Author Archives: Jim Flack

Managing cybersecurity like a business risks: Part 1—Modeling opportunities and threats

In recent years, cybersecurity has been elevated to a C-suite and board-level concern. This is appropriate given the stakes. Data breaches can have significant impact on a company’s reputation and profits. But, although businesses now consider cyberattacks a business risk, management of cyber risks is still siloed in technology and often not assessed in terms of other business drivers. To properly manage cybersecurity as a business risk, we need to rethink how we define and report on them.

The blog series, “Managing cybersecurity like a business risk,” will dig into how to update the cybersecurity risk definition, reporting, and management to align with business drivers. In today’s post, I’ll talk about why we need to model both opportunities as well as threats when we evaluate cyber risks. In future blogs, I’ll dig into some reporting tools that businesses can use to keep business leaders informed.

Digital transformation brings both opportunities and threats

Technology innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud, and the internet of things (IoT) have disrupted many industries. Much of this disruption has been positive for businesses and consumers alike. Organizations can better tailor products and services to targeted segments of the population, and businesses have seized on these opportunities to create new business categories or reinvent old ones.

These same technologies have also introduced new threats. Legacy companies risk losing loyal customers by exploiting new markets. Digital transformation can result in a financial loss if big bets don’t pay off. And of course, as those of us in cybersecurity know well, cybercriminals and other adversaries have exploited the expanded attack surface and the mountains of data we collect.

The threats and opportunities of technology decisions are intertwined, and increasingly they impact not just operations but the core business. Too often decisions about digital transformation are made without evaluating cyber risks. Security is brought in at the very end to protect assets that are exposed. Cyber risks are typically managed from a standpoint of loss aversion without accounting for the possible gains of new opportunities. This approach can result in companies being either too cautious or not cautious enough. To maximize digital transformation opportunities, companies need good information that helps them take calculated risks.

It starts with a SWOT analysis

Threats and opportunities are external forces that may be factors for a company and all its competitors. One way to determine how your company should respond is by also understanding your weaknesses and strengths, which are internal factors.

  • Strengths: Characteristics or aspects of the organization or product that give it a competitive edge.
  • Weaknesses: Characteristics or aspects of the organization or product that puts it at a disadvantage compared to the competition.
  • Opportunities: Market conditions that could be exploited for benefit.
  • Threats: Market conditions that could cause damage or harm.

To crystallize these concepts, let’s consider a hypothetical brick and mortar retailer in the U.K. that sells stylish maternity clothes at an affordable price. In Europe, online retail is big business. Companies like ASOS and Zalando are disrupting traditional fashion. If we apply a SWOT analysis to them, it might look something like this.

  • Strength: Stylish maternity clothes sold at an affordable price, loyal referral-based clientele.
  • Weakness: Only available through brick and mortar stores, lack technology infrastructure to quickly go online, and lack security controls.
  • Opportunity: There is a market for these clothes beyond the U.K.
  • Threats: Retailers are a target for cyberattacks, customers trends indicate they will shop less frequently at brick and mortar stores in the future.

For this company, there isn’t an obvious choice. The retailer needs to figure out a way to maintain the loyalty of its current customers while preparing for a world where in-person shopping decreases. Ideally the company can use its strengths to overcome its weaknesses and confront threats. For example, the company’s loyal clients that already refer a lot of business could be incented to refer business via online channels to grow business. The company may also recognize that building security controls into an online business from the ground up is critical and take advantage of its steady customer base to buy some time and do it right.

Threat modeling and opportunity modeling paired together can help better define the potential gains and losses of different approaches.

Opportunity and threat modeling

Many cybersecurity professionals are familiar with threat modeling, which essentially poses the following questions, as recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

  • What do you want to protect?
  • Who do you want to protect it from?
  • How likely is it that you will need to protect it?
  • How bad are the consequences if you fail?
  • How much trouble are you willing to go through in order to try to prevent those?

But once we’ve begun to consider not just the threats but the opportunities available in each business decision, it becomes clear that this approach misses half the equation. Missed opportunity is a risk that isn’t captured in threat modeling. This is where opportunity modeling becomes valuable. Some of my thinking around opportunity modeling was inspired by a talk by John Sherwood at SABSA, and he suggested the following questions to effectively model opportunity:

  • What is the value of the asset you want to protect?
  • What is the potential gain of the opportunity?
  • How likely is it that the opportunity will be realized?
  • How likely is it that a strength be exploited?

This gives us a framework to consider the risk from both a threat and opportunity standpoint. Our hypothetical retailer knows it wants to protect the revenue generated by the current customers and referral model, which is the first question on each model. The other questions help quantify the potential loss if threats materialize and the potential gains of opportunities are realized. The company can use this information to better understand the ratio of risk to reward.

It’s never easy to make big decisions in light of potential risks, but when decisions are informed by considering both the potential gains and potential losses, you can also better define a risk management strategy, including the types of controls you will need to mitigate your risk.

In my next post in the “Managing cybersecurity like a business risk” series, I’ll review some qualitative and quantitative tools you can use to manage risk.

Read more about risk management from SABSA.  To learn more about Microsoft security solutions visit our website. In the meantime, bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

The post Managing cybersecurity like a business risks: Part 1—Modeling opportunities and threats appeared first on Microsoft Security.

4 identity partnerships to help drive better security

At Microsoft, we are committed to driving innovation for our partnerships within the identity ecosystem. Together, we are enabling our customers, who live and work in a heterogenous world, to get secure and remote access to the apps and resources they need. In this blog, we’d like to highlight how partners can help enable secure remote access to any app, access to on-prem and legacy apps, as well as how to secure seamless access via passwordless apps. We will also touch on how you can increase security visibility and insights by leveraging Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) Identity Protection APIs.

Secure remote access to cloud apps

As organizations adopt remote work strategies in today’s environment, it’s important their workforce has access to all the applications they need. With the Azure AD app gallery, we work closely with independent software vendors (ISV) to make it easy for organizations and their employees and customers to connect to and protect the applications they use. The Azure AD app gallery consists of thousands of applications that make it easy for admins to set up single sign-on (SSO) or user provisioning for their employees and customers. You can find popular collaboration applications to work remotely such Cisco Webex, Zoom, and Workplace from Facebook or security focused applications such as Mimecast, and Jamf. And if you don’t find the application your organization needs, you can always make a nomination here.

The Azure AD Gallery

The Azure AD Gallery.

Secure hybrid access to your on-premises and legacy apps

As organizations enable their employees to work from home, maintaining remote access to all company apps, including those on-premises and legacy, from any location and any device, is key to safeguard the productivity of their workforce. Azure AD offers several integrations for securing on-premises SaaS applications like SAP NetWeaver, SAP Fiori systems, Oracle PeopleSoft and E-Business Suite, and Atlassian JIRA and Confluence through the Azure AD App Gallery. For customers who are using Akamai Enterprise Application Access (EAA), Citrix Application Delivery Controller (ADC), F5 BIG-IP Access Policy Manager (APM), or Zscaler Private Access (ZPA), Microsoft has partnerships to provide remote access securely and help extend policies and controls that allow businesses to manage and govern on-premises legacy apps from Azure AD without having to change how the apps work.

Our integration with Zscaler allows a company’s business partners, such as suppliers and vendors, to securely access legacy, on-premises applications through the Zscaler B2B portal.

Integration with Zscaler

Go passwordless with FIDO2 security keys

Passwordless methods of authentication should be part of everyone’s future. Currently, Microsoft has over 100-million active passwordless end-users across consumer and enterprise customers. These passwordless options include Windows Hello for Business, Authenticator app, and FIDO2 security keys. Why are passwords falling out of favor? For them to be effective, passwords must have several characteristics, including being unique to every site. Trying to remember them all can frustrate end-users and lead to poor password hygiene.

Since Microsoft announced the public preview of Azure AD support for FIDO2 security keys in hybrid environments earlier this year, I’ve seen more organizations, especially with regulatory requirements, start to adopt FIDO2 security keys. This is another important area where we’ve worked with many FIDO2 security key partners who are helping our customers to go passwordless smoothly.

Partner logos

Increase security visibility and insights by leveraging Azure AD Identity Protection APIs

We know from our partners that they would like to leverage insights from the Azure AD Identity Protection with their security tools such as security information event management (SIEM) or network security. The end goal is to help them leverage all the security tools they have in an integrated way. Currently, we have the Azure AD Identity Protection API in preview that our ISVs leverage. For example, RSA announced at their 2020 conference that they are now leveraging our signals to better defend their customers.

We’re looking forward to working with many partners to complete these integrations.

If you haven’t taken advantage of any of these types of solutions, I recommend you try them out today and let us know what you think. If you have product partnership ideas with Azure AD, feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Zero Trust Deployment Guide for devices

The modern enterprise has an incredible diversity of endpoints accessing their data. This creates a massive attack surface, and as a result, endpoints can easily become the weakest link in your Zero Trust security strategy.

Whether a device is a personally owned BYOD device or a corporate-owned and fully managed device, we want to have visibility into the endpoints accessing our network, and ensure we’re only allowing healthy and compliant devices to access corporate resources. Likewise, we are concerned about the health and trustworthiness of mobile and desktop apps that run on those endpoints. We want to ensure those apps are also healthy and compliant and that they prevent corporate data from leaking to consumer apps or services through malicious intent or accidental means.

Get visibility into device health and compliance

Gaining visibility into the endpoints accessing your corporate resources is the first step in your Zero Trust device strategy. Typically, companies are proactive in protecting PCs from vulnerabilities and attacks, while mobile devices often go unmonitored and without protections. To help limit risk exposure, we need to monitor every endpoint to ensure it has a trusted identity, has security policies applied, and the risk level for things like malware or data exfiltration has been measured, remediated, or deemed acceptable. For example, if a personal device is jailbroken, we can block access to ensure that enterprise applications are not exposed to known vulnerabilities.

  1. To ensure you have a trusted identity for an endpoint, register your devices with Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). Devices registered in Azure AD can be managed using tools like Microsoft Endpoint Manager, Microsoft Intune, System Center Configuration Manager, Group Policy (hybrid Azure AD join), or other supported third-party tools (using the Intune Compliance API + Intune license). Once you’ve configured your policy, share the following guidance to help users get their devices registered—new Windows 10 devices, existing Windows 10 devices, and personal devices.
  2. Once we have identities for all the devices accessing corporate resources, we want to ensure that they meet the minimum security requirements set by your organization before access is granted. With Microsoft Intune, we can set compliance rules for devices before granting access to corporate resources. We also recommend setting remediation actions for noncompliant devices, such as blocking a noncompliant device or offering the user a grace period to get compliant.

Restricting access from vulnerable and compromised devices

Once we know the health and compliance status of an endpoint through Intune enrollment, we can use Azure AD Conditional Access to enforce more granular, risk-based access policies. For example, we can ensure that no vulnerable devices (like devices with malware) are allowed access until remediated, or ensure logins from unmanaged devices only receive limited access to corporate resources, and so on.

  1. To get started, we recommend only allowing access to your cloud apps from Intune-managed, domain-joined, and/or compliant devices. These are baseline security requirements that every device will have to meet before access is granted.
  2. Next, we can configure device-based Conditional Access policies in Intune to enforce restrictions based on device health and compliance. This will allow us to enforce more granular access decisions and fine-tune the Conditional Access policies based on your organization’s risk appetite. For example, we might want to exclude certain device platforms from accessing specific apps.
  3. Finally, we want to ensure that your endpoints and apps are protected from malicious threats. This will help ensure your data is better-protected and users are at less risk of getting denied access due to device health and/or compliance issues. We can integrate data from Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), or other Mobile Threat Defense (MTD) vendors, as an information source for device compliance policies and device Conditional Access rules. Options below:

Enforcing security policies on mobile devices and apps

We have two options for enforcing security policies on mobile devices: Intune Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Intune Mobile Application Management (MAM). In both cases, once data access is granted, we want to control what the user does with the data. For example, if a user accesses a document with a corporate identity, we want to prevent that document from being saved in an unprotected consumer storage location or from being shared with a consumer communication or chat app. With Intune MAM policies in place, they can only transfer or copy data within trusted apps such as Office 365 or Adobe Acrobat Reader, and only save it to trusted locations such as OneDrive or SharePoint.

Intune ensures that the device configuration aspects of the endpoint are centrally managed and controlled. Device management through Intune enables endpoint provisioning, configuration, automatic updates, device wipe, or other remote actions. Device management requires the endpoint to be enrolled with an organizational account and allows for greater control over things like disk encryption, camera usage, network connectivity, certificate deployment, and so on.

Mobile Device Management (MDM)

  1. First, using Intune, let’s apply Microsoft’s recommended security settings to Windows 10 devices to protect corporate data (Windows 10 1809 or later required).
  2. Ensure your devices are patched and up to date using Intune—check out our guidance for Windows 10 and iOS.
  3. Finally, we recommend ensuring your devices are encrypted to protect data at rest. Intune can manage a device’s built-in disk encryption across both macOS and Windows 10.

Meanwhile, Intune MAM is concerned with management of the mobile and desktop apps that run on endpoints. Where user privacy is a higher priority, or the device is not owned by the company, app management makes it possible to apply security controls (such as Intune app protection policies) at the app level on non-enrolled devices. The organization can ensure that only apps that comply with their security controls, and running on approved devices, can be used to access emails or files or browse the web.

With Intune, MAM is possible for both managed and unmanaged devices. For example, a user’s personal phone (which is not MDM-enrolled) may have apps that receive Intune app protection policies to contain and protect corporate data after it has been accessed. Those same app protection policies can be applied to apps on a corporate-owned and enrolled tablet. In that case, the app-level protections complement the device-level protections. If the device is also managed and enrolled with Intune MDM, you can choose not to require a separate app-level PIN if a device-level PIN is set, as part of the Intune MAM policy configuration.

Mobile Application Management (MAM)

  1. To protect your corporate data at the application level, configure Intune MAM policies for corporate apps. MAM policies offer several ways to control access to your organizational data from within apps:
    • Configure data relocation policies like save-as restrictions for saving organization data or restrict actions like cut, copy, and paste outside of organizational apps.
    • Configure access policy settings like requiring simple PIN for access or blocking managed apps from running on jailbroken or rooted devices.
    • Configure automatic selective wipe of corporate data for noncompliant devices using MAM conditional launch actions.
    • If needed, create exceptions to the MAM data transfer policy to and from approved third-party apps.
  2. Next, we want to set up app-based Conditional Access policies to ensure only approved corporate apps access corporate data.
  3. Finally, using app configuration (appconfig) policies, Intune can help eliminate app setup complexity or issues, make it easier for end users to get going, and ensure better consistency in your security policies. Check out our guidance on assigning configuration settings.

Conclusion

We hope the above helps you deploy and successfully incorporate devices into your Zero Trust strategy. Make sure to check out the other deployment guides in the series by following the Microsoft Security blog. For more information on Microsoft Security Solutions visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

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Zero Trust and its role in securing the new normal

As the global crisis around COVID-19 continues, security teams have been forced to adapt to a rapidly evolving security landscape. Schools, businesses, and healthcare organizations are all getting work done from home on a variety of devices and locations, extending the potential security attack surface.

While we continue to help our customers enable secure access to apps in this “new normal,” we’re also thinking about the road ahead and how there are still many organizations who will need to adapt their security model to support work life. This is especially important given that bad actors are using network access solutions like VPN as a trojan horse to deploy ransomware and the number of COVID-19 themed attacks have increased and evolved.

Microsoft and Zscaler have partnered to provide a glimpse into how security will change in a post-COVID-19 world.

Accelerating to Zero Trust

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
—Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

With the bulk of end users now working remotely, organizations were forced to consider alternate ways of achieving modern security controls. Legacy network architectures route all remote traffic through a central corporate datacenter are suddenly under enormous strain due to massive demand for remote work and rigid appliance capacity limitations. This creates latency for users, impacting productivity and requires additional appliances that can take 30, 60, or even 90 days just to be shipped out.

To avoid these challenges many organizations were able to enable work from home by transitioning their existing network infrastructure and capabilities with a Zero Trust security framework instead.

The Zero Trust framework empowers organizations to limit access to specific apps and resources only to the authorized users who are allowed to access them. The integrations between Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and Zscaler Private Access embody this framework.

For the companies who already had proof of concept underway for their Zero Trust journey, COVID-19 served as an accelerator, moving up the timelines for adoption. The ability to separate application access from network access, and secure application access based on identity and user context, such as date/time, geolocation, and device posture, was critical for IT’s ability to enable remote work. Cloud delivered technologies such as Azure AD and Zscaler Private Access (ZPA) have helped ensure fast deployment, scalability, and seamless experiences for remote users.

Both Microsoft and Zscaler anticipate that if not already moving toward a Zero Trust model, organizations will accelerate this transition and start to adopt one.

Securing flexible work going forward

While some organizations have had to support remote workers in the past, many are now forced to make the shift from a technical and cultural standpoint. As social distancing restrictions start to loosen, instead of remote everything we’ll begin to see organizations adopt more flexible work arrangements for their employees. Regardless of where employees are, they’ll need to be able to securely access any application, including the mission-critical “crown jewel” apps that may still be using legacy authentication protocols like HTTP or LDAP and on-premises. To simplify the management of protecting access to apps from a now flexible working style, there should be a single policy per user that can be used to provide access to an application, whether they are remote or at the headquarters

Zscaler Private Access and Azure AD help organizations enable single sign-on and enforce Conditional Access policies to ensure authorized users can securely access specifically the apps they need. This includes their mission-critical applications that run on-premises and may have SOC-2 and ISO27001 compliance needs.

Today, the combination of ZPA and Azure AD are already helping organizations adopt flexible work arrangements to ensure seamless and secure access to their applications.

Secure access with Zscaler and Microsoft

Remote onboarding or offboarding for a distributed workforce

With remote and flexible work arrangements becoming a norm, organizations will need to consider how to best onboard or offboard a distributed workforce and ensure the right access can be granted when employees join, change or leave roles. To minimize disruption, organizations will need to enable and secure Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) or leverage solutions like Windows Autopilot that can help users set up new devices without any IT involvement.

To ensure employees can access applications on day one, automating the provisioning of user accounts to applications will be critical for productivity. The SCIM 2.0 standard, adopted by both Microsoft and Zscaler, can help automate simple actions, such as creating or updating users, adding users to groups, or deprovisioning users into applications. Azure AD user provisioning can help manage end-to-end identity lifecycle and automate policy-based provisioning and deprovisioning of user accounts for applications. The ZPA + Azure AD SCIM 2.0 configuration guide shows how this works.

Powering security going forward

Security and IT teams are already under strain with this new environment and adding an impending economic downturn into the equation means they’ll need to do more with less. The responsibility of selecting the right technology falls to the security leaders. Together, Microsoft and Zscaler can help deliver secure access to applications and data on all the devices accessing your network, while empowering employees with simpler, more productive experiences. This is the power of cloud and some of the industry’s deepest level of integrations. We look forward to working with on what your security might look like after COVID-19.

Stay safe.

For more information on Microsoft Zero Trust, visit our website: Zero Trust security framework. Learn more about our guidance related to COVID-19 here and bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

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Build support for open source in your organization

Have you ever stared at the same lines of code for hours only to have a coworker identify a bug after just a quick glance? That’s the power of community! Open source software development is guided by the philosophy that a diverse community will produce higher quality code by allowing anyone to review and contribute. Individuals and large enterprises, like Microsoft, have embraced open source to engage people who can help make solutions better. However, not all open source projects are equivalent in quality or support. And, when it comes to security tools, many organizations hesitate to adopt open source. So how should you approach selecting and onboarding the right open source solutions for your organization? Why don’t we ask the community!

Earlier this year at the RSA 2020 Conference, I had the pleasure of sitting on the panel, Open Source: Promise, Perils, and the Path Ahead. Joining me were Inigo Merino, CEO of Cienaga Systems; Dr. Kelley Misata, CEO, Sightline Security; and Lenny Zeltser, CISO, Axonius. In addition to her role at Sightline Security, Kelley also serves as the President and Executive Director of the Open Information Security Foundation (OISF), which builds Suricata, an open source threat detection engine. Lenny created and maintains a Linux distribution called REMnux that organizations use for malware analysis. Ed Moyle, a Partner at SecurityCurve, served as the moderator. Today I’ll share our collective advice for selecting open source components and persuading organizations to approve them.

Which open source solutions are right for your project?

Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel—or should I say, Python—during a big project. You’ve got enough to do already! Often it makes sense to turn to pre-built open source components and libraries. They can save you countless hours, freeing up time to focus on the features that differentiate your product. But how should you decide when to opt for open source? When presented with numerous choices, how do you select the best open source solutions for your company and project? Here are some of the recommendations we discussed during the panel discussion.

  1. Do you have the right staff? A new environment can add complexity to your project. It helps if people on the team have familiarity with the tool or have time to learn it. If your team understands the code, you don’t have to wait for a fix from the community to address bugs. As Lenny said at the conference, “The advantage of open source is that you can get in there and see what’s going on. But if you are learning as you go, it may slow you down. It helps to have the knowledge and capability to support the environment.”
  2. Is the component widely adopted? If lots of developers are using the software, it’s more likely the code is stable. With more eyes on the code, problems get surfaced and resolved faster.
  3. How active is the community? Ideally, the library and components that you use will be maintained and enhanced for years after you deploy it, but there’s no guarantee—that’s also true for commercial options, by the way. An active community makes it more likely that the project will be supported. Check to see when the base was last updated. Confirm that members answer questions from users.
  4. Is there a long-term vision for the technology? Look for a published roadmap for the project. A roadmap will give you confidence that people are committed to supporting and enhancing the project. It will also help you decide if the open source project aligns with your product roadmap. “For us, a big signal is the roadmap. Does the community have a vision? Do they have a path to get there?” asked Kelley.
  5. Is there a commercial organization associated with the project? Another way to identify a project that is here for the long term is if there is a commercial interest associated with it. If a commercial company is providing funding or support to an open source project, it’s more likely that the support will continue even as community members change. Lenny told the audience, “If there is a commercial funding arm, that gives me peace of mind that the tool is less likely to just disappear.”

Getting legal (or executives or product owners) on board

Choosing the perfect open source solution for your project won’t help if you can’t persuade product owners, legal departments, or executives to approve it. Many organizations and individuals worry about the risks associated with using open source. They may wonder if legal issues will arise if they don’t use the software properly. If the software lacks support or includes security bugs will the component put the company at risk? The following tips can help you mitigate these concerns:

  1. Adopt change management methodologies: Organizational change is hard because the unknown feels riskier than the known. Leverage existing risk management structures to help your organization evaluate and adopt open source. Familiar processes will help others become more comfortable with new tools. As Inigo said, “Recent research shows that in order to get change through, you need to reduce the perceived risk of adopting said change. To lower those barriers, leverage what the organization already has in terms of governance to transform this visceral fear of the unknown into something that is known and can be managed through existing processes.”
  2. Implement component lifecycle management: Develop a process to determine which components are acceptable for people in your organization to use. By testing components or doing static and dynamic analysis, you reduce the level of risk and can build more confidence with executives.
  3. Identify a champion: If someone in your organization is responsible for mitigating concerns with product owners and legal teams, it will speed up the process.
  4. Enlist help from the open source project: Many open source communities include people who can help you make the business case to your approvers. As Kelley said, “It’s also our job in the open source community to help have these conversations. We can’t just sit passively by and let the enterprise folks figure it out. We need to evangelize our own message. There are many open source projects with people like Lenny and me who will help you make the case.”

Microsoft believes that the only way we can solve our biggest security challenges is to work together. Open source is one way to do that. Next time you look for an open source solution consider trying today’s tips to help you select the right tools and gain acceptance in your organization.

Learn more

Next month, I’ll follow up this post with more details on how to implement component lifecycle management at your organization.

In the meantime, explore some of Microsoft’s open source solutions, such as The Microsoft Graph Toolkit, DeepSpeed, misticpy, and Attack Surface Analyzer.

Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity. Or reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Success in security: reining in entropy

Your network is unique. It’s a living, breathing system evolving over time. Data is created. Data is processed. Data is accessed. Data is manipulated. Data can be forgotten. The applications and users performing these actions are all unique parts of the system, adding degrees of disorder and entropy to your operating environment. No two networks on the planet are exactly the same, even if they operate within the same industry, utilize the exact same applications, and even hire workers from one another. In fact, the only attribute your network may share with another network is simply how unique they are from one another.

If we follow the analogy of an organization or network as a living being, it’s logical to drill down deeper, into the individual computers, applications, and users that function as cells within our organism. Each cell is unique in how it’s configured, how it operates, the knowledge or data it brings to the network, and even the vulnerabilities each piece carries with it. It’s important to note that cancer begins at the cellular level and can ultimately bring down the entire system. But where incident response and recovery are accounted for, the greater the level of entropy and chaos across a system, the more difficult it becomes to locate potentially harmful entities. Incident Response is about locating the source of cancer in a system in an effort to remove it and make the system healthy once more.

Let’s take the human body for example. A body that remains at rest 8-10 hours a day, working from a chair in front of a computer, and with very little physical activity, will start to develop health issues. The longer the body remains in this state, the further it drifts from an ideal state, and small problems begin to manifest. Perhaps it’s diabetes. Maybe it’s high blood pressure. Or it could be weight gain creating fatigue within the joints and muscles of the body. Your network is similar to the body. The longer we leave the network unattended, the more it will drift from an ideal state to a state where small problems begin to manifest, putting the entire system at risk.

Why is this important? Let’s consider an incident response process where a network has been compromised. As a responder and investigator, we want to discover what has happened, what the cause was, what the damage is, and determine how best we can fix the issue and get back on the road to a healthy state. This entails looking for clues or anomalies; things that stand out from the normal background noise of an operating network. In essence, let’s identify what’s truly unique in the system, and drill down on those items. Are we able to identify cancerous cells because they look and act so differently from the vast majority of the other healthy cells?

Consider a medium-size organization with 5,000 computer systems. Last week, the organization was notified by a law enforcement agency that customer data was discovered on the dark web, dated from two weeks ago. We start our investigation on the date we know the data likely left the network. What computer systems hold that data? What users have access to those systems? What windows of time are normal for those users to interact with the system? What processes or services are running on those systems? Forensically we want to know what system was impacted, who was logging in to the system around the timeframe in question, what actions were performed, where those logins came from, and whether there are any unique indicators. Unique indicators are items that stand out from the normal operating environment. Unique users, system interaction times, protocols, binary files, data files, services, registry keys, and configurations (such as rogue registry keys).

Our investigation reveals a unique service running on a member server with SQL Server. In fact, analysis shows that service has an autostart entry in the registry and starts the service from a file in the c:\windows\perflogs directory, which is an unusual location for an autostart, every time the system is rebooted. We haven’t seen this service before, so we investigate against all the systems on the network to locate other instances of the registry startup key or the binary files we’ve identified. Out of 5,000 systems, we locate these pieces of evidence on only three systems, one of which is a Domain Controller.

This process of identifying what is unique allows our investigative team to highlight the systems, users, and data at risk during a compromise. It also helps us potentially identify the source of attacks, what data may have been pilfered, and foreign Internet computers calling the shots and allowing access to the environment. Additionally, any recovery efforts will require this information to be successful.

This all sounds like common sense, so why cover it here? Remember we discussed how unique your network is, and how there are no other systems exactly like it elsewhere in the world? That means every investigative process into a network compromise is also unique, even if the same attack vector is being used to attack multiple organizational entities. We want to provide the best foundation for a secure environment and the investigative process, now, while we’re not in the middle of an active investigation.

The unique nature of a system isn’t inherently a bad thing. Your network can be unique from other networks. In many cases, it may even provide a strategic advantage over your competitors. Where we run afoul of security best practice is when we allow too much entropy to build upon the network, losing the ability to differentiate “normal” from “abnormal.” In short, will we be able to easily locate the evidence of a compromise because it stands out from the rest of the network, or are we hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack? Clues related to a system compromise don’t stand out if everything we look at appears abnormal. This can exacerbate an already tense response situation, extending the timeframe for investigation and dramatically increasing the costs required to return to a trusted operating state.

To tie this back to our human body analogy, when a breathing problem appears, we need to be able to understand whether this is new, or whether it’s something we already know about, such as asthma. It’s much more difficult to correctly identify and recover from a problem if it blends in with the background noise, such as difficulty breathing because of air quality, lack of exercise, smoking, or allergies. You can’t know what’s unique if you don’t already know what’s normal or healthy.

To counter this problem, we pre-emptively bring the background noise on the network to a manageable level. All systems move towards entropy unless acted upon. We must put energy into the security process to counter the growth of entropy, which would otherwise exponentially complicate our security problem set. Standardization and control are the keys here. If we limit what users can install on their systems, we quickly notice when an untrusted application is being installed. If it’s against policy for a Domain Administrator to log in to Tier 2 workstations, then any attempts to do this will stand out. If it’s unusual for Domain Controllers to create outgoing web traffic, then it stands out when this occurs or is attempted.

Centralize the security process. Enable that process. Standardize security configuration, monitoring, and expectations across the organization. Enforce those standards. Enforce the tenet of least privilege across all user levels. Understand your ingress and egress network traffic patterns, and when those are allowed or blocked.

In the end, your success in investigating and responding to inevitable security incidents depends on what your organization does on the network today, not during an active investigation. By reducing entropy on your network and defining what “normal” looks like, you’ll be better prepared to quickly identify questionable activity on your network and respond appropriately. Bear in mind that security is a continuous process and should not stop. The longer we ignore the security problem, the further the state of the network will drift from “standardized and controlled” back into disorder and entropy. And the further we sit from that state of normal, the more difficult and time consuming it will be to bring our network back to a trusted operating environment in the event of an incident or compromise.

The post Success in security: reining in entropy appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Operational resilience in a remote work world

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said, “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” This is a result of many organizations having to adapt to the new world of document sharing and video conferencing as they become distributed organizations overnight.

At Microsoft, we understand that while the current health crisis we face together has served as this forcing function, some organizations might not have been ready for this new world of remote work, financially or organizationally. Just last summer, a simple lightning strike caused the U.K.’s National Grid to suffer the biggest blackout in decades. It affected homes across the country, shut down traffic signals, and closed some of the busiest train stations in the middle of the Friday evening rush hour. Trains needed to be manually rebooted causing delays and disruptions. And, when malware shut down the cranes and security gates at Maersk shipping terminals, as well as most of the company’s IT network—from the booking site to systems handling cargo manifests, it took two months to rebuild all the software systems, and three months before all cargo in transit was tracked down—with recovery dependent on a single server having been accidentally offline during the attack due to the power being cut off.

Cybersecurity provides the underpinning to operationally resiliency as more organizations adapt to enabling secure remote work options, whether in the short or long term. And, whether natural or manmade, the difference between success or struggle to any type of disruption requires a strategic combination of planning, response, and recovery. To maintain cyber resilience, one should be regularly evaluating their risk threshold and an organization’s ability to operationally execute the processes through a combination of human efforts and technology products and services.

While my advice is often a three-pronged approach of turning on multi-factor authentication (MFA)—100 percent of your employees, 100 percent of the time—using Secure Score to increase an organization’s security posture and having a mature patching program that includes containment and isolation of devices that cannot be patched, we must also understand that not every organization’s cybersecurity team may be as mature as another.

Organizations must now be able to provide their people with the right resources so they are able to securely access data, from anywhere, 100 percent of the time. Every person with corporate network access, including full-time employees, consultants, and contractors, should be regularly trained to develop a cyber-resilient mindset. They shouldn’t just adhere to a set of IT security policies around identity-based access control, but they should also be alerting IT to suspicious events and infections as soon as possible to help minimize time to remediation.

Our new normal means that risks are no longer limited to commonly recognized sources such as cybercriminals, malware, or even targeted attacks. Moving to secure remote work environment, without a resilience plan in place that does not include cyber resilience increases an organization’s risk.

Before COVID, we knew that while a majority of firms have a disaster recovery plan on paper, nearly a quarter never test that, and only 42 percent of global executives are confident their organization could recover from a major cyber event without it affecting their business.

Operational resilience cannot be achieved without a true commitment to, and investment in, cyber resilience. We want to help empower every organization on the planet by continuing to share our learnings to help you reach the state where core operations and services won’t be disrupted by geopolitical or socioeconomic events, natural disasters, or even cyber events.

Learn more about our guidance related to COVID-19 here, and bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

The post Operational resilience in a remote work world appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Open-sourcing new COVID-19 threat intelligence

A global threat requires a global response. While the world faces the common threat of COVID-19, defenders are working overtime to protect users all over the globe from cybercriminals using COVID-19 as a lure to mount attacks. As a security intelligence community, we are stronger when we share information that offers a more complete view of attackers’ shifting techniques. This more complete view enables us all to be more proactive in protecting, detecting, and defending against attacks.

At Microsoft, our security products provide built-in protections against these and other threats, and we’ve published detailed guidance to help organizations combat current threats (Responding to COVID-19 together). Our threat experts are sharing examples of malicious lures and we have enabled guided hunting of COVID-themed threats using Azure Sentinel Notebooks. Microsoft processes trillions of signals each day across identities, endpoint, cloud, applications, and email, which provides visibility into a broad range of COVID-19-themed attacks, allowing us to detect, protect, and respond to them across our entire security stack. Today, we take our COVID-19 threat intelligence sharing a step further by making some of our own indicators available publicly for those that are not already protected by our solutions. Microsoft Threat Protection (MTP) customers are already protected against the threats identified by these indicators across endpoints with Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) and email with Office 365 ATP.

In addition, we are publishing these indicators for those not protected by Microsoft Threat Protection to raise awareness of attackers’ shift in techniques, how to spot them, and how to enable your own custom hunting. These indicators are now available in two ways. They are available in the Azure Sentinel GitHub and through the Microsoft Graph Security API. For enterprise customers who use MISP for storing and sharing threat intelligence, these indicators can easily be consumed via a MISP feed.

This threat intelligence is provided for use by the wider security community, as well as customers who would like to perform additional hunting, as we all defend against malicious actors seeking to exploit the COVID crisis.

This COVID-specific threat intelligence feed represents a start at sharing some of Microsoft’s COVID-related IOCs. We will continue to explore ways to improve the data over the duration of the crisis. While some threats and actors are still best defended more discreetly, we are committed to greater transparency and taking community feedback on what types of information is most useful to defenders in protecting against COVID-related threats. This is a time-limited feed. We are maintaining this feed through the peak of the outbreak to help organizations focus on recovery.

Protection in Azure Sentinel and Microsoft Threat Protection

Today’s release includes file hash indicators related to email-based attachments identified as malicious and attempting to trick users with COVID-19 or Coronavirus-themed lures. The guidance below provides instructions on how to access and integrate this feed in your own environment.

For Azure Sentinel customers, these indicators can be either be imported directly into Azure Sentinel using a Playbook or accessed directly from queries.

The Azure Sentinel Playbook that Microsoft has authored will continuously monitor and import these indicators directly into your Azure Sentinel ThreatIntelligenceIndicator table. This Playbook will match with your event data and generate security incidents when the built-in threat intelligence analytic templates detect activity associated to these indicators.

These indicators can also be accessed directly from Azure Sentinel queries as follows:

let covidIndicators = (externaldata(TimeGenerated:datetime, FileHashValue:string, FileHashType: string )
[@"https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Azure/Azure-Sentinel/master/Sample%20Data/Feeds/Microsoft.Covid19.Indicators.csv"]
with (format="csv"));
covidIndicators

Azure Sentinel logs.

A sample detection query is also provided in the Azure Sentinel GitHub. With the table definition above, it is as simple as:

  1. Join the indicators against the logs ingested into Azure Sentinel as follows:
covidIndicators
| join ( CommonSecurityLog | where TimeGenerated >= ago(7d)
| where isnotempty(FileHashValue)
) on $left.FileHashValue == $right.FileHash
  1. Then, select “New alert rule” to configure Azure Sentinel to raise incidents based on this query returning results.

CyberSecurityDemo in Azure Sentinel logs.

You should begin to see Alerts in Azure Sentinel for any detections related to these COVID threat indicators.

Microsoft Threat Protection provides protection for the threats associated with these indicators. Attacks with these Covid-19-themed indicators are blocked by Office 365 ATP and Microsoft Defender ATP.

While MTP customers are already protected, they can also make use of these indicators for additional hunting scenarios using the MTP Advanced Hunting capabilities.

Here is a hunting query to see if any process created a file matching a hash on the list.

let covidIndicators = (externaldata(TimeGenerated:datetime, FileHashValue:string, FileHashType: string )
[@"https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Azure/Azure-Sentinel/master/Sample%20Data/Feeds/Microsoft.Covid19.Indicators.csv"]
with (format="csv"))
| where FileHashType == 'sha256' and TimeGenerated > ago(1d);
covidIndicators
| join (DeviceFileEvents
| where Timestamp > ago(1d)
| where ActionType == 'FileCreated'
| take 100) on $left.FileHashValue  == $right.SHA256

Advanced hunting in Microsoft Defender Security Center.

This is an Advanced Hunting query in MTP that searches for any recipient of an attachment on the indicator list and sees if any recent anomalous log-ons happened on their machine. While COVID threats are blocked by MTP, users targeted by these threats may be at risk for non-COVID related attacks and MTP is able to join data across device and email to investigate them.

let covidIndicators = (externaldata(TimeGenerated:datetime, FileHashValue:string, FileHashType: string )    [@"https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Azure/Azure-Sentinel/master/Sample%20Data/Feeds/Microsoft.Covid19.Indicators.csv"] with (format="csv"))
| where FileHashType == 'sha256' and TimeGenerated > ago(1d);
covidIndicators
| join (  EmailAttachmentInfo  | where Timestamp > ago(1d)
| project NetworkMessageId , SHA256
) on $left.FileHashValue  == $right.SHA256
| join (
EmailEvents
| where Timestamp > ago (1d)
) on NetworkMessageId
| project TimeEmail = Timestamp, Subject, SenderFromAddress, AccountName = tostring(split(RecipientEmailAddress, "@")[0])
| join (
DeviceLogonEvents
| project LogonTime = Timestamp, AccountName, DeviceName
) on AccountName
| where (LogonTime - TimeEmail) between (0min.. 90min)
| take 10

Advanced hunting in Microsoft 365 security.

Connecting an MISP instance to Azure Sentinel

The indicators published on the Azure Sentinel GitHub page can be consumed directly via MISP’s feed functionality. We have published details on doing this at this URL: https://aka.ms/msft-covid19-misp. Please refer to the Azure Sentinel documentation on connecting data from threat intelligence providers.

Using the indicators if you are not an Azure Sentinel or MTP customer

Yes, the Azure Sentinel GitHub is public: https://aka.ms/msft-covid19-Indicators

Examples of phishing campaigns in this threat intelligence

The following is a small sample set of the types of COVID-themed phishing lures using email attachments that will be represented in this feed. Beneath each screenshot are the relevant hashes and metadata.

Figure 1: Spoofing WHO branding with “cure” and “vaccine” messaging with a malicious .gz file.

Name: CURE FOR CORONAVIRUS_pdf.gz

World Health Organization phishing email.

Figure 2: Spoofing Red Cross Safety Tips with malicious .docm file.

Name: COVID-19 SAFETY TIPS.docm

Red Cross phishing email.

Figure 3: South African banking lure promoting COVID-19 financial relief with malicious .html files.

Name: SBSA-COVID-19-Financial Relief.html

Financial relief phishing email.

Figure 4: French language spoofed correspondence from the WHO with malicious XLS Macro file.

Name: -✉-Covid-19 Relief Plan5558-23636sd.htm

Coronavirus-themed phishing email.

If you have questions or feedback on this COVID-19 feed, please email msft-covid19-ti@microsoft.com.

The post Open-sourcing new COVID-19 threat intelligence appeared first on Microsoft Security.

CISO stress-busters: post #1 overcoming obstacles

As part of the launch of the U.S. space program’s moon shot, President Kennedy famously said we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” The same can be said for the people responsible for security at their organizations; it is not a job one takes because it is easy. But it is critically important to keep our digital lives and work safe. And for the CISOs and leaders of the world, it is a job that is more than worth the hardships.

Recent research from Nominet paints a concerning picture of a few of those hardships. Forty-eight percent of CISO respondents indicated work stress had negatively impacted their mental health, this is almost double the number from last year’s survey. Thirty-one percent reported job stress had negatively impacted their physical health and 40 percent have seen their job stress impacting their personal lives. Add a fairly rapid churn rate (26 months on average) to all that stress and it’s clear CISOs are managing a tremendous amount of stress every day. And when crises hit, from incident response after a breach to a suddenly remote workforce after COVID-19, that stress only shoots higher.

Which is why we’re starting this new blog series called “CISO stress-busters.” In the words of CISOs from around the globe, we’ll be sharing insights, guidance, and support from peers on the front lines of the cyber workforce. Kicking us off—the main challenges that CISOs face and how they turn those obstacles into opportunity. The goal of the series is to be a bit of chicken (or chik’n for those vegans out there) soup for the CISO’s soul.

Today’s post features wisdom from three CISOs/Security Leaders:

  • TM Ching, Security CTO at DXC Technology
  • Jim Eckart, (former) CISO at Coca-Cola
  • Jason Golden, CISO at Mainstay Technologies

Clarifying contribution

Ask five different CEOs what their CISOs do and after the high level “manage security” answer you’ll probably get five very different explanations. This is partly because CISO responsibility can vary widely from company to company. So, it’s no surprise that many of the CISOs we interviewed touched on this point.

TM Ching summed it up this way, “Demonstrating my role to the organization can be a challenge—a role like mine may be perceived as symbolic” or that security is just here to “slow things down.” For Jason, “making sure that business leaders understand the difference between IT Operations, Cybersecurity, and InfoSec” can be difficult because execs “often think all of those disciplines are the same thing” and that since IT Ops has the products and solutions, they own security. Jim also bumped up against confusion about the security role with multiple stakeholders pushing and pulling in different directions like “a CIO who says ‘here is your budget,’ a CFO who says ‘why are you so expensive?’ and a general counsel who says ‘we could be leaking information everywhere.'”

What works:

  • Educate Execs—about the role of a CISO. Helping them “understand that it takes a program, that it’s a discipline.” One inflection point is after a breach, “you may be sitting there with an executive, the insurance company, their attorneys, maybe a forensics company and it always looks the same. The executive is looking down the table at the wide-eyed IT person saying ‘What happened?’” It’s a opportunity to educate, to help “make sure the execs understand the purpose of risk management.”—Jason Golden.   To see how to do this watch Microsoft CISO Series Episode 2 Part 1:  Security is everyone’s Business
  • Show Don’t Tell—“It is important to constantly demonstrate that I am here to help them succeed, and not to impose onerous compliance requirements that stall their projects.”—TM Ching
  • Accountability Awareness—CISOs do a lot, but one thing they shouldn’t do is to make risk decisions for the business in a vacuum. That’s why it’s critical to align “all stakeholders (IT, privacy, legal, financial, security, etc.) around the fact that cybersecurity and compliance are business risk issues and not IT issues. IT motions are (and should be) purely in response to the business’ decision around risk tolerance.”—Jim Eckart

Exerting influence

Fans of Boehm’s curve know that the earlier security can be introduced into a process, the less expensive it is to fix defects and flaws. But it’s not always easy for CISOs to get security a seat at the table whether it’s early in the ideation process for a new customer facing application or during financial negotiations to move critical workloads to the cloud. As TM put it, “Exerting influence to ensure that projects are secured at Day 0. This is possibly the hardest thing to do.” And because “some business owners do not take negative news very well” telling them their new app baby is “security ugly” the day before launch can be a gruesome task. And as Jason pointed out, “it’s one thing to talk hypothetically about things like configuration management and change management and here are the things that you need to do to meet those controls so you can keep your contract. It’s a different thing to get that embedded in operations so that IT and HR all the way through finance are following the rules for change management and configuration management.”

What Works:

  • Negotiate engagement—To avoid the last minute “gotchas” or bolting on security after a project has deployed, get into the conversation as early as possible. This isn’t easy, but as TM explains, it can be done. “It takes a lot of negotiations to convince stakeholders why it will be beneficial for them in the long run to take a pause and put the security controls in place, before continuing with their projects.”
  • Follow frameworks—Well-known frameworks like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, NIST SP800-53, and SP800-37 can help CISOs “take things from strategy to operations” by providing baselines and best practices for building security into the entire organization and systems lifecycle. And that will pay off in the long run; “when the auditors come calling, they’re looking for evidence that you’re following your security model and embedding that throughout the organization.” —Jason

Cultivating culture

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every company had a security mindset and understood the benefits of having a mature, well-funded security and risk management program? If every employee understood what a phish looks like and why they should report it? Unfortunately, most companies aren’t laser focused on security, leaving that education work up to the CISO and their team. And having those conversations with stakeholders that sometimes have conflicting agendas requires technical depth and robust communication skills. That’s not easy. As Jim points out, “it’s a daunting scope of topics to be proficient in at all levels.

What works:

  • Human firewalls—All the tech controls in the world won’t stop 100 percent of attacks, people need to be part of the solution too. “We can address administrative controls, technical controls, physical controls, but you also need to address the culture and human behavior, or the human firewalls. You know you’re only going to be marginally successful if you don’t engage employees too.” —Jason
  • Know your audience—CISOs need to cultivate “depth and breadth. On any given day, I needed to move from board-level conversations (where participants barely understand security) all the way to the depths of zero day vulnerabilities, patching, security architecture.” —Jim

Did you find these insights helpful? What would you tell your fellow CISOs about overcoming obstacles? What works for you? Please reach out to me on LinkedIn and let me know what you thought of this article and if you’re interested in being interviewed for one of our upcoming posts.

The post CISO stress-busters: post #1 overcoming obstacles appeared first on Microsoft Security.

How to gain 24/7 detection and response coverage with Microsoft Defender ATP

This blog post is part of the Microsoft Intelligence Security Association guest blog series. To learn more about MISA, go here.

Whether you’re a security team of one or a dozen, detecting and stopping threats around the clock is a challenge. Security incidents don’t happen exclusively during business hours: attackers often wait until the late hours of the night to breach an environment.

At Red Canary, we work with security teams of all shapes and sizes to improve detection and response capabilities. Our Security Operations Team investigates threats in customer environments 24/7/365, removes false positives, and delivers confirmed threats with context. We’ve seen teams run into a wide range of issues when trying to establish after-hours coverage on their own, including:

  • For global enterprises, around-the-clock monitoring can significantly increase the pressure on a U.S.–based security team. If you have personnel around the world, a security team in a single time zone isn’t sufficient to cover the times that computing assets are used in those environments.
  • In smaller companies that don’t have global operations, the security team is more likely to be understaffed and unable to handle 24/7 security monitoring without stressful on-call schedules.
  • For the security teams of one, being “out of office” is a foreign concept. You’re always on. And you need to set up some way to monitor the enterprise while you’re away.

Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) is an industry leading endpoint security solution that’s built into Windows with extended capabilities to Mac and Linux servers. Red Canary unlocks the telemetry delivered from Microsoft Defender ATP and investigates every alert, enabling you to immediately increase your detection coverage and waste no time with false positives.

Here’s how those who haven’t started with Red Canary yet can answer the question, “How can I support my 24/7 security needs with Microsoft Defender ATP?”

No matter how big your security team is, the most important first step is notifying the right people based on an on-call schedule. In this post, we’ll describe two different ways of getting Microsoft Defender ATP alerts to your team 24×7 and how Red Canary has implemented this for our customers.

Basic 24/7 via email

Microsoft Defender Security Center allows you to send all Microsoft Defender ATP alerts to an email address. You can set up email alerts under Settings → Alert notifications.

MISA1

Email notification settings in Microsoft Defender Security Center.

These emails will be sent to your team and should be monitored for high severity situations after-hours.

If sent to a ticketing system, these emails can trigger tickets or after-hours pages to be created for your security team. We recommend limiting the alerts to medium and high severity so that you won’t be bothered for informational or low alerts.

MISA2

Setting up alert emails in Microsoft Defender ATP to be sent to a ticketing system.

Now any future alerts will create a new ticket in your ticketing system where you can assign security team members to on-call rotations and notify on-call personnel of new alerts (if supported). Once the notification is received by on-call personnel, they would then log into Microsoft Defender’s Security Center for further investigation and triage. 

Enhanced 24/7 via APIs

What if you want to ingest alerts to a system that doesn’t use email? You can do this by using the Microsoft Defender ATP APIs. First, you’ll need to have an authentication token. You can get the token like we do here:

MISA3

API call to retrieve authentication token.

Once you’ve stored the authentication token you can use it to poll the Microsoft Defender ATP API and retrieve alerts from Microsoft Defender ATP. Here’s an example of the code to pull new alerts.

MISA4

API call to retrieve alerts from Microsoft Defender ATP.

The API only returns a subset of the data associated with each alert. Here’s an example of what you might receive.

MISA5

Example of a Microsoft Defender ATP alert returned from the API.

You can then take this data and ingest it into any of your internal tools. You can learn more about how to access Microsoft Defender ATP APIs in the documentation. Please note, the limited information included in an alert email or API response is not enough to triage the behavior. You will still need to log into the Microsoft Defender Security Center to find out what happened and take appropriate action.

24/7 with Red Canary

By enabling Red Canary, you supercharge your Microsoft Defender ATP deployment by adding a proven 24×7 security operations team who are masters at finding and stopping threats, and an automation platform to quickly remediate and get back to business.

Red Canary continuously ingests all of the raw telemetry generated from your instance of Microsoft Defender ATP as the foundation for our service. We also ingest and monitor Microsoft Defender ATP alerts. We then apply thousands of our own proprietary analytics to identify potential threats that are sent 24/7 to a Red Canary detection engineer for review.

Here’s an overview of the process (to go behind the scenes of these operations check out our detection engineering blog series):

MISA6

Managed detection and response with Red Canary.

Red Canary is monitoring your Microsoft Defender ATP telemetry and alerts. If anything is a confirmed threat, our team creates a detection and sends it to you using a built-in automation framework that supports email, SMS, phone, Microsoft Teams/Slack, and more. Below is an example of what one of those detections might look like.

MISA7

Red Canary confirms threats and prioritizes them so you know what to focus on.

At the top of the detection timeline you’ll receive a short description of what happened. The threat has already been examined by a team of detection engineers from Red Canary’s Cyber Incident Response Team (CIRT), so you don’t have to worry about triage or investigation. As you scroll down, you can quickly see the results of the investigation that Red Canary’s senior detection engineers have done on your behalf, including detailed notes that provide context to what’s happening in your environment:

MISA8

Notes from Red Canary senior detection engineers (in light blue) provide valuable context.

You’re only notified of true threats and not false positives. This means you can focus on responding rather than digging through data to figure out what happened.

What if you don’t want to be woken up, you’re truly unavailable, or you just want bad stuff immediately dealt with? Use Red Canary’s automation to handle remediation on the fly. You and your team can create playbooks in your Red Canary portal to respond to threats immediately, even if you’re unavailable.

MISA9

Red Canary automation playbook.

This playbook allows you to isolate the endpoint (using the Machine Action resource type in the Microsoft Defender ATP APIs) if Red Canary identifies suspicious activity. You also have the option to set up Automate playbooks that depend on an hourly schedule. For example, you may want to approve endpoint isolation during normal work hours, but use automatic isolation overnight:

MISA10

Red Canary Automate playbook to automatically remediate a detection.

Getting started with Red Canary

Whether you’ve been using Microsoft Defender ATP since it’s preview releases or if you’re just getting started, Red Canary is the fastest way to accelerate your security operations program. Immediate onboarding, increased detection coverage, and a 24/7 CIRT team are all at your fingertips.

Terence Jackson, CISO at Thycotic and Microsoft Defender ATP user, describes what it’s like working with Red Canary:

“I have a small team that has to protect a pretty large footprint. I know the importance of detecting, preventing, and stopping problems at the entry point, which is typically the endpoint. We have our corporate users but then we also have SaaS customers we have to protect. Currently my team tackles both, so for me it’s simply having a trusted partner that can take the day-to-day hunting/triage/elimination of false positives and only provide actionable alerts/intel, which frees my team up to do other critical stuff.”

Red Canary is the fastest way to enhance your detection coverage from Microsoft Defender ATP so you know exactly when and where to respond.

Contact us to see a demo and learn more.

The post How to gain 24/7 detection and response coverage with Microsoft Defender ATP appeared first on Microsoft Security.

Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC—Part 3c: A day in the life part 2

This is the sixth blog in the Lessons learned from the Microsoft SOC series designed to share our approach and experience from the front lines of our security operations center (SOC) protecting Microsoft and our Detection and Response Team (DART) helping our customers with their incidents. For a visual depiction of our SOC philosophy, download our Minutes Matter poster.

COVID-19 and the SOC

Before we conclude the day in the life, we thought we would share an analyst’s eye view of the impact of COVID-19. Our analysts are mostly working from home now and our cloud based tooling approach enabled this transition to go pretty smoothly. The differences in attacks we have seen are mostly in the early stages of an attack with phishing lures designed to exploit emotions related to the current pandemic and increased focus on home firewalls and routers (using techniques like RDP brute-forcing attempts and DNS poisoning—more here). The attack techniques they attempt to employ after that are fairly consistent with what they were doing before.

A day in the life—remediation

When we last left our heroes in the previous entry, our analyst had built a timeline of the potential adversary attack operation. Of course, knowing what happened doesn’t actually stop the adversary or reduce organizational risk, so let’s remediate this attack!

  1. Decide and act—As the analyst develops a high enough level of confidence that they understand the story and scope of the attack, they quickly shift to planning and executing cleanup actions. While this appears as a separate step in this particular description, our analysts often execute on cleanup operations as they find them.

Big Bang or clean as you go?

Depending on the nature and scope of the attack, analysts may clean up attacker artifacts as they go (emails, hosts, identities) or they may build a list of compromised resources to clean up all at once (Big Bang)

  • Clean as you go—For most typical incidents that are detected early in the attack operation, analysts quickly clean up the artifacts as we find them. This rapidly puts the adversary at a disadvantage and prevents them from moving forward with the next stage of their attack.
  • Prepare for a Big Bang—This approach is appropriate for a scenario where an adversary has already “settled in” and established redundant access mechanisms to the environment (frequently seen in incidents investigated by our Detection and Response Team (DART) at customers). In this case, analysts should avoid tipping off the adversary until full discovery of all attacker presence is discovered as surprise can help with fully disrupting their operation. We have learned that partial remediation often tips off an adversary, which gives them a chance to react and rapidly make the incident worse (spread further, change access methods to evade detection, inflict damage/destruction for revenge, cover their tracks, etc.).Note that cleaning up phishing and malicious emails can often be done without tipping off the adversary, but cleaning up host malware and reclaiming control of accounts has a high chance of tipping off the adversary.

These are not easy decisions to make and we have found no substitute for experience in making these judgement calls. The collaborative work environment and culture we have built in our SOC helps immensely as our analysts can tap into each other’s experience to help making these tough calls.

The specific response steps are very dependent on the nature of the attack, but the most common procedures used by our analysts include:

  • Client endpoints—SOC analysts can isolate a computer and contact the user directly (or IT operations/helpdesk) to have them initiate a reinstallation procedure.
  • Server or applications—SOC analysts typically work with IT operations and/or application owners to arrange rapid remediation of these resources.
  • User accounts—We typically reclaim control of these by disabling the account and resetting password for compromised accounts (though these procedures are evolving as a large amount of our users are mostly passwordless using Windows Hello or another form of MFA). Our analysts also explicitly expire all authentication tokens for the user with Microsoft Cloud App Security.
    Analysts also review the multi-factor phone number and device enrollment to ensure it hasn’t been hijacked (often contacting the user), and reset this information as needed.
  • Service Accounts—Because of the high risk of service/business impact, SOC analysts work with the service account owner of record (falling back on IT operations as needed) to arrange rapid remediation of these resources.
  • Emails—The attack/phishing emails are deleted (and sometimes cleared to prevent recovering of deleted emails), but we always save a copy of original email in the case notes for later search and analysis (headers, content, scripts/attachments, etc.).
  • Other—Custom actions can also be executed based on the nature of the attack such as revoking application tokens, reconfiguring servers and services, and more.

Automation and integration for the win

It’s hard to overstate the value of integrated tools and process automation as these bring so many benefits—improving the analysts daily experience and improving the SOC’s ability to reduce organizational risk.

  • Analysts spend less time on each incident, reducing the attacker’s time to operation—measured by mean time to remediate (MTTR).
  • Analysts aren’t bogged down in manual administrative tasks so they can react quickly to new detections (reducing mean time to acknowledge—MTTA).
  • Analysts have more time to engage in proactive activities that both reduce organization risk and increase morale by keeping them focused on the mission.

Our SOC has a long history of developing our own automation and scripts to make analysts lives easier by a dedicated automation team in our SOC. Because custom automation requires ongoing maintenance and support, we are constantly looking for ways to shift automation and integration to capabilities provided by Microsoft engineering teams (which also benefits our customers). While still early in this journey, this approach typically improves the analyst experience and reduces maintenance effort and challenges.

This is a complex topic that could fill many blogs, but this takes two main forms:

  • Integrated toolsets save analysts manual effort during incidents by allowing them to easily navigate multiple tools and datasets. Our SOC relies heavily on the integration of Microsoft Threat Protection (MTP) tools for this experience, which also saves the automation team from writing and supporting custom integration for this.
  • Automation and orchestration capabilities reduce manual analyst work by automating repetitive tasks and orchestrating actions between different tools. Our SOC currently relies on an advanced custom SOAR platform and is actively working with our engineering teams (MTP’s AutoIR capability and Azure Sentinel SOAR) on how to shift our learnings and workload onto those capabilities.

After the attacker operation has been fully disrupted, the analyst marks the case as remediated, which is the timestamp signaling the end of MTTR measurement (which started when the analyst began the active investigation in step 2 of the previous blog).

While having a security incident is bad, having the same incident repeated multiple times is much worse.

  1. Post-incident cleanup—Because lessons aren’t actually “learned” unless they change future actions, our analysts always integrate any useful information learned from the investigation back into our systems. Analysts capture these learnings so that we avoid repeating manual work in the future and can rapidly see connections between past and future incidents by the same threat actors. This can take a number of forms, but common procedures include:
    • Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)—Our analysts record any applicable IoCs such as file hashes, malicious IP addresses, and email attributes into our threat intelligence systems so that our SOC (and all customers) can benefit from these learnings.
    • Unknown or unpatched vulnerabilities—Our analysts can initiate processes to ensure that missing security patches are applied, misconfigurations are corrected, and vendors (including Microsoft) are informed of “zero day” vulnerabilities so that they can create security patches for them.
    • Internal actions such as enabling logging on assets and adding or changing security controls. 

Continuous improvement

So the adversary has now been kicked out of the environment and their current operation poses no further risk. Is this the end? Will they retire and open a cupcake bakery or auto repair shop? Not likely after just one failure, but we can consistently disrupt their successes by increasing the cost of attack and reducing the return, which will deter more and more attacks over time. For now, we must assume that adversaries will try to learn from what happened on this attack and try again with fresh ideas and tools.

Because of this, our analysts also focus on learning from each incident to improve their skills, processes, and tooling. This continuous improvement occurs through many informal and formal processes ranging from formal case reviews to casual conversations where they tell the stories of incidents and interesting observations.

As caseload allows, the investigation team also hunts proactively for adversaries when they are not on shift, which helps them stay sharp and grow their skills.

This closes our virtual shift visit for the investigation team. Join us next time as we shift to our Threat hunting team (a.k.a. Tier 3) and get some hard won advice and lessons learned.

…until then, share and enjoy!

P.S. If you are looking for more information on the SOC and other cybersecurity topics, check out previous entries in the series (Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 3a | Part 3b), Mark’s List (https://aka.ms/markslist), and our new security documentation site—https://aka.ms/securitydocs. Be sure to bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity. Or reach out to Mark on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Mitigating vulnerabilities in endpoint network stacks

The skyrocketing demand for tools that enable real-time collaboration, remote desktops for accessing company information, and other services that enable remote work underlines the tremendous importance of building and shipping secure products and services. While this is magnified as organizations are forced to adapt to the new environment created by the global crisis, it’s not a new imperative. Microsoft has been investing heavily in security, and over the years our commitment to building proactive security into products and services has only intensified.

To help deliver on this commitment, we continuously find ways to improve and secure Microsoft products. One aspect of our proactive security work is finding vulnerabilities and fixing them before they can be exploited. Our strategy is to take a holistic approach and drive security throughout the engineering lifecycle. We do this by:

  • Building security early into the design of features.
  • Developing tools and processes that proactively find vulnerabilities in code.
  • Introducing mitigations into Windows that make bugs significantly harder to exploit.
  • Having our world-class penetration testing team test the security boundaries of the product so we can fix issues before they can impact customers.

This proactive work ensures we are continuously making Windows safer and finding as many issues as possible before attackers can take advantage of them. In this blog post we will discuss a recent vulnerability that we proactively found and fixed and provide details on tools and techniques we used, including a new set of tools that we built internally at Microsoft. Our penetration testing team is constantly testing the security boundaries of the product to make it more secure, and we are always developing tools that help them scale and be more effective based on the evolving threat landscape. Our investment in fuzzing is the cornerstone of our work, and we are constantly innovating this tech to keep on breaking new ground.

Proactive security to prevent the next WannaCry

In the past few years, much of our team’s efforts have been focused on uncovering remote network vulnerabilities and preventing events like the WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks. Some bugs we have recently found and fixed include critical vulnerabilities that could be leveraged to exploit common secure remote communication tools like RDP or create ransomware issues like WannaCry: CVE-2019-1181 and CVE-2019-1182 dubbed “DejaBlue“, CVE-2019-1226 (RCE in RDP Server), CVE-2020-0611 (RCE in RDP Client), and CVE-2019-0787 (RCE in RDP client), among others.

One of the biggest challenges we regularly face in these efforts is the sheer volume of code we analyze. Windows is enormous and continuously evolving 5.7 million source code files, with more than 3,500 developers doing 1,100 pull requests per day in 440 official branches. This rapid cadence and evolution allows us to add new features as well proactively drive security into Windows.

Like many security teams, we frequently turn to fuzzing to help us quickly explore and assess large codebases. Innovations we’ve made in our fuzzing technology have made it possible to get deeper coverage than ever before, resulting in the discovery of new bugs, faster. One such vulnerability is the remote code vulnerability (RCE) in Microsoft Server Message Block version 3 (SMBv3) tracked as CVE-2020-0796 and fixed on March 12, 2020.

In the following sections, we will share the tools and techniques we used to fuzz SMB, the root cause of the RCE vulnerability, and relevant mitigations to exploitation.

Fully deterministic person-in-the-middle fuzzing

We use a custom deterministic full system emulator tool we call “TKO” to fuzz and introspect Windows components.  TKO provides the capability to perform full system emulation and memory snapshottting, as well as other innovations.  As a result of its unique design, TKO provides several unique benefits to SMB network fuzzing:

  • The ability to snapshot and fuzz forward from any program state.
  • Efficiently restoring to the initial state for fast iteration.
  • Collecting complete code coverage across all processes.
  • Leveraging greater introspection into the system without too much perturbation.

While all of these actions are possible using other tools, our ability to seamlessly leverage them across both user and kernel mode drastically reduces the spin-up time for targets. To learn more, check out David Weston’s recent BlueHat IL presentation “Keeping Windows secure”, which touches on fuzzing, as well as the TKO tool and infrastructure.

Fuzzing SMB

Given the ubiquity of SMB and the impact demonstrated by SMB bugs in the past, assessing this network transfer protocol has been a priority for our team. While there have been past audits and fuzzers thrown against the SMB codebase, some of which postdate the current SMB version, TKO’s new capabilities and functionalities made it worthwhile to revisit the codebase. Additionally, even though the SMB version number has remained static, the code has not! These factors played into our decision to assess the SMB client/server stack.

After performing an initial audit pass of the code to understand its structure and dataflow, as well as to get a grasp of the size of the protocol’s state space, we had the information we needed to start fuzzing.

We used TKO to set up a fully deterministic feedback-based fuzzer with a combination of generated and mutated SMB protocol traffic. Our goal for generating or mutating across multiple packets was to dig deeper into the protocol’s state machine. Normally this would introduce difficulties in reproducing any issues found; however, our use of emulators made this a non-issue. New generated or mutated inputs that triggered new coverage were saved to the input corpus. Our team had a number of basic mutator libraries for different scenarios, but we needed to implement a generator. Additionally, we enabled some of the traditional Windows heap instrumentation using verifier, turning on page heap for SMB-related drivers.

We began work on the SMBv2 protocol generator and took a network capture of an SMB negotiation with the aim of replaying these packets with mutations against a Windows 10, version 1903 client. We added a mutator with basic mutations (e.g., bit flips, insertions, deletions, etc.) to our fuzzer and kicked off an initial run while we continued to improve and develop further.

Figure 1. TKO fuzzing workflow

A short time later, we came back to some compelling results. Replaying the first crashing input with TKO’s kdnet plugin revealed the following stack trace:

> tkofuzz.exe repro inputs\crash_6a492.txt -- kdnet:conn 127.0.0.1:50002

Figure 2. Windbg stack trace of crash

We found an access violation in srv2!Smb2CompressionDecompress.

Finding the root cause of the crash

While the stack trace suggested that a vulnerability exists in the decompression routine, it’s the parsing of length counters and offsets from the network that causes the crash. The last packet in the transaction needed to trigger the crash has ‘\xfcSMB’ set as the first bytes in its header, making it a COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM packet.

Figure 3. COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM packet details

The SMBv2 COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM packet starts with a COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM_HEADER, which defines where in the packet the compressed bytes begin and the length of the compressed buffer.

typedef struct _COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM_HEADER

{

UCHAR   Protocol[4]; // Contains 0xFC, 'S', 'M', 'B'

ULONG    OriginalMessageSize;

USHORT AlgorithmId;

USHORT Flags;

ULONG Length;

}

In the srv2!Srv2DecompressData in the graph below, we can find this COMPRESSION_TRANSFORM_HEADER struct being parsed out of the network packet and used to determine pointers being passed to srv2!SMBCompressionDecompress.

Figure 4. Srv2DecompressData graph

We can see that at 0x7e94, rax points to our network buffer, and the buffer is copied to the stack before the OriginalCompressedSegmentSize and Length are parsed out and added together at 0x7ED7 to determine the size of the resulting decompressed bytes buffer. Overflowing this value causes the decompression to write its results out of the bounds of the destination SrvNet buffer, in an out-of-bounds write (OOBW).

Figure 5. Overflow condition

Looking further, we can see that the Length field is parsed into esi at 0x7F04, added to the network buffer pointer, and passed to CompressionDecompress as the source pointer. As Length is never checked against the actual number of received bytes, it can cause decompression to read off the end of the received network buffer. Setting this Length to be greater than the packet length also causes the computed source buffer length passed to SmbCompressionDecompress to underflow at 0x7F18, creating an out-of-bounds read (OOBR) vulnerability. Combining this OOBR vulnerability with the previous OOBW vulnerability creates the necessary conditions to leak addresses and create a complete remote code execution exploit.

Figure 6. Underflow condition

Windows 10 mitigations against remote network vulnerabilities

Our discovery of the SMBv3 vulnerability highlights the importance of revisiting protocol stacks regularly as our tools and techniques continue to improve over time. In addition to the proactive hunting for these types of issues, the investments we made in the last several years to harden Windows 10 through mitigations like address space layout randomization (ASLR), Control Flow Guard (CFG), InitAll, and hypervisor-enforced code integrity (HVCI) hinder trivial exploitation and buy defenders time to patch and protect their networks.

For example, turning vulnerabilities like the ones discovered in SMBv3 into working exploits requires finding writeable kernel pages at reliable addresses, a task that requires heap grooming and corruption, or a separate vulnerability in Windows kernel address space layout randomization (ASLR). Typical heap-based exploits taking advantage of a vulnerability like the one described here would also need to make use of other allocations, but Windows 10 pool hardening helps mitigate this technique. These mitigations work together and have a cumulative effect when combined, increasing the development time and cost of reliable exploitation.

Assuming attackers gain knowledge of our address space, indirect jumps are mitigated by kernel-mode CFG. This forces attackers to either use data-only corruption or bypass Control Flow Guard via stack corruption or yet another bug. If virtualization-based security (VBS) and HVCI are enabled, attackers are further constrained in their ability to map and modify memory permissions.

On Secured-core PCs these mitigations are enabled by default.  Secured-core PCs combine virtualization, operating system, and hardware and firmware protection. Along with Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection, Secured-core PCs provide end-to-end protection against advanced threats.

While these mitigations collectively lower the chances of successful exploitation, we continue to deepen our investment in identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before they can get into the hands of adversaries.

 

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Microsoft Threat Protection leads in real-world detection in MITRE ATT&CK evaluation

The latest round of MITRE ATT&CK evaluations proved yet again that Microsoft customers can trust they are fully protected even in the face of such an advanced attack as APT29. When looking at protection results out of the box, without configuration changes, Microsoft Threat Protection (MTP):

  • Provided nearly 100 percent coverage across the attack chain stages.
  • Delivered leading out-of-box visibility into attacker activities, dramatically reducing manual work for SOCs vs. vendor solutions that relied on specific configuration changes.
  • Had the fewest gaps in visibility, diminishing attacker ability to operate undetected.

Beyond just detection and visibility, automation, prioritization, and prevention are key to stopping this level of advanced attack. During testing, Microsoft:

  • Delivered automated real-time alerts without the need for configuration changes or custom detections; Microsoft is one of only three vendors who did not make configuration changes or rely on delayed detections.
  • Flagged more than 80 distinct alerts, and used built-in automation to correlate these alerts into only two incidents that mirrored the two MITRE ATT&CK simulations, improving SOC analyst efficiency and reducing attacker dwell time and ability to persist.
  • Identified seven distinct steps during the attack in which our protection features, which were disabled during testing, would have automatically intervened to stop the attack.

Microsoft Threat Experts provided further in-depth context and recommendations for further investigation through our comprehensive in-portal forensics. The evaluation also proved how Microsoft Threat Protection goes beyond just simple visibility into attacks, but also records all stages of the attack in which MTP would have stepped in to block the attack and automatically remediate any affected assets.

While the test focused on endpoint detection and response, MITRE’s simulated APT29 attack spans multiple attack domains, creating opportunities to empower defenders beyond just endpoint protection. Microsoft expanded defenders’ visibility beyond the endpoint with Microsoft Threat Protection (MTP). MTP has been recognized by both Gartner and Forrester as having extended detection and response capabilities. MTP takes protection to the next level by combining endpoint protection from Microsoft Defender ATP (EDR) with protection for email and productivity tools (Office 365 ATP), identity (Azure ATP), and cloud applications (Microsoft Cloud App Security [MCAS]). Below, we will share a deep-dive analysis and explanation of how MTP successfully demonstrated novel optic and detection advantages throughout the MITRE evaluation that only our solution can provide.

Incident-based approach enables real-time threat prioritization and remediation

Analyzing the MITRE evaluation results from the lens of breadth and coverage, as the diagrams below show, MTP provided exceptional coverage for all but one of the 19 tested attack stages. This means that in real life, the SOC would have received alerts and given full visibility into each of the stages of the two simulated attack scenarios across initial access, deployment of tools, discovery, persistence, credential access, lateral movement, and exfiltration. In Microsoft Threat Protection, alerts carry with them rich context—including a detailed process tree showing the recorded activities (telemetry) that led to the detection, the assets involved, all supporting evidence, as well as a description of what the alert means and recommendations for SOC action. Note that true alerts are attributed in the MITRE evaluation with the “Alert” modifier, and not all items marked as “Tactic” or “Technique” are actual alerts.

MTP detection coverage across the attack kill-chain stages, with block opportunities.

Figure 1: MTP detection coverage across the attack kill-chain stages, with block opportunities.

Figure 1: MTP detection coverage across the attack kill-chain stages, with block opportunities.

Note: Step 10, persistence execution, is registered as a miss due to a software bug, discovered during the test, that restricted visibility on Step 10—“Persistence Execution.” These evaluations are a valuable opportunity to continually improve our product, and this bug was fixed shortly after testing completed.

The MITRE APT29 evaluation focused solely on detection of an advanced attack; it did not measure whether or not participants were able to also prevent an attack. However, we believe that real-world protection is more than just knowing that an attack occurred—prevention of the attack is a critical element. While protections were intentionally turned off to allow the complete simulation to run, using the audit-only prevention configuration, MTP also captured and documented where the attack would have been completely prevented, including—as shown in the diagram above – the very start of the breach, if protections had been left on.

Microsoft Threat Protection also demonstrated how it promotes SOC efficiency and reduces attacker dwell time and sprawl. SOC alert fatigue is a serious problem; raising a large volume of alerts to investigate does not help SOC analysts understand where to devote their limited time and resources. Detection and response products must prioritize the most important attacker actions with the right context in near real time.

In contrast to alert-only approaches, MTP’s incident-based approach automatically identifies complex links between attacker activities in different domains including endpoint, identity, and cloud applications at an altitude that only Microsoft can provide because we have optics into each of these areas. In this scenario, MTP connected seemingly unrelated alerts using supporting telemetry across domains into just two end-to-end incidents, dramatically simplifying prioritization, triage, and investigation. In real life, this also simplifies automated response and enables SOC teams to scale capacity and capabilities. MITRE addresses a similar problem with the “correlated” modifier on telemetry and alerts but does not reference incidents (just yet).

Figure 2: MTP portal showing 2nd day attack incident including correlated alerts and affected assets.

Figure 2: MTP portal showing 2nd day attack incident including correlated alerts and affected assets.

Figure 3: 2nd day incident with all correlated alerts for SOC efficiency, and the attack incident graph.

Figure 3: 2nd day incident with all correlated alerts for SOC efficiency, and the attack incident graph.

Microsoft is the leader in out-of-the-box performance

Simply looking at the number of simulation steps covered—or, alternatively, at the number of steps with no coverage, where less is more—the MITRE evaluation showed MTP provided the best protection with zero delays or configuration changes.

Microsoft believes protection must be durable without requiring a lot of SOC configuration changes (especially during an ongoing attack), and it should not create friction by delivering false positives.

The chart below shows Microsoft as the vendor with the least number of steps categorized as “None” (also referred to as “misses”) out of the box. The chart also shows the number of detections marked with “Configuration Change” modifier, which was done quite considerably, as well as delayed detections (“Delayed” modifier), which indicate in-flight modifications and latency in detections.

Microsoft is one of only three vendors that made no modifications or had any delays during the test.

Microsoft is one of only three vendors that made no modifications or had any delays during the test.

Similarly, when looking at visibility and coverage for the 57 MITRE ATT&CK techniques replicated during this APT29 simulation, Microsoft’s coverage shows top performance at 95 percent of the techniques covered, as shown in the chart below.

A product’s coverage of techniques is an important consideration for customers when evaluating security solutions, often with specific attacker(s) in mind, which in turn determines the attacker techniques they are most concerned with and, consequently, the coverage they most care about.
Figure 5: Coverage across all attack techniques in the evaluation.

Figure 5: Coverage across all attack techniques in the evaluation.

MTP provided unique detection and visibility across identity, cloud, and endpoints

The powerful capabilities of Microsoft Threat Protection originate from unique signals not just from endpoints but also from identity and cloud apps. This combination of capabilities provides coverage where other solutions may lack visibility. Below are three examples of sophisticated attacks simulated during the evaluation that span across domains (i.e., identity, cloud, endpoint) and showcase the unique visibility and unmatched detections provided by MTP:

  • Detecting the most dangerous lateral movement attack: Golden Ticket—Unlike other vendors, MTP’s unique approach for detecting Golden Ticket attacks does not solely rely on endpoint-based command-line sequences, PowerShell strings like “Invoke-Mimikatz”, or DLL-loading heuristics that can all be evaded by advanced attackers. MTP leverages direct optics into the Domain Controller via Azure ATP, the identity component of MTP. Azure ATP detects Golden Ticket attacks using a combination of machine learning and protocol heuristics by looking at anomalies such as encryption downgrade, forged authorization data, nonexistent account, ticket anomaly, and time anomaly. MTP is the only product that provided the SOC context of the encryption downgrade, together with the source and target machines, resources accessed, and the identities involved.
  • Exfiltration over alternative protocol: Catching and stopping attackers as they move from endpoint to cloud—MTP leverages exclusive signal from Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS), the cloud access security broker (CASB) component of MTP, which provides visibility and alerts for a large variety of cloud services, including OneDrive. Using the MCAS Conditional Access App Control mechanism, MTP was able to monitor cloud traffic for data exfiltration and raise an automatic alert when a ZIP archive with stolen files was exfiltrated to a remote OneDrive account controlled by the attacker. It is important to note the OneDrive account used by MITRE Redteam was unknown to the Microsoft team prior to being automatically detected during the evaluation.
  • Uncovering Remote System Discovery attacks that abuse LDAP—Preceding lateral movement, attackers commonly abuse the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) protocol to query user groups and user information. Microsoft introduced a powerful new sensor for unique visibility of LDAP queries, aiding security analyst investigation and allowing detection of suspicious patterns of LDAP activity. Through this sensor, Microsoft Defender ATP, the endpoint component of MTP, avoids reliance on PowerShell strings and snippets. Rather, Microsoft Defender ATP uses the structure and fields of each LDAP query originating from the endpoint to the Domain Controller (DC) to spot broad requests or suspicious queries for accounts and groups. Where possible, MTP also combines and correlates LDAP attacks detected on the endpoint by Microsoft Defender ATP with LDAP events seen on the DC by Azure ATP.

Figure 6: Golden Ticket alert based on optics on Domain Controller activity.

Figure 6: Golden Ticket alert based on optics on Domain Controller activity.

Figure 7: Suspicious LDAP activity detected using deep native OS sensor.

Figure 7: Suspicious LDAP activity detected using deep native OS sensor.

Microsoft Threat Experts: Threat context and hunting skills when and where needed

In this edition of MITRE ATT&CK evaluation, for the first time, Microsoft products were configured to take advantage of the managed threat hunting service Microsoft Threat Experts. Microsoft Threat Experts provides proactive hunting for the most important threats in the network, including human adversary intrusions, hands-on-keyboard attacks, or advanced attacks like cyberespionage. During the evaluation, the service operated with the same strategy normally used in real customer incidents: the goal is to send targeted attack notifications that provide real value to analysts with contextual analysis of the activities. Microsoft Threat Experts enriches security signals and raises the risk level appropriately so that the SOC can focus on what’s important, and breaches don’t go unnoticed.

Microsoft Threat Experts notifications stand out among other participating vendors as these notifications are fully integrated into the experience, incorporated into relevant incidents and connected to relevant events, alerts, and other evidence. Microsoft Threat Experts is enabling SOC teams to effortlessly and seamlessly receive and merge additional data and recommendations in the context of the incident investigation.

Figure 8: Microsoft Threat Experts alert integrates into the portal and provides hyperlinked rich context.

Figure 8: Microsoft Threat Experts alert integrates into the portal and provides hyperlinked rich context.

Transparency in testing is key to threat detection, prevention

Microsoft Threat Protection delivers real-world detection, response, and, ultimately, protection from advanced attacks, as demonstrated in the latest MITRE evaluation. Core to MITRE’s testing approach is emulating real-world attacks to understand whether solutions are able to adequately detect and respond to them. We saw that Microsoft Threat Protection provided clear detection across all categories and delivered additional context that shows the full scope of impact across an entire environment. MTP empowers customers not only to detect attacks, offering human experts as needed, and easily return to a secured state with automated remediation. As is true in the real world, our human Threat Experts were available on demand to provide even more context and help with.

We thank MITRE for the opportunity to contribute to the test with unique threat intelligence that only three participants stepped forward to share. Our unique intelligence and breadth of signal and visibility across the entire environment is what enables us to continuously score top marks. We look forward to participating in the next evaluation, and we welcome your feedback and partnership throughout our journey.

Thanks,

Moti and the entire Microsoft Threat Protection team

Related Links:

 

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