Article | March 30, 2020
A decade ago, Stuxnet pulled me into the accelerating, widening gyre of cybersecurity. I began to devote less time to global health, a topic on which I spent the previous decade developing familiarity and producing a large carbon footprint. I would frown when cybersecurity analysis borrowed concepts from public health, thinking, “if they only knew the life-and-death troubles that health practitioners face implementing those concepts.” Cybersecurity and public health are different challenges. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has cybersecurity relevance because it has generated sobering reminders of long-standing problems, unresolved controversies, and unheeded warnings that continue to characterize U.S. cybersecurity.
Article | March 30, 2020
On their road to recovery from the pandemic, businesses face unique dilemmas. This includes substantial and entirely necessary investments in digital transformation, however tight budgets are making such endeavors difficult if not impossible. Businesses continue to struggle with pivots like adopting new digital platforms, shifting their corporate model to resolve supply chain disruption and enabling a remote workforce.
The inability for businesses to quickly adopt technologies that support digital transformation processes, including identity-based segmentation, virtual desktop interfaces and full-stack cloud, is hindering their ability to adequately address new threats and even to test new security systems and protocols.
“Now more than ever, it’s imperative to remediate risk exposure and vulnerabilities within an organization’s existing systems—optimally from the get-go,” urges cybersecurity expert Nishant Srivastava, Cyber Security Architect and field expert at Cognizant—an IT Solutions and Services firm for which he's focused on designing and implementing Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions. “Biggest threats should get highest priority, of course, but the magnitude or even likelihood of a threat should not be the sole consideration. Organizations should also look at other forms of value that new technologies can bring.”
Below Srivastava, a senior-level IAM, governance and cyber risk authority, offers key digital security vulnerabilities businesses need to be mindful of given increased digital dependency amid the pandemic. Heed these best practices to help keep your company—and customers—uncompromised.
Consumer-Facing App Gaps
For consumer-facing web applications, some of the biggest security threats include path traversal, cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injections and remote command execution. Of course, protecting customer data is an utmost security concern and breaches abound. One of the biggest challenges to address these kind of issues lies with lacking human resources. There is a lack of aptly trained and skilled security staff in even the most sophisticated of regions, which is cultivating a gap in cybersecurity skills across the globe. It goes without saying that employee training and investing in highly-qualified staff are among the best ways to establish, maintain and uphold security levels of consumer facing apps. Rifts, however small, can induce excessive damage and losses.
Online delivery businesses that are aware of security risks would be wise to introduce more secure logins, automatic logouts and random shopper ID verification and are preventing shoppers from swapping devices when ordering. Such measures will help thwart breaches that expose of customer names, credit card information, passwords, email addresses and other personal and sensitive information.
Companies selling goods or services online also should not launch without a secure socket layer (SSL) connection. It will encrypt all data transfer between the company’s back end server and the user's browser. This way, a hacker won’t be able to steal and decode data even if he or she manages to intercept web traffic.
Another useful strategy is to enforce password limitations. Passwords should be as complicated as possible with a combination of symbols, numbers and letters. Investing in a tokenization system is worthwhile because any hacker who accesses the back end system can read and steal sensitive information, which is held in the database as plain text. Some payment providers tokenize cardholder information, which means a token replaces the raw data so the database then holds a token rather than the real data. If someone steals it, they can’t do anything with it because it’s just a token.
Ransomware threats are escalating, which is why those doing business digitally should enforce a multi-layer security strategy that incorporates data loss prevention software, file encryption, personal firewall and anti-malware. This will protect both a company’s infrastructure and its endpoint.
Data backups are key because there’s still a mild chance of a breach even with all of the aforementioned security solutions in place. The easiest and most effective way to minimize cyberattack damage is to copy files to a separate device. This very reliable form of backup makes it possible for people to recommence work as usual with little to no downtime, and all their computer files intact, should an attack occur.
Gmail blocks over 100 million COVID-related phishing emails every day, but more than 240 million are sent. That means less than half sent via Gmail alone are blocked. Experts cite imposing limits on remote desktop protocol (RDP) access, multifactor authentication for VPN access, in-depth remote network connection analysis and IP address whitelisting as some of the best strategies to maintain security. In addition, businesses should secure externally facing apps like supplier portals that use risk-based and multifactor authentication—particularly for apps that would let a cybercriminal divert payments or alter user bank account details.
The shift to remote work after the pandemic hit has given cybercriminals more and more opportunities, directing their focus on the tools people use for work. It’s important that people recognize their vulnerabilities, particularly while they work from home. Among these are hacked videoconference passwords and unprotected videoconference links, which criminals can use to access an organization’s network without authorization. Many people who work from home do not use secured networks, unknowingly and unintentionally. Many are just not aware of the risks.
To avoid online teleconference security issues, meetings should always be encrypted. This means a message can only be read by the recipient intended and that the host must be present before the meeting begins. There should also be waiting rooms for participants. Screen share watermarks, locking a meeting, and use of audio signatures are additional recommendations.
When asked what his best advice would be to tweak security for a workforce that’s predominately working remotely, Nishant says that companies should start by analyzing the basics (like those specified above) against the backdrop of a wide range of ever-escalating and evolving threats. “Employees should use dual-factor authentication and make sure apps, mobile phones and laptops are updated and that available patches and updates are always installed,” he says. “They should certainly be wary of all information requests and verify the source. These even include unexpected calls or emails seemingly from colleagues.”
Srivastava also pointed out that insiders at the CIO Symposium in July 2020 agreed that the pandemic packed years of digital transformation into just a few weeks. The use of third parties emerged as a major security concern to take into account. For instance, some employees abroad were unable to move their computers to their homes, so employers rushed to supply them with new equipment. In the process, some of it was not set up correctly thus compromising security. Companies should have done more to determine out whether individuals were using technology properly, such as if employees were sharing work devices or using their own personal equipment.
On the plus side, the shift toward working from home sped up multi-factor authentication adoption. This is a great opportunity that today’s digitally-driven businesses should take advantage of.
In short, Srivastava advocates taking a zero-trust approach. “It might sound harsh, but this is the idea that you can’t trust devices, people and apps by default,” he says. “Everything needs to be authorized and authenticated. Users should always verify and never trust, and businesses should act as if there has already been a breach and work to shore up weak links in the security chain. Finally, businesses should give access to information and data to as few people as possible—and wholly ensure those who do have access are appropriately trained to recognize when a red flag presents.
By employing all or even some of the advice above, businesses can continue to thrive as the digital transformation age unfolds—and do so more confidently and contently all around.
NETWORK THREAT DETECTION
Article | March 30, 2020
There are three significant and disruptive cybersecurity threats that are catching organizations of all types and sizes by surprise:
Cloud misconfigurations; and
Supply chain backdoors.
Let me explain with recent examples and guide you on what you can do to avoid making other’s mistakes and falling victim to the threats.
Let’s start with ransomware. It is one of the most disruptive risks facing your organization today. Why? Because it can literally bring your operations, no matter who you are, to a standstill and inflict significant cost, pain and suffering.
Just look at the recent example of one organization. It was infected with ransomware, and IT systems were shut down for several weeks, bringing operations to a standstill. It had to gradually re-start systems over several more weeks. It estimates it will cost around $95 million from lost sales, recovery and remediation, impacting profitability. Also, it announced it will not be able to attain its growth plans for the year.
Take another recent example. A three-hospital system was infected and IT systems were shut down and it could not accept any incoming patients for several days. It had to operate using paper, until gradually the IT systems were re-started over several days. Fortunately, in this case, the incoming patients turned away did not suffer any loss of life and were able to be diverted to other hospitals timely, but it could have been tragic.
No organization is immune to ransomware and it can rear its ugly head anytime and inflict severe pain.
There are many variants and each can be tweaked easily by the attackers to evade the defense. The Ryuk ransomware is an example of one that has already inflicted significant pain to hundreds of organizations this year in the U.S. and across the globe. Previously, the SamSam ransomware attacked a variety of organizations in the U.S. and Canada, and provided over $6 million in ransom payments and inflicted over $30 million in losses. Prior to that, NotPetya ransomware rapidly inflicted hundreds of organizations in various parts of the world, and caused over $10 billion in damages.
The attackers are seeing that with ransomware it is quicker and easier to make the intrusion, and encrypt some of the data than try to exfiltrate all of it. They are asking themselves, why take all the time and trouble to look for all of the data and try to steal it, when only some critical systems and data can be locked up, until a ransom is paid?
They are seeing that with ransomware there will be immediate adverse impact since the victim will not be able to access critical data and systems, and will not be able to operate. So, there is high probability the ransom will be paid to stop the pain and suffering, especially if the victim has cyber insurance in place. The organization is likely to use the insurance policy to pay the ransom, rather than continue to have its operations disrupted or shut down.
They are also seeing that while most organizations have put in place various controls to prevent and detect data theft, they have not placed an equal weight to preventing and detecting ransomware. Most organizations have a lot of data and given all of the data thefts that have occurred and continue to occur and reported in the press, the bias has been to focus on data theft. But ransomware risk cannot be ignored or approached less seriously.
Imagine that you are infected with ransomware and your people cannot access documents, files or systems, and operate. All critical files and systems are locked out from the ransomware encryption, and a ransom payment is demanded by the hacker for the keys to unlock the encryption. What if, it will take you days, weeks or months to recover? What impact would it have on your organization?
You may think that you will be able to recover quickly from back up files and systems, but are you sure? The new ransomware variants are devised to hunt down and delete or encrypt backup files and systems also, and in some cases, first, before encrypting rest of the files and systems.
The organization that was recently infected that estimates $95 million in financial impact from the ransomware thought it had the risk under control, until it was hit with the ransomware and realized it was not prepared to manage the risk.
Now, let’s move to the threat from cloud misconfigurations.
You are most probably in the cloud completely or partially. Whether you have completely outsourced your infrastructure and services to a cloud provider or are utilizing one partially, remember, ultimately, you own the cybersecurity and that you are responsible for security in the cloud, while the cloud provider is responsible for security of the cloud.
While the cloud provider will provide perimeter security, you are responsible for security of your data, IP and other assets in the cloud, and are equally susceptible to attackers in the cloud as you are on the premises. Even if any of the “big six” cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure or others, provide the cybersecurity, attackers can exploit weak links in the chain, break in and steal data or cause other harm.
A common weak link in the chain are misconfigurations of the various systems that the cloud provider makes available as part of its service. You are responsible for all of the configurations, not the cloud provider. So, if your team does not take the time to fully understand all of the configurations that are necessary and complete them timely, security holes will arise and remain open for the attackers to exploit.
Just look at the recent example of an organization that fell victim where the data of over 100 million customers was stolen. This organization was using one of the “big six” cloud providers, but missed making all of the necessary configurations. A former employee of the cloud provider, who was familiar with the systems and configurations, discovered a misconfiguration in a web application firewall and exploited it to break in. The attacker then was able to query a metadata service to obtain keys and tokens, which allowed the attacker to query and copy storage object data and eventually exfiltrate it.
This was a case where configuration errors in a web application firewall coupled with unrestricted metadata service access and other errors handed the attacker the keys to the kingdom for the theft of 100 million customers data.
Other common cloud misconfigurations that create opportunities for attackers to exploit include:
Unrestricted in bound access on uncommon ports
Unrestricted outbound access
Unrestricted access to non-http/https ports
Unrestricted metadata service requests
Inactivate monitoring of keys and tokens
You may think that you do not have any misconfigurations in your cloud environment, but how do you know? The organization that recently lost 100 million customers data thought it had strong security in its cloud infrastructure, until it was hit with the data theft and realized it was not prepared to manage the risk.
Now, let’s move to the threat from supply chain backdoors.
No matter what type of organization you are or your size, you most probably have a supply chain, comprised of independent contractors, vendors or partners. Each of these could be the weakest link in the chain.
In other words, the attackers may find that one of your suppliers may be easier to break into first because of weaker cybersecurity and may have privileged access to your organization, given their role and responsibilities. So why not first attack the weaker supplier, steal their privileged user credentials and use it to break into your organization and eventually attain the ultimate objective, steal data or commit other harm?
Or they may find that one of your suppliers has part of your data in order to provide the outsourced service, so they can steal the data simply by breaking into the supplier with the weaker cybersecurity, so no need to attack you directly.
There are many examples of supply chain risk, such as with a government agency, where the credentials of a background check vendor were first stolen to access the agency’s systems, then to move laterally and find other unprotected privileged users credentials to access databases and steal data of 21.5 million individuals, including fingerprints data of 5.6 million individuals.
But just look at the recent example of an organization that had outsourced billing and collections to a supplier. This is a case where the attackers did not have to attack directly. In this case, attackers broke into the supplier and injected malicious code into the payments webpages managed by the supplier and stole credit card, banking, medical and other personal information, such as social security numbers, of 11.9 million consumers. The attackers had access to the supplier’s system for eight months, during which it skimmed the data being input by consumers on the payments webpages.
So, while your cybersecurity may be in good shape, the weakest link in the chain may be one of your suppliers, who may unwittingly provide the attackers the backdoor into your organization or to your data or IP.
So, ransomware, cloud misconfigurations and supply chain backdoors are three significant and disruptive threats facing your organization today that you should mitigate.
Article | March 30, 2020
In these challenging times, it’s sad to learn that cyber criminals are only increasing their activity as they look to capitalise on the Covid-19 crisis. With the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) issuing warnings of such activity on a daily basis, it’s important that we all work to protect our businesses from the damage of cybercrime. As many of us move to working from home, the opportunity for cyber attacks only increases, so it’s vital that we work together with our IT colleagues to adopt good cyber health practices. If you are working from home, you should only be using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or a secure home network with strong end-to-end encryption; e.g. Office 365 SSL session. Don’t be tempted to use public wifi, as hackers can position themselves between you and the access point.