IncMan’s GSN Awards Highlighting the Importance of Intelligence-Driven Security Monitoring, Automation and Orchestration

The cyber security industry today offers a wide variety of solutions aiming to mitigate attacks that are becoming more common and more sophisticated, making it increasingly difficult to detect, manage and respond to breaches as effectively and as efficiently as possible. But, the fact alone that there is no shortage of potential solutions out there to choose from, doesn’t make the challenge of having to deal with the overwhelmingly frequent and complex attacks less grueling. In fact, it can make the task that much more daunting, with the vast pool of tools and platforms available making it difficult for CISOs to decide which solutions to adopt, considering that there is rarely one that addresses all the different security elements required, as well as the specific organizational needs, such as affordability and ease of implementation and management.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say that a solution capable of covering as many angles of the cybersecurity spectrum as possible would serve well to organizations being faced with data breaches on a regular basis. It’s exactly that ability to cover multiple aspects of an organization’s cybersecurity defense that makes DFLabs’ IncMan stand out from the crowd, and one of the factors that helped it to achieve two highly coveted awards at the latest edition of the prestigious GSN Homeland Security Awards.

Holistic Approach to Incident Management and Response

The two platinum awards received by DFLabs were in the Best Continuous Monitoring & Mitigation, and Best Cyber Operational Risk Intelligence Solution categories, respectively. This highlights IncMan’s versatility and ability to save valuable time when responding to an incident and when helping to detect and prevent future attacks.

Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) can benefit immensely from features such as automated collection of threat intelligence, triage, threat containment, as well as processes that help make threat hunting and investigation more efficient. With these types of functionalities, platforms like IncMan help cut incident resolution times drastically and improve the effectiveness of CSIRTs, significantly increasing their incident handling capacity.

Intelligence-Driven Actions

The above capabilities that IncMan boasts are in large part a result of the background in law enforcement and intelligence of the people who were involved in creating the platform. These experiences have allowed them to better understand the challenges security teams face when trying to resolve an incident and address their needs in terms of dealing with continuously increasing number of alerts, underlining the necessity of automating certain tasks and adopting an orchestrated approach to incident response.  As the nature of cyber security attacks continues to evolve over time, so does the sophistication and capabilities of the platform to ensure organizations always remain one step ahead.

The Overlooked Importance of Incident Management

Whether you call it Incident Management or Incident Handling, most will agree that there is a distinct difference between responding to an incident and managing an incident. Put simply, Incident Response can be defined as the “doing”, while Incident Management can be defined as the “orchestrating”. Proper Incident Management is the foundation and structure upon which a successful Incident Response program must be based. There are numerous blogs, articles and papers addressing various aspects of the differences between Incident Response and Incident Management dating back to at least a decade. Why add another to the top of the pile? Because while most organizations now see the value in putting people, tools, and basic processes in place to respond to the inevitable incident, many still do not take the time to develop a solid Incident Management process to orchestrate the response effort.

Security incidents create a unique environment, highly dynamic and often stressful, and outside the comfort zone of many of those who may be involved in the response process. This is especially true during complex incidents where ancillary team members, such as those from Human Resources, Legal, Compliance or Executive Management, may become involved. These ancillary team members are often accustomed to working in a more structured environment and have had very little previous exposure to the Incident Response process, making Incident Management an even more critical function. Although often overlooked, the lack of effective Incident Management will invariably result in a less efficient and effective process, leading to increased financial and reputational damage from an incident.

Many day-to-day management processes do not adapt well to these complex challenges. For example, as the size and complexity of a security incident increases, the number of people that a single manager can directly supervise effectively decreases. It is also not uncommon for some employees to report to more than one supervisor. During a security incident, this can lead to mixed directives and confusion. During a security incident, it is critical that information flows quickly and smoothly both vertically and horizontally. Many organization’s existing communication methods do not adapt well to this.

When an ad-hoc Incident Management system is used, the response process becomes much less consistent and effective. A common pitfall of this ad-hoc management style is that it can create a flat management structure, forcing the Incident Response Coordinator to directly oversee the functions of many groups with vastly different objectives. A flat structure such as this also tends to inhibit the flow of information between the individual groups.


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Another common pitfall of this ad-hoc management style is that it often results in a fragmented and disorganized process. Without proper management to provide clear objectives and expectations, it is easy for individual groups to create their own objectives based on what they believe to be the priority. This seriously limits the effective communication between individual groups, forcing each to work with incomplete or incorrect information.


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There are numerous ways in which the Incident Management process can be streamlined. On Wednesday, January 31st, DFLabs will be releasing a new whitepaper titled “Increasing the Effectiveness of Incident Management”, discussing the lessons that can be learned from decades of trial and error in another profession, the fire service, to improve the effectiveness of the Incident Management process. John Moran, Sr. Product Manager at DFLabs, will also be joining Paul and the Enterprise Security Weekly Team on their podcast at 1 PM EST on January 31st to discuss some of these lessons in more detail. Stay tuned to the DFLabs website, or listen in on the podcast on January 31st for more details!

DFLabs 3rd Party Integrations vs the Market

A consistent feedback point we receive from our users is that their security technology stack is rapidly growing to keep pace with the evolving threat landscape. The days where it was sufficient to deploy a firewall, an intrusion prevention system, antivirus and an identity access management system are long gone. Enterprises are literally spoilt when it comes to selecting a wide variety of different security technologies – User Entity Behaviour Analytics (UEBA), Network Traffic Analysis (NTA), Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS), are just a few of the emerging technologies available to security teams, and this list does not even include mobile, cloud and IoT offerings that are required to secure the expanding attack surface. This can seem daunting to many organizations, not just the budgetary impact, but also the fact that every one of these technologies requires the expertise and knowledge to effectively operate them.

As a vendor offering a Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response platform that is designed to integrate with, and orchestrate these different solutions, we often have to make difficult choices as to what we integrate with, and how deeply we integrate. Our focus is on market-leading security technologies, technologies we identify as emerging but of growing importance and effectiveness, and of course also based on what our customers have deployed and ask us to integrate.

There is a trend in our market to exaggerate the amount of 3rd party integrations. Marketing collateral often cites hundreds of different 3rd party tools, yet rarely differentiates between the depth of the integration, whether these are truly bidirectional and whether they certified by the 3rd party. As an example, any solution that supports Syslog can claim to support hundreds of 3rd party technologies. It’s an open standard and many solutions can forward syslog message to a syslog collector. But that does not necessarily mean that the solution also has out of the box parsers to normalize the messages, or that there are automation actions, playbooks or report templates available that can parse and use their content.

Reducing this to a pure quantitative marketing message also entirely misses the point. Organization only really care about the technologies they have deployed, or are planning to acquire. The quantity here is entirely misleading. More importantly, users are not stupid. They will see through this charade at the latest when conducting a proof of concept. And at that point any vendor following this approach has some uncomfortable explaining to do. No relationship, personal or business, gets off to a good start based on fudging the truth.

I have rarely seen an RFP that was based purely on a quantitative measure of supported 3rd party integrations, so it is baffling why marketers believe this to have any impact.

At DFLabs we have decided to go a different way. We want to clearly state which of our integrations are bidirectional as opposed to only based on data ingestion, and which integrations are certified, or compatibility tested by our integration partners.

While at first glance this appears to put as at a disadvantage, we trust in the intelligence of our customers. We hope that it will help them to make better-informed decisions and they give us credit for being honest and realistic.

Meltdown and Spectre – What They Mean to the Enterprise

Since Meltdown and Spectre were publicly disclosed earlier this month, there has been much confusion surrounding exactly how these attacks work, and what impact they may have on the enterprise. Though these vulnerabilities could pose a serious risk to the enterprise, I think we can probably hold short of a full-fledged panic, at least for now. Let’s take a look at what these two attacks really are, what solutions are available, and what they may ultimately mean for the enterprise.

Meltdown and Spectre exploit critical flaws in modern processors. Unlike most vulnerabilities, the vulnerabilities used by Meltdown and Spectre do not exist in software, but in the processors themselves. This is significant for many reasons. First, while it is possible to patch “around” these vulnerabilities, it is much more difficult to patch the vulnerabilities themselves. Second, although endpoint protection solutions may be able to detect methods used to deliver a payload which exploits the Meltdown or Spectre vulnerabilities, the execution of the exploits themselves are very hard to distinguish from normal processes and thus very difficult to detect heuristically. Finally, since these exploits are performed at the hardware level, the forensic artifacts often relied upon to investigate malware incidents are absent in these attacks.

While programs are typically not permitted to read data from memory sections outside their own address space, a malicious program can exploit Meltdown or Spectre to access regions of memory that the process should not otherwise have access to. This could include access to user credentials or hashes, private keys, sandbox escape, VM escape and access to other confidential information stored in memory.

So far, there are three specific vulnerabilities which are used in Meltdown or Spectre attacks:

• Variant 1: Bounds check bypass (CVE-2017-5753)
• Variant 2: Branch target injection (CVE-2017-5715)
• Variant 3: Rogue data cache load (CVE-2017-5754)

Spectre (Variants 1 and 2) has been shown to impact all modern chips manufactured by Intel, AMD and ARM. Meltdown (Variant 3) has been shown to impact most Intel chips since 2010, although researchers noted that with additional research and code optimization, exploitation against AMD and ARM chips may be possible.


A processor operates in two modes: kernel mode and user mode. Kernel mode is where the operating system executes, and processes running in kernel mode have access to hardware and all regions of memory. User mode is where most user processes execute. Each user mode process has a restricted view of memory, allowing access only to the process’s own virtual address space, and must use system calls to access hardware. Under normal conditions, if a user mode process attempts to directly access a memory section outside its own virtual address space, an exception will be generated which will cause the process’s thread to terminate.

While kernel memory cannot be read directly from user space without utilizing a system call, most modern operating systems still map kernel addresses into userspace processes to optimize performance. Although this sounds like a vulnerability on its own, a userspace process attempting to access kernel space outside of a normal system call will generate an exception and cause the process’s thread to terminate. This means that although kernel space is mapped into the user process address space, it is effectively inaccessible to the user space process outside of normal system calls.

Meltdown exploits the fact that kernel space memory is mapped into the user space process’s address space and the fact that, to optimize performance, most modern processors execute instructions out of order, to bypass the normal protection mechanisms and allow unprivileged user space processes to access kernel space memory. By executing specially crafted out of order instructions, kernel space memory address can be written to the process’s address space, which can then be retrieved via an address reference in the processor’s cache. Although this unprivileged memory access ultimately causes an exception which causes the rest of the out of order instructions to be discarded, the retrieved memory sections continue to reside in the user process’s unmapped memory space, and the reference still remains in the processors’ cache.

Although Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) means that an attacker will not know the location of kernel space memory beforehand, this presents more of a stumbling block than a barrier for this attack. The researchers who discovered Meltdown found that the location of kernel memory can be determined in about 128 guesses on a system containing 8GBs of memory, making ALSR trivial in preventing this attack.


Spectre exploits another set of processor features, branch prediction, and speculative execution, to access protected memory locations. Most processes contain a vast array of branch conditions, such as If/Then/Else statements. To optimize performance, as a process executes, the processor keeps track of which branches are executed most often. This allows the processor to “think ahead”, read memory sections and snapshot pre-execution of the branch which it believes is most likely to be taken. This is referred to as speculative execution.

Spectre causes the processor to access a memory location of the attacker’s choosing within the user process’s space during branch prediction and speculative execution which would not be accessed during normal process execution. Although these memory locations are never actually executed by the processor, they now exist in the processor’s cache and can then be read by the attacker.

Patches and Workarounds

There are patches currently available for the Linux kernel to prevent the Meltdown attack. Known as KAISER or Kernel Page Table Isolation (KPTI), these patches prevent most kernel memory from being mapped into userspace processes (although some kernel memory, such as the IDT, must still be mapped to user mode address space). Microsoft has also developed a similar patch for Windows to address Meltdown; however, due to compatibility issues (BSODs) with some endpoint protection solutions, Microsoft has cautioned users to check with their endpoint protection provider prior to deploying the patch. An unofficial list of support for the Windows patch by common endpoint protection solutions is available here. It is important to note that these patches do not fix the actual vulnerability itself, they simply limit the practical exploitation of the vulnerability. Some users have also been reporting issues with the Microsoft patch, causing systems with older AMD processors to fail to boot correctly.
For users still running legacy systems, such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, these systems will continue to remain vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre along with the many other vulnerabilities still present on these systems. The best protection is to harden around these systems, or even better, replace them.

Patches to address these vulnerabilities do come with some performance implications, however. Estimates range from a 5% to a 30% decrease in performance depending on system usage. Systems utilized for more common tasks, such as email, Internet browsing, and word processing, are less likely to see a major performance impact from these patches. However, systems used for tasks which require more intensive hardware utilization are more likely to suffer a noticeable impact.

While KPTI and similar patches are also effective against Spectre Variant 2, protection from Spectre Variant 1 is largely dependent on patches from individual software vendors. Software such as web browsers, or sandboxes and virtualization technologies are likely the most attractive target for Spectre attacks since it would allow attackers to access information from other browser tabs or escape the sandbox or VM. The major web browsers either already have patches available, or are planning to deploy patches in the upcoming weeks. Users should ensure that they are running the most up-to-date versions of their web browsers. Sandbox and virtualization users, such as those using JavaScript, Xen or Docker, should check with their respective vendors to see when patches will be available and ensure that they are running the most current versions of the software.

Apple, which bases its iOS A-series processors on ARM’s instruction set, has already deployed patches for some devices and plans to release patches for other devices soon. Apple has advised users are to check for new updates for their devices and check to ensure that they are running the most current operating system for their devices.

Google says that Android devices, which also most commonly run on ARM processors, should be protected if they have the latest security update installed. Currently, Android devices are protected by restricting access to the high precision timers needed to determine if a cache hit or miss has occurred; however future Android security updates will also include additional mitigations based on KPTI. Users of Google Android devices, such as the Nexus and Pixel, should have immediate access to the security updates. Users of other Android devices will likely have to wait a little longer for these patches as they are tested and pushed through each manufacturer’s update process.

Chromebook users running the latest version of Chrome OS (version 63 as of now) should already be protected against these vulnerabilities as well. To check if a Chromebook is updated to version 63, or if an update is available, users should check Google’s list of Chrome OS devices.

Qualcomm processors are affected by these vulnerabilities as well, although patches have not yet been released for all systems running on Qualcomm processors. Users are advised to check for operating system updates, particularly when running Android and Linux, on their Qualcomm-powered devices. IBM firmware updates should be available in the upcoming weeks for their Power CPUs to address Spectre-like issues in its design.

Cisco is also preparing to release patches to prevent exploitation of these vulnerabilities. Since most Cisco products are closed systems, which do not allow customers to run custom code on the device, practical exploitation of these vulnerabilities on Cisco devices is limited. However, certain processor and OS combinations in some Cisco products could leave them vulnerable, and it is recommended that users patch their Cisco devices as soon as a patch is available.

What does this mean for me?

While Meltdown and Spectre do pose some serious potential security risks, at the moment there is no need to panic. Users are still far more likely to be exploited via a phishing email than either of these vulnerabilities. So far, there has been no evidence that either of these attacks has been used in the wild, although it is certainly possible that others have known about these vulnerabilities for some time. It will likely take some additional time and effort to advance these attacks from a proof of concept to a reliable attack vector.

There has been enough attention given to these vulnerabilities that most major operating systems and applications already have patches available or will have patches available soon. Patching will be the best defense against these attacks. With proper patching, the risks from these vulnerabilities will be significantly reduced or eliminated. Users of less common or no longer maintained software which may be vulnerable to Spectre Variant 1 should check with their software vendors or deploy additional protections around these systems. Legacy and embedded devices, with limited or no ability to patch, will likely see the greatest long-term risk associated with these attacks.

The greatest potential impact from Meltdown could have been on cloud service providers, as they could have allowed both access to the hypervisor as well as data from other instances. However, most of the major cloud service providers were notified of the vulnerability prior to public disclosure and should have patches already deployed, or being deployed soon. Cloud service users should check with their individual providers to determine their potential existing exposure from these vulnerabilities.

The most significant lasting impact from Meltdown and Spectre may be these types of hardware vulnerabilities exist in the first place. Although these vulnerabilities have been present in hardware for many years, little attention has been paid to this class of vulnerabilities. Hardware vulnerabilities such as these present a very attractive vector for attackers due to the high level of access they provide and the potential for VM escape; even more so when they can be exploited remotely. We have seen this type of vulnerability “gold rush” in the past, where the discovery of a single vulnerability leads to increase in scrutiny of a certain application or system, disclosing dozens of additional vulnerabilities. Given the challenges in detecting, investigating and patching these types of hardware vulnerabilities, a gold rush here could have serious security implications.