Slaying the Hydra – Incident Response and Advanced Targeted Attacks

In incident response, protecting against a targeted attack is like slaying the hydra. For those not familiar with what a hydra is, it is a multi-headed serpent from Greek mythology, that grows two new heads for every head you chop off. A determined attacker will try again and again until they succeed, targeting different attack vectors and using a variety of tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The Snowden and Shadowbroker leaks really drove this home, giving partial insight into the toolkit of nation state actors. What really stuck out to me was the sheer variety of utilities, frameworks, and techniques to infiltrate and gain persistence in a target. Without the leak, would it be possible to reliably determine that all of those hacking tools belonged to a single entity? Would a large organization with thousands of alerts and hundreds of incidents every day be able to identify that these different attacks belonged to a single, concerted effort to breach their defenses, or would they come to the conclusion that these were all separate, unrelated attempts?

Our colleagues in the Threat Intelligence and Forensic analysis industries have a much better chance to correlate these tools and their footprint in the wild – they may discover that some of these tools share a command and control infrastructure for example. A few did have at least an outline of the threat actor, but judging by the spate of advisories and reports that were released after the leaks, not very many actually appear to have achieved this to a great degree. The majority were only able to piece the puzzle together once equipped with a concise list of Indicators of Compromise (IoC) and TTP’s to begin hunting with.

“How does this affect me? We are not important enough to attract the attention of a nation state actor”

Some readers may now be thinking, “How does this affect me? We are not important enough to attract the attention of a nation state actor”. I would urge caution in placing too much faith in that belief.

On the one hand, for businesses in some countries the risk of economic espionage by-nation state hacking has decreased. As I wrote on Securityweek in July, China has signed agreements with the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany and the UK limiting hacking for the purpose of stealing trade secrets and economic espionage. However, this does not affect hacking for national security purposes, and it will have little impact on privately conducted hacking. These are also bilateral agreements, and none exist in other nations, for example, Russia or North Korea. For militarily and economically weaker nation states, offensive cyber security is a cheap, asymmetric method of gaining a competitive or strategic advantage. As we have seen, offensive cyber activity can target civilian entities for political rather than economic reasons, and hackers are increasingly targeting the weakest link in the supply chain. This means that the potential probability of being targeted is today based more on your customer, partner, and supply chain network, and not just on what your organization does in detail. Security through obscurity has never been a true replacement for actual security, but it has lost its effectiveness as targeted attacks have moved beyond only focusing on the most prominent and obvious victims. It has become much easier to suffer from collateral damage.

Cyber criminals are becoming more organized and professional

On the other hand, cyber criminals are becoming more organized and professional, with individual threat actors selling their services to a wide customer base. A single small group of hackers like LulzSec may have a limited toolbox and selection of TTP’s, but professional cybercrime groups have access to numerous hackers, supporting services and purpose-built solutions. If they are targeting an organization directly and are persistent and not opportunistic, it will be as difficult to discern that a single concerted attack by one determined threat actor is taking place.

What this means in practical reality for any organization that may become the target of a sophisticated threat actor, is that you have to be on constant alert. Identifying, responding to and containing a threat is not a process to be stepped through with a final resolution step – instead, cyber security incident response is an ongoing, continuous and cyclical process. Advanced and persistent attacks unfold in stages and waves, and like a war consist of a series of skirmishes and battles that continue until one side loses the will to carry on the conflict or succeeds in their objectives. Like trying to slay the hydra, each incident that you resolve means that the attacker will change their approach and that the next attempt may be more difficult to spot. Two new heads have grown instead of one.

To tackle this requires that we cultivate a perpetual state of alertness in our SOC and CSIRT

To tackle this requires that we cultivate a perpetual state of alertness in our SOC and CSIRT – but we must do this without creating a perpetual state of alarm. The former means that your team of analysts is always aware and alert, looking at individual incidents as potentially just one hostile act of many that together could constitute a concerted effort to exfiltrate your most valuable data, disrupt your operational capacity, or abuse your organization to do this to your partners or customers. In the latter case, your analysts will suffer from alert fatigue, a lack of true visibility of threats, and a lack of energy and time to be able to see the bigger picture.
The hydra will have too many heads to defeat.

In the Greek legend of Heracles, the titular hero eventually defeats the Hydra by cauterizing each decapitated stump with fire to prevent any new heads from forming. Treating an incident in isolation is the Security Incident Response equivalent of chopping off the head of the hydra without burning the stump. Applied to our problem, burning the stump means that we have to conduct the response to each incident thoroughly and effectively, and continue the process well beyond containment.

We must invest more time in hunting and investigating, and we have to correlate and analyze the relationship between disparate incidents. We must use threat intelligence more strategically to derive situational awareness, and not just tactically as a machine-readable list of IoC’s. This also requires gathering sufficient forensic evidence and context data about an incident and related assets and entities during the incident response process, so that we can conduct post event analysis and continuous threat assessment after containment and mitigation have been carried out. This way we can better anticipate the level of threat that we are exposed to, and make more informed decisions about where to focus our resources, add mitigating controls and improve our defenses. In Incident Response “burning the stump” means making it more difficult for threat actors to succeed in the future by presenting them with a hardened attack surface, reducing their reside time in our infrastructure, and reducing the time we need to discover and contain them. To do this we need to learn from every incident we manage.

Interested to know what 412 IT professionals and cyber security professionals think on the latest Security Analytics and Operations trends?

The Power of New-Age Playbooks in Incident Response

I have often talked about the benefits of employing flexible playbooks to deal with evolving cyber incidents and unique threat scenarios, and in these series of blogs, I am going to explore some of the points of emphasis when creating a new playbook.

The advantage to Security Automation and Orchestration (SAO) platforms, and in particular our IncMan platform, is the ability it provides to tailor playbooks or runbooks to deal with all manner of cyber incidents. These Playbooks are defined by three key factors:

1.Phases: Determine the number of phases for the response process based on the incident scenario. The phases are really a placeholder for what you are trying to achieve in your response.

2.Automation: How much automation will benefit the given scenario without hindering or otherwise adversely impacting your business.

3.Actions: What actions apply to each phase and what is the benefit to each action.

Wash, Rinse, Re-playbook.

Play books, or runbooks, should never be static and hard-coded for a fixed set of events. Ultimately, incidents will differ and you should always remain in control, ready to adapt and adjust the response workflow. This flexibility is vital should a Plan B need to be executed. The approach of IncMan to security playbooks & runbooks support both mature and emerging SOC teams by providing multi-flow advanced runbooks to the former, and for the less mature, a simplified playbook containing a dual mode where automation and manual actions can co-exist.

In talking with CSIRT/SOC managers, I have learned that they have typically aligned themselves with a particular standard. Most organizations follow the likes of ISO for Incident Response, NIST
800-62 or alternatives along the lines of CREST or NISA. Structured incident handling processes based on these standards are a great baseline, but how about also having actions and reactions pre-prepared and ready to respond immediately according to the threat you face? Can you see the instant advantage in having smaller, simpler playbooks and runbooks specific to an adversary or threat scenario?

Dealing with incidents with tailored playbooks will ultimately provide better threat coverage as each has enrichment and containment actions that are concentrated on the tasks specific to a given scenario. Additionally, allowing your SAO product to tie the dots to bring enrichment to the observables and the indicators encountered in incidents will bring measurable value to the increased speed of the incident response process. Allowing analysts dynamic interaction at all phases of the workflow will help also help your reactions become more efficient. This mix of structured playbooks and dynamic response capability can also help push the CSIRT teams into a more pro-active mindset, allowing system and network-level security policy and infrastructure configuration changes to be handled on the fly while leveraging current and accurate information, and all from a single response console.

Top 5 Features to Evaluate When Selecting a Security Orchestration and Automated Response Product

Security Orchestration and Automated Response (SOAR) is a relatively new cyber security solution category. The aim of these platforms is to provide a centralized software solution to manage the complete lifecycle of a cyber incident, orchestrate security products to a determined goal, and respond to cyber incidents in an automated or semi-automated fashion. The SOAR category is of particular interest to Security Operations Center Teams, as this product is now seen as the backbone of incident management.

Given the differences that can exist between Security Operations Center or Cyber Incident Response teams, it’s rare to find items that share a commonality between the incident response organizations when evaluating incident response solutions. Given that, the following seem to share a common focus during the evaluation process:

In no particular order:

1. Supervised Active Intelligence™
This is a methodology that best describes one of our most powerful features within IncMan™, the ability to arm your SOC teams with selected intelligence related to a cyber incident. This feature provides targeted information and is provided directly to the assigned investigator. This information is paramount to starting a cyber investigation, and we see on a daily basis that cyber incidents without this information have a very slow reaction time. However, the most important factor is your teams take steps that are guided by the intelligence generated within an IncMan playbook as they work through their playbook actions.

2. Intelligent Correlation Engine
As per the Supervised Active Intelligence feature, within our IncMan platform, the intelligence will be captured and build upon the growing information around cyber incidents. This information is analyzed by IncMan, providing a visual representation of how an incident has progressed and if any other incidents share common features. I.e. they affected the same users, or same machine types, patterns that have emerged etc. We visualize this information over a timeline, allowing the SOC team the ability to correlate the cyber security incidents to business events or even basic tracking how malware has traversed through several machines and at what rate.

3. Extended Knowledge base with your own intelligence or from others
We understand as an organization how important it is to use multiple sources of external intelligence. This has allowed us to provide the ability to extend the IncMan knowledge base with the information required by your SOC team. For example, some clients use the knowledge base to add additional fraud intelligence and prevention information. We natively support TAXII and other feeds using the STIX format of intelligence sharing. Alternatively, if you are a part of an intelligence sharing network, IncMan permits the API connection.

Another feature which we often see utilized by CSO’s and CISO’s alike is regarding the knowledge base and Cyber Incident linking capabilities. We allow tagging and linking of knowledge base articles with cyber incidents to aid reporting and impact visibility to the stake holders.

4. Integrating your environment
As mentioned earlier, IncMan allows the use of your current environment and the products you already have readily available. As our client, we want to bring you from “Zero to Hero” in the shortest time span possible with pre-configured integrations that are enabled within minutes. With IncMan you choose how you want to leverage your existing products. The crucial point is we know every environment is a mixture of multiple moving parts and we can integrate with your existing framework to ensure maximum availability while minimizing response time and resource expenditures.

5. Playbooks
Playbooks can be thought of in the context of American football. The term playbook was created to give a visual meaning to orchestrating team members for a single goal, given a scenario presented to a team or organization. The three distinct teams are as follows

Defense, and containment for cyber incident response
Special Teams for enrichment and providing both teams with more information and field position for American football
The offense for mitigating incidents and going on the offensive to put the company in a positive, advantageous position given the situation that is presented in front of them.

For those of you not into the American Football analogy; Playbooks give your teams meticulous control over pre-defined workflows to drive policy and procedures in a repeatable, consistent and enforced manner. This allows for enrichment, containment, and mitigation driven through one product – IncMan.

A Weekend in Incident Response #11: Protecting Trade Secrets and Personal Information Through Cyber Incident Response Plans

Protecting customer data and intellectual property are among the top priorities for government agencies, as well as corporations across many different industries, such as healthcare, finance, entertainment, and insurance, to name a few. The main goal of data breaches – which are extremely common in our digital world – is stealing confidential customer information or valuable intellectual property. Banks, hospitals, insurance companies, along with government institutions, are often the target of cyber crimes involving fraud and intellectual property theft. Considering that these types of breaches – which are not always avoidable or preventable – can have wide-ranging consequences for every organization. They must take a broad set of precautionary measures in order to minimize the damage and recover as soon as possible. Among those measures is devising incident response plans, as well as adopting a platform that can keep cybersecurity incidents under control, by helping you determine what type of cyber attack your organization is under, how you should prioritize your response, and what you can do to contain the damage.

Fast Incident Triage

If an organization uses a cybersecurity platform with robust incident response capabilities, the organization’s leadership can have peace of mind that even if they get attacked, they will be able to solve the incident as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

One of the key elements to an effective incident response is incident triage. Organizations should acquire a cybersecurity platform that offers this feature, which is essential for improving its CSIRT’s efficiency. Incident triage is important because it allows your team to quickly analyze what happened and determine what actions they need to take first, enabling a continuation of the operations within the organization and containment of the damage.

Case Management

Once a data breach is detected, and the incident triage process is completed, some of the next steps involve managing the impact and preparing for potential litigation, which organizations often face when they’ve experienced a data breach. To that end, corporations and government agencies should use a platform that provides litigation support, which covers several aspects, such as customizable reports needed for material disclosures, as well as the preservation of evidence and chain-of-custody tracking to preserve all artifacts and record all activities. Allowing a proper investigation that could help your organization avoid crippling potential legal liabilities.

In conclusion – the mentioned features are crucial for protecting customer data and trade secrets in the era of data breaches. Organizations can easily take advantage of extra robust feature functionality by obtaining a cybersecurity platform that incorporates all those capabilities necessary for a complete solution that meets and exceeds your requirements.

How Are Automated Incident Response Playbooks Crucial to an Effective IR Program

Considering that we live and work in an increasingly connected world, it can be said that nowadays there is no organization that is immune to cyber attacks and data breaches. No matter how sophisticated your cyber defense is, you always need to be prepared for all eventualities that might arise from potential vulnerabilities within your computer networks or systems. That is why having a proper cyber incident response plan in place is crucial to the security of every organization since it enables you to detect and respond to cyber security breaches as quickly and efficiently as possible. For a cyber incident response plan to be successful, it should rely on automated incident response playbooks that can provide an automated response to any cyber attack, reducing the time it takes to solve an incident and allowing your organization to resume operations as soon as possible.

Automated Computer Forensics and Remediation

By using a platform that incorporates automated playbooks, organizations streamline their cybersecurity. As the playbooks provide automated digital forensics and remediation of the target, in addition to prioritized workflows that help when responding to all threats in the most effective manner.

To put it briefly, automated cyber incident response playbooks replace several time-consuming and often very costly processes and tasks that need to be completed following an advanced cyber attack. Tasks like tracking and gathering evidence that usually takes a lot of time to complete which only prevents investigators from spending more time trying to solve the problem. With a platform that offers automated playbooks, your cyber security team can focus on analyzing an incident, instead of collecting information.

Quick Response to Every Specific Incident

Security incident response playbooks help cyber security teams select the workflow that’s best suited for a specific threat. This allows them to prioritize their response, as well as choose the right tools that are required to solve a problem. These kinds of playbooks are a paramount part of an automated and orchestrated incident response, which is a key requirement for every SOC and CSIRT.

In conclusion, businesses and organizations are searching for a solution that enables a quick recovery from cyber attacks and helps prevent future potential threats. Investing in a complete platform that includes automated playbooks is one of the wisest investments they can make to protect proprietary and critically valuable information.

A Weekend in Incident Response #5: Reducing the Risks of Cyber Attacks in the Healthcare Sector

The healthcare industry is under a constant threat of cyber attacks, mostly due to the fact that organizations within this sector keep a variety of confidential and pertinent information, such as credit card information, social security numbers, insurance-related information, and some believe most importantly personal medical records.

A recent report states that healthcare entities have been under increased risk of targeted attacks lately, including phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, and network hacking attacks. The heightened risk for cyber attacks points to a growing need for enhanced protection, in addition to raising awareness of the different types of cyber attacks that many healthcare organizations are facing.

Healthcare Surpasses Financial Sector as the Most Frequently Attacked Industry

According to data provided by Advisen and Hiscox, the average cost of a cyber incident in the healthcare industry cost $150,000. A recent report published by IBM states that the healthcare industry was attacked more frequently than any other sector last year, replacing the financial services sector at the top. According to the report, over 100 million healthcare records were compromised in 2015, which is a staggering figure by all standards.

The Advisen and Hiscox report also notes that there has been a 1.6-times increase in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations in the last five years. This statistic suggests that entities such as hospitals and clinics, need to ramp up their efforts for ensuring HIPAA compliance because it is one of the key steps toward achieving improved protection against cyber attacks.

Detecting Ransomware and Phishing Attacks

Currently, the most common cyber threats faced by healthcare entities include phishing attacks and ransomware. These are the most commonly used techniques by hackers trying to retrieve confidential patient information that is critical to protect. The best practices for preventing such threats involve data encryption tools, which are recommended for all covered entities.

Another solution that can be useful to healthcare organizations is a software that can create rules and can be integrated with different tools that can be adjusted in a way that allows them to automatically detect and report problems. Platforms with such capabilities should be a crucial part of each entity’s cyber defense efforts.

How to React in Case You Are Attacked

Even though there are tools designed to detect and prevent ransomware and phishing attacks, hackers often manage to find a way to go around all sorts of defenses and breach even the most sophisticated security armors. When that happens, organizations must be prepared to react as quickly and as effectively as possible with a proven solution.

To that end, all covered entities, including healthcare organizations, need to have a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) in place. In order to help their CSIRT resolve cyber incidents, entities are advised to acquire platforms that have the ability to automatically notify CSIRTs when a cyber attack occurs, be it via e-mail or SMS, and gather a team of investigators to do the forensics on a given incident.

Incident Response platforms featuring specialized playbooks are also necessary for tackling healthcare-related incidents. They are the most indicated tool for resolving cyber incidents fast and efficiently, through their ability to accelerate the incident triage process, integrate with forensics and response systems, and predict similar events in the future. Some of those platforms (SIRPs) are also able to provide playbooks for vertical regulation, such as HIPAA and similar.

NIS Directive With New Cybersecurity Requirements Goes into Effect in the EU

Back in July, the European Parliament adopted the Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS Directive), which is primarily aimed at enhancing network and information security within the European Union. The NIS Directive officially went into effect in August 2016, and Member States now have 21 months to implement it.

In what represents one of the first concrete steps toward making sure all EU-Member States follow a standard and uniform set of rules when it comes to the security of networks and information systems, the NIS introduces a series of requirements that are going to have to be complied with by operators of critical infrastructures and digital service providers when reporting cyber incidents and when handling cyber-security issues.

Cybersecurity Incident Reporting Requirements

Once this Directive starts being enforced, all Operators of Critical Infrastructures within the European Union, which include organizations in various sectors, such as transport, banking, energy, financial market infrastructure, health, drinking water, and digital infrastructure, as well as Digital Service Providers – including organizations providing cloud computing services, online marketplaces, and search engines – to comply with specific rules when notifying their relevant NIS national authorities of serious cyber-security incidents.

Operators of Critical Infrastructures and Digital Service Providers will have to implement a set of security measures that are appropriate to the risks faced, as well as risk assessment, as part of a culture of risk management which is supposed to be promoted by authorities in each Member State through the introduction of appropriate regulatory requirements.

The requirements that will apply to Operators of Critical Infrastructures and to Digital Service Providers include immediately notifying the NCA or the CSIRT about any “significant” or “substantial” incident, along with informing the relevant authorities on their own security policies that are designed to ensure the security of networks and information systems.

National NIS Strategies, Single Points of Contact and National Competent Authorities

The NIS Directive will make it mandatory for Member States to develop national NIS strategies, form National Competent Authorities (NCA) and Single Points of Contact (SPoC), and assign specific NIS tasks to Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs).

This requirement is part of the efforts for enhancing the cross-border cooperation when it comes to cyber incidents, in a bid to improve the overall cyber security across the European Union.

NIS Directive and Incident Response

With the introduction of the NIS Directive, all organizations that it applies to will need to have a platform that provides an orchestrated Incident Response and helps prepare reports for the investigation that follows each incident.

Given that this type of platform will become mandatory, businesses affected by this Directive are advised to start exploring the market for orchestrated incident response platforms as soon as possible.

One of the greatest benefits of using such a platform is that it has the ability to enhance the entire incident response process and all security operations, allowing businesses to meet the best practices and criteria recommended by Gartner, among others. One of Gartner’s recommendations refers to implementing SOAR technologies by:

  • Consolidating data and extracting actionable insight from a variety of intelligence sources and existing security technologies
  • Prioritizing risk and security operation activities in the context of your attack surface and business
  • Automating security processes to reduce resource drain and threat response times
  • Enabling full SOM coverage by strategically combining SOAR technologies