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Petya: Recommendations for defense and remediation

The CyberWire | June 29, 2017

What can enterprises do, now, to protect themselves against Petya and the other, similar attacks soon to follow? This won’t be a one-time thing: WannaCry wasn’t, and it’s reasonable to expect fresh ransomware campaigns to keep coming, hard and fast. The attackers get a good return on investment from repurposing tools and exploits. There’s no reason to expect them to stop.

For your coverage of Petya, Ray Rothrock, CEO of RedSeal, said in an email, “It’s happening again. This time in a slightly different form and name, but it’s the same. A new strain of Petya malware is going after unpatched Windows systems via EternalBlue, the same stolen NSA tool exploited by WannaCry.”

Using inflight entertainment systems to hack into commercial airline controls?

Recent headlines tell us that “Feds Say That Banned Researcher [Chris Roberts] Commandeered a Plane.” As always, there is more to the story. In fact, there are claims and counter-claims about what Chris Roberts actually did.  The FBI search warrant says he did actually send control commands that impacted the flight path of the aircraft, but this is currently unproven.  The whole incident brings focus on the issue of what is called lateral movement – can someone with access to, for example, the inflight entertainment system of an aircraft use that toe-hold to reach further in to the network to do actual harm?

Once, aircraft control machinery was effectively offline, not connected to any outside networks. But, as we’ve seen in recent coverage (including the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17) aircraft are much more inter-connected than they used to be.  They connect to the outside world in several different ways, ranging from satellite-based networks for flight telemetry to networks used to provide Internet access from passenger seats.  As these networks proliferate, they inevitably touch; and any touch point is something an attacker can use.  The number of possible weak points multiplies over time.

The questions raised by this story are the current frontier of security, and apply well beyond aircraft.  We rely more and more on networks that we cannot easily see or understand.  Defects in one network can open up access to another. Attacks can work upwards like grass through cement, finding weak points and cracking hard defenses.  What all defenders need to learn to do is to use technology to monitor technology. As our networks grow larger than we can understand, human effort and good will are not enough. This is why the current emphasis in security is on automated testing of defenses. We look for lateral movement opportunities, so we can isolate the truly critical things – say an aircraft’s control network – from the far less important, such as the inflight entertainment systems.

Cyber Infrastructure – the Fifth Domain

Cyber Infrastructure – the Fifth Domain
The last couple of years has seen an incredible rise in reported incidents of cyber attacks.  Research by many organizations, including Check Point Software and Verizon DBIR, indicate that it’s not a reporting bias, cyber attacks are indeed on the rise.  The good news for us all, as the New York Times reported, is that President Obama is stepping up the nation’s cyber defenses to meet this threat.

Our nation’s economy and well-being are totally dependent on our networks. To keep our economy moving, information flowing, and ourselves informed, we need to protect and defend these networks. Our cyber infrastructure has become the fifth domain a sovereign nation needs to protect – after air, land, sea and space.

Network Security isn’t a Safety Guarantee
Cyber defense isn’t trivial or easy or cheap.  And there are thousands of network security products to choose from. These products usually serve specific purposes in a defense strategy.  For example, firewalls, among many things they do, protect the gate through which information flows, like the locks on your door.   Intrusion detection on a network is like motion detectors in your home. They can tell you something is happening, but can’t always discriminate between acceptable and bad activity.

When networks are larger, they’re more complex, often overwhelming teams trying to make sense of a breach.  There are scores of reporting systems that provide real-time data about break-ins.  But even those are not always as useful as management would like. Dave Dewalt’s story on 60 Minutes recently is typical.

But even with the best people, plans, and essentially an unlimited budget like JP Morgan, companies still get hacked. Why aren’t our networks more secure? Why is a breach in the news every day?  Because, as our President agrees, it’s time to harden our networks.

Network Hardening: Getting Ahead of Cyber Attackers
Network hardening requires many things.  First, it means understanding your network — every element, every device and every path possible.  It means understanding potential threats and having outside intelligence about where the threats originate.  It means focusing your limited resources on the most important things you can do to protect your business.

RedSeal’s mission is to help Global 2000 organizations harden their networks. It gives you the detailed information you need — how your network routes traffic, detailed paths from everywhere to everywhere and how ready your equipment is.  It helps you determine where you should focus your resources and what exactly you can do to harden your network – from the most risky or vulnerable places to the least.  Prioritization is key to getting ahead of the cyber attackers.

Calling in the security experts – your network engineers

I’ve talked about the need to consider your network as the key to improving cyber defenses.  Here’s why.

Today’s attacks are “system-level”, supplanting specific server or host exploitations.  Cybercriminals today develop sophisticated attack strategies by:

  1. Finding PATHWAYS INTO the network through phishing emails, third parties, or other creative ways.
  2. MOVING MALWARE AROUND the network while masquerading as legitimate traffic.
  3. Identifying legitimate PATHWAYS OUT.
  4. Exfiltrating company assets through these pathways.

Notice this is all about TRAFFIC and PATHWAYS, and who knows the most about these?   Your network team.

They know your network and why it is built the way it is.   What is their priority?    Performance and uptime.   They have a wealth of tools that already help them manage to these priorities.  So if a security solution gave them additional knowledge about their network that helped manage performance and uptime, they would likely embrace and use it.  Although they are now working with firewalls and other security devices by necessity, they still focus on performance.  They’ve segmented the network for management and performance reasons, but are now expected to further segment for security.

And they care about one other thing:  Access.   Access to data and applications by their end users.

Access?  Pathways?  This is EXACTLY what attackers are exploiting.

So your best bet to combat cybercrime?  Bring in the experts who know about access in your network, and leverage their knowledge and experience.

One Billion Dollars

Do I have your attention?

I was sitting in a hotel restaurant having breakfast overlooking the Sydney harbor the morning I read the story a couple weeks ago. While it’s half a world away and it may not have crossed your radar, the cost of the breach of the South Korean national identification database is expected to exceed a billion dollars.

I wonder if it’s enough.

As I have spoken with many who are responsible for the day-to-day activities involved in maintaining enterprise technology, I often hear that there isn’t enough impetus to invest in infrastructure security beyond the now-traditional firewalls and IPS/IDS technologies. They all recognize that such reactive tools are essential, but that they only enter the equation after the bad guys are already in the network.

What if they could actually keep them out?

Doing so requires more. It requires proactive cyber attack prevention. It requires getting your arms around everything that is possible on your network and not just what is currently happening or has happened in the past. The distinction is critical, and often missed because it is so difficult to understand the millions of potential paths, the implications of the compounding effects of routers, firewalls, and load balancers quickly become overwhelming. Many organizations punt on the overall picture and focus in on individual devices and cleaning up their configurations, and while such work is good and important, it ignores the bigger picture: if there are circumstances, however unlikely, that would allow packets to circumvent the controls or the intrusion systems, all the defenses in the world will fail to protect the organization.

Many of the breaches we are seeing these days are the result of these kinds of situations.

So, will a billion dollar bill be a sufficient wake up call for those responsible for investing in cyber security?

Anticipating attack: top 10 ways to prevent a breach

Last week, I spent most of my time in a conference room at RedSeal headquarters presenting our RedSeal Certification training to a mix of our customers and recent additions to the RedSeal team. Showing those in attendance the broad set of capabilities of the system reminded me how important it is to be very clear about the steps for anticipating attack and putting together automation and operations to protect your enterprise and its assets.

telescope-smaller_0Here is my top 10 list:

  1. Scan your hosts for vulnerabilities
  2. Prioritize and schedule patching
  3. Place modern security controls at all ingress and egress points
  4. Monitor all ingress and egress traffic, triggering alerts and interception of inappropriate traffic
  5. Standardize your device configurations
  6. Create a set of network security zones
  7. Review your network’s access paths
  8. Compare access to network security policy
  9. Track approvals of access between critical zones
  10. Monitor and report on access found each day

How does your approach compare to this list? What do you think I’m missing? Is there anything I included that you think shouldn’t be here?

Mapping Policy to Your Network

A few years ago, I sat in an otherwise empty classroom inside the administration building of a children’s hospital with two members of their security team. We stared at a spreadsheet and a document that described the server and client zones of their network, displayed from a projector like a classroom project. For each zone, we dug into the details of allowed, forbidden, and approved access. This work was precise and detailed, requiring us to step through subnet addressing, host addresses, and the policy documentation over and over again.

mappingEventually, we had mapped the network security architecture policy to their network, though, and this was a critical next step in protecting kids and their families from the potential evil done by those who would attack the network of a children’s hospital.

The work to dig in and map every network to an appropriate zone is significant, but it’s critical. Regardless of your specific requirements, knowing the purpose of every subnet, each type of host collection you have, and mapping them to a reasonable network security architecture is a critical requirement allowing you to draw lines between parts of your network to avoid the situations that Target and Supervalu have found themselves facing.

As attackers and their attacks become ever more sophisticated and patient, your security zones and the implementation of security controls between them is your only real defense. Of course, using automation to monitor those controls and ensure that they are implemented correctly, consistently, and completely is equally vital. More on that in an upcoming post.

Identify and Close Before the Bad Actor Exploits

It happened again yesterday. I was taking a break on my back porch and listening to the Colorado summer rain when an alert hit my phone: news of another breach. They seem to be coming with a disturbingly increasing regularity and with ever more serious consequences. For example, one company, Code Spaces, was completely destroyed when they refused to pay an attacker who then destroyed their customers’ data. The Energetic Bear group accessed utilities’ networks and could have launched attacks against them. In all likelihood, the number, extent, and veracity of these attacks will simply continue to expand.

telescope-smaller_0So what do you do? The good news is that the steps are well known and understood: place security controls into your network to isolate a set of subnetworks (typically called “zones”) and both set and monitor the potential access paths between the zones. This is the first set of defenses against attacks, and one which many organizations do not fully deploy.

It is common for me to see organizations that partially deploy zones – but do not monitor their implementation. This is akin to the multi-petabyte database that contains one incorrect byte of information: you can trust none of the information as a result.

So, the first step is to create clear and concise zones in your network and to analyze all potential access paths through your network to be sure that your zone rules are respected network-wide.

Do you do this? If so, what’s your approach?

The Weakest Link

Today, TrendMicro announced their discovery of Emmental, proof that “…online banking may be full of holes.” The focus of the attack is on users of online banking, and it, like many of the current attacks, starts with a phishing attack on consumers. The New York Times Bits Blog covered the report, as well, providing a high-level view of the attack on two-factor authentication used by many online financial sites.

weakest-linkThis attack unimagederscores two vital truths:

 

  1. The weakest link in security is the human factor, and
  2. Trust is the key to security

In Emmental, the cyber-criminals used the combination of fear for their finances and trust of consumer brands to convince consumers to open attachments and visit financial sites that had been created to capture their usernames, passwords, and PINs. The holes exploited in this process are many, including email systems, operating systems, web browsers, and the wide variety of multi-factor authentication in use.

It can be easy for enterprise technology specialists to write this off as simple error on the part of the unwashed consumer masses. Yet, these issues and truths exist within enterprise environments, and we see this consistently: simple typos and conceptual errors in device configurations lead to violations of security policy and potential breach paths, misunderstandings of policy intentions result in open access, and IT organizations trust more widely than is prudent.

How do you protect your enterprise from these risks while recognizing these two vital truths?

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

It’s unthinkable: hackers targeting that sacrosanct American institution, the sports team? The recent incident in which the Houston Astros’ internal trade discussion were hacked and posted on the Internet shows that, today, no target is off limits.  Jeff Luhnow, GM for the Astros, was quite right when he said: batter_swinging_baseball_bat_at_a_pitched_ball_0515-1104-1601-5532_tn“It’s a reflection of the age we living in. People are always trying to steal information” The main problem that encourages this kind of illegal activity is that it’s really relatively easy.  Nobody thinks the hacker who stole the information from the Astros was heavily funded by a foreign government, or anything like that.  Indeed, it’s quite possible the person or people involved had no more motivation than curiosity, and found it easy to get in. The challenge, of course, is that every business has secrets – how it approaches negotiation, or the pricelist for its upcoming products, or its next quarter of advertising plans.  All that information is useful to others if it’s exposed.  Many businesses like the Astros have treated IT security as a “high end” problem – something for banks, the military, or energy companies to worry about.  But it’s just not possible to operate that way anymore – the risk of corporate embarrassment, or worse, is escalating.  Attackers are finding our complex defenses are badly deployed, badly coordinated, and easy to walk through.  All the attacker needs is persistence, and the search for a forgotten, unlocked “side door” onto the business can be largely automated.  Defenders need to understand all the gaps, and how all the security defenses work together, even if their only target is “good enough” security.  As the Astros have found, the standards of “good enough” are rising rapidly.