the attacks on large companies like Merck, Maersk or large government, NHS Hospitals in the UK, etc. But make no mistake, small businesses get hit every day – they’re just not in the headlines. After all, more people miss work due to the common cold, but this never makes the news. On the other hand, a single case of Ebola and whoa!

Unfortunately this leads to confirmation bias. Since you don’t hear about it, it must not be a thing, right? That’s dangerous thinking for a small business. The large corporations can bounce back from cyberattacks; they have the depth of pocket to hire the experts needed during the crisis. But how does a small businesses cope? Breach costs can go to $250,000, not to mention the destruction of client trust if word gets out that confidential information was leaked.

So what do you do? Try these three steps:

Educate
It starts with you and your employees. Know your digital assets and maintain an up-to-date inventory. Invest in training of employees, as they are the weakest link in the IT security game.
Protect
Minimum diligence includes up-to-date anti-virus, a managed next-gen firewall and regular patching. Step it up with endpoint protection. Regular reviews of user and system activity is a solid, low-cost improvement to close the gap.
Co-source
Get an expert on your team. It’s too expensive to get dedicated resources, but this doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.  Co-sourcing is an excellent technique to have an expert team on call that specializes in cybersecurity.

If the first half of 2017 is an indicator, then it’s high time to wake up and smell the hummus.

***Some images from FreePik.com

How do you determine IT security risk?

How much security is enough? That’s a hard question to answer. You could spend $1 or $1M on security and still ask the same question. It’s a trick question; there is no correct answer. The better/correct question is how much risk are you willing to tolerate? Mind you, the answer to this question is a “beauty in the beholder” deal, and again there is no one correct answer.

The classic comeback from management when posed this question by the CISO is to debate what risk means, in a business context, of course. To answer this, consider the picture below.

This is your tax dollars at work. It comes from a NIST publication called “Small Business Information Security” and is available here. It presents a systematic method to first identify and thereafter mitigate the elements of risk to your business. To a small business owner, this may all be very well but can be overwhelming.

Did you know that you are not alone in tackling this problem? Our SIEMphonic program is specifically designed to provide co-management. We get that for a small business owner, it’s difficult to deploy, manage and use an effective combination of expertise and tools that provide early detection of targeted, advanced threats and insider threats. With SIEMphonic Enterprise Edition and SIEMphonic MDR Edition, we work together with you to analyze event data in real-time, then collect, store, investigate, and report on log data for incident response, forensics and regulatory compliance. Let us help you strengthen your security defenses, respond effectively, control costs and optimize your team’s capabilities through SIEMphonic.

Petya Ransomware – What it is and what to do

A new ransomware variant is sweeping across the globe known as Petya. It is currently having an impact on a wide range of industries and organizations, including critical infrastructure such as energy, banking, and transportation systems. While it was first observed in 2016, it contained notable differences in operation that caused it to be “immediately flagged as the next step in ransomware evolution.”

What is it?

This is a new generation of ransomware designed to take timely advantage of recent exploits. This current version is targeting the same vulnerabilities (ETERNALBLUE) that were exploited during the recent Wannacry attack. In this variant, rather than targeting a single organization, it uses a broad-brush approach that targets any device it can find that its attached worm is able to exploit.

The gravity of this attack is multiplied by the fact that even servers patched against the SMBv1 vulnerability exploited by EternalBlue can be successfully attacked, provided there is at least one Windows server on the network vulnerable to the flaw patched in March in MS17-010.

How it spreads?

Early reports also suspected that some infections were spread via phishing emails with infected Excel documents exploiting a CVE-2017-0199, a Microsoft Office/WordPad remote code execution vulnerability.

The attackers have built in the capability to infect patched local machines using the PSEXEC Windows SysInternals utility to carry out a pass-the-hash attack. Some researchers have also documented usage of the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMIC) command line scripting interface to spread the ransomware locally.

Unlike WannaCry, this attack does not have an internet-facing worming component, and only scans internal subnets looking for other machines to infect. Once a server is compromised by EternalBlue, the attacker is in as a system user.

What it does

The malware waits for 10-60 minutes after the infection to reboot the system. Reboot is scheduled using system facilities with “at” or “schtasks” and “shutdown.exe” tools. Once it reboots, it starts to encrypt the MFT table in NTFS partitions, overwriting the MBR with a customized loader with a ransom note.

The malware enumerates all network adapters, all known server names via NetBIOS and also retrieves the list of current DHCP leases, if available. Each and every IP on the local network and each server found is checked for open TCP ports 445 and 139. Those machines that have these ports open are then attacked with one of the methods described above.

The criminals behind this attack are asking for $300 in Bitcoins to deliver the key that decrypts the ransomed data, payable to a unified Bitcoin account. Unlike Wannacry, this technique would work because the attackers are asking the victims to send their wallet numbers by e-mail to “wowsmith123456@posteo.net,” thus confirming the transactions.

There is no kill-switch as of yet, and reports say the ransom email is invalid, so paying up is not recommended.

Technical Details

Talos observed that compromised systems have a file named “Perfc.dat” dropped on them. Perfc.dat contains the functionality needed to further compromise the system and contains a single unnamed export function referred to as #1. The library attempts to obtain administrative privileges (SeShutdowPrivilege and SeDebugPrivilege) for the current user through the Windows API AdjustTokenPrivileges. If successful, the ransomware will overwrite the master boot record (MBR) on the disk drive referred to as PhysicalDrive 0 within Windows. Regardless of whether the malware is successful in overwriting the MBR or not, it will then proceed to create a scheduled task via schtasks to reboot the system one hour after infection.

As part of the propagation process, the malware enumerates all visible machines on the network via the NetServerEnum and then scans for an open TCP 139 port. This is done to compile a list of devices that expose this port and may possibly be susceptible to compromise.

The malware has three mechanisms used to propagate once a device is infected:

  1. EternalBlue – the same exploit used by WannaCry.
  2. Psexec – a legitimate Windows administration tool.
  3. WMI – Windows Management Instrumentation, a legitimate Windows component.

These mechanisms are used to attempt installation and execution of perfc.dat on other devices to spread laterally.

For systems that have not had MS17-010 applied, the EternalBlue exploit is leveraged to compromise systems.

Psexec is used to execute the following instruction (where w.x.y.z is an IP address) using the current user’s windows token to install the malware on the networked device. Talos is still investigating the methods in which the “current user’s windows token” is retrieved from the machine.

C:\WINDOWS\dllhost.dat \\w.x.y.z -accepteula -s -d C:\Windows\System32\rundll32.exe C:\Windows\perfc.dat,#1

WMI is used to execute the following command which performs the same function as above, but using the current user’s username and password (as username and password).

Wbem\wmic.exe /node:”w.x.y.z” /user:”username” /password:”password” “process call create “C:\Windows\System32\rundll32.exe \”C:\Windows\perfc.dat\” #1″

Once a system is successfully compromised, the malware encrypts files on the host using 2048-bit RSA encryption. Additionally, the malware cleans event logs on the compromised device using the following command:

wevtutil cl Setup & wevtutil cl System & wevtutil cl Security & wevtutil cl Application & fsutil usn deletejournal /D %c:

What steps has EventTracker SIEMphonic taken?

  1. Closely monitoring announcements and details provided by industry experts including US CERT, SANS, Microsoft, etc.
  2. Reviewed the latest vulnerability scan results from your network (if subscribed to ETVAS service) for vulnerable machines. ETVAS service subscribers who would like us to scan your network again can request us at ecc@eventtracker.com and we will perform a scan at your convenience.
  3. Updated the Active Watch List in your instance of EventTracker with the latest Indicators of Compromise (IOCs). This includes MD5 hashes of the malware variants, IP addresses of  C&C servers, the email address wowsmith123456@posteo.net
  4. Monitoring system reboots and additions to the Scheduled Tasks list
  5. Watching Change Audit snapshots in your network for changes to registry (RunOnce)
  6. Updated ETIDS with snort signatures as described by Cisco Talos
  7. Performing log searches using known IOCs

Recommendations

  • Apply the Microsoft patch for the MS17-010 SMB vulnerability dated March 14, 2017.
  • Perform a detailed vulnerability scan of all systems on your network and apply missing patches ASAP.
  • Limit traffic from/to ports 139 and 445 to internal network only. Monitor traffic to these ports for out of ordinary behavior.
  • Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing e-mails from reaching the end users and authenticate in-bound e-mail using technologies like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to prevent e-mail spoofing.
  • Scan all incoming and outgoing e-mails to detect threats and filter executable files from reaching the end users.
  • Ensure anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts. Implement the principle of least privilege. No users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed. Those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary.
  • Configure access controls including file, directory, and network share permissions with least privilege in mind. If a user only needs to read specific files, they should not have write access to those files, directories, or shares.
  • Disable macro scripts from Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail instead of full Office suite applications.

Perfect protection is not practical

With distressing regularity, new breaches continue to make headlines. The biggest companies, the largest institutions both private and government are affected. Every sector is in the news. Recounting these attacks is fruitless. Taking action based on the trends and threat landscape is the best step. Smarter threats that evade basic detection, mixed with the operational challenge of skills shortage, make the protection gap wider.

An overemphasis on prevention defines the current state of defenses as shown in the pie chart below.

pie-chart

According to ISACA’s 2015 cybersecurity report , over 85% of senior IT and business leaders report that they feel there is a labor crisis of skilled cybersecurity workers. Gartner believes approximately 50% of budgeted security positions are vacant; on average, technical staff spend about four years in a position before moving on. The threats that this outnumbered corps are working to confront are evolving so fast that security departments’ staffing methods are often hopelessly out of date.

prefect-protection

The main lesson to learn is that “perfect protection is not practical, so monitoring is necessary.”

Are you feeling overwhelmed with the variety, velocity and volume of cyber attacks? Help is at hand. Our SIEMphonic managed detection and response offering blends best-in-class technology with a 24/7 iSOC to help strengthen your security defenses while controlling cost.

Three myths about Ransomware

Three Myths about Ransomware

Ransomware is a popular weapon for the modern attacker with >50% of the 330,000+ attacks in 3Q15 targeted against US companies. No industry is immune to these attacks, which if successful are a blot on financial statements of the targeted companies. Despite their success, ransomware attacks are not sophisticated, exploit traditional infection vectors and are not stealthy. The success of such attacks reveal poor endpoint protection planning and strategy, which are observed at companies of every size and every vertical. This leads to most organizations reacting to such infections rather than planning against them, which is expensive in staff hours and of course hurtful to reputation.

A misunderstanding of ransomware, how it works and how the infection can be prevented are common. Here are three common misconceptions:

Myth #1: Ransomware is a zero-day attack

In fact, exploiting a zero-day vulnerability is an expensive proposition for a malicious actor. In reality, most malware target vulnerabilities, which while well-documented and easily remediated, remain unpatched. Therefore, a systematic schedule of patching and endpoint system updates within 30 days of becoming available is the most effective available way to minimize the threat of ransomware, and indeed most “targeted” attacks.

Myth #2: Anti-virus & perimeter solutions are sufficient protection

Signature-based protection has been widely used for 20+ years and is a necessary and effective protection mechanism. However, this approach is well known and easily evaded by attackers. In addition to signature-based anti-virus solutions, it is necessary to consider endpoint detection and response solutions supported by monitoring and analytics. Many ransomware attacks are successful because attackers breach perimeter security solutions and web-facing applications. Most networks are flat, making them easy to traverse. Segmenting assets into trust zones and enforcing traffic flow rules is the way to go.

Myth #3: IT Admins always follow best practices

When administrator accounts are not monitored at all, it exposes such super powers to hacker opportunism. Admin workstations with drive mappings and often used (and sadly common) administrator passwords to critical servers are a high priority target. Best practice prescribes monitoring administrator accounts for unauthorized use, access and behaviors.

Recognize that ransomware itself isn’t much different than the malware of the past. Ransomware enters the organization the same way as other malware, propagates the same way and leverages known vulnerabilities in the same way. Thus the good news is that ransomware can also be defended in the same way as malware.

WannaCry: Nuisance or catastrophe? What to expect next?

As we come to the one week point of the global pandemic of ransomware called WannaCry, it seems that while the infection gained worldwide (and unprecedented) news coverage, it has been more of a global nuisance than a global catastrophe. Some interesting points to note:

  • The most affected systems were un-patched Windows 7 and 2008 — not XP as thought earlier. This clearly points to patching cycle. It also validates the approach taken by Microsoft in Windows 10 to force Windows updates for consumers and small business. There was a lot of rage against the machine at the time, but in retrospect, can we agree that it was the right design choice?
  • The distribution method was not a phishing email, rather it seems the malware authors spread by scanning for networks that did not block port 445, which is used by the SMB protocol. It’s high time to correct this mis-configuration. Here is how to do it.
  • It may be that in the eyes of some users, this is another case of the security industry crying “wolf” again, thereby contributing to the numbness to such outbreaks.

What can we expect going forward?

  • As usual, criminals will be quick to take advantage of the attendant fear by pitching phony schemes to “protect” those that are worried they may be, or may become, victims.
  • There will be copycat malware. The distribution by worm (instead of phishing) makes network hygiene even more important.
  • Leaks will increase. Both Wikileaks and Shadow Brokers received tremendous publicity, and given the commercial nature of the latter, they will try and leverage this notoriety.
  • Patch hygiene may improve for a short period in businesses. This is similar to a driver slowing down after observing someone else pulled over by the police. The effects are only temporary though, sad to say.
  • Collaboration across the industry was a big part of blunting the damage. It looks set to continue, which is an incredibly good thing.

Do hackers prefer attacking over the weekend?

The recent WannaCry attack started on a Friday and it was feared that the results would be far more severe on Monday, as workers trickled back from the weekend. The fraudulent wires from Bangladesh Bank that resulted in $81M lost also happened on a Friday. A detailed account of how this weekend timing allowed hackers to get away a large sum (rerouted to the Philippines) with is described in this Reuters investigation.

Attribution in each case has veered towards a state-sponsored attacker that is interested in financial gain. The finger of suspicion points to North Korea in both cases. Lamont Siller, an FBI officer in the Philippines in a speech said, “We all know the Bangladesh Bank heist, this is just one example of a state-sponsored attack that was done on the banking sector.” Symantec in a blog update reported “that its researchers found hacking tools that are ‘exclusively used by Lazarus’ on machines infected with early versions of WanaCryptor, aka WannaCry.” Lazarus is thought to have originated in North Korea.

All righty then, 1) attacks are state sponsored, persistent and advanced, and 2) timed for non-working hours. So are you ready to defend against such attackers? You know, you are not alone. EventTracker’s SIEMphonic service blends award winning SIEM technology with a 24/7 iSOC to give you the cover you need at a price that won’t break the bank.

Want to know more? Here is how we caught WannaCry and what we are doing about it for our customers.

WannaCry at Industrial Control Systems

WannCry-Control-Systems

A global pandemic of ransomware hit Windows based systems in 150 countries in a matter of hours. The root cause was traced to a vulnerability corrected by Microsoft for supported platforms (Win 7, 8.1 and higher) in March 2017, about 55 days before the malware was widespread. Detailed explanations and mitigation steps are described here. The first step to mitigation is to apply the update from Microsoft. A version for XP and 2003 was also released by Microsoft on Friday May 12, 2017.

But what if you did not apply the update because you just cannot do so? This is often the case in Industrial Control Systems (ICS), which comprise Operational Technology (OT) systems built on the same platforms (Windows XP, 7) that are susceptible to this vulnerability, but the patch/backup strategy recommended for traditional desktops just simply does not apply.

There are reports of several manufacturers that have apparently stopped work at plants because of WannaCry infestations of control systems, including automobile manufacturers like Renault, Dacia, and Nissan. There are many valid reasons:

  • The earlier versions of Microsoft software used in ICS aren’t just off-the-shelf versions of Windows, but they’re Windows as mediated by industrial control system vendors like Honeywell, Siemens and the like. They don’t use off-the-shelf Windows. Applying updates requires testing to ensure the ICS system is not going to be disrupted.
  • ICS system owners abhor downtime. It is very expensive to shut down a manufacturing line or an airport runway, and not possible to shut down the International Space Station.
  • ICS system owners often cite the “air gap”. But that’s a myth that has been exploded often.

As a start, ICS-CERT has published an advisory which provides this guidance:

  • Disable SMBv1 on every system connected to the network.
    • Information on how to disable SMBv1 is available here.
    • While many modern devices will operate correctly without SMBv1, some older devices may experience communication or file/device access disruptions.
  • Block port 445 (Samba).
    • This may cause disruptions on systems that require port 445.
  • Review network traffic to confirm that there is no unexpected SMBv1 network traffic. The following links provide information and tools for detecting SMBv1 network traffic and Microsoft’s MS17-010 patch:
  • Vulnerable embedded systems that cannot be patched should be isolated or protected from potential network exploitation.

WannaCry: Fraud follows fear

After the global pandemic of the WannaCry ransomware attack this past weekend, it’s entirely predictable that fraudsters would follow. After every major attack or vulnerability disclosure, criminals are quick to take advantage of the attendant fear by pitching phony schemes to “protect” those that are worried they may be, or may become, victims.

This has indeed occurred already in the wake of WannaCrypt. Various third-party mobile app stores are offering protection from the ransomware, but those protective apps are for the most part bogus, and commonly infested with adware. So, steer clear of apps promising protection, and instead patch and update your systems.

Spam emails notifying you that your machine is infected with WannaCry (see picture below) are also making the rounds.

WannaCry Ransomware

Here’s some guidance to be safe from these attempts:

  • Apply the Microsoft patch for the MS17-010 SMB vulnerability dated March 14, 2017.
  • Perform a detailed vulnerability scan of all systems on your network and apply missing patches ASAP.
  • Limit traffic from/to ports 139 and 445 to internal network only. Monitor traffic to these ports for out-of-ordinary behavior.
  • Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing e-mails from reaching the end users and authenticate in-bound e-mail using technologies like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to prevent e-mail spoofing.
  • Scan all incoming and outgoing e-mails to detect threats and filter executable files from reaching the end users.
  • Ensure anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts. Implement the principle of least privilege. No users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed. Those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary.
  • Configure access controls including file, directory and network share permissions with least privilege in mind. If a user only needs to read specific files, they should not have write access to those files, directories or shares.
  • Disable macro scripts from Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail instead of full Office suite applications.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t despair. Expert help available here.

WannaCry: What it is and what to do about it

What happened

For those of us in the IT Security profession, Friday May 12 was Black Friday. Networks in healthcare and critical infrastructure across at least 99 countries have been infected by the WannaCry ransomware worm, aka WanaCrypt, WannaCrypt or Wcry. The bulk of infections were reported in Russia, Taiwan and Spain.

First observed targeting UK hospitals and Spanish banks, big companies like Telefónica, Vodafone and FedEx had some of their systems infected with the threat that also hit rail stations and universities. The Spanish CERT issued an alert warning the organizations and confirming that the malware was rapidly spreading.

Is it over? Will it happen again?

A sample of malware was reverse engineered and found to contain a “kill switch“. The malware tries to resolve a particular domain name and if it exists, it self destructs. This domain has been registered and so, if you are infected and this particular strain is able to successfully resolve that domain name using your internet connection and DNS settings, then it will apparently terminate itself. Obviously hope is not a strategy and assuming that we don’t have to do anything now is a big mistake. It is inevitable that a new strain which won’t have any such kill switch will emerge. Accordingly, it is imperative to strengthen defenses.

How it spreads

Initial infection is possibly via phishing email. CERT also reported that the hacker or hacking group behind the WannaCry campaign is gaining access to enterprise servers either through Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) compromise. Once the infection has taken root, it spreads across the network looking for new victims using the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. The ransomware uses the Microsoft vulnerability MS17-10[1]. This vulnerability was used by ETERNALBLUE, an exploit that was developed by the NSA and released to the public by the Shadow Brokers, a hacker group on April 14, 2017. Microsoft released a patch for this vulnerability on March 14, one month before the release of the exploit.

What it does

Once the infection is on the machine, it encrypts files and shows a ransom note asking for $300 or $600 worth of bitcoin.

Technical details

As described by CERT, the WannaCry ransomware is a loader that contains an AES-encrypted DLL. During runtime, the loader writes a file to disk named “t.wry”. The malware then uses an embedded 128-bit key to decrypt this file. This DLL, which is then loaded into the parent process, is the actual Wanna Cry Ransomware responsible for encrypting the user’s files. Using this cryptographic loading method, the WannaCry DLL is never directly exposed on disk and not vulnerable to antivirus software scans.

The newly loaded DLL immediately begins encrypting files on the victim’s system and encrypts the user’s files with 128-bit AES. A random key is generated for the encryption of each file.

The malware also attempts to access the IPC$ shares and SMB resources the victim system has access to. This access permits the malware to spread itself laterally on a compromised network. However, the malware never attempts to attain a password from the victim’s account in order to access the IPC$ share.

This malware is designed to spread laterally on a network by gaining unauthorized access to the IPC$ share on network resources on the network on which it is operating.

What steps has EventTracker SIEMphonic taken?

  1. Closely monitoring announcements and details provided by industry experts including US CERT, SANS, Microsoft, etc.
  2. Reviewed the latest vulnerability scan results from your network (if subscribed to ETVAS service) for vulnerable machines. ETVAS service subscribers who would like us to scan your network again can request us at ecc@eventtracker.com and we will perform a scan at your convenience.
  3. Updated the Active Watch List in your instance of EventTracker with the latest Indicators of Compromise (IOCs). This includes MD5 hashes of the malware variants, IP addresses of WannaCry C&C servers and domain names used by the malware
  4. Added an alert if we see any logs containing the domain name iuqerfsodp9ifjaposdfjhgosurijfaewrwergwea.com which is used by WannaCry
  5. Watching Change Audit snapshots in your network for changes to registry (RunOnce) and for files with extension .wncry
  6. Updated ETIDS with snort signatures as described by the SANS Internet Storm Center
  7. Performing log searches using known IOCs

Recommended steps for prevention

  • Apply the Microsoft patch for the MS17-010 SMB vulnerability dated March 14, 2017.
  • Perform a detailed vulnerability scan of all systems on your network and apply missing patches ASAP.
  • Limit traffic from/to ports 139 and 445 to internal network only. Monitor traffic to these ports for out of ordinary behavior.
  • Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing e-mails from reaching the end users and authenticate in-bound e-mail using technologies like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to prevent e-mail spoofing.
  • Scan all incoming and outgoing e-mails to detect threats and filter executable files from reaching the end users.
  • Ensure anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts. Implement the principle of least privilege. No users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed. Those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary.
  • Configure access controls including file, directory, and network share permissions with least privilege in mind. If a user only needs to read specific files, they should not have write access to those files, directories, or shares.
  • Disable macro scripts from Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail instead of full Office suite applications.

How EventTracker protected customers

See the details in the Catch of the Day

Challenges with Threat Intelligence or why a Honeynet is a good idea

Shared threat intelligence is an attractive concept. The good guys share experiences about what the bad guys are doing thereby blunting attacks. This includes public-private partnerships like InfraGard, a partnership between the FBI and the private sector dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the U.S.

The analogy can be made to casinos that share information with each other about cheaters and their characteristics via the Gaming Board or the Griffin Book. If you share the intelligence then everybody but the cheater wins. So why not the same for cyber security?

For one thing, you are dealing with anonymous adversaries capable of rapid change, unlike the casino analogy where facial recognition can identify an individual even if their appearance is modified. Also, the behavior of the casino cheat tends to be similar (for example sit at the craps table or counting cards at blackjack as in Rain Man). In the cybersecurity world, all the defender has to go on is the type of attack (malware, phishing, ransomware), an IP range, and possibly a domain name. So the indicators of compromise (IOCs) that can be shared are file hashes, domain names, and sender email domains-all multiplying and morphing at digital speed. The IOCs are very hard to share globally at the scale and speed of the internet.

In addition, when the good guys share the IOCs, they do so in ways that are visible to bad guys as well (e.g., upload suspect files to Virus Total). This is leveraged by the bad guys to know the progress of the defenders and therefore adapt their attack.

So what now?

One solution is to implement local threat intelligence with a honeynet, a cyber-defense product that thwarts attempts by attackers to gain information about a private network. Comprised of
multiple virtualized decoys strategically scattered throughout the network to lure bad actors, honeynets can provide intelligence about malicious activity against the network. This solution is effective in identify bad actors including insiders, by their behavior, in your neighborhood. This blog describes the how they differ from Threat Intelligence.

Essential soft skills for cybersecurity success

IT workers in general, but more so IT Security professionals, pride themselves on their technical skills. Keeping abreast of the latest threats and the newest tactics to demonstrate to management and peers that one is “worthy.” The long alphabet soup in the signature, CISSP, CISA, MCSE, CCNA and so on, is all very necessary and impressive. However, cybersecurity puzzles are not solved by technical skills alone. In fact, the case can be made that soft skills are just as important, especially because everyone in the organization needs to cooperate. Security is everyone’s job.

Collaboration

Security is everyone’s job, so a critical success factor for the cybersecurity leader is what you communicate and how you communicate to various stakeholders to gain support, buy-in and behavior change. The soft skills to partner with various individuals and departments throughout your organization will drive the success of any cybersecurity program.

Communication

Too often, IT security leaders speak in the technical jargon of their area of expertise. Not surprisingly, this makes no impact on business leaders nor on others in the organization whose participation is critical to success. After all, a behavior change is only possible if the employee recognizes risk and internalizes the change. This skill, like many others, can be learned and improved with practice. It’s unusual to see a technically capable person want to learn and hone such a skill, but it’s incredibly valuable, and when encountered, its value is readily recognized.

Culture

Culture in this context includes the perceptions, attitudes and beliefs people in the organization have toward cybersecurity. The process of incorporating emotion is often difficult for technical people to comprehend, but plays a central role in communication and collaboration, and therefore success in changing behavior or adoption of new procedures. Old economy companies, such as financial or government organizations, may have a “professional” culture that requires formality and procedure in communication and content. Technology companies with relatively younger employees may react better to communications with humor or animation, and a more informal style. Learning company culture will make collaboration and communication, and therefore cybersecurity, much more effective.

Ultimately, technical skills are necessary for success, but absent these soft skills, a successful cybersecurity program cannot be achieved. As an industry, we tend to emphasize and value technical skills; the same is needed for soft skills.

Who suffers more — cybercrime victims or cybersecurity professionals?

So you got hit by a data breach, an all too common occurrence in today’s security environment. Who gets hit? Odds are you will say the customer. After all it’s their Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that was lost. Maybe their credit card or social security number or patient records were compromised. But pause a moment and consider the hit on the company itself. The hit includes attorney fees, lost business, reputational damage, and system remediation costs.

They deserve it, you say? They were negligent and must suffer the consequences. But spare a thought for the individuals on the “front line,” defending their organizations against the entire world of cyber criminals. They are victims, too. And it may not be a lack of diligence or due care on their part either. In the meantime they may experience the same disappointment and grief as a customer whose data is compromised. They are confused. They may feel a lack of focus and confidence in themselves. They may have sleepless nights and an increased level of anxiety. Not very different than a caregiver to a sick patient.

As in the patient/caregiver scenario, all the attention is focused on the patient. Consider this excerpt from American Nurse that says, “While nurses may not suffer the same way patients do, we experience pain, frustration, lack of resources, and many other forms of suffering when delivering care to patients and their families. In our highly regulated healthcare environment, administrators commonly view nursing as the highest cost center instead of a revenue generator. Typically, nursing is factored into room and board on the patient’s bill.”

This will sound eerily familiar to the IT staff on the front line of responding to a data breach.

How can you help?

  • Acknowledge their pain and anxiety; show that you understand
  • Coordinate care; be there for them in a continuous way
  • Get them help; outside experts who deal in incident management
  • Conduct a lessons learned; an excellent way to beef up skills on the team is to consider co-sourcing certain responsibilities

The next time you hear of a data breach, spare a thought for the IT Security team at the front line; after all they are victims, too.

Man Bites Dog!

Made you look!

It’s a clickbait headline, a popular tactic with the press to get people to click on their article.

Cyber criminals, the ones after the gold in your network, are at heart, capitalists. In other words, they seek efficiency. How to get maximum returns for the minimum possible work. This tendency reveals itself in multiple ways.

For example:

  • They scan networks, looking for the less well guarded ones; default passwords, unpatched systems, minimal defenses; easy pickings. After all why bother with hard work if the same results can be had easily?
  • The rise of Ransomware-as-a-service; essentially a franchise model for ransomware, such that criminals with little technical expertise can run ransomware attacks without having to build anything from scratch. As you can imagine, this has led to a sharp increase in ransomware attacks.

In order to get the bad guys to move along to the next target, your job then is to push them up the pyramid of pain — make it that much harder so as to decrease their ROI.

But, wait a minute, you’re thinking. What about that screaming headline? Anthem, Target, the beat goes on. Remember, headlines are always screaming. That’s what gets eyeballs and what sells. The mundane, common, low-level, ho-hum attacks simply don’t make the headlines but cause more damage on a sustained basis than the latest zero day.

The analogy in the healthcare world is that Bird Flu and Ebola garner screaming headlines while the common cold is responsible for more days missed at work and school by orders of magnitude. When was the last headline you saw about little Johnny missing school because of the flu?

How now, brown cow? The approach is well known but bears repeating:

  • Identify your crown jewels (know you assets)
  • Do a gap analysis to determine vulnerabilities
  • Address these vulnerabilities
  • Monitor for breaches

Sound like a plan? Check out our SIEMphonic service. It’s the easy button for sensible security.

Spending too much or too little on IT Security?

A common assumption is that security expenditure is a proxy for security maturity. This may make sense at first blush but paradoxically, a low relative level of information security spending compared to peers can be equally indicative of a very well-run or a poorly run security program. Spending analysis is, therefore, imprecise and a potentially misleading indicator of program success. In fact, it is necessary to ensure that the right risks are being adequately managed, and understand that spending may fluctuate accordingly.

According to Gartner’s most recent IT Key Metrics Data, respondents spent between 4-7% on IT security and risk management as a percentage of the overall IT budget. Note that IT spending statistics alone do not measure IT effectiveness and are not a gauge of successful IT within organizations. They simply provide an indicative view of average costs in general, without regard to complexity or demand.

The compliance hyperbole of previous years that drove information security spending has abated, having matured with organizations moving from planning to productive activities to address the requirements. Compliance remains a relevant internal selling point for justifying security and risk management budgets, but other factors — such as the series of high profile attacks played out in global media in recent years — have now become strong drivers. The visibility of information security spending in the boardroom is at an all-time high.

It is quite possible to constrain spending without compromising your security posture. One way is to consider managed detection and response. This is an effective outcome based combination of expertise and tools to detect threats, especially targeted advanced threats and insider threats. Our SIEMphonic service offering is a premier example of this type of service. The figure above, as described in this research note, can be the result.

Compliance is not a proxy for due care

Regulatory compliance is a necessary step for IT leaders, but it’s not sufficient enough to reduce residual IT security risk to tolerable levels. This is not news. But why is this the case? Here are three reasons:

  • Compliance regulations are focused on “good enough,” but the threat environment mutates rapidly. Therefore, any definition of “good enough” is temporary. The lack of specificity in most regulations is deliberate to accommodate these factors.
  • IT technologies change rapidly. An adequate technology solution today will be obsolete within a few years.
  • Circumstances and IT networks are so varied, that no single regulation can address them all. Prescribing a common set of solutions for all cases is not possible.

The key point to understand is that the compliance guidance documents are just that — guidance. Getting certification for the standard, while necessary, is not sufficient. If your network becomes the victim of a security breach and a third party suffers harm, then compliance to the guidelines alone will not be an adequate defense, although it may help mitigate certain regulatory penalties. All reasonable steps to mitigate the potential for harm to others must have been implemented, regardless of whether those steps are listed within the guidance.

A strong security program is based on effective management of the organization’s security risks. A process to do this effectively is what regulators and auditors look for.

Top three reasons SIEM solutions fail

We have been implementing Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions for more than 10 years. We serve hundreds of active SIEM users and implementations. We have had many awesome, celebratory, cork-popping successes. Unfortunately, we’ve also had our share of sad, tearful, profanity-filled failures. Why? Why do some companies succeed with SIEM while others fail? Here is a secret for you: the product doesn’t matter. The size of the company doesn’t matter. It’s something else. SIEM can deliver great results but it can soak up budget, time and leave you frustrated with the outcome. Here are the (all too) common reasons why SIEM implementations fail.

Reason 1: You don’t have an administrator in charge.

We call this the RUN function. A person in charge of platform administration. A Sys Admin who:

  • Keeps the solution up-to-date with upgrades and new versions
  • Performs system health checks, storage projections and log volume/performance analysis
  • Analyzes changes in log collection for new systems and non-reporting systems
  • Adds and configures users, standardized reports, dashboards and alerts
  • Generates Weekly System Status Report
  • Confirms external/third party integration’s are functioning normally: threat intel feeds, IDS, VAS

Reason 2: The boss isn’t committed.

For the SIEM solution to deliver value, the executive in charge must be fully committed to it, providing emotional, financial and educational support to the administrator. You tell your team that this is the company’s system and everyone’s going to use it. You invest in outside help to get it up and running, and use it the right way with the proper training and service. You don’t cave in when people complain because they don’t like the color of the screen or the font, or that things take extra clicks, or that it’s not “user friendly.” For this system to work, your people will need to do more work. You provide resources to help them, but you stand firm because this is your network. You realize that using this product the right way will help you make your company safer…and more valuable. Stand firm. Commit. Or you will fail.

Reason 3: You’re not using the data.

Our best implementations have 2-3 key objectives satisfied by the SIEM systems each day. Managers read these reports and rely on the data to help them secure their network. Have a few key objectives or you will fail. We call this the WATCH function for obvious reasons.

We are a premier provider of SIEM solutions and services, but with all due respect we would advise against buying a SIEM solution if a client is not prepared to invest in an administrator or reports, or shows little interest in adopting the system into their company culture.

Monitoring DNS Traffic for Security Threats

Cyber criminals are constantly developing increasingly sophisticated and dangerous malware programs. Statistics for the first quarter of 2016 compared to 2015 shows that malware attacks have quadrupled.

Why DNS traffic is important

DNS has an important role in how end users in your enterprise connect to the internet. Each connection made to a domain by the client devices is recorded in the DNS logs. Inspecting DNS traffic between client devices and your local recursive resolver could reveal a wealth of information for forensic analysis.

DNS queries can reveal:

  • Botnets/Malware connecting to C&C servers
  • What websites visited by an employee
  • Which malicious and DGA domains were accessed
  • Which dynamic domains (DynDNS) accessed
  • DDOS attack detection like NXDomain, phantom domain. random subdomain

Identifying the threats using EventTracker

While parsing each DNS log, we verify each domain accessed against:

  • Malicious domain database (updated on regular basis)
  • Domain Generation Algorithm (DGA)

Any domain which matches any of the above mentioned criteria warrants attention and an alert is generated along with the client which accessed it, and the geological information of the domain (IP, Country).

Using behavior analysis, EventTracker tracks the volume of connections to each domain accessed in the enterprise. If the volume of traffic to a specific domain is more than average, alert conditions are triggered. When a domain is accessed for the first time, we check the following:

  • Is this a dynamic domain?
  • Is the domain registered recently or expiring soon?
  • Does the domain have a known malicious TLD?

Recent trends show that cyber criminals may create dynamic domains as command and control centers. These domains are activated for a very short duration and then discarded, which makes the above checks even more important.

EventTracker does statistical/threshold monitoring of query, client, record type and error. This helps in detecting many DDOS attacks like NXDOMAIN attack, Phantom domain attack, random sub-domain attack, etc. EventTracker’s monitoring of client DNS settings will help to detect DNS hijacking and generate an alert for anything suspicious, including information about the client as well as its DNS setting. The EventTracker flex dashboard helps in correlating attack detection data and client details, making attack detection simpler.

Monitoring the DNS logs is a powerful way to identify security attacks as they happen in the enterprise, enabling successful blocking of attacks and fixing vulnerabilities.

Idea to retire: Do more with less

Ideas to Retire is a TechTank series of blog posts that identify outdated practices in public sector IT management and suggest new ideas for improved outcomes.

Dr. John Leslie King is W.W. Bishop Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan and contributed a blog hammering the idea of “do more with less” calling it a “well-intentioned but ultimately ridiculous suggestion.”

King writes: “Doing more with less flies in the face of what everyone already knows: we do less with less. This is not our preference, of course. Most of us would like to do less, especially if we could have more. People are smart: they do not volunteer to do more if they will get less. Doing more with less turns incentive upside down. Eliminating truly wasteful practices and genuine productivity gains sometimes allows us to do more with less, but these cases are rare. The systemic problems with HealthCare.gov were not solved by spending less, but by spending more. Deep wisdom lies in matching inputs with outputs.”

IT managers should respond to suggestions of doing more with less by assessing what really needs to be done…what can reasonably be discarded or added that enables the IT staff to go about their responsibilities without exceeding their limits?

Considering these ideas as they relate to IT Security, a way to optimize input with outputs may be by considering a co-managed solution focused on outcome. Rather than merely acquiring technology and then watching it gather dust as you struggle to build process and train (non-existent) staff to utilize it properly, start with the end in mind – the desired outcome. If this is a well managed SIEM solution, (and associated technology) then perhaps a co-managed SIEM approach may provide the way to match output with input.

Detect Persistent Threats on a Budget

detect-persistent-threats

There’s a wealth of intelligence available in your DNS logs that can help you detect persistent threats.

So how can you use them to see if your network has been hacked, or check for unauthorized access to sensitive intellectual property after business hours?

All intruders in your network must re-connect with their “central command” in order to manage or update the malware they’ve installed on your system. As a result, your infected network devices will repeatedly resolve to the domain names that the attackers use. By mining your DNS logs, you can determine if known bad domain names and/or IP addresses have affected your systems. Depending on the most current “blacklist” of criminal domains is, and how rigid your network rules are regarding IP destinations that the domain names resolve to, DNS logs can help you spot these anomalies.

It’s not a a comprehensive technique for detecting persistent threats, but a good, budget friendly start.

Here is recent webinar we did on the subject of mining DNS logs.

Dirty truths your SIEM vendor won’t tell you

Analytics is an essential component of a modern SIEM solution. The ability to crunch large volumes of log and security data in order to extract meaningful insight can lead to improvements in security posture. Vendors love to tell you all about features and how their particular product is so much better than the competition.

Yeah, right!

The fact is, many products are available and most of them have comparable features. While software is a necessary part of the analytics process, it’s less critical than product marketing hype would have you believe.

As Meta Brown noted in Forbes, “Your own thought processes – the effort you put in to understand the business problem, investigate the data available, and plan a methodical approach to analysis – can do much more to simplify your work and maximize your chance for success than any product could.”

Techies just love to show off their tech macho. They can’t get together without arguing about the power of their code, speed of their response or the size of their clusters.

The reality? Once you invested in any of the comparable products, it’s the person behind the wheel that makes all the difference.

If you suffer from skill shortage, our remote managed SIEM Simplified solution may be for you.

Uncover C&C traffic to nip malware

In a recent webinar, we demonstrated techniques by which EventTracker monitors DNS logs to uncover attempts by malware to communicate with Command and Control (C&C) servers. Modern malware uses DNS to resolve algorithm generated domain names to find and communicate with C&C servers. These algorithms have improved by leaps and bounds since they were first see in Conficker.C. Early attempts were based on a fixed seed and so once the malware was caught, it could be decompiled to predict the domain names it would generate. The next improvement was to use the current time as a seed. Here again, once the malware is reverse engineered it’s possible to predict the domain names it will generate. Nowadays, the algorithms may use things like the current trending twitter topic as a seed to make prediction harder.

But hold on a second, you say – we don’t allow free access, we have installed a proxy with configuration and it will stop these attempts. Possibly. However, a study conducted between Sep 2015-Jan 2016 showed that less than 34% of outbound connection attempts to C&C infrastructure were blocked by firewalls or proxy servers. Said differently, more than 60% of the time an infected device successfully called out to a criminal operator.

Prevention technologies look for known threats. They examine inbound files and look for malware signatures. It’s more or less a one-time chance to stop the attacker from getting inside the network. Attackers have learned that time is their friend. Evasive malware attacks develop over time, allowing them to bypass prevention altogether. When no one is watching, the attack unfolds. Ultimately, an infected device will ‘phone home’ to a C&C server to receive instructions from the attacker.

DNS logs are a rich source of intelligence and bear close monitoring.

Maximize your SIEM ROI

Aristotle put forth the idea in his Poetics that a drama has three parts — a beginning or protasis, middle or epitasis, and end or catastrophe. Far too many SIEM implementations are considered to be catastrophes. Having implemented hundreds of such projects, here are the three parts of a SIEM implementation which if followed will in fact minimize the drama but maximize the ROI. If you prefer the video version of this, click here.

The beginning or protasis

  • Identify log sources and use cases.
  • Establish retention period for the data set and who gets access to which parts.
  • Nominate a SIEM owner and a sponsor for the project.

The middle or epitasis

  • Install the SIEM Console
  • Push out and configure sensors or the log sources to send data
  • Enable alerting and required reporting schedules
  • Take log volume measurements and compare against project disk space requirements
  • Perform preliminary tuning to eliminate most noisy and less useful log sources and type
  • Train the product owner and users on features and how-to use

The end or catastrophe

  • Review log volume and tune as needed
  • Review alerts for correctness and establish notification methods, if appropriate
  • Establish escalation policy – when and to whom
  • Establish report review process to generate artifacts for audit review
  • Establish platform maintenance cycle (platform and SIEM updates)