Latest Ransomware Attack Highlights the Need for Advanced Security Automation and Orchestration Solutions

The latest ransomware attack that broke out last Friday, affecting more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries by Sunday, once again highlighted the need for improved preparedness to respond to large-scale cyber incidents by implementing advanced security automation and orchestration solutions capable of containing the damage from such events. In this case, the attackers exploited a vulnerability in Windows Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, which had been discovered and kept quiet for exclusive use by the National Security Agency (NSA).

WannaCry, as the virus is called, is delivered via an email attachment and when executed, paralyzes computers running vulnerable Windows operating systems by encrypting their files. Once it encrypts a computer’s hard disk, WannaCry then spreads to vulnerable computers connected to the same network, and also beyond, via the Internet. This is in many ways a typical ransomware attack, infecting computers with a virus that has the ability to spread quickly to other vulnerable systems; however, the infection in this instance, and the speed at which it spread, was more intense than any other such attack in recent memory. The consensus among cyber security experts around the world is that the damage from this attack could have been reduced to a minimum, and more serious consequences could have been avoided, if organizations had been better prepared and had more effective cyber incident response plans and solutions in place.

Early Detection and Damage Containment via Automation and Orchestration

When affected by an attack such as WannaCry, after an organization’s computer system has been breached, the best thing that the organization can do is try to keep the incident under control by preventing the infection from spreading. There are various security solutions designed to achieve this end, but an automation and orchestration platform is arguably the best suited for the task. When an infected computer is detected, this platform can quickly isolate it in the early stages of an attack, blocking traffic to and from it to contain its spread, and thus reduce the business impact to a minimum.

Recovery and Remediation

Once containment is achieved, the platform provides organizations with the ability to quickly remediate the incident by guiding cybersecurity professionals through the entire process, using pre-defined playbook actions for a faster and more effective execution. The playbook actions can suggest the best remediation and recovery methods, and how to enforce them in the most effective manner. For instance, how to restore files and update the appropriate firewall rules.

All of the above is only a fraction of the capabilities of a typical automation and orchestration platform, a security tool that has become critical for any organization seeking to avoid the immense cost and long-lasting consequences of cyber-attacks such as WannaCry.

Cyber-attacks such as this one are only expected to become more common and more sophisticated in the future, and for this reason WannaCry should serve as an example of why now is the time for organizations serious about cyber security to focus on improving preparedness and containment capabilities through investment in advanced security automation and orchestration.

Security Analytics and Operations – Leveraging People, Processes and Technology to Secure the Network and the Bottom Line

According to an October 2016 Fortune Tech article by Jonathan Vanian, entitled Here’s How Much Businesses Worldwide Will Spend on Cybersecurity by 2020, organizations will be spending approximately $73.3 billion in 2016 on network security with a projected 36% increase totaling $101.6 billion in 2020. Stake holders know all too well that the pennies you save today may equate to dollars in lost revenue and fines tomorrow following a significant breach or personal information leak. Finding the balance between risk and ROI is the type of thing that keeps CISO’s and CTO’s sleepless at nights.

This becomes even more critical for multinational corporations as we approach the May 25, 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implementation date. Post GDPR implementation, failing to protect the data of EU citizens could result not only in lost reputation and accompanying revenue, but hefty fines totaling more than some information security budgets.

This brings into sharp focus the need to make the best use of the resources we have while ensuring that we invest in the strategies that provide us the best return. Striking a balance between technology and personnel allows us to leverage each one in a coordinated effort that makes each one a force multiplier for the other.

One of the true pleasures I get here at DFLabs is speaking to our customers, listening to their pain points and discussing how they are dealing with them both on a strategic and tactical level. It never ceases to amaze me how creative the solutions are and I’ve been blown away more than once by some truly outside of the box thinking on their part.

ESG Research recently published a whitepaper entitled Next Generation Cyber Security Analytics and Operations Survey where in one of the (many) takeaways is that the top 5 challenges for security analytics and operations consist of:

  1. Total cost of operations
  2. Volume of alerts don’t allow time for strategy and process improvement
  3. Time to remediate incidents
  4. Lack of tools and processes to operationalize threat intelligence
  5. Lack of staff and/or skill set to properly address each task associated with an alert

These 5 pain points come as no surprise and while there is certainly no “silver bullet” there are some steps we can take to lessen the severity and improve our cyber incident response position significantly.

Total Cost of Operations

Addressing the total cost of operations can be the biggest factor in building a solid security analytics and operations capability. The key here is to leverage the resources you currently possess to their maximum potential, be it personnel, processes or technological solutions. Automation and incident orchestration allows the blending of human to machine or machine to machine activities in a real-time incident response. This not only makes the best use of existing resources, but provides you the much-needed insight to determine where your funds are best spent going forward.

Volume of alerts don’t allow time for strategy and process improvement

In the whitepaper entitled Automation as a Force Multiplier in Cyber Incident Response I address the alert fatigue phenomenon and discuss ways to address it within your organization. The strategy discussed, including automatically addressing lesser priority or “nuisance” alerts will provide your operations team with additional time for strategizing and process evaluation.

Time to Remediate Incidents

We are certainly familiar with the term dwell time as it applies to InfoSec. One of the 5 focus areas outlined in Joshua Douglas’ paper entitled Cyber Dwell Time and Lateral Movement is granulated visibility and correlated intelligence. This requires a centralized orchestration platform for incident review and processing that provides not only automated response, but the ability to leverage intelligence feeds to orchestrate that response. Given this capability, that single pane of glass now becomes a fully functional orchestration and automation platform. Now we can see correlated data across multiple systems incidents providing us the capability to locate, contain and remediate incidents faster than we thought possible and reduce dwell time exponentially.

Lack of tools and processes to operationalize threat intelligence

The ability to integrate threat intelligence feeds into existing incidents to enrich the data or alternately to create incidents based on threat intelligence to proactively seek out these threats is integral to your security analytics and operations capabilities. This could be a centralized mechanism in your strategic response and an integral part of your orchestration and automation platform. The ability to coordinate this activity is referred to as Supervised Active Intelligence (SAI)™ and provides the ability to scale the response using the most appropriate methods based on fact-based and intelligence driven data. This coordination should enhance your existing infrastructure making use of your current (and future) security tools.

Lack of staff and/or skillset to properly address each task associated with an alert

Of all the pain points in security analytics and operations, this is the one I hear about most frequently. The ability to leverage the knowledge veterans possess to help grow less experienced team members is an age-old issue. Fortunately, this may be the easiest to solve given the capabilities and amount of data we have available and the process by which we can communicate these practices. Orchestration and automation platforms must include not only a Knowledge Base capable of educating new team members of the latest in IR techniques, but incident workflows (commonly called “Playbooks”) that provide the incident responder on his first day the same structured response utilized by the organizations veterans. This workflow doesn’t require the veteran to be present as the tactics, techniques and procedures have already been laid out to guide less experienced employees.

We’ve seen that there are some significant pain points when developing a structured security analytics and operations capability. However I hope you’ve also seen that each of those points can be addressed via orchestration and automation directed toward prioritizing the improvement of your existing resources, with an eye toward the 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.