Article | February 25, 2020
Matt Newton, senior portfolio marketing manager at AVEVA, discusses how IIoT can best cyber security challenges met through software adoption. According to Gartner’s 2019 Industrial IoT Platforms Magic Quadrant report, by 2023 30% of industrial enterprises will have full, on-premises deployments of IIoT platforms. IIoT platforms and software adoption is rapidly increasing – up 15% in 2019 – and this will undoubtedly continue to grow as we progress through the new decade. From enhancing operational performance to improved business processes, adopting new technology and software capabilities is vital for business success in today’s industrial sector. However, when it comes to adopting software and technology, integrating new systems with existing legacy systems in the industry can be a challenge.
Article | January 21, 2021
There is a saying, ‘you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time.’ Given the fact that there is no such thing as 100% security and human nature being trusting, this has been the backbone of many cyber security scams over the past 20 years. Cyber-criminals know that they will always fool some of the people, so have been modifying and reusing tried and tested methods to get us to open malware ridden email attachments and click malicious web links, despite years of security awareness training.
If you search for historic security advice from pretty much any year since the internet became mainstream, you will find that most of it can be applied today. Use strong passwords, do not open attachments or click links from unknown sources. All really familiar advice. So, why are people still falling for modified versions of the same tricks and scams that have been running for over a decade or more? Then again, from the cyber-criminal’s perspective, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it? Instead, they evolve, automate, collaborate and refine what works. Sound advice for any business!
It is possible though to be in a position where you can no longer fool people, even some of the time, because it is no longer their decision to make anymore. This can be achieved by letting technology decide whether or not to trust something, sitting in between the user and the internet. Trust becomes key, and many security improvements can be achieved by limiting what is trusted, or more importantly, defining what not to trust or the criteria of what is deemed untrustworthy.
This is nothing new, as we have been doing this for years as many systems will not trust anything that is classed as a program or executable, blocking access to exe or bat files. The list of files types that can act as a program in the Microsoft Windows operating system is quite extensive, if you don’t believe me try to memorize this list: app, arj, bas, bat, cgi, chm, cmd, com, cpl, dll, exe, hta, inf, ini, ins, iqy, jar, js, jse, lnk, mht, mhtm, mhtml, msh, msh1, msh2, msh1xml, msh2xml, msi, ocx, pcd, pif, pl, ps1, ps1xml, ps2, ps2xml, psc1, psc2, py, reg, scf, scr, sct, sh, shb, shs, url, vb, vbe, vbs, vbx, ws, wsc, wsf, and wsh. As you can see, it is beyond most people to remember, but easily blocked by technology.
We can filter and authenticate email based on domain settings, reputation scores, blacklists, DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance) or the components of DMARC, the SPF and DKIM protocols. Email can also be filtered at the content level based on keywords in the subject and body text, the presence of tracking pixels, links, attachments, and inappropriate images that are ‘Not Safe For Work’ (NSFW) such as sexually explicit, offensive and extremist content. More advanced systems add attachment virtual sandboxing, or look at the file integrity of attachments, removing additional content that is not part of the core of the document. Others like ‘Linkscan’ technology look at the documents at the end of a link, which may be hiding behind shortened links or multiple hops, following any links in those documents to the ultimate destination of the link and scan for malware.
Where we are let down though is in the area of compromised email accounts from people that we have a trust relationship and work with, like our suppliers. These emails easily pass through most email security and spam filters as they originate from a genuine legitimate email account (albeit one now also controlled by a cyber-criminal) and unless there is anything suspicious within the email in the form of a strange attachment or link, they go completely undetected as they are often on an allow list. This explains why Business Email Compromised (BEC) attacks are so incredibly successful, asking for payments for expected invoices to be made into a ‘new’ bank account, or urgent but plausible invoices that need to be paid ASAP. If the cyber-criminals do their homework and copy previous genuine invoice requests, and maybe add in context chat based on previous emails, there is nothing for most systems or people to pick up on. Only internal processes that flag up BACS payments, change of bank of details or alerts to verify or authenticate can help. Just remember to double-check the telephone number in the email signature before you call, in case you are just calling the criminal. Also, follow the process completely, even if the person you were just about to call has just conveniently sent you an SMS text message to confirm, as SMS can be spoofed.
Not all compromised email attacks are asking for money though, many are after user credentials, and contain phishing links or links to legitimate online file sharing services, containing files that then link to malicious websites or phishing links to grant permission to open the file. To give you an idea of the lengths cyber-criminals go to, I’ve received emails from a compromised account, containing a legitimate OneDrive link, containing a PDF with a link to an Azure hosted website, that then reached out to a phishing site. In fact, many compromised attacks are not even on email, as social media is increasingly targeted as well as messaging services or even the humble SMS text message via SIM swap fraud or spoofed mobile numbers. As a high percentage of these are received on mobile devices, many of the standard security defences are not in place, compared to desktop computers and laptops. What is available though are password managers as well as two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions which will help protect against phishing links, regardless of the device you use, so long as you train everyone in what to look out for and how they can be abused.
One area I believe makes even greater strides in protecting users from phishing and malicious links is to implement technology that defines what not to trust based on the age of a web domain and whether it has been seen before and classified. It really does not matter how good a clone a phishing website is for Office 365 or PayPal if you are blocked from visiting it, because the domain is only hours old or has never been seen before. The choice is taken out of your hands, you still clicked on the link, but now you are taken to a holding page that explains why you are not allowed to access that particular web domain. The system I use called Censornet, does not allow my users to visit any links where the domain is less than 24 hours old, but also blocks access to any domains or subdomains that have not been classified because no one within the global ecosystem has attempted to visit them yet. False positives are automatically classified within 24 hours, or can be released by internal IT admins, so the number of incidents rapidly drops over a short period of time.
Many phishing or malicious links are created within hours of the emails being sent, so having an effective way of easily blocking them makes sense. There is also the trend for cyber-criminals to take over the website domain hosting cPanels of small businesses, often through phishing, adding new subdomains for phishing and exploit kits, rather than using spoofed domains. I’ve seen many phishing links over the years pointing to an established brand within the subdomain text of a small hotel. Either way, as these links and subdomains are by their very nature unclassified, the protection automatically covers this scenario too.
Other technological solutions at the Domain Name System (DNS) level can also help block IP addresses and domains based on global threat intelligence. Some of these are even free for business use, like Quad9.net and because they are at the DNS level, can be applied to routers and other systems that cannot accept third party security solutions. On mobile devices both Quad9 and Cloudflare offer free apps which involve adding a Virtual Private Network (VPN) profile to your device. Users of public Wi-Fi can be made secure via a VPN, though it’s preferable to have a premium VPN solution on all your user’s mobile devices, as these can be centrally managed and can offer DNS protection as well.
Further down the chain of events are solutions like privileged admin rights management and application allow lists. Here, malware is stopped once again because it is not on a trusted list, or allowed to have admin rights. There is also the added benefit that users do not need to know any admin account passwords, so as a result cannot be phished for something they do not know the answer to. Ideally, no users are working with full administrator rights in their everyday activities, as this introduces unnecessary security risks, but can often be overlooked due to work pressures and workarounds.
Let’s not forget patch management is also key, because it doesn’t matter how good your security solutions are if they can be bypassed because of a gaping hole via an exploit or vulnerability in another piece of software, whether at the operating system or firmware level, or via an individual application. Sure, no system is perfect and remember there is no such thing as 100% security, which is where the Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions come into play. These can help minimize the damage through rapid discovery and remediation, hopefully before the cyber-criminals fully achieve their goals.
By harnessing the power of technology to protect us, layering solutions to cover the myriad of ways cyber-criminals constantly attempt to deceive us, we can be confident that emotional and psychological techniques and hooks will not affect technological decisions, as it is a binary choice, either yes or no. The more that we can filter out, makes it less likely that the cyber-criminals will still be able to fool some of the people all the time. This allows security awareness training to focus on threats that technology isn’t as good at stopping, like social engineering tricks and scams. The trick is to spend your budget wisely to cover all the bases and not leave any gaps, which is no easy feat in today’s rapidly changing world.
Article | December 15, 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.