Monthly Archives: October 2018

Happy Birthday, Bill Gates!

Dear Bill,

Here's wishing you Sir, likely the most successful and influential person of not just our time, but of all time, a very Happy B'day!

Photo source and attirbution: https://mobile.twitter.com/BillGates/photo

Most of the world knows you as the Founder of Microsoft, a great philanthropist, and the world's wealthiest* person.


Based on my personal experience, I however know you to be someone who truly exemplifies the very words I strive to live by, and ideally, that we should all strive to live by, because in the grand scheme of things, we are all here for relatively little time.


Deep Gratitude for Mr. Gates

If I may, I'd like to share from my personal experience, a very small example of Mr. Gates thoughtfulness, humility and kindness.

One day back in 2004, when I was a Microsoft employee, I got a call from the Reception of Building 33, the Executive Building at Microsoft, and I was asked to come and pick something up - when I reached there, the kind lady at the reception gave me a package and said that "Bill left this for you, as he's unfortunately out of town today," and in it was a note written by Bill himself - "To Sanjay, Happy Birthday, Bill Gates" ( here.) (BTW, this is not customary at all at Microsoft; in fact, it was an absolute rarity.)

I couldn't believe it. Bill Gates, our CEO, and the world's most successful and wealthiest person, made and took the time to wish me Happy B'day, and since he was going to be out of town, he was thoughtful enough to have it be given to me on my b'day!

Since that day, for the last fourteen years I've been working tirelessly to be able to express my profound respect and gratitude to Mr. Gates, and it is for the first time, that I feel I've done my bit to be able to thank him, not just in words, but in global IMPACT.


Mr. Gates, it is your greatness, kindness and humility that inspired me to conquer proverbial mountains as I persevered against all odds to ultimately build and deliver a paramount capability needed to secure and defend the very foundation of cyber security of and across Microsoft's global organizational customer base i.e. your one little act of kindness, led to and inspired THIS.



Birthday Wishes

Mr. Gates, today, you're wished profound joy and excellent health, but above all, you're wished that which is a rarity today, and that which sometimes even all the money in the world can't buy - True Peace of Mind and Happiness in the Simplest of Things!


BillG, I thank you for the incredible human being you are, and wish you a truly wonderful year ahead.

Namaste,
Sanjay.


PS: I occasionally come across monetarily wealthy people, you know, little multi-millionaires and billionaires, and some of them exude such arrogance, that I feel like telling them that there are people out there (e.g. you) who could buy all their wealth out a hundred times over, so how about a little humility?! :-) In stark contrast, I visited the Gates Foundation website today, and it was so incredibly refreshing to see it unequivocally communicate that All Lives Have Equal Value!  You Sir, command my respect.

What Lies at the Foundation of Organizational Cyber Security Worldwide?

Folks,

In days to come, I'm going to answer both, the most important, and the second most important question in all of Cyber Security

Today though, I just wanted to ask a simple (rhetorical) cyber security question, so that CEOs, CIOs, CISOs and IT Directors at organizations worldwide realize just what lies at the very foundation of the cyber security of their multi-billion $ organizations.

Microsoft Active Directory

Today, at the very foundation of organizational cyber security worldwide, lie their foundational Active Directory deployments.

Consequently, it logically follows that all organizations that operate on Microsoft Active Directory are only as secure as are their foundational Active Directory deployments. After all, no matter how tall, every skyscraper is only as strong as its foundation.

In days to come, I'll share with you just how secure foundational Active Directory deployments are worldwide today - right here.

Best wishes,
Sanjay

Have Network, Need Network Security Monitoring

I have been associated with network security monitoring my entire cybersecurity career, so I am obviously biased towards network-centric security strategies and technologies. I also work for a network security monitoring company (Corelight), but I am not writing this post in any corporate capacity.

There is a tendency in many aspects of the security operations community to shy away from network-centric approaches. The rise of encryption and cloud platforms, the argument goes, makes methodologies like NSM less relevant. The natural response seems to be migration towards the endpoint, because it is still possible to deploy agents on general purpose computing devices in order to instrument and interdict on the endpoint itself.

It occurred to me this morning that this tendency ignores the fact that the trend in computing is toward closed computing devices. Mobile platforms, especially those running Apple's iOS, are not friendly to introducing third party code for the purpose of "security." In fact, one could argue that iOS is one of, if not the, most security platform, thanks to this architectural decision. (Timely and regular updates, a policed applications store, and other choices are undoubtedly part of the security success of iOS, to be sure.)

How is the endpoint-centric security strategy going to work when security teams are no longer able to install third party endpoint agents? The answer is -- it will not. What will security teams be left with?

The answer is probably application logging, i.e., usage and activity reports from the software with which users interact. Most of this will likely be hosted in the cloud. Therefore, security teams responsible for protecting work-anywhere-but-remote-intensive users, accessing cloud-hosted assets, will have really only cloud-provided data to analyze and escalate.

It's possible that the endpoint providers themselves might assume a greater security role. In other words, Apple and other manufacturers provide security information directly to users. This could be like Chase asking if I really made a purchase. This model tends to break down when one is using a potentially compromised asset to ask the user if that asset is compromised.

In any case, this vision of the future ignores the fact that someone will still be providing network services. My contention is that if you are responsible for a network, you are responsible for monitoring it.

It is negligent to provide network services but ignore abuse of that service.

If you disagree and cite the "common carrier" exception, I would agree to a certain extent. However, one cannot easily fall back on that defense in an age where Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms are being told to police their infrastructure or face ever more government regulation.

At the end of the day, using modern Internet services means, by definition, using someone's network. Whoever is providing that network will need to instrument it, if only to avoid the liability associated with misuse. Therefore, anyone operating a network would do well to continue to deploy and operate network security monitoring capabilities.

We may be in a golden age of endpoint visibility, but closure of those platforms will end the endpoint's viability as a source of security logging. So long as there are networks, we will need network security monitoring.

“Exploring the DevSecOps Toolchain”

  The authors of the SANS Institute's DEV540 Secure DevOps & Cloud Application Security course created the Secure DevOps Toolchain poster to help security teams create a methodology for integrating security into the DevOps workflow. As you can see, the poster breaks DevOps down into 5 key phases and includes a massive list of open … Continue reading Exploring the DevSecOps Toolchain

A Very Simple Trillion $ Cyber Security Multiple-Choice Question

Folks,

In days to come, I'll be helping organizations worldwide understand what constitutes a privileged user in Active Directory, how to correctly audit privileged access in Active Directory, and what the world's most important Active Directory security capability is.

Today though, I just wanted to ask a very simple and elemental cyber security multiple-choice question, so here it is -


Q. What are the minimum Active Directory Security Permissions that a perpetrator needs to be able to successfully run Mimikatz DCSync against an organization's foundational Active Directory deployment?

Is it -
A. The "Get Replication Changes" Extended Right 
B. The "Get Replication Changes All" Extended Right 
C. Both A and B above 
D. Something else

I already know the answer to this simple question. I'm only asking because I believe that today every Domain Admin and every CISO at every organization that operates on Active Directory MUST know the answer to this question, and here's why.

You may be surprised if I were to share with you just how many Domain Admins and CISOs (at so many of the world's most prominent organizations) don't know even seem to know what Mimikatz DCSync is, let alone knowing the answer!

If you know the answer to this question, and care to share, please feel free to share it by leaving a comment below.

Best wishes,
Sanjay.

Businesses Beware: Top 5 Cyber Security Risks

Hackers are working hard to find new ways to get your data. It’s not surprising that cyber security risk is top of mind for every risk owner, in every industry. As the frequency and complexity of malicious attacks persistently grows, every company should recognize that they are susceptible to an attack at any time—whether it comes as an external focused attack, or a social engineering attack. Let’s take a look at the top 5 risks that every risk owner should be preparing for.

  1. Your Own Users. It is commonly known, in the security industry, that people are the weakest link in the security chain. Despite whatever protections you put in place from a technology or process/policy point of view, human error can cause an incident or a breach. Strong security awareness training is imperative, as well as very effective documented policies and procedures. Users should also be “audited” to ensure they understand and acknowledge their role in policy adherence. One area that is often overlooked is the creation of a safe environment, where a user can connect with a security expert on any issue they believe could be a problem, at any time. Your security team should encourage users to reach out. This creates an environment where users are encouraged to be part of your company’s detection and response. To quote the Homeland Security announcements you frequently hear in airports, “If you see something, say something!” The biggest threat to a user is social engineering—the act of coercing a user to do something that would expose sensitive information or a sensitive system.
  2. Phishing. Phishing ranks number three in both the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report Top 20 action varieties in incidents and Top 20 action varieties in breaches. These statistics can be somewhat misleading. For example, the first item on the Top 20 action varieties in breaches list is the use of stolen credentials; number four is privilege abuse. What better way to execute both of those attacks than with a phishing scam. Phishing coerces a user through email to either click on a link, disguised as a legitimate business URL, or open an attachment that is disguised as a legitimate business document. When the user executes or opens either, bad things happen. Malware is downloaded on the system, or connectivity to a Command and Control server on the Internet is established. All of this is done using standard network communication and protocols, so the eco-system is none the wiser—unless sophisticated behavioral or AI capabilities are in place. What is the best form of defense here? 1.) Do not run your user systems with administrative rights. This allows any malicious code to execute at root level privilege, and 2.) Train, train, and re-train your users to recognize a phishing email, or more importantly, recognize an email that could be a phishing scam. Then ask the right security resources for help. The best mechanism for training is to run safe targeted phishing campaigns to verify user awareness either internally or with a third-party partner like Connection.
  3. Ignoring Security Patches. One of the most important functions any IT or IT Security Organization can perform is to establish a consistent and complete vulnerability management program. This includes the following key functions:
    • Select and manage a vulnerability scanning system to proactively test for flaws in IT systems and applications.
    • Create and manage a patch management program to guard against vulnerabilities.
    • Create a process to ensure patching is completed.
    • Most malicious software is created to target missing patches, especially Microsoft patches. We know that WannaCry and Petya, two devastating attacks, targeted systems that were missing Microsoft MS17-010. Eliminating the “low-hanging-fruit” from the attack strategy, by patching known and current vulnerabilities or flaws, significantly reduces the attack-plane for the risk owner.
  4. Partners. Companies spend a lot of time and energy on Information Security Programs to address external and internal infrastructures, exposed Web services, applications and services, policies, controls, user awareness, and behavior. But they ignore a significant attack vector, which is through a partner channel—whether it be a data center support provider or a supply chain partner. We know that high-profile breaches have been executed through third partner channels, Target being the most prominent.The Target breach was a classic supply chain attack, where they were compromised through one of their HVAC vendors. Company policies and controls must extend to all third-party partners that have electronic or physical access to the environment. Ensure your Information Security Program includes all third partner partners or supply chain sources that connect or visit your enterprise. The NIST Cyber Security Framework has a great assessment strategy, where you can evaluate your susceptibility to this often-overlooked risk.
  5. Data Security. In this day and age, data is the new currency. Malicious actors are scouring the Internet and Internet-exposed corporations to look for data that will make them money. The table below from the 2018 Ponemon Institute 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Report shows the cost of a company for a single record data breach.

Cost for a Single Record Data Breach

The Bottom Line

You can see that healthcare continues to be the most lucrative target for data theft, with $408 per record lost. Finance is nearly half this cost. Of course, we know the reason why this is so. A healthcare record has a tremendous amount of personal information, enabling the sale of more sensitive data elements, and in many cases, can be used to build bullet-proof identities for identity theft. The cost of a breach in the US, regardless of industry, averages $7.9 million per event. The cost of a single lost record in the US is $258.

I Can’t Stress It Enough

Data security should be the #1 priority for businesses of all sizes. To build a data protection strategy, your business needs to:

  • Define and document data security requirements
  • Classify and document sensitive data
  • Analyze security of data at rest, in process, and in motion
  • Pay attention to sensitive data like PII, ePHI, EMR, financial accounts, proprietary assets, and more
  • Identify and document data security risks and gaps
  • Execute a remediation strategy

Because it’s a difficult issue, many corporations do not address data security. Unless your business designed classification and data controls from day one, you are already well behind the power curve. Users create and have access to huge amounts of data, and data can exist anywhere—on premises, user laptops, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Data is the common denominator for security. It is the key thing that malicious actors want access to. It’s essential to heed this warning: Do Not Ignore Data Security! You must absolutely create a data security protection program, and implement the proper policies and controls to protect your most important crown jewels.

Cyber criminals are endlessly creative in finding new ways to access sensitive data. It is critical for companies to approach security seriously, with a dynamic program that takes multiple access points into account. While it may seem to be an added expense, the cost of doing nothing could be exponentially higher. So whether it’s working with your internal IT team, utilizing external consultants, or a mix of both, take steps now to assess your current situation and protect your business against a cyber attack. Stay on top of quickly evolving cyber threats. Reach out to one of our security experts today to close your businesses cyber security exposure gap!

The post Businesses Beware: Top 5 Cyber Security Risks appeared first on Connected.

Network Security Monitoring vs Supply Chain Backdoors

On October 4, 2018, Bloomberg published a story titled “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies,” with a subtitle “The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple, by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources.” From the article:

Since the implants were small, the amount of code they contained was small as well. But they were capable of doing two very important things: telling the device to communicate with one of several anonymous computers elsewhere on the internet that were loaded with more complex code; and preparing the device’s operating system to accept this new code. The illicit chips could do all this because they were connected to the baseboard management controller, a kind of superchip that administrators use to remotely log in to problematic servers, giving them access to the most sensitive code even on machines that have crashed or are turned off.

Companies mentioned in the story deny the details, so this post does not debate the merit of the Bloomberg reporters’ claims. Rather, I prefer to discuss how a computer incident response team (CIRT) and a chief information security officer (CISO) should handle such a possibility. What should be done when hardware-level attacks enabling remote access via the network are possible?

This is not a new question. I have addressed the architecture and practices needed to mitigate this attack model in previous writings. This scenario is a driving force behind my recommendation for network security monitoring (NSM) for any organization running a network, of any kind. This does not mean endpoint-centric security, or other security models, should be abandoned. Rather, my argument shows why NSM offers unique benefits when facing hardware supply chain attacks.

The problem is one of trust and detectability. The problem here is that one loses trust in the integrity of a computing platform when one suspects a compromised hardware environment. One way to validate whether a computing platform is trustworthy is to monitor outside of it, at places where the hardware cannot know it is being monitored, and cannot interfere with that monitoring. Software installed on the hardware is by definition untrustworthy because the hardware backdoor may have the capability to obscure or degrade the visibility and control provided by an endpoint agent.

Network security monitoring applied outside the hardware platform does not suffer this limitation, if certain safeguards are implemented. NSM suffers limitations unique to its deployment, of course, and they will be outlined shortly. By watching traffic to and from a suspected computing platform, CIRTs have a chance to identify suspicious and malicious activity, such as contact with remote command and control (C2) infrastructure. NSM data on this C2 activity can be collected and stored in many forms, such as any of the seven NSM data types: 1) full content; 2) extracted content; 3) session data; 4) transaction data; 5) statistical data; 6) metadata; and 7) alert data.

Most likely session and transaction data would have been most useful for the case at hand. Once intelligence agencies identified that command and control infrastructure used by the alleged Chinese agents in this example, they could provide that information to the CIRT, who could then query historical NSM data for connectivity between enterprise assets and C2 servers. The results of those queries would help determine if and when an enterprise was victimized by compromised hardware.

The limitations of this approach are worth noting. First, if the intruders never activated their backdoors, then there would be no evidence of communications with C2 servers. Hardware inspection would be the main way to deal with this problem. Second, the intruders may leverage popular Internet services for their C2. Historical examples include command and control via Twitter, domain fronting via Google or other Web sites, and other covert channels. Depending on the nature of the communication, it would be difficult, though not impossible, to deal with this situation, mainly through careful analysis. Third, traditional network-centric monitoring would be challenging if the intruders employed an out-of-band C2 channel, such as a cellular or radio network. This has been seen in the wild but does not appear to be the case in this incident. Technical countermeasures, whereby rooms are swept for unauthorized signals, would have to be employed. Fourth, it’s possible, albeit unlikely, that NSM sensors tasked with watching for suspicious and malicious activity are themselves hosted on compromised hardware, making their reporting also untrustworthy.

The remedy for the last instance is easier than that for the previous three. Proper architecture and deployment can radically improve the trust one can place in NSM sensors. First, the sensors should not be able to connect to arbitrary systems on the Internet. The most security conscious administrators apply patches and modifications using direct access to trusted local sources, and do not allow access for any reason other than data retrieval and system maintenance. In other words, no one browses Web sites or checks their email from NSM sensors! Second, this moratorium on arbitrary connections should be enforced by firewalls outside the NSM sensors, and any connection attempts that violate the firewall policy should generate a high-priority alert. It is again theoretically possible for an extremely advanced intruder to circumvent these controls, but this approach increases the likelihood of an adversary tripping a wire at some point, revealing his or her presence.

The bottom line is that NSM must be a part of the detection and response strategy for any organization that runs a network. Collecting and analyzing the core NSM data types, in concert with host-based security, integration with third party intelligence, and infrastructure logging, provides the best chance for CIRTs to detect and respond to the sorts of adversaries who escalate their activities to the level of hardware hacking via the supply chain. Whether or not the Bloomberg story is true, the investment in NSM merits the peace of mind a CISO will enjoy when his or her CIRT is equipped with robust network visibility.

This post first appeared on the Corelight blog.

October Is National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Be Part of Something Big

2018 marks the 15th year of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). The Internet touches every aspect of our lives, and keeping it safe and secure is everyone’s responsibility. You can make a difference by remaining diligent and staying cyber aware. Be part of something big this month. Learn more, be aware, and get involved.

Connection is an official Champion of NCSAM. We’re dedicating the month of October to spreading the word about the importance of cyber security, and providing tools and resources to help you stay safe and secure online.

Each week during October highlights a different cyber security theme, addressing specific challenges and opportunities for change. Stay tuned for information about the top cyber security threats, careers in cyber security, and why it’s everyone’s job to ensure online safety. What are you doing to keep the Internet safer and more secure? Be sure to check back each week to stay informed, and get tips from our experts about how you can participate in keeping everyone safe online.

The post October Is National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Be Part of Something Big appeared first on Connected.