CISO Challenges and the Best Way to Manage Them

Faced with a growing threat landscape, a shortage of skilled cyber security professionals, and non-technical employees who lack awareness of cyber security best practices, to name a few, CISOs are continuously confronted with a number of existing and new challenges. To mitigate some of these challenges by eliminating security threats and minimizing security gaps, they must make some critical strategic decisions within their organizations.

Even though we are only at the beginning of April, 2018 is already proving to be a year of increasing cyber incidents, with security threats spanning across a range of industry sectors, impacting both the private and public sectors alike. We have seen many data breaches including Uber, Facebook and Experian that have made it clear that no organization, not even the corporate giants, are safe from these cyber threats and attacks.  We are now also seeing newly evolving threats affecting the popular and latest smart devices including products such as Alexa and Goоgle Home. New technology not fully tested, or security vulnerabilities from IoT devices being brought into the workplace, now bring additional concerns for CISOs and their security teams, as they try to proactively defend and protect their corporate networks.

This problem seems quite simple to identify in that corporate policies are not being updated fast enough to keep up with dynamic changes and advancements in technology, as well as to cope with the increasing sophistication of advancing threats, but managing this problem is seemingly more difficult. This generates an additional set of challenges for CISOs to enforce policies that still need to be written, while conquering internal corporate bureaucracy to get them created, modified or updated. This is just one challenge. Let’s now discuss a few more and some suggested actions to manage them.

How CISOs Can Overcome Their Challenges

CISOs in international corporations need to focus on global compliance and regulations to abide with a range of privacy laws, including the upcoming European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This new regulation due to come into force on May 25th, 2018 has set the stage for protection of consumer data privacy and in time we expect to see other regulations closely follow suite. International companies that hold EU personal identifiable information inside or outside of the EU will need to abide by the regulation and establish a formalized incident response procedure, implement an internal breach notification process, communicate the personal data breach to the data subject without delay, as well as notify the Supervisory Authority within 72 hours, regardless of where the breach occurred. Organizations need to report all breaches and inform their affected customers, or face fines of up to 20 million Euros or four percent of annual turnover (whichever is higher). A new law called the Data Security and Breach Notification Act is also being worked on presently by the U.S. Senate to promote this protection for customers affected.  This new legislation will impose up to a five year prison sentence on any individual that conceals a new data breach, without notifying the customers that had been impacted.

So how can CISOs proactively stay ahead of the growing number of cyber security threats, notify affected customers as soon as possible and respond within 72 hrs of a breach? The key is to carry out security risk assessments, implement the necessary procedures, as well as utilize tools that can help facilitate Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR), such as the IncMan SOAR platform from DLFabs. IncMan has capabilities to automate and prioritize incident response and related enrichment and containment tasks, distribute appropriate notifications and implement an incident response plan in case of a potential data breach.  IncMan handles different stages of the incident response and breach notification process including providing advanced reporting capabilities with appropriate metrics and the ability to gather or share intelligence with 3rd parties. This timely collection of enriched threat intelligence helps expedite the incident response time and contribute to better management of the corporate landscape.

The Need to Harden New Technology Policies

Endpoint protection has also become a heightened concern for security departments in recent months, with an increasing number of organizations facing multiple ransomware and zero days attacks. New technologies used by employees within the organization, not covered by corporate policies, such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of things (IoT) have brought new challenges to the CISOs threat landscape. One example as we mentioned earlier are gadgets such as Alexa or Google Home, where users bring them into the office and connect them to the corporate WIFI or network without prior approval. When connected to the network, they can immediately introduce vulnerabilities and access gaps in the security network that can be easily exploited by hackers.

Devices that are not managed under corporate policies need to be restricted to a guest network that cannot exploit vulnerabilities and should not be allowed to use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA).  CISOs need to ensure that stricter corporate policies are implemented to restrict and manage new technologies, as well as utilizing tools such as an Endpoint Protection Product (EPP) or Next-Generation Anti Virus (NGAV) solution to help prevent malware from executing when found on a user machine. NAGV tools can learn the behaviors of the endpoint devices and query a signature database of vaccines for exploits and other malware on real time to help expedite containment and remediation to minimize threats.

Maximizing Resources With Technology as a Solution

With the significant increase in the number of and advancing sophistication of potential cyber security threats and security alerts, combined with a shortage of cyber security staff with the required skill set and knowledge, CISOs are under even more pressure to protect their organizations and ask themselves questions such as: How do I effectively investigate incidents coming in from so many data points? How can I quickly prioritize incidents that present the greatest threat to my organization? How can I reduce the amount of time necessary to resolve an incident and give staff more time hunting emerging threats?

They will need to assess their current organization security landscape and available resources, while assessing their skill level and maturity.  Based on the company size it may even make business sense to outsource some aspects, for example by hiring a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) to manage alert monitoring, threat detection and incident response. CISOs should also evaluate the range of tools available to them and make the decision whether they can benefit from utilizing Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) technology to increase their security program efficiency and effectiveness within their current structure.

Security Infrastructure and Employee Training Are Paramount

In summary, CISOs will be faced with more advancing challenges and increasing threats and these are only set to continue over the coming months. They should ensure that their security infrastructures follow sufficient frameworks such as NIST, ISO, SANS, PCI/DSS, as well as best practices for application security, cloud computing and encryption.   

They should prepare to resource their security teams with adequate technology and tools to respond to threats and alerts and to minimize the impact as much as feasibly possible, with set policies and procedures in place. To enforce security best practices across all departments of the company, it is important that security decisions are fully understood and supported by the leadership team as well as human resources, with a range of corporate policies to meet the challenges of ever changing technologies.

CISOs need to promote security best practices and corporate policies, industry laws regulations and compliance by educating and training relevant stakeholders, starting with employees. The use of workshops, seminars, websites, banners, posters and training in all areas of the company will heighten people’s awareness to threats and exploits, increasing their knowledge, while also teaching them the best way to respond or to raise the alarm if there is a potential threat. The initial investment in education and training may be a burden on time and resources but in the long run will prove beneficial and could potentially prevent the company from experiencing a serious threat or penalty from non-compliance.

Completing a full analysis of current resources, skill sets and security tools and platforms will all play a part when deciding whether in-house or outsourced security operations is the best approach, but the benefits of using SOAR technology to leverage existing security products to dramatically reduce the response and remediation gap caused by limited resources and the increasing volume of threats and incidents, as well as to assist with important breach notification requirements, should not be overlooked.

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK) in Action

We released our Machine Learning Engine PRISM in our most recent 4.2 release. The first capability that we developed from PRISM is our Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK). This capability will change the way incident responders and SOC analysts respond to incidents, and how they share and transfer their entire knowledge to the rest of the team. The key to this capability is that it learns from your own analyst’s responses to historical incidents to guide the response to new ones.

We are not re-inventing the wheel with this feature. SOC and Incident Response teams have been doing this the old-fashioned way for a long time – through 6-12 months training. What we’re doing is providing a GPS and Satellite Navigation, guiding the wheel and giving you different paths to choose from according to the terrain you are in.

We do this by analyzing incidents and their associated attributes and observables, to work out how closely they are related. Then we can suggest actions and playbooks based on your organizations’ historical responses to similar threats and incidents.

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK)

Using Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK) in IncMan

Step 1: Not really a step – as it’s done automatically by Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK), but this occurs in the background for every incoming incident. Every Incident possesses a feature space1 that contains all the information related to it, composed of every attribute, associated observable and attached evidence. ARK analyses the feature spaces associated with every incident ever resolved. When a new incident is opened, it is scored and ranked and then compared by ARK to the historical model to identify related incidents or actions based on similar and shared attributes. The weighting of the ranking can be customized by analysts.

 

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK)

 

Step 2: Open the incident, selecting the applicable incident type. To save time, you can create an incident template to prepopulate some of the contexts automatically in future.

 

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK)

 

Step 3: Select Playbooks, and PRISM.

In the next screen, you will see a variety of suggested related actions and related incidents based on the feature space that your incident type is matched with. The slider at the top is used to determine the weighting in ranking for actions that are suggested. For example, if I move the slider to the left, the entire feature space actions appear, then if I move the slider to the far-right only a few actions appear from highly ranked incidents.

 

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK)

 

 

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK)

 

Step 4: Determine which automation and actions you want to use from the suggestions. After saving, you will be presented with options such as Auto-Commit, Auto-Run, Skip Enrichment, Containment, Notification or Custom Actions. You have the ability to select only the actions you want to automate. If you are concerned about running containment automatically, for example, you just deselect those options.

 

Automated Responder Knowledge (ARK)

 

Step 5: The automated actions are executed, resolving the incident, based on prior machine-learning generated automated responder knowledge.

ARK is designed to facilitate knowledge transfer from senior to junior analysts and to speed up incident response by applying machine learning to automate the knowledge gathering and analysis.

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.

Security Event Automation and Orchestration in the Age of Ransomware

We have recently experienced a devastating wave of ransomware attacks such as Wannacry or ‘WannCrypt’ which spread to more than 200 countries across the globe. While Russia was hit hard, Spain and the United Kingdom saw significant damage to their National Health Services. Hospitals were forced to unplug their computers to stop the malware from spreading even further. This is just one of the security threats posed by special malware that encrypts computer files, network file shares, and even databases thereby preventing user access (Green 18-19). It happens in spite of heavy investments in a wide array of security automation and orchestration solutions and staff required to triage, investigate and resolve threats.

The primary problem is that organizations seem to be losing the battle against cyber attackers (Radichel, 2). The security administrators are overburdened and compelled to manually perform time-consuming and repetitive tasks to identify, track, and resolve security concerns across various security platforms. Notwithstanding the time and effort, it is difficult to analyze and adequately prioritize the security events and alerts necessary to protect their networks. Still, the inadequate visibility into the present activities of the security teams, metrics and performance leave security managers struggling to justify additional resources. It has long been accepted that the organizational efficiency depends heavily on the ability of the security system to reduce false positives so that analysts can focus on the critical events along with indicators of compromise.

Security event automation and orchestration ensures that an organization detects a compromise in real time. A rapid incident response ensures a quick containment of the threat. Through the automation of common investigation enrichment and response actions, as well as the use of a centralized workflow for performing incident response, it is possible to minimize response times and thus make the organization more secure. Security events automation and orchestration expedites workflows across the threat life-cycle in various phases. However, for the security team to deploy security automation and orchestration of event-driven security, there must be access to data concerning events occurring in the environment that warrant a response. To effectively employ event-driven security, automation should be embedded into processes that could introduce new threats to the environment (Goutam, Kamal and Ingle, 431). The approach requires that there be a way to audit the environment securely and trigger event based on data patterns that indicate security threat or intrusion. Of particular importance, continuous fine tuning of processes is required to make certain the events automation and orchestration being deployed is not merely automating the process, but providing long-term value in the form of machine learning and automated application of incident response workflows that have previously resolved incidents successfully.

At a time of increased cybersecurity threats, a structured approach can expedite the entire response management process from event notification to remediation and closure through automated orchestration and workflow. An automatic gathering of key information, the building of decision cases and the execution of critical actions to prevent and/or remediate cyber threats based on logical incident response processes are enabled. With security orchestration and event automation, various benefits are realized such as cost effectiveness, mitigation of security incidents and improved speed and effectiveness of the response. Hence, security event automation and orchestration is the real deal in containing security threats before real damage takes place.