Automate or Die Without Breaking Your Internet

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:

  1. How reliable are the detection and identification?
  2. What is the potential detrimental impact if the automation goes wrong?
  3. 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.

A Weekend in Incident Response #27: Small Businesses Need to Improve Their Ability to Respond and Eradicate Cyber Incidents

Small businesses may not be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when talking about prime targets for cyber attackers. This is because government agencies, corporations, along with organizations and companies that are part of a country’s critical infrastructure are much more coveted targets, due to the high reward potential associated with them – both in terms of financial gains and retrieving confidential information. However, data breaches and other types of cyber incidents have recently become a common occurrence for many small businesses. Hackers are increasingly trying to gain access to the emails and acquire personal and other confidential information of their employees that are in charge of handling the companies’ finances.

One of the reasons why small businesses are seeing a rise in cyber attacks and data breaches is that cyber criminals have become increasingly aware of the fact that hacking into a small business’ computer network is fairly easy, in part due to the low cyber-security awareness of their employees. Additionally, the cyber defense programs and solutions that small businesses utilize are weak or even non-existent, thus making them easy prey despite not having a particularly high financial reward potential for cyber criminals. Lastly, small businesses have adapted to cloud services to conduct a large portion of their operations, and most cloud providers offer data encryption, making them extremely vulnerable to cyber threats.

What Criminals Are After

In most cases, the typical cyber attack on a small business’ computer network aims to retrieve a company’s financial information, employee records, customer records, as well as customer credit or debit card information, which they could later use to steal company funds, commit financial fraud, identity theft, or extortion.

The most common types of cyber security events faced by small businesses include phishing, SQL injections, malware, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and web-based attacks. The first line of defense against these attacks are a company’s employees. They need to go through cyber-security training to be able to recognize and detect a cyber threat – with statistics showing that a large part of data breaches are related to employee inattention.

Security Automation Is the Next Line of Defense

While cyber-security training for employees is something that every company needs to provide in this age of constant threat of cyber attacks, that alone is not enough to protect businesses against all potential cyber security incidents. Raising employee cyber-security awareness should be followed up by implementing appropriate solutions aimed at detecting, tracking, and eradicating cyber security incidents. In that regard, small businesses could use a security automation and orchestration platform, which can greatly reduce their reaction time following a cyber incident, and prepare them for more timely detection and prevention of future attacks.

Such a platform can help you protect customer and employee information, as well as valuable financial information, since it is capable of assessing the scope of the incident, identifying the affected device or devices, and containing the damage, by providing complete reports on the damages occurred, in addition to providing specialized rules and strategies that allow cyber-security professionals to react much more quickly and effectively to eradicate the incident. These types of platforms are the most straightforward and effective solution for small businesses’ concerns regarding cyber threats, which they are only going to see more of in the near future.

A Weekend in Incident Response #15: Responding to Increasingly Common DDoS Attacks Through Automated Playbooks

Cyber-attackers never stop inventing new and more creative methods and techniques that are supposed to be more difficult to prevent. One of the most common types of attacks nowadays are the DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service attacks) , which are on the rise recently, unlike data breaches, according to the 2017 Cyber Incident & Breach Response Guide issued by the Online Trust Alliance.

Mitigating DDoS attacks is complicated and time-consuming. They often last several days and even weeks, bringing an organization’s operations to a complete halt for prolonged periods of time. It takes a coordinated effort from an organization’s CSIRT, C-level and its Internet Service Provider (ISP). Since it can take a lot of time to recover from a DDoS attack, it’s essential to have a response plan in place that is specifically designed to respond to these types of cybersecurity incidents. This will help reduce the team’s response time, contain the damage, and resume operations as soon as possible.

DDoS Attack Playbooks

In order to prepare for a future DDoS attack, it’s recommended that organizations utilize a cyber incident response platform, which has the ability todetect, predict and respond to various types of cybersecurity incidents. These platforms provide specialized automated playbooks for the different types of incident, allowing organizations to automate the immediate response to a cybersecurity event and give their SOC and CSIRT the time to focus on recovery and making the organization’s systems fully functional as soon as possible.

Effective Containment and Recovery

A typical DDoS attack playbook includes the key aspects of a cyber incident response, such as analysis, containment, remediation, recovery, and post-incident actions. By employing such a playbook, the organization can quickly determine the specific part of the infrastructure that has been affected by the attack, so that the team can know the necessary actions required to take in order to resolve the incident. A pre-defined playbook will help organizations contain the damage by notifying the SOC and CSIRT on how to block the DDoS attack based on the analysis performed by the incident response platform.

After you have taken the proposed actions to contain the incident, the playbook will guide you through the remediation process. It will involve contacting your ISP and notifying law enforcement, which is where a cyber incident response platform’s capability to create automated incident reports comes in handy, too.

Finally, if you are utilizing a cyber incident response platform, you will have the possibility to enhance your preparedness for future cybersecurity events, by creating statistical reports that contain all the necessary metrics, which you can use to adjust your response to different types of attacks.