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.
Article | February 22, 2020
This week was filled with wide-scale calamity. Hundreds of millions of PCs have components whose firmware is vulnerable to hacking which is to say, pretty much all of them. It's a problem that's been known about for years, but doesn't seem to get any better. Likewise, Bluetooth implementation mistakes in seven SoC—system on chips—have exposed at least 480 internet-of-things devices to a range of attacks. IoT manufacturers will often outsource components, so a mistake in one SoC can impact a wide range of connected doodads. The most troubling part, though, is that medical devices like pacemakers and blood glucose monitors are among the affected tech. YouTube Gaming, meanwhile, wants to take Twitch's crown as the king of videogame streaming. But its most-viewed channels are almost all scams and cheats, a moderation challenge that it'll have to take more seriously if it wants the legitimacy it's spending big money to attain. In another corner of Alphabet's world, hundreds of Chrome extensions were caught siphoning data from people who installed them, part of a sprawling adware scheme.
Article | August 30, 2021
As President Biden prepared to meet with Russian President Putin this past week in a high-profile summit in Geneva, Switzerland, cyber-attacks originating from criminals within Russia were near the top of a list of contentious issues on the agenda.
However, there were important events that received minimal media attention that strengthened the U.S. President’s position. President Biden walked into those meetings with something new and bold: the strong backing of NATO countries on a series of new cyber commitments.
In a NATO Summit held in Brussels on June 14, 2021, the heads of state and government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council reaffirmed their unity and commitments on a long list of mutual defense topics. And there was also a major new commitment discussed in the press release — cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure within any NATO member country were now on the table. That is, online (Internet-based) attacks could result in the same response as physical attacks (with guns and bombs.)
Yes, this is a very significant global development which highlights another way that the physical world and online world are merging fast, with ramifications in both directions.
HOW DID WE GET TO THIS MOMENT?
The ransomware attacks that recently struck critical infrastructure companies such as Colonial Pipeline and JBS resulted in more than just long lines for gas and meat price hikes. It raised alarm bells in countries all over the globe regarding the susceptibility of the majority of countries to ransomware and other forms of malware.
These ransomware incidents led to NATO’s new Comprehensive Cyber Defense Policy. The big news: Cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure might (on a case-by-case basis) now trigger the famous Article 5 clause. “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. …”
Here are two sections I’d like to highlight from last week’s communiqué (take special notice of section in bold):
“In addition to its military activities, Russia has also intensified its hybrid actions against NATO Allies and partners, including through proxies. This includes attempted interference in Allied elections and democratic processes; political and economic pressure and intimidation; widespread disinformation campaigns; malicious cyber activities; and turning a blind eye to cyber criminals operating from its territory, including those who target and disrupt critical infrastructure in NATO countries. It also includes illegal and destructive activities by Russian Intelligence Services on Allied territory, some of which have claimed lives of citizens and caused widespread material damage. We stand in full solidarity with the Czech Republic and other Allies that have been affected in this way.
“Cyber threats to the security of the Alliance are complex, destructive, coercive and becoming ever more frequent. This has been recently illustrated by ransomware incidents and other malicious cyber activity targeting our critical infrastructure and democratic institutions, which might have systemic effects and cause significant harm. To face this evolving challenge, we have today endorsed NATO’s Comprehensive Cyber Defence Policy, which will support NATO’s three core tasks and overall deterrence and defence posture, and further enhance our resilience. Reaffirming NATO’s defensive mandate, the Alliance is determined to employ the full range of capabilities at all times to actively deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats, including those conducted as part of hybrid campaigns, in accordance with international law. We reaffirm that a decision as to when a cyber-attack would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis. Allies recognize that the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack. We remain committed to act in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter, international humanitarian law and international human rights law as applicable. We will promote a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace, and further pursue efforts to enhance stability and reduce the risk of conflict by supporting international law and voluntary norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.”
MEDIA COVERAGE OF NATO ANNOUNCEMENTS
Global media coverage leading up to this NATO Summit was rather limited, especially when compared to the U.S.-Russia Summit and many of President Biden’s other European meetings – such as the G7 Summit and the his meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.
Nevertheless, Meritalk offered this article: “Cybersecurity, Ransomware Climb Policy Ladder at NATO, G-7 Meetings,” which said, “cybersecurity in general, and ransomware in specific, climbed high onto the ladder of major policy issues at both the weekend meeting of G-7 nations this weekend, and the NATO Summit that concluded on June 14.
“The increasing importance of cybersecurity on the national stage tracks with U.S. policy in recent months, including federal government responses to major software supply chain cyber assaults and ransomware attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure sector companies that are believed to have originated from organizations based in Russia. President Biden has promised to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin with cybersecurity and ransomware issues when the two leaders meet on June 16. …”
Also, Info security Magazine ran an excellent piece entitled: “NATO Warns it Will Consider a Military Response to Cyber-Attacks,” which said, “NATO has warned it is prepared to treat cyber-attacks in the same way as an armed attack against any of its allies and issue a military response against the perpetrators.
“In a communique issued by governments attending the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels yesterday, the military alliance revealed it had endorsed a Comprehensive Cyber Defence Policy, in which a decision will be taken to invoke Article 5 “on a case-by-case basis” following a cyber-attack. Under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, first signed in 1949, when any NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, it will be considered an attack on all alliance members, who will theoretically take any actions necessary to defend that ally….”
When I posted this NATO cyber topic on LinkedIn, the responses were all over the map. You can join that discussion here.
Here are a few comments worth noting:
Michael Kaiser, president and CEO at Defending Digital Campaigns: “Attribution better be 110 percent.”
Paul Gillingwater, management consultant, Chaucer Group: “A cyber counter-attack *is* a military response. It's now one battlefield, from sea, land, air, space to cyberspace. Next: your AI will be trying to persuade my AI that it was actually a pacifist.”
Kaushik (Manian) Venkatasubramaniyan, project manager, Global Business Research (GBR): “These kind of cyber-attacks targeting hospitals etc. are acts of war anyway.”
FINAL THOUGHTS ON IMPORTANCE OF NATO ANNOUNCEMENT
For many years, cyber pros have been talking about a “Cyber 9/11” or “Cyber Pearl Harbor.” Many experts still believe that those major cyber incidents are inevitable.
Still, “smaller” cyber-attacks are now happening all the time all over the world — with very serious consequences. Bad actors are asking for larger ransoms and causing more harm. Ransomware is evolving, and future cyber-attacks may not be ended by paying a ransom to the cyber criminals.
With many cyber-attacks against governments, hospitals and now critical infrastructure like gas pipeline companies and food processing plants taking place, new government actions were a must. These ransomware attacks via different types of malware are becoming more frequent and serious, and are a growing global challenge for public- and private-sector leaders.
Many questions must be answered quickly, such as: Where are the “red lines” that cannot be crossed? Once the lines are identified, what happens if they are crossed? When does a cyber-attack become an act of war?
Make no mistake, NATO’s new policy on cyber-attacks against critical infrastructures is a big deal. Expect more ransomware attacks to occur and those global commitments for action to be tested in the years ahead.
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Article | March 11, 2020
Microsoft is warning on a wormable, unpatched remote code-execution vulnerability in the Microsoft Server Message Block protocol – the same protocol that was targeted by the infamous WannaCry ransomware in 2017.The critical bug (CVE-2020-0796) affects Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019, and was not included in Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday release this week. The bug can be found in version 3.1.1 of Microsoft’s SMB file-sharing system. SMB allows multiple clients to access shared folders and can provide a rich playground for malware when it comes to lateral movement and client-to-client infection. This was played out in version 1 of SMB back in 2017, when the WannaCry ransomware used the NSA-developed EternalBlue SMB exploit to self-propagate rapidly around the world.