Category Archives: Software

Podcast Episode 120: They Email Ballots, Don’t They?

In this week’s episode (#120): more than 100,000 U.S. voters submitted their ballots in the last presidential election via email in 2016. Despite that: hardly any attention has been paid to the security of email and online voting systems used by 32 states.

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Software Monitoring for NERC CIP Compliance: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I walked through the background of the NERC CIP version 5 controls and outlined what needs to be monitored for NERC CIP software requirements. In this second half of the series, we’ll take what we’ve learned and explore approaches for meeting the requirements while considering security value. NERC CIP […]… Read More

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Five Reasons I Want China Running Its Own Software

Periodically I read about efforts by China, or Russia, or North Korea, or other countries to replace American software with indigenous or semi-indigenous alternatives. I then reply via Twitter that I love the idea, with a short reason why. This post will list the top five reasons why I want China and other likely targets of American foreign intelligence collection to run their own software.

1. Many (most?) non-US software companies write lousy code. The US is by no means perfect, but our developers and processes generally appear to be superior to foreign indigenous efforts. Cisco vs Huawei is a good example. Cisco has plenty of problems, but it has processes in place to manage them, plus secure code development practices. Lousy indigenous code means it is easier for American intelligence agencies to penetrate foreign targets. (An example of a foreign country that excels in writing code is Israel, but thankfully it is not the same sort of priority target like China, Russia, or North Korea.)

2. Many (most?) non-US enterprises are 5-10 years behind US security practices. Even if a foreign target runs decent native code, the IT processes maintaining that code are lagging compared to American counterparts. Again, the US has not solved this problem by any stretch of the imagination. However, relatively speaking, American inventory management, patch management, and security operations have the edge over foreign intelligence targets. Because non-US enterprises running indigenous code will not necessarily be able to benefit from American expertise (as they might if they were running American code), these deficiencies will make them easier targets for foreign exploitation.

3. Foreign targets running foreign code is win-win for American intel and enterprises. The current vulnerability equities process (VEP) puts American intelligence agencies in a quandary. The IC develops a zero-day exploit for a vulnerability, say for use against Cisco routers. American and Chinese organizations use Cisco routers. Should the IC sit on the vulnerability in order to maintain access to foreign targets, or should it release the vulnerability to Cisco to enable patching and thereby protect American and foreign systems?

This dilemma disappears in a world where foreign targets run indigenous software. If the IC identifies a vulnerability in Cisco software, and the majority of its targets run non-Cisco software, then the IC is more likely (or should be pushed to be more likely) to assist with patching the vulnerable software. Meanwhile, the IC continues to exploit Huawei or other products at its leisure.

4. Writing and running indigenous code is the fastest way to improve. When foreign countries essentially outsource their IT to vendors, they become program managers. They lose or never develop any ability to write and run quality software. Writing and running your own code will enroll foreign organizations in the security school of hard knocks. American intel will have a field day for 3-5 years against these targets, as they flail around in a perpetual state of compromise. However, if they devote the proper native resources and attention, they will learn from their mistakes. They will write and run better software. Now, this means they will become harder targets for American intel, but American intel will retain the advantage of point 3.

5. Trustworthy indigenous code will promote international stability. Countries like China feel especially vulnerable to American exploitation. They have every reason to be scared. They run code written by other organizations. They don't patch it or manage it well. Their security operations stink. The American intel community could initiate a complete moratorium on hacking China, and the Chinese would still be ravaged by other countries or criminal hackers, all the while likely blaming American intel. They would not be able to assess the situation. This makes for a very unstable situation.

Therefore, countries like China and others are going down the indigenous software path. They understand that software, not oil as Daniel Yergen once wrote, is now the "commanding heights" of the economy. Pursuing this course will subject these countries to many years of pain. However, in the end I believe it will yield a more stable situation. These countries should begin to perceive that they are less vulnerable. They will experience their own vulnerability equity process. They will be more aware and less paranoid.

In this respect, indigenous software is a win for global politics. The losers, of course, are global software companies. Foreign countries will continue to make short-term deals to suck intellectual property and expertise from American software companies, before discarding them on the side of Al Gore's information highway.

One final point -- a way foreign companies could jump-start their indigenous efforts would be to leverage open source software. I doubt they would necessarily honor licenses which require sharing improvements with the open source community. However, open source would give foreign organizations the visibility they need and access to expertise that they lack. Microsoft's shared source and similar programs were a step in this direction, but I suggest foreign organizations adopt open source instead.

Now, widespread open source adoption by foreign intelligence targets would erode the advantages for American intel that I explained in point 3. I'm betting that foreign leaders are likely similar to Americans in that they tend to not trust open source, and prefer to roll their own and hold vendors accountable. Therefore I'm not that worried, from an American intel perspective, about point 3 being vastly eroded by widespread foreign open source adoption.

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IQ Retail Guards Against New Age Threats with Panda Security

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“Stories of cyber-attacks hit the news almost daily – data breaches, DDos attacks, email hacks and phishing attacks – reminders of the dangers of the internet” says Jeremy Matthews Regional Manager of Panda Security Africa. “Yet somehow all of these attacks still seem foreign– as though it would never happen to you, however the reality is, South African businesses are affected by these threats” continues Matthews.

IQ Retail MD, Chris Steyn knows this all too well and has seen first-hand the dramatic rise of new age threats such as Ransomware. Software company IQ Retail, provides expertise in complete financial and business administration solutions, focusing on the development of business systems for the accounting and retail management environment. Since its inception in 1986, IQ Retail has grown to become one of the premium providers of innovative business solutions.

“Few businesses realise the seriousness of these threats and the damage they can have on a business’’, says Steyn. “ The problem we have found is twofold; firstly, businesses do not have adequate security software protecting their network, and secondly, they do not have effective backups in place”, continues Steyn.

He recognises that these advanced threats stem from a situation in which hackers no longer need to be tech savvy, with access to ready-made Malware toolkits available on the dark web. New malware variants are created daily and many security vendors are unable to keep up. As a result, businesses are being attacked more often and Cybercrime has become more profitable and easier to implement than ever before.

Speaking to Panda Security about his experience working with many South African businesses Steyn says, “We have noticed two week spikes in attacks that most often occur on the weekend when there are few people in the office. This puts businesses in a tough position that often leads to payment of the ransom or worse, a loss of company data”

Taking note of the shifting dynamic, IQ Retail developed a multi-layered approach, implementing security solutions at every level of their infrastructure, as well as ensuring backups are in place and procedures are being followed. Despite their efforts, Ransomware was still able to penetrate their network.

Advanced Protection

In order to prevent further breaches, Steyn and his team did extensive research into solutions offered by various vendors. They discovered that conventional AV solutions are unable to prevent zero-day Ransomware and other advanced threats from entering the network.
Steyn turned to Panda to implement a final effort to mitigate the threat of Ransomware. “Through our research, we realised that Panda’s Adaptive Defense 360 software is the only solution that could give us comprehensive protection. AD360 allows us to proactively manage the security on our network and track possible risk situations” says Steyn.

The Solution

Steyn explains that the current environment requires new generation protection solutions such as Adaptive Defense 360 that provide an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) service to accurately classify all running programs on your network. This means that only legitimate programs are able to run.

Panda’s EDR technology model is based on three phases: Continuous monitoring of applications on a company’s computers and servers. Automatic analysis and correlation using machine learning on Panda’s Big Data platform in the cloud. Finally, Endpoint hardening and enforcement – blocking all suspicious or dangerous processes, with notifications to alert network administrators.

AD 360 combines EDR with full conventional Endpoint Protection (EPP) to deliver comprehensive protection.
For more information on how to protect your business from the advanced threats we see today, contact Panda Security.

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