Threat actors are increasingly adopting security automation and machine learning – security teams will have to follow suit, or risk falling behind.
Many organizations still conduct incident response based on manual processes. Many playbooks that we have seen in our customer base, for example, hand off to other stakeholders within the organization to wait for additional forensic data, and to execute remediation and containment actions.
While this may seem like good practice to avoid inadvertent negative consequences such as accidentally shutting down critical systems or locking out innocent users, it also means that many attacks are not contained in a sufficiently short time to avoid the worst of their consequences.
Manual Processes Cannot Compete with Automation
Reports are mounting about threat actors and hackers leveraging security automation and machine learning to increase the scale and volume, as well as the velocity of attacks. The implications for organizations should be cause for concern, considering that we have been challenged to effectively respond to less sophisticated attacks in the past.
Ransomware is a case in point. In its most simple form, a ransomware attack does not require the full cyber kill chain to be successful. A user receives an email attachment, executes it, the data is encrypted and the damage is done. At that point, incident response turns into disaster recovery.
Automated attacks have been with us for a long time. Worms and Autorooters have been around since the beginning of hacking, with WannaCry and its worming capability only the most recent example. But these have only automated some aspects of the attack, still permitting timely and successful threat containment further along the kill chain.
Threat actors have also leveraged automated command and control infrastructure for many years. DDoS Zombie Botnets, for example, are almost fully automated. To sum it up, the bad guys have automated, the defenders have not. Manual processes cannot compete with automation.
With the increase in the adoption of automation and machine learning by cyber criminals, enterprises will find that they will have to automate as well. The future mantra will be “Automate or Die”.
Making the Cure More Palatable Than the Disease
But automating containment actions is still a challenging topic. Here at DFLabs we still encounter a lot of resistance to the idea by our customers. Security teams understand that the escalating sophistication and velocity of cyber-attacks means that they must become more agile to rapidly respond to cyber incidents. But the risk of detrimentally impacting operations means that they are reluctant to do so, and rarely have the political backing and clout even if they want to.
Security teams will find themselves having to rationalize the automation of incident response to other stakeholders in their organization more and more in the future. This will require being able to build a business case to justify the risk of automating containment. They will have to explain why the cure is not worse than the disease.
There are three questions that are decisive in evaluating whether to automate containment actions:
- How reliable are the detection and identification?
- What is the potential detrimental impact if the automation goes wrong?
- What is the potential risk if this is not automated?
Our approach at DFLabs to this is to carefully evaluate what to automate, and how to do this safely. We support organizations in selectively applying automation through our R3 Rapid Response Runbooks. Incident Responders can apply dual-mode actions that combine manual, semi-automated and fully automated steps to provide granular control over what is automated. R3 Runbooks can also include conditional statements that apply full automation when it is safe to do so but request that a human vet’s the decision in critical environments or where it may have a detrimental impact on operational integrity.
We just released a whitepaper, “Automate or Die, without Dying”, by our Vice President of Product Evangelism and former Gartner analyst, Oliver Rochford, that discusses best practices to safely approach automation. Download the whitepaper here for an in-depth discussion on this controversial and challenging, but important topic.
The DNA sequence for each human is 99.5% similar to any other human. Yet when it comes to incident response and the manner in which individual analysts may interpret the details of a given scenario, our near-total similarity seems to all but vanish. Where one analyst might characterize an incident as the result of a successful social engineering attack, another may instead identify it as a generic malware infection. Similarly, a service outage may be labeled as a denial of service by some, while others will choose to attribute the root cause to an improper procedure carried out by a systems administrator. Root cause and impact, or incident outcome, are just a couple of the many considerations that, unless properly accounted for in a case management process, will otherwise play havoc on a security team’s reporting metrics.
Poor Key Performance Indicators can blind decision makers
What is the impact of poor KPI’s? All too often the end result leads to equally poor strategic decisions. Money and effort may be assigned to the wrong measures, for example into more ineffective prevention controls instead of improved response capability. In a worst case scenario, poor KPI’s can blind decision makers to the most pertinent security issues of their enterprise, and the necessary funding for additional security may be withheld altogether.
Three best practices are required to address this all too common problem of attaining accurate reporting:
- A coherent incident management process is necessary in order to properly categorize incident activity. Its definitions must be clear, taking into account outliers, clarifying how root causes and impacts are to be tracked, and providing a workflow to assist analysts in accurately and consistently determining incident categorization.
- The process must be enforced to guarantee uniform results in support of coherent KPI’s. Training, quality assurance, and reinforcement are all necessary to ensure total stakeholder buy-in.
- Security teams must have the technologies to support effective incident response and proper categorization of incidents.
There are several ways that the IncMan platform supports the three best practices:
First, IncMan provides a platform to act as the foundation for an incident management program. It provides customizable incident forms allowing for complete tailoring to an organization and the details it must collect in support of its unique reporting requirements. Custom fields specific to distinct incident types allow for detailed data collection and categorization. These custom fields can be coupled with common attributes to track specific data, thereby providing a high level of flexibility for security teams in maintaining absolute reporting consistency across the team’s individual members.
Next, playbooks can be associated with specific incident types, providing step-by-step instructions for specialized incident response activities. Playbooks enforce consistency and can further reinforce reporting requirements. However, playbooks are not completely static, and while they certainly provide structure, IncMan’s playbooks also offer the ability to improvise, add, remove or substitute actions on the fly.
The platform’s Knowledge Base offers a repository for reference material to further supplement playbook instructions. Information collection requirements defined within playbook steps can be linked to Knowledge Base references, arming analysts with added information, for example with standard operating procedures pertaining to individual enterprise security tools, or checklists for applicable industry reporting requirements.
IncMan also includes Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK), a machine learning driven approach that learns from past incidents and the response to them, to suggest suitable playbooks for new or related incident types. This is not only useful for helping to identify specific campaigns and otherwise connected incident activity but can also highlight historical cases that can serve as examples for new or novice analysts.
Finally, the platform’s API and KPI export capabilities enable the extraction of raw incident data, allowing for data mining of valuable reporting information using external analytics tools. This information can then be used to paint a much clearer picture of an enterprise’s security posture and allow for fully-informed strategic decision-making.
Collectively, the IncMan features detailed above empower an organization with the means to support consistency in incident categorization, response, and reporting. For more information, please visit us at https://www.dflabs.com
Companies across different industries around the globe, along with government institutions, cite cyber attacks as one of the biggest security threats to their existence. As a matter of fact, in a recent Forbes survey of over 700 companies from 79 countries, 88 percent of respondents said that they are “extremely concerned” or “concerned” by the risk of getting attacked by hackers.
This fact is a clear indication that organizations have to ramp up efforts for enhancing their cyber resilience, but to do that successfully and in the most effective manner, they need to have a clear understanding of where the biggest cyber threats come from nowadays so that they can shape their cyber defenses accordingly. We take a look at the most common cybersecurity threats today, ranging from internal threats, cyber criminals looking for financial gains, and nation states.
When talking about cyber security, some of the first things that usually come to mind are freelance hackers and state-sponsored attacks between hostile nations. But, many cyber security incidents actually come from within organizations, or to be more specific, from their own employees.
Pretty much all experts agree that employees are some of the weakest links in the cyber defense of every organization, in part due to low cyber security awareness, and sometimes due to criminal intent.
Employees often put their companies at risk of getting hacked without meaning to, by opening phishing emails or sharing confidential files through insecure channels, which is why organizations should make sure their staff knows the basics of cyber security and how to avoid the common cyber scams and protect data.
With so many devices connected to the Internet nowadays, including video cameras, smart phones, tablets, sensors, POS terminals, medical devices, printers, scanners, among others, organizations are at an increased risk of falling victim of a data breach. The Internet of Things is a real and ever-increasing cyber threat to businesses and institutions, deteriorating their vulnerability to cyber attacks by adding more endpoints that hackers can use to gain access to networks, and by making it easier for hackers to spread malicious software throughout networks at a faster rate.
The Internet of Things is one of the factors that make DDoS attacks more possible and more easily conducted, and these types of attacks can have a significant and long-lasting impact on organizations, both in terms of financial losses and reputation damage.
Private entities and government institutions that are part of the critical infrastructure in their countries are under a constant threat of different types of attacks by hostile nations. As the number of channels and methods that stand at the disposal of hackers aiming to gain access to computer networks grows, organizations in the public and private sector are facing a growing risk of cyber attacks sponsored by nation-states that might have an interest in damaging the critical infrastructure of other countries, hurting their economies, obtaining top-secret information, or getting the upper hand in diplomatic disputes.
Most commonly, nation-state-sponsored cyber attacks use malware, such as ransomware and spyware, to access computer networks of organizations, as a means of gaining control over certain aspects of the critical infrastructure of another country.
No matter what types of attacks are common today, the number and level of sophistication of cyber threats to organizations are certainly going to grow in the future, which is why they have to constantly update and adjust their cyber defenses accordingly.
Cyber criminals do not discriminate against anyone when it comes to their targets of choice. They go after whatever organization they consider to have a potential to yield substantial financial benefits, without taking into account that some of their exploits might even lead to international conflict or an environmental catastrophe of unimaginable scale.
Cyber attacks on critical infrastructures have become commonplace lately, threatening public health and safety, and deteriorating relations between countries. Having in mind how sophisticated and advanced these cyber threats are, it is no wonder that it is extremely difficult to detect and prevent all of them, so a proper cyber incident response plan that would help contain the damage and recover from an attack becomes a necessity.
Incident Response Solutions for Critical Infrastructure Sectors
Critical infrastructure is comprised of organizations from various sectors, including health care, energy, telecommunications, financial services, government, and transportation, among others. All businesses and institutions that are part of one of these sectors are potential targets for cyber criminals.
To improve their ability to mitigate cyber security threats more effectively, these organizations are advised to create a workflow-based incident response plan relying on automation and orchestration platform.
Benefits of a Workflow-Based Security Incident Response Plan
By utilizing an incident response platform that allows an orchestrated approach while automating certain routine and time-consuming tasks, organizations can greatly reduce reaction times of their cyber security teams, and start the recovery process as soon as possible.
A workflow-based platform, that incorporates a set of actions tailored to specific types of cyber attacks, allows security teams to go through all stages of an incident response quickly and effectively, by providing them with concrete steps that need to be taken based on the type and scope of an attack. Furthermore, based on the attack types, knowledge sharing articles could be associated with the incident for faster and more efficient resolving.
In addition to workflows, automation-and-orchestration incident response platforms can easily integrate with intelligence sharing platforms, allowing organizations to send and receive essential cyber security events information, improving their ability to prevent future attacks.
Cyber attacks on critical infrastructure are probably going to become even more common, so investing in an incident response platform with automation and orchestration capabilities would be of great help to organizations looking to enhance their cyber defenses moving forward. By doing that, they would also be contributing to efforts for preserving international peace and public safety.
With all the damage done by the WannaCry and the Petya (also known as GoldenEye) ransomware attacks over the course of the last two months in mind, it is safe to assume that organizations that are a potential target of cyber criminals should move to enhance resilience to these types of attacks. There are various actions that businesses and government institutions can take to escape unscathed from this global ransomware epidemics.
Aside from using sophisticated tools that are designed to detect and remove ransomware, employees themselves are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to defending against targeted cyber-attacks. Raising employee awareness on cybersecurity can go a long way towards improving the ability of organizations to avoid damages caused by cyber incidents because the staff is often cited as one of the weakest links in cyber defenses.
Employees, the First Line of Defense Against Ransomware
One of the reasons why organizations need to raise cybersecurity awareness within their staff is that ransomware usually finds a way into IT systems through phishing emails opened by an employee. The main risk is a result of the fact that most employees are not very well-versed in distinguishing between legitimate emails and fake ones that aim to install malicious software onto their computers, which is done in one of two ways. One way is to include a call-to-action prompting recipients to download an attachment that contains a malware. Once that file is installed onto the computer, the malware basically disables the computer, preventing the user from accessing it, or from opening certain essential files.
The other way involves emails providing a URL that recipients are supposed to click, with the URL being created in such a manner that resembles a popular and well-known website. That way, recipients do not suspect that there is something wrong with the website they are prompted to visit by the email message, but once they click the malicious URL and go to that website, malware is instantly installed onto their computer.
After a piece of malware is installed on a computer, it has the ability to spread across other computers that it is connected to, thus infecting and blocking access to the entire network.
Tackle Social Engineering Through Education
Organizations can reduce the risk of getting hit by a ransomware attack by educating employees about the methods utilized in these scams, which involve a great deal of social engineering, taking advantage of certain psychological weaknesses. By making employees more aware of the most common ransomware schemes, as well as the fact that they have one of the key roles in the cyber defense of their organization, chances of preventing attacks can be greatly increased.
Cyber security professionals need to train all employees on how to detect ransomware scams, by pointing out to them that they need to pay extra attention to details when receiving emails from an unknown sender or containing suspicious content. The most important details that employees should pay attention to include the display name of emails, the salutation, and whether an email contains an attachment that they are not expecting.
Employee education is paramount when it comes to defending against ransomware attacks, and organizations need to invest more time and resources into this increasingly important aspect of cybersecurity.
While many institutions and businesses from various industries were still reeling from the WannaCry attack that took the world by storm back in May, cyber criminals launched another crippling ransomware attack earlier this week, catching a lot of cyber security professionals across 60 countries by surprise and bringing essential business operations to a halt.This latest high-profile attack, called Petya ransomware, bears many of the hallmarks of WannaCry, in that it is a typical ransomware scheme, paralyzing computers and spreading through internal networks after infecting one machine.
Another important similarity is that just like WannaCry, Petya exploited the same Microsoft Windows vulnerability – Eternal Blue, to spread within networks. On the other hand, there is one significant difference between the two attacks – Petya, unlike WannaCry, was not aimed at extorting money, but rather incurring serious damage to computer networks, with researchers saying that Petya was just disguised as ransomware, but its main goal was to spread throughout networks as fast as possible and cause the biggest infrastructural damages possible.
Containing the Damage
Petya ransomware was primarily designed to infect computers in order to prevent organizations from continuing their day-to-day operations, rather than gaining financial benefit, and the attack did affect business operations of many companies, inflicting severe financial and reputation damage upon them. Ransomware attacks are extremely difficult to prevent, and the best thing organizations can do to avoid serious long-term consequences in case they get hit by one, is to make sure they have the tools to respond to it and contain the damage as fast as possible.
That can be best done with the help of an incident response platform with automation and orchestration capabilities. These types of platforms can help security teams reduce their reaction time when responding to an incident, which is crucial when attacks such as Petya occur. With a set of playbook actions specific to ransomware attacks, an incident response platform will allow your team to detect and analyze the attack faster, and it will suggest a specific list of actions that can help contain the damage in the most effective way possible. When it comes to ransomware attacks, recommended containment actions include isolating compromised machines, blocking communication over ports, and disconnecting shared drives, among other things.
Once you have taken the suggested containment actions, the platform will help you accelerate the recovery and remediation processes, and perform the appropriate post-incident procedure. The post-incident reactions are particularly important when dealing with ransomware attacks, as they play a major role in ensuring compliance with breach notification rules covering these types of cybersecurity incidents, such as the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule in the US.
To conclude, even though preventing ransomware attacks is a major challenge and there is not much that organizations can do in that regard, there are a lot of things they can do to reduce the impact of such incidents and avoid long-lasting consequences, which are usually associated with these types of cybersecurity events.
Preparing for cybersecurity incidents and responding to them can be a significant burden for any organization. On a daily basis, most security teams will commonly deal with numerous cybersecurity events, many of which will trigger some number of resource-taxing and time-consuming tasks such as gathering and vetting information, analyzing data, and generating incident reports.
It is for this reason that every tool, every solution, and every procedure that can help ease that burden is often more than welcome. Implementing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is one of the essential steps towards ensuring a more streamlined and effective incident response process, one that allows security professionals to focus on the more substantial and high-value activities, such as in-depth investigations and implementing improvements in the overall incident response program.
Coordinating Incident Response
Standard operating procedures are aimed at helping CSIRTs to follow the most effective possible workflow when dealing with cyber security events. A typical SOP should contain a list of specific actions that that security professionals need to take whenever their organization faces a particular cyber incident. It ensures that all employees within an organization know their responsibility and what activities they need to take in the event of a cyber attack. For instance, an SOP might note at what point in the incident the CSIRT member is responsible for reporting data breaches to the Information Security Officer and where to submit incident reports in the aftermath of a breach. Further, the SOP might also state how to assign an incident severity level and where to distribute a list of recommendations or specific instructions on how to address a particular threat.
Another important aspect of a SOP is that it should ensure that all workflows and actions taken during incident response are in compliance with regulations that the organization is required by law to adhere to.
Orchestrate and Automate the Process
In order to be worthwhile and effective, cyber security teams and resources from an organization must adhere to SOPs and realize benefits from doing so. Some of the actions recommended or required by a SOP in a given situation may take up a large portion of the time and effort of a security team, so adopting a solution that can orchestrate and automate some of those tasks can go a long way towards realizing those benefits by saving time and cutting costs.
Security automation and orchestration platforms can programmatically handle some of those time-consuming manual tasks, such as generating and sending reports, thereby help drastically reduce reaction times. They can also help quickly determine the severity of an incident and the impact it has on an organization, freeing security resources to focus on the containment, eradication and recovery activities the sop standard operation procedure requires.
In summation, security automation and orchestration platforms are a crucial tool for ensuring a proper implementation of standard operating procedures as a key piece of the cyber incident response puzzle.
In the context of cyber security, two of the most pressing concerns facing many organizations are the ever-rising number of cyber attacks and figuring out how to keep them at bay without having to increase manpower. The recent Cyber attacks are now more sophisticated and noticeably more common than they were even just a few years ago. Faced with this increased volume, private entities and government agencies are struggling to figure out how to help their security teams respond to cyber events in an effective and timely manner, while finding that most potential solutions require either substantial financial expense, or rely on the addition of specialized human resources.
Hiring skilled staff is a real challenge for most organizations amid an acute and global cyber security skills shortage. Unmet demand has led professionals in this field to command disproportionately high salaries and made it that much more difficult for businesses and governments to attract cyber security talent. Consequently, organizations are now also forced to seek out technical solutions that might actually help decrease their reliance on specialized and expensive human resources. This is where cyber security incident response platforms come in as arguably the most convenient, practical and cost-effective solution to the growing cyber security threat issue and specialized resource shortage.
Ease the Strain on Security Teams by Automating Time Consuming Incident Response Tasks
A security automation and orchestration platform is the economical solution to enable an organization to respond to cyber threats and eradicate them in the most effective and fastest way possible. It is also the best way to ease the strain on security teams which, in many organizations, are already overwhelmed with an uninterrupted incident response workload.
Analyzing and assessing the legitimacy, impact and scope of a cyber incident are some of the most time-consuming tasks undertaken by cyber security professionals today. It is exactly within those tasks that an orchestration and automation platform can be of most service. From an incident identification and analysis perspective, these platforms are force multipliers which greatly accelerate the incident triage process. They provide an organization with the ability to analyze the cause and effect of each incident and to assess the scope and impact to an organization from any number of incidents at any given time. From a response perspective, and beyond their ability to automate response activity on existing security infrastructure, they can generate automated incident reports for distribution to in-house security teams, providing response and recovery resources with key insights into the scope and severity of an incident, thereby often dramatically reducing reaction times.
In short, the dual challenge of addressing a growing number of cyber attacks while maintaining an ability to mount an effective response within an existing cyber security team, is best tackled by employing an automation and orchestration platform. Deploying this tool as a force multiplier for both existing security infrastructure and human resources, allows security teams to offload the most intensive tasks and frees these professionals to focus on the more high-value areas of a cyber security threat response.
In light of the increased frequency of cyber attacks against health care institutions in the United States and around the globe, the recent announcement from U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) regarding the launch of a dedicated cybers ecurity center gives hope to security practitioners in this sector that they will soon be able to improve their cyber resilience against the escalating cyber threats.
The Health Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (HCCIC), scheduled to reach initial operating capability before the end of June, is modeled on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. Christopher Wlaschin, the CISO at the U.S. HHS, identified the key goals of the HCCIC as trying to “reduce the noise about cyber threats in the health care industry” and to “improve the ability of health care institutions to protect against cyber attacks.”
Mobile Health Applications and Growing Ransomware Attacks Raise Concerns
The imputes for this center are twofold: first, the exploding rate of ransomware attacks on health care organizations in recent years, and second, the increased exposure to cyber attacks brought about by the growing adoption of mobile health applications. Together these developments have pushed the government to take more decisive action to help the health care sector build more effective cyber resilience systems.
Information Sharing and Best Practices
Information collaboration and analysis of cyber threat intelligence will be at the forefront of the activities undertaken by the new center. Sharing cyber threat intelligence within an industry sector and between private companies and authorities is a significant part of overall efforts for improving the preparedness of an organization to promptly and effectively respond to cyber incidents. However, this sharing of intelligence can often also create a torrent of noise, rendering it difficult for security practitioners to discern credible information on what actually constitutes a potential threat to the cyber security of their organization. Antithetically, unfiltered intelligence sharing can actually prevent a faster and more effective response.
For this reason, organizations require a programmatic solution to help them share only the essential information related to cyber threats, past and current, and the cyber security events they have already faced. The prescribed solution is an automation and orchestration platform that has the built-in capability to integrate with threat intelligence sharing platforms such as STIX, TAXII or Splunk, to name a few. This customizable platform can enable organizations within the health care sector to: share operational intelligence related to cyber security events in a secure and efficient manner; eliminate the risk of sharing any confidential company or patient data; and, cut out the noise from irrelevant information that so plagues intelligence sharing today.
In this new reality, where new and ever more sophisticated threats loom large on the horizon, health care organizations that choose to implement a cyber incident response platform with these built-in threat intelligence capabilities will do so knowing they have taken a big step forward to ensuring the protection of valuable business information, and confidential and sensitive patient data.
The WannaCry ransomware attack sent shockwaves through businesses and governments all around the globe by bringing day-to-day activities in hospitals, banks, telecommunication operators, and local and state agencies to a grinding halt. Undoubtedly, this attack put a big spotlight on ransomware, highlighting it as a powerful, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening attack methodology exploited by cyber criminals as a means for quickly making significant financial gain. Recently, however, another method has emerged as an increasingly common tool for cyber extortion, one that is expected to gain much more traction in the near future.
The emerging threat in question is doxing and involves attackers obtaining confidential, proprietary, sensitive, or private information via social media or hacking, and threatening to publicly share that information if ransom is not paid. There have been a few notable doxing events in recent years involving hacker attempts to extort large corporations, with Walt Disney Pictures emerging as the latest victim. In another high profile case involving cyber extortion, hackers are today threatening to release a stolen upcoming blockbuster film, in advance of its premiere, unless they receive a pirate-like ransom of bitcoins in return. With doxing becoming a go-to modus operandi for an increasing number of cyber criminals, organizations seeking to safeguard their proprietary information need to become more aware of the threat doxing represents and implement solutions to protect against these extortion attacks.
Improve the Ability to Identify Doxing Attacks Quickly
Beyond implementing layered preventative and detective security controls, efforts for defending against doxing attacks should include devising a proper cyber incident response plan, preferably one established within the framework of a cyber-security automation and orchestration platform. Through the adoption of such a platform, organizations would address the first and most important part of the process for tackling doxing threats – being prepared to quickly and effectively respond to the attack.
A cyber incident response platform provides organizations with automation and orchestration capabilities through integration with existing security infrastructure and structured response playbooks. This level of preparedness vastly improves their ability to detect, track, and recover from doxing attacks. By providing a consistent and repeatable response strategy, a better prepared organization can reduce or even completely avoid the potentially substantial and damaging impact of a successful extortion attempt.
This platform allows cyber-security teams to detect, predict, and track breaches in their organizations’ computer systems, and to respond quickly and inline by leveraging integrations with existing security infrastructure. The inline response reduces overall reaction times and allows for quick containment and eradication of the threat.
The platform dramatically accelerates the incident triage and response process to improve efficiency, and can even integrate with an organization’s forensic systems, allowing for fast and efficient gathering of digital evidence to help identify attackers and support subsequent law enforcement efforts.
By leveraging the full capabilities of a cyber-security automation and orchestration platform, organizations would be able to more quickly determine the scope and impact of extortion attacks, respond accordingly, and provide authorities with the information necessary to accelerate their investigation. Collectively, leveraging these capabilities would ensure an increased chance for resolving and recovering from the incident without succumbing to ransom demands.