Cybersecurity Trends and Predictions 2019

The year 2018 saw ransomware families such as CryptoLocker and variants like Locky continue to plague organizations as cybersecurity adversaries morph their techniques to avoid detection. Several massive data breaches this year include Quora, Ticketmaster, and Facebook that exposed over 200 million records worldwide. While high-profile breaches may make the news headlines, over 60% of small and mid-sized firms have experienced data loss or a breach themselves. While smaller firms may believe that they are not targeted by hackers, they comprise the global supply chain connected to much larger enterprises. SMBs also find that their IT and security staff is stretched thin juggling day-to-day operations with cybersecurity capabilities insufficient for their unique organization and industry sector risks.

As the year winds down, here’s what small and mid-sized organizations may experience in 2019 with an eye towards enhancing security.

Cybersecurity Threats Impact Uptime:

Organizations of all sizes struggle to maintain uptime of point of sale (POS) systems and avoid lost productivity due to business data loss. Patching, ransomware, and data breaches all impact network and system uptime. Enhanced investment in your infrastructure and cybersecurity during 2019 ensures that your organization can detect and remediate threats quickly to meet resiliency and uptime objectives.

Malware Continues to Endanger Organizations:

Malware like viruses, worms, bots, and banking trojans will continue using advanced evasion techniques to challenge organizations and consumers alike. Malware that morphs and evades detection increases recovery costs; rapid detection and blocking will continue to be essential in minimizing dwell time and damage. While traditional anti-virus alone is not enough to stop malware, endpoint detection and response (EDR) software provides enhanced protection necessary to catch new and otherwise unknown malware strands.

Cybersecurity Shortages Drive New Business Models:

According to Ponemon Institute research, 73% of small and mid-sized organizations state that insufficient personnel keep IT security from being fully productive. A lack of cybersecurity staff and skills can lead to creative approaches to maintain protection and compliance. Many organizations will tap a trusted managed security services provider (MSSP) to complement their existing staff and capabilities.

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t See:

Over 40% of organizations consider getting full visibility to all assets and vulnerabilities to be a top challenge, according to a threat monitoring report. Comprehensive infrastructure and log monitoring provide real-time insights that can identify suspicious behavior, flag further action, and help prioritize where to focus limited resources. A Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) service such as EventTracker SIEMphonic provides the visibility and actionable intelligence you need for sustained protection.

New Privacy and Data Breach Regulations Gain Traction:

Following the strict privacy and breach notification guidelines in EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), many anticipate that US lawmakers will consider enacting similar regulations. The California Consumer Privacy Act signed into law in 2018 is a harbinger of such legislation. The Forbes Technology Council weighs in on data privacy impacts for organizations of all sizes.

Effective Security Starts at the Top:

You and your executives set the tone on security that successfully balances organizational growth with risk mitigation. Over 62% of small and medium-sized firms have experienced a data breach, so it’s important to be proactive and invest accordingly. Year-end is the ideal time to evaluate your current security posture and ensure that you are evolving and investing in security as your adversaries step up the game. If you don’t have the right skills or staff, engage a trusted advisor like a managed security services provider (MSSP) to assess any security gaps.

The cost of cybersecurity threats includes reduced productivity, lost online revenue, compliance gaps, and even fines. Many small and mid-sized organizations should approach 2019 with both strategic and tactical security measures that involve people, processes, and technology. Detecting a data breach takes 107 days on average so augment your expertise in security and compliance to maintain uptime and growth.

For more real-time information on cyberthreats, view our Catch of the Day resources that outlines actual cybersecurity war stories.

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.

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.

PoSeidon and EventTracker

A new and harmful Point-of-Sale (“POS”) malware has been identified by security researchers at Cisco’s Security Intelligence & Research Group. The team says it is more sophisticated and damaging than previous POS malware programs.

Nicknamed PoSeidon, the new malware family targets POS systems, infects machines and scrapes the memory for credit card information which it then exfiltrates to servers, primarily .ru TLD, for harvesting or resale.

When consumers use their credit or debit cards to pay for purchases from a retailer, they swipe their card through POS systems. Information stored on the magnetic stripe on the back of those cards is read and retained by the POS. If the information on that stripe is stolen, it can be used to encode the magnetic strip of a fake card, which is then used to make fraudulent purchases. POS malware and card fraud has been steadily rising, affecting large and small retailers. Target, one of the most visible victims of security breach involving access to its payment card data, incurred losses approximated at $162 million (before insurance recompense).

PoSeidon employs a technique called memory scraping in which the RAM of infected terminals are scanned for unencrypted strings which match credit card information. When PoSeidon take over a terminal, a loader binary is installed to allow the malware to remain on the target machine even during system reboots. The Loader then contacts a command and control server, and retrieves a URL which contains another binary, FindStr, to download and execute. FindStr scans the memory of the POS device and finds strings (hence its name) and installs a key logger which looks for number strings and keystrokes analogous to payment card numbers and sequences. CSS referred to the number sequences that begin with numbers generally used by Discover, Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards (6, 5, 4, and 3 respectively, as well as the number of digits following those numbers; 16 digits for the former three, 15 digits for the American Express card). This data is then encoded and sent to an exfiltration server.

A whitepaper for detecting and protecting from PoSeidon malware infection is also available from EventTracker.

Tired of keeping up with the ever changing Threatscape? Consider SIEM Simplified. Let our managed SIEM solution do the heavy lifting.

Want to be acquired? Get your cyber security in order!

Want to be acquired? Get your cyber security in order!

Washington Business Journal Senior Staff Reporter, Jill Aitoro hosted  a panel of cyber experts Feb. 26 at Crystal Tech Fund in Arlington, VA.

The panel noted that how well a company has locked down their systems and data will have a direct effect on how much a potential buyer is willing to shell out for an acquisition — or whether a buyer will even bite in the first place.

Howard Schmidt, formerly CISO at Microsoft recalled ‘”We did an acquisition one time — about $10 million. It brought tons of servers, a big IT infrastructure, when all was said and done, it cost more than $20 million to rebuild the systems that had been owned by criminals and hackers for at least two years. That’s a piece of M&A you need to consider.”

Many private investors are doing exactly that, calling in security companies to assess a target company’s cyber security posture before making an offer. In some cases, the result will be to not invest at all, with the venture capitalist telling a company to “get their act together and then call back”.

What good is Threat Intelligence integration in a SIEM?

Bad actors/actions are more and more prevelant on the Internet. Who are they? What are they up to? Are they prowling in your network?

The first two questions are answered by Threat Intelligence (TI), the last one can be provided by a SIEM that integrates TI into its functionality.

But wait, don’t buy just yet, there’s more, much more!

Threat Intelligence when fused with SIEM can:
• Validate correlation rules and improve base lining alerts by upping the priority of rules that also point at TI-reported “bad” sources
• Detect owned boxes, bots, etc. that call home when on your network
• Qualify entities related to an incident based on collected TI data (what’s the history of this IP?)
• Historical matching of past, historical log data to current TI data
• Review past TI history as key context for reviewed events, alerts, incidents, etc.
• Enable automatic action due to better context available from high-quality TI feeds
• Run TI effectiveness reports in a SIEM (how much TI leads to useful alerts and incidents?)
• Validate web server logs source IP to profile visitors and reduce service to those appearing on bad lists (uncommon)
and the beat goes on…

Want the benefits of SIEM without the heavy lifting involved? SIEM Simplified  may be for you.

What is a Stolen Credit Card Worth?

Solution Providers for Retail
Guest blog by A.N. Ananth

Cybercrime and stealing credit cards has been a hot topic all year. From the Target breach to Sony, the classic motivation for cybercriminals is profit. So how much is a stolen credit card worth?

The reason it is important to know the answer to this question is that it is the central motivation behind the criminal. If you could make it more expensive for a criminal to steal a card than what the thief would gain by selling them, then the attackers would find an easier target. That is what being a hard target is all about.

This article suggests prices of $35-$45 for a stolen credit card depending upon whether it is a platinum or corporate card. It is also worth noting that the viable lifetime of a stolen card is at most one billing cycle. After this time, the rightful owner will most likely detect its loss or the bank fraud monitor will pick up irregularities and terminate the account.

Why is a credit card with a high spending limit (say $10K) worth only $35? It is because monetizing a stolen credit card is difficult and requires a lot of expensive effort on part of the criminal. That is contrary to popular press which suggest that cybercrime results in easy billions. At the Workshop on Economics of Information Security, Herley and Florencio showed in their presentation, “Sex, Lies and Cybercrime Surveys,” that widely circulated estimates of cybercrime losses are wrong by orders of magnitude.For example:

Far from being broadly-based estimates of losses across the population, the cyber-crime estimates that we have appear to be largely the answers of a handful of people extrapolated to the whole population. A single individual who claims $50,000 losses, in an N = 1000 person survey, is all it takes to generate a $10 billion loss over the popu- lation. One unverified claim of $7,500 in phishing losses translates into $1.5 billion. …Cyber-crime losses follow very concentrated distributions where a representative sample of the pop- ulation does not necessarily give an accurate estimate of the mean. They are self-reported numbers which have no robustness to any embellishment or exaggeration. They are surveys of rare phenomena where the signal is overwhelmed by the noise of misinformation. In short they produce estimates that cannot be relied upon.

That’s a rational, fact based explanation as to why the most basic of information security is unusually effective in most cases. Pundits have been screaming this from the rooftops for a long time. What are your thoughts?

Read more at Solution Provider for Retail guest blog.

Are honeypots illegal?

In computer terminology, a honeypot is a computer system set to detect, deflect, or, in some manner, counteract attempts at unauthorized use of IT systems. Generally, a honeypot appears to be part of a network, but is actually isolated and monitored, and which seems to contain information or a resource of value to attackers.

Lance Spitzner covers this topic from his (admittedly) non-legal perspective.

Is it entrapment?
Honeypots are not a form of entrapment. For some reason, many people have this misconception that if they deploy honeypots, they can be prosecuted for entrapping the bad guys. Entrapment, by definition is “a law-enforcement officer’s or government agent’s inducement of a person to commit a crime, by means of fraud or undue persuasion, in an attempt to later bring a criminal prosecution against that person.”

Does it violate privacy laws?
Privacy laws in the US may limit your right to capture data about an attacker, even when the attacker is breaking into your honeypot but the exemption under Service Provider Protection is key. What this exemption means is that security technologies can collect information on people (and attackers), as long as that technology is being used to protect or secure your environment. In other words, these technologies are now exempt from privacy restrictions. For example, an IDS sensor that is used for detection and captures network activity is doing so to detect (and thus enable organizations to respond to) unauthorized activity. Such a technology is most likely not considered a violation of privacy as the technology is being used to help protect the organization, so it falls under the exemption of Service Provider Protection. Honeypots that are used to protect an organization would fall under this exemption.

Does it expose us to liability?
Liability is not a criminal issue, but civil. Liability implies you could be sued if your honeypot is used to harm others. For example, if it is used to attack other systems or resources, the owners of those may sue. The argument being that if you had taken proper precautions to keep your systems secure, the attacker would not have been able to harm my systems, so you share the fault for any damage occurred to me during the attack. The issue of liability is one of risk. First, anytime you deploy a security technology (even one without an IP stack), that technology comes with risk. For example, there have been numerous vulnerabilities discovered in firewalls, IDS systems, and network sniffers. Honeypots are no different.

Obviously this blog entry is not legal advice and should not be construed as such.

SIEM or Log Management?

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) is a Gartner coined term to describe solutions which monitor and help manage user and service privileges, directory services, and other system configuration changes in addition to providing log auditing, and review and incident response.

SIEM differs from Log Management, which refers to solutions which deal with large volumes of computer-generated log messages (also known as audit records, event-logs, etc.)

Log management is aimed at general system troubleshooting or incident response support. The focus is on collecting all logs for various reasons. This “input-driven” approach tries to get every possible bit of data.

This model fails with SIEM-focused solutions. Opening the floodgates, admitting any/all log data into the tool first, then considering what (if any) use is there for the data, reduces tool performance as it struggles to cope with the flood. More preferable is an “output-driven” model where data is admitted if and only if its usage is defined. This use can be defined to include alerts, dashboards, reports, behavior profiling, threat analysis, etc..

Buying a SIEM solution and using it as log management tool is a waste of money. Forcing a log management solution to act like a SIEM is folly.

The Security Risks of Industry Interconnections

2014 has seen a rash of high profile security breaches involving theft of personal data and credit card numbers from retailers Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Target, Michaels, online auction site eBay, and grocery chains SuperValu and Hannaford among others. Hackers were able to steal hundreds of millions of credit and debit cards; from the information disclosed, this accounted for 40 million cards from Target, 350,000 from Neiman Marcus, up to 2.6 million from Michaels, 56 million from Home Depot.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reports that to date in 2014, 644 security breaches have occurred, an increase of 25.3 percent over last year. By far the majority of breaches targeted payment card data along with personal information like social security numbers and email addresses, and personal health information, and it estimates that over 78 million records were exposed.

Malware installed using third party credentials was found to be among the primary cause of the breaches in post-security analysis. Banks and financial institutions are critically dependent on their IT infrastructure and are also constantly exposed to attacks because of Sutton’s Law. Networks are empowering because they allow us to interact with other employees, customers and vendors. However, it is often the case that industry partners have a looser view of security and thus may be more vulnerable to being breached; exploiting industry interconnection is a favorite tactic used by attackers. After all, a frontal brute force attack on a well-defended large corporation’s doors are unlikely to be successful.

The Weak Link

The attackers target subcontractors, which are usually small companies with comparatively weaker IT security defenses and minimal cyber security expertise on hand. These small companies are also proud of their large customer and keen to highlight their connection. Likewise, companies often provide a surprising number of information meant for vendors on public sites for which logins are not necessary. This makes the first step of researching the target and their industry interconnections easier for the attacker.

The next step is to compromise the subcontractor network and find employee data. Social networking sites liked LinkedIn are a boon to attackers and used to create lists of IT admin and management staff who are likely to be privileged users. In West Virginia, state agencies were victims when malware infected computers of users whose email addresses ended with The next step is to gain access to the contractors’ privileged users workstation, and from there, to breach the final target. In one retailer breach, the network credentials given to a heating, air conditioning and refrigeration contractor were stolen after hackers mounted a phishing attack, and were able to successfully lodge malware in the contractor’s systems, two months before they attacked the retailer, their ultimate target.

Good Practices, Good Security

Organizations can no longer assume that their enterprise is enforcing effective security standards; likewise, they cannot make the same assumption about their partners, vendors and clients, or anyone who has access to their networks. A Fortune 500 company has access to resources to acquire and manage security systems that a smaller vendor might not. So how can the enterprise protect itself while making the industry interconnections it needs to thrive?

Risk Assessments: When establishing a relationship with a vendor, partner, or client, consider vetting their security practices a part of due diligence. Before network access can be granted, the third party should be subject to a security appraisal that assesses where security gaps can occur (weak firewalls or security monitoring systems, lack of proper security controls). An inventory of the third party’s systems and applications and its control of those can help the enterprise develop an effective vendor management profile. Furthermore, it provides the enterprise with visibility into information that will be shared and who has access to that information.

Controlled Access: Third party access should be restricted and compartmentalized only to a segment of the network, and prevented access to other assets. Likewise, the organization can require that vendors and third parties use particular technologies for remote access, which enables the enterprise to catalog which connections are being made to the network.

Active Monitoring: Organizations should actively monitor network connections; SIEM software can help identify when remote access or other unauthorized software is installed, alert the organization when unauthorized connections are attempted, and establish baselines for “typical” versus unusual or suspicious user behaviors which can presage the beginning of a breach

Ongoing Audits: Vendors given access to the network should be required to submit to periodic audits; this allows both the organization and the vendor to assess security strengths and weaknesses and ensure that the vendor is in compliance with the organization’s security policies.

What next?

Financial institutions often implicitly trust vendors. But just as good fences make good neighbors, vendor audits produce good relationships. Initial due diligence and enforcing sound security practices with third parties can eliminate or mitigate security failures. Routine vendor audits send the message that the entity is always monitoring the vendor to ensure that it is complying with IT security practices.

Security is not something you buy, but something you do

The three sides of the security triangle are People, Processes and Technology.


  1. People –the key issues are: who owns the process, who is involved, what are their roles, are they committed to improving it and working together, and more importantly are they prepared to do the work to fix the problem?
  1. Process –can be defined as a trigger event which creates a chain of actions resulting in something being prepared for a customer of that process.
  1. Technology – Now that people are aligned, and the process developed and clarified, technology can be applied to ensure consistency in the process application and to provide the thin guiding rails to keep the process on track, making it easier to follow the process than not.

None of this is particularly new to CIOs and CSOs, yet how often have you seen six or seven digit “investments” sitting on datacenter racks, or even sometimes on actual storage shelves, unused or heavily underused? Organizations throw away massive amounts of money, then complain about “lack of security funds” and “being insecure.” Buying security technologies is far too often an easier task than utilizing them, and “operationalizing” them for many organizations. SIEM technology suffers from this problem as do many other “Monitoring” technologies.

Compliance and “checkbox mentality” makes this problem worse as people read the mandates and only pay attention to sections that refer to buying boxes.

Despite all this rhetoric, many managers equate information security with technology, completely ignoring the proper order. In reality, a skilled engineer with a so-so tool, but a good process is more valuable than an untrained person equipped with the best of tools.

As Gartner analyst Anton Chuvakin notes, “…if you got a $200,000 security appliance for $20,000 (i.e. at a steep 90% discount), but never used it, you didn’t save $180k – you only wasted $20,000!”

Security is not something you BUY, but something you DO.

Trending Behavior – The Fastest Way to Value

Our  SIEM Simplified  offering is manned by a dedicated staff overseeing the EventTracker Control Center (ECC). When a new customer comes aboard, the ECC staff is tasked with getting to know the new environment, identifying which systems are critical, which applications need watching, and what access controls are in place, etc. In theory, the customer would bring the ECC staff up to speed (this is their network, after all) and keep them up to date as the environment changes. Reality bites and this is rarely the case. More commonly, the customer is unable to provide the ECC with anything other than the most basic of information.

How then can the ECC “learn” and why is this problem interesting to SIEM users at large?

Let’s tackle the latter question first. A problem facing new users at a SIEM installation is that  they get buried in getting to know the baseline pattern and the enterprise (the very same problem the ECC faces). See this  article  from a practitioner.

So it’s the same problem. How does the ECC respond?

Short answer: By looking at behavior trends and spotting the anomalies.

Long answer: The ECC first discovers the network and learns the various device types (OS, application, network devices etc.). This is readily automated by the StatusTracker module. If we are lucky, we get to ask specific the customer questions to bolster our understanding. Next, based on this information and the available knowledge packs within EventTracker, we schedule suitable daily and weekly reports and configure alerts. So far, so good, but really no cigar. The real magic lies in taking these reports  and creating flex reports where we control the output format to focus on parameters of value that are embedded within the description portion of the log messages (this is always true for syslog formatted messages but also for Windows style events). When these parameters are trended in a graph, all sorts of interesting information emerges.

In one case, we saw that a particular group of users was putting their passwords in the username field then logging in much more than usual — you see a failed login followed by a successful one; combine the two and you have both the username and password. In another case, we saw repeated failed logon after hours from a critical IBM i-Series machine and hit the panic button. Turns out someone left a book on the keyboard.

Takeaway: Want to get useful value from your SIEM but don’t have gobs of time to configure or tune the thing for months on end? Think trending behavior, preferably auto-learned. It’s what sets EventTracker apart from the search engine based SIEMs or from the rules based products that need an expen$ive human analyst chained to the product for months on end. Better yet, let the ECC do the heavy lifting for you. SIEM Simplified, indeed.

Surfing the Hype Cycle for SIEM

The Gartner hype cycle is a graphic “source of insight to manage technology deployment within the context of your specific business goals.”     If you have already adopted Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) (aka log management) technology in your organization, how is that working for you? As candidate, Reagan famously asked “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Sadly, many buyers of this technology are wallowing in the “trough of disillusionment.”   The implementation has been harder than expected, the technology more complex than demonstrated, the discipline required to use/tune the product is lacking, resource constraints, hiring freezes and the list goes on.

What next? Here are some choices to consider.

Do nothing: Perhaps the compliance check box has been checked off; auditors can be shown the SIEM deployment and sent on their way; the senior staff on to the next big thing; the junior staff have their hands full anyway; leave well enough alone.
Upside: No new costs, no disturbance in the status quo.
Downside: No improvements in security or operations; attackers count on the fact that even if you do collect log SIEM data, you will never really look at it.

Abandon ship: Give up on the whole SIEM concept as yet another failed IT project; the technology was immature; the vendor support was poor; we did not get resources to do the job and so on.
Upside: No new costs, in fact perhaps some cost savings from the annual maintenance, one less technology to deal with.
Downside: Naked in the face of attack or an auditor visit; expect an OMG crisis situation soon.

Try managed service: Managing a SIEM is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration;offload the perspiration to a team that does this for a living; they can do it with discipline (their livelihood depends on it) and probably cheaper too (passing on savings to you);   you deal with the inspiration.
Upside: Security usually improves; compliance is not a nightmare; frees up senior staff to do other pressing/interesting tasks; cost savings.
Downside: Some loss of control.

Interested? We call it SIEM SimplifiedTM.

Sun Tzu would have loved Flame

All warfare is based on deception says Sun Tzu. To quote:

“Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; 
When using our forces, we must seem inactive; 
When we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away;  
When far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

With the new era of cyberweapons, Sun Tzu’s blueprint can be followed almost exactly: a nation can attack when it seems unable to. When conducting cyber-attacks, a nation will seem inactive. When a nation is physically far away, the threat will appear very, very near.

Amidst all the controversy and mystery surrounding attacks like Stuxnet and Flame, it is becoming increasingly clear that the wars of tomorrow will most likely be fought by young kids at computer screens rather than by young kids on the battlefield with guns.

In the area of technology, what is invented for use by the military or for space, eventually finds its way to the commercial arena. It is therefore a matter of time before the techniques used by Flame or Stuxnet become a part of the arsenal of the average cyber thief.

Ready for the brave new world?

Big Data – Does insight equal decision?

In information technology, big data consists of data sets that grow so large that they become awkward to work with using whatever database management tools are on-hand. For that matter, how big is big? It depends on when you need to reconsider data management options – in some cases it may be 100Gb, in others, it may be 100Tb. So, following up on our earlier post about big data and insight, there is one more important consideration:

Does insight equal decision?

The foregone conclusion from big data proponents is that each nugget of “insight” uncovered by data mining will somehow be implicitly actionable and the end user (or management) will gush with excitement and praise.

The first problem is how can you assume that “insight” is actionable? It very well may not be, so what do you do then? The next problem is how can you convince the decision maker that the evidence constitutes an imperative to act? Absent action, the “insight” remains simply a nugget of information.

Note that management typically responds to “insight” with skepticism, seeing the message bearer as yet another purveyor of information (“insight”) and insisting that this new method is the silver bullet, thereby adding to workload.

Being in management myself, my team often comes to me with their little nuggets … some are gold, but some are chicken.   Rather than purvey insight, think about a recommendation backed up by evidence.

Big Data, does more data mean more insight?

In information technology, big data consists of data sets that grow so large they become unwieldy to work with using available database management tools. How big is big? It depends on when you need to reconsider data management options – in some cases it may be 100 Gigabytes, in others, as great as 100 Terabytes.

Does more data necessarily mean more insight?

The pro-argument is that larger data sets allow for greater incidences of patterns, facts, and insights. Moreover, with enough data, you can discover trends using simple counting that are otherwise undiscoverable in small data using sophisticated statistical methods.

On the other hand, while this is perfectly valid in theory, for many businesses the key barrier is not the ability to draw insights from large volumes of data; it is asking the right questions for which insight is needed.

The ability to provide answers does depend on the question being asked and the relevance of the big-data set to that question. How can one generalize to an assumption that more data will always mean more insight?   It isn’t always the answer that’s important, but the questions that are key.

SIEM and the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending between Georgia and Maine. It is approximately 2,181 miles long and takes about six months to complete. It is not a particularly difficult journey from start to finish; yet even so, completing the trail requires more from the hiker than just enthusiasm, endurance and will.

Likewise, SIEM implementation can take from one to six months to complete (depending on the level of customization) and like the Trail, appears deceptively simple.   It too, can be filled with challenges that reduce even the most experienced IT manager to despair, and there is no shortage of implementations that have been abandoned or uncompleted.   As with the Trail, SIEM implementation requires thoughtful consideration.

1) The Reasons Why

It doesn’t take too many nights scurrying to find shelter in a lightning storm, or days walking in adverse conditions before a hiker wonders: Why am I doing this again? Similarly, when implementing any IT project, SIEM included, it doesn’t take too many inter-departmental meetings, technical gotchas, or budget discussions before this same question presents itself: Why are we doing this again?

  All too often, we don’t have a compelling answer, or we have forgotten it. If you are considering a half year long backpacking trip through the woods, there is a really good reason for it.   In the same way, one embarks on a SIEM project with specific goals, such as regulatory compliance, IT security improvement or to control operating costs.   Define the answer to this question before you begin the project and refer to it when the implementation appears to be derailing. This is the compass that should guide your way.   Make adjustments as necessary.

2) The Virginia Blues

Daily trials can include anything from broken bones to homesickness, a circumstance that occurs on the Appalachian Trail about four to eight weeks into the journey, within the state lines of Virginia. Getting through requires not just perseverance but also an ability to adapt.

For a SIEM project, staff turnover, false positives, misconfigurations or unplanned explosions of data can potentially derail the project. But pushing harder in the face of distress is a recipe for failure. Step back, remind yourself of the reasons why this project is underway, and look at the problems from a fresh perspective. Can you be flexible? Can you make find new avenues to go around the problems?

  3) A Fresh Perspective

In the beginning, every day is chock full of excitement, every summit view or wild animal encounter is exciting.   But life in the woods will become the routine and exhilaration eventually fades into frustration.

In  much the same way, after the initial thrill of installation and its challenges, the SIEM project devolves into a routine of discipline and daily observation across the infrastructure for signs of something amiss.

This is where boredom can set in, but the best defense against the lull that comes along with the end of the implementation is the expectation of it. The journey’s going to end.   Completing it does not occur when the project is implemented.   Rather, when the installation is done, the real journey and the hard work begins.

Humans in the loop – failsafe or liability?

Among InfoSec and IT staff, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes hand wringing that users are the weakest link.   But are InfoSec staff that much stronger?

While automation is and does have a place, Dan Geer, of CIA-backed venture fund In-Q-Tel, properly notes that while ” …humans can build structures more complex” than they can operate, ” …Are humans in the loop a failsafe or a liability? Is fully automated security to be desired or to be feared?”

We’ve considered this question before at Prism, when “automated remediation” was being heavily touted as a solution for mid-market enterprises, where IT staff is not abundant. We’ve found that human intervention is not just a fail-safe, but a necessity.   The interdependencies, even in medium sized networks are far too complex to automate.   We introduced the feature a couple of years back and in reviewing the usage, concluded that such “automated remediation” does have a role to play in the modern enterprise. Use cases include changes to group membership in Active Directory, unrecognized processes, account creation where the naming convention is not followed or honeypot access. In other words, when the condition can be well defined and narrowly focused, humans in the loop will slow things down. However for every such “rule” there are hundreds more that will be obvious to a human but missed by the narrow rule.

So are humans in the loop a failsafe or a liability? It depends on the scenario.

What’s your thought?

Will the cloud take my job?

Nearly every analyst has made aggressive predictions that outsourcing to the cloud will continue to grow rapidly. It’s clear that servers and applications are migrating to the cloud as fast as possible, but according to an article in The Economist, the tradeoff is efficiency vs. sovereignty.   The White House announced that the federal government will shut down 178 duplicative data centers in 2012, adding to the 195 that will be closed by the end of this year.

Businesses need motivation and capability to recognize business problems, solutions that can improve the enterprise, and ways to implement those solutions.   There is clearly a role for outsourced solutions and it is one that enterprises are embracing.

For an engineer, however, the response to outsourcing can be one of frustration, and concerns about short-sighted decisions by management that focus on short term gains at the risk of long term security. But there is also an argument why in-sourcing isn’t necessarily the better business decision:   a recent Gartner report noted that IT departments often center too much of their attention on technology and not enough on business needs, resulting in a “veritable Tower of Babel, where the language between the IT organization and the business has been confounded, and they no longer understand each other.”

Despite increased migration to cloud services, it does not appear that there is an immediate impact on InfoSec-related jobs.   Among the 12 computer-related job classifications tracked by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information security analysts, along with computer and information research scientists, were among those whose jobs did not report unemployment during the first two quarters of 2011.

John Reed, executive director at IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, attributes the high growth to the increasing organizational awareness of the need for security and hands-on IT security teams to ensure appropriate security controls are in place to safeguard digital files and vital electronic infrastructure, as well as respond to computer security breaches and viruses.

Simply put: the facility of using cloud services does not replace the skills needed to analyze and interpret the data to protect the enterprise.   Outsourcing to a cloud may provide immediate efficiencies, but it’s   the IT security staff who deliver business value that ensure long term security.

Threatscape 2012 – Prevent, Detect, Correct

The past year has been a hair-raising series of IT security breakdowns and headlining events reaching as high as RSA itself falling victim to a phishing attack.   But as the year set on 2011, the hacker group Anonymous remained busy, providing a sobering reminder that IT Security can never rest.

It turned out that attackers sent two different targeted phishing e-mails to four workers at its parent company, EMC.   The e-mails contained a malicious attachment that was identified in the subject line as “2011 Recruitment plan.xls” which was the point of attack.

Back to Basics:


Using administrative controls such as security awareness training, technical controls such as firewalls, and anti-virus and IPS, to stop attacks from penetrating the network.   Most industry and government experts agree that security configuration management is probably the best way to ensure the best security configuration allowable, along with automated patch management and updating anti-virus software.


Employing a blend of technical controls such as anti-virus, IPS, intrusion detection systems (IDS), system monitoring, file integrity monitoring, change control, log management and incident alerting   can help to track how and when system intrusions are being attempted.


Applying operating system upgrades, backup data restore and vulnerability mitigation and other controls to make sure systems are configured correctly and can prevent the irretrievable loss of data.

Echo Chamber

In the InfoSec industry, there is an abundance of familiar flaws and copycat theories and approaches. We repeat ourselves and recommend the same approaches. But what has really changed in the last year?

The emergence of hacking groups like Anonymous, LulzSec, and TeaMp0isoN.

In 2011, these groups brought the fight to corporate America, crippling firms both small (HBGary Federal) and large (Stratfor, Sony). As the year drew to a close these groups shifted from prank-oriented hacks for laughs (or “lulz”), to aligning themselves with political movements like Occupy Wall Street, and hacking firms like Stratfor, a Austin, Tex.-based security “think tank” that releases a daily newsletter concerning security and intelligence matters all over the world. After HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr publicly bragged that he was going to identify some members of the group during a talk in San Francisco at the RSA Conference week, Anonymous members responded by dumping a huge cache of his personal emails and those of other HBGary Federal executives online, eventually leading to Barr’s resignation. Anonymous and LulzSec then spent several months targeting various retailers, public figures and members of the security community. Their Operation AntiSec aimed to expose alleged hypocrisies and sins by members of the security community. They targeted a number of federal contractors, including IRC Federal and Booz Allen Hamilton, exposing personal data in the process. Congress got involved in July when Sen. John McCain urged Senate leaders to form a select committee to address the threat posed by Anonymous/LulzSec/Wikileaks.

The attack on RSA SecurId was another watershed event. The first public news of the compromise came from RSA itself, when it published a blog post explaining that an attacker had been able to gain access to the company’s network through a “sophisticated” attack. Officials said the attacker had compromised some resources related to the RSA SecurID product, which set off major alarm bells throughout the industry. SecurID is used for two-factor authentication by a huge number of large enterprises, including banks, financial services companies, government agencies and defense contractors. Within months of the RSA attack, there were attacks on SecurID customers, including Lockheed Martin, and the current working theory espoused by experts is that the still-unidentified attackers were interested in LM and other RSA customers all along and, having run into trouble compromising them directly, went after the SecurID technology to loop back to the customers.

The specifics of the attack were depressingly mundane (targeted phishing email with a malicious Excel file attached).

Then too, several certificate authorities were compromised throughout the year. Comodo was the first to fall when it was revealed in March that an attacker (apparently an Iranian national) had been able to compromise the CA infrastructure and issue himself a pile of valid certificates for domains belonging to Google, Yahoo, Skype and others. The attacker bragged about his accomplishments in Pastebin posts and later posted evidence of his forged certificate for Mozilla. Later in the year, the same person targeted the Dutch CA DigiNotar. The details of the attack were slightly different, but the end result was the same: he was able to issue himself several hundred valid certificates and this time went after domains owned by, among others, the Central Intelligence Agency. In the end, all of the major browser manufacturers had to revoke trust in the DigiNotar root CA.   The damage to the company was so bad that the Dutch government eventually took it over and later declared it bankrupt. Staggering, isn’t it? A lone attacker not only forced Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla to yank a root CA from their list of trusted roots, but he was also responsible for forcing a certificate authority out of business.

What has changed in our industry? Nothing really. It’s not a question “if” but “when” the attack will arrive on your assets.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même, I suppose.

Log Monitoring – real time or bust?

As a vendor of a log management solution, we come across prospects with a variety of requirements — consistent with a variety of needs and views of approaching problems.

Recently, one prospect was very insistent on “real-time” processing. This is perfectly reasonable but as with anything, when taken to an extreme, can be meaningless. In this instance, the “typical” use case (indeed the defining one) for the log management implementation was “a virus is making its way across the enterprise; I don’t have time to search or refine or indeed any user (slow) action; I need instant notification and ability to sort data on a variety of indexes instantly”.

As vendors we are conditioned to think “the customer is always right” but I wonder if the requirement is reasonable or even possible. Given specifics of a scenario, I am sure many vendors can meet the requirement — but in general? Not knowing which OS, which attack pattern, how logs are generated/transmitted?

I was reminded again by this blog by Bejtlich in which he explains that “If you only rely on your security products to produce alerts of any type, or blocks of any type, you will consistently be “protected” from only the most basic threats.”

While real-time processing of logs is a perfectly reasonable requirement, retrospective security analysis is the only way to get a clue as to attack patterns and therefore a defense.


The role of host-based security

In the beginning, there was the Internet.
And it was good (especially for businesses).
It allowed processes to become web enabled.
It enabled efficiencies in both customer facing and supplier facing chains.

Then came the security attacks.
(Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more).
And they were bad (especially for businesses).

So we firewalled.
And we patched.
And we implemented AV and NIDS.

Are we done then?
Not really.

According to a leading analyst firm, an estimated 70% of security breaches are committed from inside a networks perimeter. This in turn is responsible for more than 95% of intrusions that result in significant financial losses. As a reaction, nearly every industry is now subject to compliance regulations that can only be fully addressed by applying host based security methods.

Security Information and Event Management systems (SIEM) can be of immense value here.

An effective SIEM solution centralizes event log information from various hosts and applies correlation rules to highlight (and ideally thwart) intrusions. In the instance of the “insider” threat, exception reports and review of privileged user activity is a critical activity.

If your IT Security efforts are totally focused on the perimeter and the internal network, you are likely to be missing a large and increasingly critical “brick in the wall”.

-Posted by Ananth

Are you worth your weight in gold?

Interesting article by Russell Olsen on Windows Change Management on a Budget

He says: “An effective Windows change management process can be the difference between life and death in any organization. Windows managers who understand that are worth their weight in gold…knowing what changed and when it changed makes a big difference especially when something goes wrong. If this is so clear, why do so many of us struggle to implement or maintain an adequate change control process?”

Olsen correctly diagnoses the problem as one of discipline and   commitment. Like exercising regularly, its hard….but there is overwhelming evidence of the benefits.

The EventTracker SIM Edition makes it a little easier by automatically taking system (file and registry) snapshots of Windows machines at periodic intervals for comparison either over time or against a golden baseline.

Given the gap between outbreak and vaccine for malware and attacks, as well as the potential for innocuous human error when dealing with complex machinery, the audit function makes it all worthwhile. The CSI 2007 survey shows the annual loss from such incidents to be $350,000.

Avoiding such losses (and regular exercise) will make you worth your weight in gold.

– Ananth