Article | February 12, 2020
On December 16, 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard disclosed a security incident at a facility regulated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). Forensic analysis suggests that the incident might have begun when an employee clicked on a link embedded in a phishing email.This action enabled a threat actor to set Ryuk ransomware loose on the facility’s network. Ultimately, the infection spread to all IT network files, leading Ryuk to disrupt the corporate IT network and prevent critical process control monitoring systems from functioning properly. Phishing is one of the primary infection vectors for most ransomware families, but there’s an interesting twist with this particular family. As noted by Malwarebytes, a typical Ryuk attack begins when a user opens a weaponized Microsoft Office document attached to a phishing email. Opening the document causes a malicious macro to execute a PowerShell command that attempts to download the banking trojan Emotet. This has the ability to download additional malware onto an infected machine that retrieves and executes Trickbot.
Article | August 30, 2021
While eating dinner at a Fourth of July cookout last weekend, my nephew described why he had so many career options as a pilot:
There’s a shortage of pilots, and many existing pilots will be retiring soon.
Other current pilots need to be retrained, because they fell behind in various ways during the pandemic.
New people want to get into the field, but there are many hard requirements that can’t be faked, like flying hours, or unique experience on specific aircraft.
There are many job openings and everyone is hiring.
My response? Sounds a lot like our current cybersecurity career field. Professionals in cyber are seeing almost the exact same things.
And yes, there are many, perhaps thousands, of articles on this topic saying different things. Everyone is focused on the shortages of cyber pros and the talent issues we currently face. But how hard is it to get into a cyber career for the long term? How can someone move into a fulfilling career that will last well beyond their current role?
One reason I like the pilot training comparison is that becoming an excellent cyber pro takes time and commitment. If there are any “quick wins” (with minimal preparation or training) in cybersecurity careers, they probably won’t last very long — in the same way that flying large airplanes takes years of experience.
After I got home that night, I saw this article from TechRepublic proclaiming “you don’t have to be a tech expert to become a cybersecurity pro.” Here’s an excerpt:
“Ning Wang: I think that we’re in a pretty bad state. No matter which source you look at, there are a lot more job openings for cybersecurity than there are qualified people to fill it. And I have worked at other security companies before Offensive Security, and I know firsthand, it is really hard to hire those people. …
“You may think that you have to have so much technology background to go into security. And again, I know firsthand that is not the case. What does it take to be a great cybersecurity professional? And I think from my observation and working with people and interacting with people, they need a creative mind, a curious mind, you have to be curious about things. …
“And then even if you have all of that, there’s no shortcuts. If you look at all the great people in cybersecurity, just like all the other fields, that 10,000-hour rule applies here as well.”
I certainly agree that advanced degrees and formal certifications are not required (although they help). Still, the 10,000-hour rule and determination are must-haves to last in the long term. Here’s what I wrote for CSO Magazine a decade ago on the topic of “Are you a security professional?”:
“Many experts and organizations define a security professional based upon whether or not they have a CISSP, CISM, Master’s Degree in Information Assurance or other credentials. Or, are you in an organization or business unit with 'security' in the title? While these characteristics certainly help, my definition is much broader than that.
"Why? I have seen people come and go in the security area. For example: Adam Shostack started his career as a UNIX sysadmin. Likewise, you probably know people who started in security and left, or who still have a different job title but read blogs like this one because their job includes something less than 50% information security. (That is, they wear multiple hats). Others are assigned to a security function against their will or leave a security office despite their love for the field (when a too-tempting opportunity arises). Some come back, others never will.”
WHY BECOME A CYBER PRO?
This CompTIA article outlines some of the top jobs in cybersecurity, with average salaries:
1. Cybersecurity Analyst $95,000
2. Cybersecurity Consultant $91,000
3. Cyber Security Manager/Administrator $105,000
4. Software Developer/Engineer $110,140*
5. Systems Engineer $90,920
6. Network Engineer/Architect $83,510*
7. Vulnerability Analyst/Penetration Tester $103,000
8. Cyber Security Specialist/Technician $92,000
9. Incident Analyst/Responder $89,000
* Salaries marked with an asterisk (*) came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The article also walks through many of the steps regarding education, certifications and skills.
Of course, there are many other great reasons to get into a cyber career beyond pay and benefits, including helping society, the fascinating changes that grow with new technology deployment, a huge need, the ability to work remotely (often), and the potential for a wide variety of relationships and global travel if desired.
Becoming a CISO (or CSO) is another important role, with CISO salaries all over the map but averaging $173,740 according to Glassdoor.
OTHER HELPFUL ARTICLES ON BECOMING A CYBER PRO
Yes, I have written on this topic of cybersecurity careers many times over the past decade-plus. Here are a few of those articles:
• “The case for taking a government cyber job: 7 recommendations to consider”
• “Why Are Some Cybersecurity Professionals Not Finding Jobs?”
• “Why You Should Consider a Career in Government Cyber Security”
• “Play a Game - Get a Job: GCHQ’s New Tool to Recruit Cyber Talent”
Many people are now considering career changes as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybersecurity is one of the hottest fields that has staying power for decades. At the same time, Bloomberg is reporting that U.S. job openings are at record levels.
Also, Business Insider is offering a template to revamp your resume and get a remote job anywhere in the world.
So even if the obstacles look daunting, a career in cybersecurity may be just the long-term change you are looking for.
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Article | April 14, 2020
Security and risk management leaders at organizations around the world are increasingly concerned about cybersecurity threats to their operational technology (OT) networks. A key driver behind this is that cyberthreats, like disruptionware, are increasing in quantity and sophistication all the time. Industrial control system (ICS) networks are categorized as high risk because they are inherently insecure, increasingly so because of expanding integration with the corporate IT network, as well as the rise of remote access for employees and third parties. An example of an IT network within a control system is a PC that’s running HMI or SCADA applications. Because this particular PC wasn’t set up with the initial intention of connecting to IT systems, it typically isn’t managed so can’t access the latest operating system, patches, or antivirus updates. This makes that PC extremely vulnerable to malware attacks. Besides the increased cyberthreat risk, the complexity resulting from IT–OT integration also increases the likelihood of networking and operational issues.
Article | August 30, 2021
Global leaders want to carve out specific areas of critical infrastructure to be protected under international agreements from cyber-attacks. But where does that leave others?
There are ‘four or five steps you could take that could significantly mitigate this risk,’ Falk said. These are patching, multifactor authentication and all the stuff in the Australian Signals Directorate's Essential Eight baseline mitigation strategies. …”
Back in April of this year, a BBC News headline read, "The ransomware surge ruining lives."
And that was before the cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure sectors like Colonial Pipeline, meat-processing giant JBS, the Irish Health Service and so many others.
And when President Biden met with Russian President Putin last month in Geneva, he declared that certain critical infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyber-attacks.
“We agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off-limits,” Biden said. “We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.”
As an initial positive step forward, this cyber defense policy makes sense. In fact, most global experts applaud these moves and efforts to better protect and clarify international crimes in cyberspace.
Previous administrations going back to George W. Bush have taken aggressive steps to ensure critical infrastructure is protected in the U.S. and around the world through actions involving people, process and technology, both offline and online. The 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by DHS/CISA can be found here.
Still, many questions remain regarding this new policy: Will all global governments actually agree on the wording? More importantly, even if they do agree, how will the agreements be enforced? Also, what happens if some countries continue to allow criminals to attack these critical infrastructure sectors from their soil?
And my main question goes further: Even if all of these agreements and actions are 100 percent agreed upon and enforced, which most people don’t believe will happen, does this imply that every organization not covered under these 16 critical infrastructure sectors can be openly attacked without a response? Is this giving into cyber criminals for everyone else?
For example, would K-12 schools or small businesses be “fair game” and not off limits? Could this actually increase attacks for any organization not considered on the CISA list?
No doubt, some will say that schools are a part of government, and yet there are private schools. In addition, if we do cover all others somehow, perhaps as a supplier of these 16 sectors, doesn’t that make the “off-limits” list essentially meaningless?
Essentially, where is the line? Who is included, and what happens when some nation or criminal group crosses the line?
These questions became more than an intellectual thought exercise recently when the Kaseya ransomware attack impacted more than 1,500 businesses, without, in their words, impacting critical infrastructure.
CBS News reports, “Still, Kaseya says the cyber-attack it experienced over the July 4th weekend was never a threat and had no impact on critical infrastructure. The Russian-linked gang behind the ransomware had demanded $70 million to end the attack, but CNBC reported that the hackers reduced their demands to $50 million in private conversations.
"The Miami-based company said Tuesday that it was alerted on July 2 to a potential attack by internal and external sources. It immediately shut down access to the software in question. The incident impacted about 50 Kaseya customers.”
OTHER RECENT RANSOMWARE NEWS
Meanwhile, in a bit of a surprise, ransomware group REvil disappeared from the Internet this past week, when its website became inaccessible.
As Engadget reported, “According to CNBC, Reuters and The Washington Post, the websites operated by the group REvil went down in the early hours of Tuesday. Dmitri Alperovitch, former chief technology officer of the cyber firm CrowdStrike, told The Post that the group's blog in the dark web is still reachable. However, its critical sites victims use to negotiate with the group and to receive decryption tools if they pay up are no longer available. Visitors to those websites now see a message that says ‘A server with the specified host name could not be found.’"
CNBC reported: “There are 3 main possibilities for the criminal gang’s disappearance — each of which carries good and bad news for U.S. efforts to combat the ransomware scourge emanating from Russia.
The Kremlin bent under U.S. pressure and forced REvil to close up shop.
U.S. officials tired of waiting for Kremlin cooperation and launched a cyber operation that took REvil offline.
REvil’s operators were feeling the heat and decided to lay low for a while.
"This situation may send a message to some of the players that they need to find a less-aggressive business model, which could mean avoiding critical infrastructure, or it could mean avoiding U.S. targets.”
Also, the Biden administration announced several other measures to combat ransomware: “The Biden administration will offer rewards up to $10 million for information leading to the identification of foreign state-sanctioned malicious cyber activity against critical U.S. infrastructure — including ransomware attacks — and the White House has launched a task force to coordinate efforts to stem the ransomware scourge.
"It is also launching the website stopransomware.gov to offer the public resources for countering the threat and building more resilience into networks, a senior administration official told reporters.”
And yet, many experts are still predicting that ransomware will continue to grow in the near future. For example, TechHQ wrote that “identifying the culprits often isn't as big an obstacle as apprehending them.”
To show recent growth of ransomware attacks, Fox Business offered details on a Check Point report this past week that “ransomware attacks surge, growing 93 percent each week.”
Also: “'The ransomware business is booming. We’re seeing global surges in ransomware across every major geography, especially in the last two months,' said Lotem Finkelstein, head of threat intelligence at Check Point Software. 'We believe the trend is driven by scores of new entrants into the ransomware business.'"
For more background on this hot topic, a few weeks back I appeared on MiTech News to discuss the ransomware crisis.
I’d like to close with this article which offers a slightly different perspective on ransomware from ZDNet Australia:
“The threat of ransomware dominates the cyber news right now, and rightly so. But this week Rachael Falk, chief executive officer of Australia's Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, made a very good point.
Ransomware is ‘Totally foreseeable and preventable because it's a known problem," Falk told a panel discussion at the Australian Strategy Policy Institute (ASPI) on Tuesday.
‘"It's known that ransomware is out there. And it's known that, invariably, the cyber criminals get into organisations through stealing credentials that they get on the dark web [or a user] clicking on a link and a vulnerability," she said.
‘We're not talking about some sort of nation-state really funky sort of zero day that's happening. This is going on the world over, so it's entirely foreseeable.’"
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