Companies Must Evolve to Keep Up With Hackers

If you ask a CFO if their company’s current cybersecurity strategy is working, it’s very likely that they do not know. While at first they may think it is, because the company’s bank accounts are untouched, an adversary could be lurking in their network and collecting critical data to later hold for ransom—threatening to destroy it if the money isn’t paid. The truth is that many organizations are lacking effective risk management that ensures the integrity and availability of their most essential data.

Corporate America needs to take the power back and stop hackers before they compromise networks and exfiltrate data for criminal uses, or simply threaten to destroy it for financial gain. To shift the power back in their favor, they must safeguard data, implement an effective risk management program, and invest in risk reduction activities. Organizations need to assess the maturity of their cybersecurity efforts, determine if they have any pre-existing conditions, and focus on risk reduction efforts that truly protect their data, while ensuring the ability to deliver products and services.

The fastest way to check for pre-existing conditions is by doing a compromise assessment to identify any current suspicious activity within their network. From there, they can determine what exactly needs to be done to reduce their organization’s cyber risk and develop a risk management plan that outlines clear steps for protecting their most critical assets.

To develop a cybersecurity risk management plan, executives need to first define the company’s “crown jewels”—the things that if compromised, would cause the most damage or inhibit the ability to deliver products or services that generate revenue. For instance, for a bank, this could be access to funds by their individual or business customers, or banking information that could be used for fraudulent purposes. Once an organization knows what it’s protecting, the executives can then create a security roadmap that ensures the secure delivery of products or services.

The security roadmap should start with a business impact assessment that identifies those crown jewels that are needed for delivery of essential services or producing products. These can include the data itself, technical architecture or systems used by their customers to transact business. Once these have been identified a prioritized risk reduction plan needs to be developed and tracked by the company’s leadership. Every facet of risk should be considered, from legal risk, to the consequences of a data breach, or inability to deliver services resulting from an intrusion or denial-of-service attack.

While security assessments and roadmaps are essential for defining an organization’s adequate cyber defenses, one of the biggest mistakes we see businesses make is being reactive when it comes to their defenses—relying on traditional technologies that only identify known threats and leverage Indicators of Compromise (IoCs). This method does not capture new exploits fast enough, nor versions of malware or other obfuscation techniques that are introduced by sophisticated adversaries. A great example is the sheer speed at which WannaCry ransomware spread to organizations of all sizes across the globe. Adversaries are capitalizing on this reactive security shortcoming by taking advantage of this window of opportunity to comprise data or networks.

Instead, organizations must take a proactive approach that focuses on indicators of attack (IoAs) that identify adversary behavior indicating malicious activity, such as code execution or lateral movement. IoAs can alert businesses to adversary activity before any damage is done. To effectively make use of this data, businesses also need to leverage threat intelligence for deeper insights into these IoAs.

Threat intelligence provides a crucial layer of information on adversary motives, tactics, techniques and procedures. For instance, a bank could look at a threat and see if this particular adversary typically targets the financial services industry, which regions they operate in and the motive behind their attacks.

Going one step further, organizations should leverage technology that enables threat intelligence to be shared rapidly and can protect numerous customers at once. At the end of the day, effective security requires a community effort. Corporate America needs to come together and truly leverage the power of crowdsourced intelligence—to keep from becoming victims of the next big attack.

From a lack of risk management plans, to reliance on reactive security measures, there are a number of areas where companies are falling short of having an adequate cyber defense. By putting the necessary plans in place to secure the integrity of their critical data, taking a proactive approach to cyber threats and working together across industries and businesses, corporate America can collectively build a stronger cyber defense.

10 Lessons Learned from Breach Response Experts

SAN FRANCISCO—As hacking collectives target both the public and private sectors with a wide range of motivations, one thing is clear: Destructive attacks where hackers destroy critical business systems, leak confidential data and hold companies for ransom are on the rise. In a presentation here at the RSA Conference, the nation’s largest cybersecurity summit, Charles Carmakal and Robert Wallace, vice president and director, respectively, of cybersecurity firm Mandiant, shared an overview of some of the biggest findings about disruptive attacks from the company’s breach response, threat research and forensic investigations work.

In their Thursday morning session, the duo profiled specific hacking groups and the varied motivations and tactics that characterize their attacks. Putting isolated incidents into this broader context, they said, helps companies not only understand the true nature of the risk hackers can pose even in breaches that do not immediately appear to target private industry.

One group, for example, has waged “unsophisticated but disruptive and destructive” against a number of mining and casino enterprises in Canada. The hackers broke into enterprise systems, stole several gigabytes of sensitive data and published it online, created scheduled tasks to delete system data, issued ransom requests, and even emailed executives and board members directly to taunt them about the data exposed and increase the pressure to pay. Further increasing that pressure, the group is known to contact journalists in an attempt to publicize the exposed data. Victims have endured outages for days while trying to recover data from backups, and some have paid the ransoms, typically requested in the range of $50,000 to $500,000 in bitcoin.

Mandiant refers to this group as Fake Tesla Team because the hackers have tried to seem a more powerful and compelling threat by claiming they are members of Tesla Team, an already existing group that launches DDoS attacks. As that group is thought to be Serbian, they have little reason to target Canadian entities, and indeed, the bits of Russian used by Fake Tesla Team appears to be simply translated via Google.

In all of the group’s attacks that Mandiant has investigated, the hackers had indeed gained system access and published data, but they exaggerated their skills and some of the details of access. Identifying such a group as your attacker greatly informs the breach response process based on the M.O. and case history, Mandiant said. For example, they know the threat is real, but have seen some companies find success in using partial payments to delay data release, and they have found no evidence that, after getting paid, the collective does anything else with the access they’ve gained.

Beyond considerations of specific hacking groups or their motivations, Carmakal and Wallace shared the top 10 lessons for addressing a breach Mandiant has distilled from countless investigations:

  1. Confirm there is actually a breach: make sure there has been a real intrusion, not just an empty threat from someone hoping to turn fear into a quick payday.
  2. Remember you face a human adversary—the attacker attempting to extort money or make other demands is a real person with emotional responses, which is critical to keep in mind when determining how quickly to respond, what tone to take, and other nuances in communication. Working with law enforcement can help inform these decisions.
  3. Timing is critical: The biggest extortion events occur at night and on weekends, so ensure you have procedures in place to respond quickly and effectively at any time.
  4. Stay focused: In the flurry of questions and decisions to make, focus first and foremost on immediate containment of the attack.
  5. Carefully evaluate whether to engage the attacker.
  6. Engage experts before a breach, including forensic, legal and public relations resources.
  7. Consider all options when asked to pay a ransom or extortion demand: Can you contain the problem, and can you do so sooner than the attack can escalate?
  8. Ensure strong segmentation and control over system backups: It is critical, well before a breach, to understand where your backup infrastructure is and how it is segmented from the corporate network. In the team’s breach investigations, they have found very few networks have truly been segmented, meriting serious consideration from any company right away.
  9. After the incident has been handled, immediately focus on broader security improvements to fortify against future attacks from these attackers or others.
  10. They may come back: If you kick them out of your system—or even pay them—they may move on, perhaps take a vacation with that ransom money, but they gained access to your system, so remember they also may come back.

How Phishing Emails Can Threaten Your Company

Impostor emails, dubbed “business email compromise” by the FBI, are increasing and targeting companies of every size, in every part of the world. Unfortunately, victims often do not realize they have been had until it’s too late. There are no security tool alarms and there is no ransom note. But because systems appear to be running as normal, everything seems like business as usual. And that is the point, according to Proofpoint’s study, “The Imposter in the Machine.”
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From New Zealand to Belgium, companies from every industry have suffered losses, the study found. Here is a small sampling of recent impostor attacks during the last year:

  • A Hong Kong subsidiary at Ubiquiti Networks Inc. discovered that it had made more than $45 million in payments over an extended period to attackers using impostor emails to pose as a supplier.
  • Crelan, a Belgian bank recently lost more than $70 million due to impostor emails, discovering the fraud only after the company conducted an internal audit.
  • In New Zealand, a higher education provider, TWoA, lost more than $100,000 when their CFO fell victim to an impostor email, believing the payment request came from the organization’s president.
  • Luminant Corp., an electric utility company in Dallas, Texas sent a little over $98,000 in response to an email request that they thought was coming from a company executive. Later it was learned that attackers sent an impostor email from a domain name with just two letters transposed.

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Most often, company executives are targeted, with two common angles. In one case, the always-traveling executive is studied by attackers, who use every resource available to understand the target’s schedule, familiar language, peers and direct reports. Because the executive is frequently on the road, direct reports who routinely process payments can easily be victimized.

Another ploy involves suppliers and how they invoice. For example, the supplier’s language, forms and procedures are used to change bank account information for an upcoming payment. If the attackers are successful, a company may find that they have been making payments to them for months without knowing it.

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For more about the risks of phishing, check out “The Devil in the Details” and “6 Tips to Reduce the Risk of Social Engineering Fraud” from Risk Management.

Phishing: Understanding Your Cyber Adversaries

Nearly two years ago, an infamous incident occurred where stolen pictures of celebrities flooded the internet. Originally, it was thought that this was due to an iCloud vulnerability that allowed a brute force attack. But it now turns out it was because of a simple social engineering phishing hack.

Phishing usually involves sending mass emails that masquerade as legitimate communications, coming from a trustworthy source like a big bank or credit card company. The phisher seeks to trick the recipient into clicking on a link or opening an attachment that downloads malware onto the victim’s computer. The malware can then be used for criminal activity including theft of sensitive data or money. While phishers may send thousands of emails, all they need are a few or even one individual to fall for their trick to get into the IT system. It’s easy to forget that security threats aren’t always the work of sophisticated technology geniuses with malevolent intent. As in the case of the celebrity photos, the method was relatively simple. However, it still caused reputational damage.

Cyber attacks don’t appear out of nowhere. At the beginning and right through development and attack, humans are involved. Recently, we profiled half a dozen types of attackers. We call them the “Unusual Suspects.” An attack might start with the Professional working in the digital shadows seeking to make the most money possible from the damage they cause. Then you’ve got the Mules and Getaways who are on the front line, and will be the first to get caught when the law comes knocking. There are also Activists and Nation State Actors who are looking to change the world or steal information on behalf of their country’s government. And then there’s the Insider leaking sensitive information accidentally or on purpose with malicious intent.

bae - the usual suspects

These are all just some of personas BAE Systems recently identified as key threats to businesses and without them, cybercrime can’t exist.

Wising up to phishing attacks

In the IT space, one of the most common ways cyber criminals target employees of a company is through phishing. In the aforementioned celebrity photos case, court documents said Ryan Collins, 36, of Pennsylvania, hacked more than 100 people. According to reports in the press he used email names like ‘e-mail.protection318@icloud.com’ and asked for password details.

With these credentials, the hacker was able to go through email accounts looking for photos and videos, managing to get into around 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts mostly belonging to celebrities. It’s quite easy to imagine the damage hackers could cause if they got hold of corporate emails – think of the damage the 2014 Sony hack inflicted.

You can’t patch a human

Employees will always be a weak spot, and clever social engineering is leading to more examples of how this weakness can be exploited. The effects can be devastating. For example: a company that collects credit card data from its customers is at risk of a major data breach from a single employee clicking on an email leading to a website laced with malware. The financial and/or reputational damage and the related fines or compensation claims that result could be significant.

At its core, combating social engineering is a human problem that requires human solutions. In certain cases victims may violate policies, but it may often be the case that the rules or training were not clear enough for the employee to know they were doing something that could have serious consequences. And because humans are behind social engineering attacks, they are capable of evolving, matching the way the business world is using technology.

To mitigate against social engineering attacks, there needs to be security awareness and culture from top to bottom. This might mean ongoing training for employees to understand the threats, as well as the right policies and procedures in place. This helps employees understand the risk from social engineering and what role they have in preventing it. Remember, this all has to be done in tandem with putting the right technology in place.

Defeating the Unusual Suspects

Defending against cyber threats is all well and good, but what about catching these Unusual Suspects? This is difficult, because they use sophisticated tactics to escape detection–they are located all over the world, and use secure software to escape detection and remain anonymous, often routing communications through multiple countries to avoid being caught.

Fortunately this is a case where human fallibility is a good thing–criminals will make mistakes and leave digital finger prints that sophisticated analytics and forensic analysis can pick up. Finally don’t underestimate the power of human ingenuity–thanks to the efforts of security professionals, we’re finally getting to a point where the investigation of online crime is being slowly demystified and defenses put in place to mitigate the threat.