Tag Archives: social network

Defense through Offense, and how APT fits there

I’m guessing that having “APT” in anything that goes outside for public consumption these days is mandatory, but this post actually has a good reason to do so. If you look back just one post in the past, we were discussing the new initiative to define “Penetration Testing”. The post, and the proposed standard itself really take a good look at what organizations need, and how to address such needs from a practical point of view, rather than from a compliance or a “check-box ticking” perspective.

For me this is one of the things that the security industry has done a great disservice to. It is exactly why companies are announcing that for every time they get breached, it was an advanced attack. An attack so sophisticated, that managed to stay persistent in their network and exfiltrate lots of sensitive information, that no reasonable control could have prevented or detected it. The all dreaded “APT”.

However, if you take a look at how organizations prepare themselves for such attacks you may find yourself staring at a blank page. Since regulatory compliance dictates a very basic “box checking” methodology for a very narrow and specific aspect of information security, and the product vendors on the other hand provide solutions that are “compliance oriented”, organizations are left with a very weak defense mechanisms. This is without even mentioning the biggest security gap in most organizations – the employees.

The lack of self-testing, of a real-world simulation of what an attack would look like, and how the organization would cope with, hinders most organizations from putting reasonable defenses in place. The lack of proper training, awareness campaigns, and exercises that stress out the human factor as well are leading us to a situation where even simple attacks that utilize off-the-shelf (and even FREE) attack tools, manage to go through an organizations control mechanisms with aggravating ease.

I’m looking back at what the penetration testing execution standard defines for its basic testing methodology, and I can clearly see how every element of the recent “APT” attacks would have been simulated, and probably in a more rigorous scenario. Such a test would have clearly left the tested organization with a roadmap that would bring it to a much higher security standard. And that’s the power of testing – of understanding the adversary’s techniques and strategies, and running exercises that reflect them in order to identify security gaps and close them as efficiently as possible. And yes – that also (and perhaps mainly) applies to human related processes and policies rather than just to technology.

So to sum things up – you may be compliant, but do not think for a moment that this compliance has anything to do with the security of your information. Until regulatory compliance does not mandate proper security testing in order to protect the data in question, such compliance is only going to hinder your “security vision”. Get proper testing, set up an internal team that would be responsible for understanding the threat communities you are dealing with (or hire an external one ), and make sure you set yourself a goal to have an unbiased understanding of what your gaps are and how well you can face a standard attack (yes – the same standard attack that you are going to call an “APT” if it would hit you unprepared).

Information Security Intelligence Report for 2010 and Predictions for 2011

Looking back at 2010 shows a widening gap between cybercrime and law enforcement capabilities, in conjunction to nations that have started the cyber-race to develop defensive and offensive capabilities. Most of the attacks analyzed in 2010 depict organizations that fall behind in their defensive strategies as attackers take advantage of a hybrid approach that merges technical merits alongside human weaknesses to cash-out on their attacks.

Cybercrime widens the gap between attack capability and defense mechanisms. Analyzing several of the major attacks of 2010, Security Art notes that organizations were attacked in two key ways. Firstly, through technical exploits such as Aurora, Mariposa, ZeuS, and SpyEye. Secondly, by attacks that bypassed traditional protection methods, and gained access to targets through human-weakness areas such as social media. While businesses focused on defending themselves using security mechanisms such as anti- virus software and perimeter defenses, attackers jumped over these defenses, and proceeded to flood the market with a high volume of malware that now poses a serious threat to security providers in terms of detection rates and response time. However, law enforcement agencies have focused mainly on menial cybercriminals, and have not successfully reduced the impact of online criminal activities. On a national level, we see nations have embarked upon the race to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities.

Cyberwar arms race sends nations to shopping frenzy. As CyberWar gained merit (and criticism) during 2010, with the movie-material Stuxnet incident being the poster-boy for news outlets that published every spin-off, speculation, and plain old gossip, the international scene had its own race for the latest and greatest defense mechanisms. The implications of Aurora and Stuxnet made most countries feel their lack of a critical infrastructure defense and the capability to deliver a similar cyber-blow, and many went shopping for weapons. Security Art witnessed the strategic build up of capabilities in some countries, and a more hurried shopping spree (that usually led to amassment of CyberCrime provided tools) in others. This, and the delayed response of organizations such as the UN, the EU, and NATO, left the scene looking more like the Wild West than Silicon Valley.

Expanding digital domain and improved understanding of security will reign in 2011. Our prediction for 2011, drawn from the criminal, political and diplomatic sides of cybercrime that dominated 2010, is that more focus is going to be given to approaching security from a strategic standpoint. Rather than buying “best of breed” products and ticking off compliance sheets, we predict that organizations and countries will apply a more sensible executive-level understanding of what information security means to them. In the expanding personal digital domain (smartphone, tablets, and suchlike), and the continued digitization of all organizational information (from scanned materials to VOIP telephony), security must be applied to more layers than ever before. Countries and organizations will have to adopt additional skill-sets and look for solutions in areas they have not dealt with before.

Please go to http://www.security-art.com/download-report to download the full report, or email [email protected] for additional information.

Learning from stux, and connecting more dots in infosec

So everyone has been fully focused on Stuxnet – trying to figure out (again) what 0-days were involved, how were networks crossed, which command-and-control channels are utilized and how the systems were compromised.

Great.

I’m really hoping that the technical analysis would help us get a better grip on what kind of risk a persistent and well-funded attacker poses to a target. Nevertheless, it’s almost as we have not really learned a lot from past events – and yes, I’m talking about connecting the dots again. This time not in the sense of linking between crime and nation-state, but more in the sense of understanding that the technological attacks are usually coupled with kinetic ones – especially when talking about the more advanced activities.

For starters – stuxnet could not have gotten to where it did without the “human factor”. Someone needed to carry the infected USB thumbdribve and stick it into some system that was in the separate network. Call it a hostile agent, call it a paid off internal agent, or a 3rd party provider that was recruited to provide slightly modified equipment. It had to be done.

Now that we established that the “matrix” could not have just jumped across networks, let’s see what else can we learn from such an incident. As in learn whether this could affect us, and how. Which brings me to the second point:

We got nothing. Nothing in the sense of actual protection. And no, your claims that “our production control and monitoring network is physically disconnected from other networks” does not hold water anymore. It didn’t before either, but now it’s easier to point out how wrong you were.
Not only we got nothing, we keep listening to vendors that are too cheap/lazy to implement proper controls (from proper secure development, to taking into account that security measures would need to live on the systems), and completely lose focus when something proprietary comes along the way. When we should have been kicking vendors in the round ones and making sure that we make ourselves experts in the “proprietary” protocols thrown at us. Time to taste a bit of what we’ve been cooking.

Because stuxnet is not going to be hitting us soon. It’s going to be something much more appropriate for our culture and more targeted towards our soft spots. If delaying a nuclear development plan was on the top of the objective list when the operation that included stuxnet was planned, the counter-plans we would have to defend from would be different.
Think more in the lines of altering the way we perceive reality. Seriously. What if someone would be able to change what the newspapers printed tomorrow morning? What if they could change/affect what we see on TV? And no, this is not science fiction (check out what happened during Cast Led where Israel hacked the palestinian TV station, and how a retaliation effort was mounted and almost succeeded).
Such actions can be pulled out more easily than you’d think. The fact the everyone is focused on the pure technical aspects of defense left us pretty much open on any front that combined both human/social, physical and technical efforts.
Thinks furthermore on how the economy would hurt if the stock exchanges would be provided with false information (remember what happened when computers were involved in making decisions back in May 2010?).

And there’s more. Out travel, insurance and a lot of our financial systems are running on technology that was created back in the time when “strong authentication” means that you had to guess a really cryptic username. That’s right – not even a password is needed. And we are running billions of dollars on these things. They are protected of course – by separation. But network separation is not enough as we have just seen.

So back to connecting the dots. Remember my last rant? (you better!) – that’s exactly where the dots connect. Think critically of the business as a whole. Not in a system by system, or network by network scheme, but in the “how does this business work” scheme. How does the paper get printed at the end of the day? It may be easier to hack into the printing press facility control system than to the editor’s or the publisher’s network. Same goes for financial institutions, hospitals, airports, manufacturers, etc… Identify the weak spots in your industry, not in your office or your network.
And don’t blame me from giving the bad people ideas. They should be considered at least as smart as all of us are (smarter than me for sure 🙂 ). The anger that you are feeling right now reading this, is coming from the pain of sticking your neck out of the sand your head was buried in, and the uncomfortable feeling of getting a grip on reality…
Thanks for taking the red pill, and welcome to the matrix.

Now go and change things.

The community to the rescue again

I’ve had some hard time coming up with this post. I had the great opportunity to travel quite a bit lately – specifically to Berlin where basically EVERYBODY in security was at ph-neutral (have I thanked FX yet? I think so, but anyway – great con/party!).

It all started in Berlin when I realized what an amazing community we have. People from all over the world coming over for 3 days of sharing, networking and listening to talks (oh, and partying). I also have the great honor of calling a few of these guys friends. Friends that I know that I would be honored to help if they needed anything, and friends that I know I can “drop on” if I happen to get into a snag in their hometown. Friends that I only see in-person 2-4 times a year, but still consider them one of my closest.

I saw borders dissolve in an instant as politics, geography and history dropped in sight of a beer or a cool PoC demo on someone’s PC, and I had great conversations with people I just got to know and am sure will run into again in the future.

And then I got back home. I don’t need to mention the unfortunate events that took place a couple of days ago, and I’m not going to point fingers at anyone. Everyone had their agenda, some sides were more optimistic, some had better planning, some had better intent, but the end result is what it was. Sometimes as we say it’s better to be smart than to be right…

That was just a day before I flew over to Athens to talk at Athcon. People around me started freaking out, having the entire area feel like a barrel of gunpowder, and the media adding in some FUD to top it off. And then I recalled ph-neutral. A couple of hours later, a friendly cabbie and what looks to be a really cool con, everything is left behind. The community wins again, while politicians keep meddling with their agendas.

I just hope that more people could find such communities where borders are bridged, and religion/ethnicity/gender become irrelevant in light of a common cause/interest. I’m truly happy that I had a chance to debunk myths that I’ve had in my mind, and other people had in theirs, and really hope that this focus on a common interest could work elsewhere.
Now off to polish off my presentation for tomorrow. Stay safe out there!

Quick update [6/7/2010]: Athcon was fantastic! I’ve had a great time in Athens, had a chance to finally meet some really brilliant minds that I’ve been following for some time online, and was fortunate enough to experience the famous greek hospitality. I am reassured with my previous assumptions that all these politics are just the attempt of politicians to prove that they are worth their salaries (hint -they don’t). We just want to live our lives quietly – the only reason for some kind of army/politicians is to fend off anyone who wants to disturb this (terrorists).

Back to work now, as I need to start prepping for Miami next week…

Botnet communications moving to Web2.0

A great find by Jose Nazario shows how botnets have moved on from relying on old-school communication schemes (usually IRC or direct HTTP connections) to utilizing the tools that Web2.0 provides.

I have been naming this development since it started being discussed in the back-channels, and predicted that these would be the next generation communication methods as they provide not only another layer of separation (anonymity) between the botnet manager and the controlled bots/trojans, but also a layer of scalability to the control scheme.

You can check out the last time I discussed this on my DefCon presentation slides which should be uploaded to the DefCon site soon. In the meantime here is an older presentation (at least 10 months old) where the same subject is being demonstrated (slides 31-32):
Behind the Scenes of E Crime July09

Basically, the Twitter messages are encrypted codes being sent between the command and control and the controlled bots, which is very close to the “homework” I mentioned at the end of my DefCon talk – encouraging researchers to look for “garbage” data on blogs and Web2.0 services which are actually encrypted data being passed over a public medium.

I guess that that’s one more issue to deal with when trying to deal with the growing threat of eCrime and cyberwarfare.