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.

Security Orchestration and Response – Understanding the Noise

“Noise” is a prevalent term in the cyber security industry. DFLabs consistently receives feedback from vendor partners and clients that one of the major issues they face daily is the ability to sift through noise in order to understand and differentiate an actual critical problem from a wild goose chase.

Noise is vast amount of information passed from security products that can have little or no meaning to the person receiving this information. Typically, lots of products are not tuned or adapted for certain environments and therefore would present more information than needed or required.

Noise is a problem to all of us in the security industry, as there are meanings within these messages that are many times simply ignored or passed over for higher priorities. For example, having policies and procedures that are incorrectly identified or adapted or the product is not properly aligned within the network topology.

There is no one security product that can deal with every attack vector that businesses experience today. What’s more disturbing about this paradigm is that the products do not talk to each other natively, yet all these products have intelligence data that can overlay to enrich security and incident response teams.

Cyber incident investigative teams spending a vast number of hours doing simple administration that can be relieved by introducing an effective case management system. Given the sheer volume we can see from SIEM products on a day to day basis we can execute all of the human to machine actions and follow best practice per type of incident and company guidelines through automated playbooks.

Re-thinking about what information is being presented and how we deal with it is the biggest question. There are several ways to manage this:

• Fully automating the noise worthy tasks. If these are consistently coming into your Security Operations Center (SOC) causing you to spend more time on administration than investigation, it may be prudent to schedule the tasks in this manner.
• Semi-Automation of tasks can give your SOC teams more control of how to deal with huge numbers. Automating 95% of the task and then giving this last sign off a manual look over can heavily reduce time if your organisation is against completely automating the process.
• Leverage all your existing products to provide better insight into the incident. For example, leverage an existing active directory to lock out or suspend a user account if they log in outside of normal business hours. Additionally it’s possible to sandbox and snapshot that machine to understand what is happening. A key consideration here is to make sure not to disrupt work at every opportunity. It really is a balancing act, however depending on their privilege you may want to act faster for some users than others.

In 2017, the readiness and capability to respond to a variety of cyber incidents will continue to be at the top of every C-level agenda.

By leveraging the orchestration and automation capabilities afforded by IncMan™, stake holders can provide 360-degree visibility during each stage of the incident response life cycle. This provides not only consistency across investigations for personnel, but encourages the implementation of Supervised Active Intelligence™ across the entire incident response spectrum.

At DFLabs we showcase our capacity to reduce investigative time, incident dwell time all while increasing incident handling consistency and reducing liability. Arming your SOC teams with information prior to the start of their incident investigation will help to drive focus purely on the incidents that need attention rather than the noise.

If you’re interested in seeing how we can work together to grow your incident response capabilities, visit us at https://www.DFLabs.com and schedule a demonstration of how we can utilize what you already have and make it better.

From Ad-Hoc to SOC: First steps to growing your cyber incident response team capabilities in an ROI driven world

In my role as VP of Services at DFLabs, I get the opportunity to speak to stakeholders at every level pertaining to concerns they have about their current cyber incident response processes and how they are currently dealing with the challenges. From the analyst who deals with an ever-increasing number of alerts to the CISO who is constantly evaluating how best to apply limited funds and personnel, they all have one overwhelming concern; how best to build what they have into what is needed to successfully handle the evolving threats to data security.

Organizations typically will leverage the resources they currently possess. Spreadsheets become incident trackers. Ticketing and project management applications become investigation coordination repositories. Governance, risk and compliance software becomes the reporting platform. While the ROI for leveraging existing resources can’t be understated, the issue quickly becomes one of scalability. These systems comprised of patchwork applications that are unable to work together symbiotically are quickly outgrown.

We can all agree that no single solution is the magic bullet that will solve all incident response challenges. Any progress will begin with a centralized incident response orchestration platform that acts as a force multiplier for your existing personnel and resources. You wouldn’t use a spoon to dig a 6-foot hole when there are tools designed to dig the hole that are more efficient and effective. This platform should include at a minimum:

  • A solid platform of cyber incident management –A cost-effective incident management platform designed for each stage of the incident response life cycle is the foundation for immediate and long-term success and organizational expansion. A successful platform will be able to incorporate your existing infrastructure and personnel and increase their capabilities. It should not require hiring new personnel or expensive professional services to be effective.
  • Actionable intelligence – Intelligence feeds such as TAXII or other feeds that support STIX can add additional information that promotes informed decision making during each stage of the incident response life cycle.
  • Seamless integration with existing and future technologies – To expand with customer and infrastructure needs, an orchestration platform must be able to not only leverage existing technologies but offer the capability to expand for future integrations as needed.
  • True incident orchestration – Provides the ability to utilize Supervised Active Intelligence™ (SAI), to make informed decisions at each stage of the incident response life cycle while providing a 360-degree view of the incident. This includes critical incident enrichment data with a choice of Human to Machine and/or Machine to Machine actions with consistent, defendable, results across a variety of incident response scenarios.

At DFLabs we have integrated these features and more to give stakeholders the tools they require, built on a platform that gives them the confidence they need. DFLabs’ IncMan® is ranked as one of the most innovated incident response orchestration platform that provides the same unparalleled value to the incident responder as it does to the CISO. Our advanced technology empowers our customers to receive, respond and remediate cyber incidents at a total cost of ownership unavailable elsewhere.

If you’re interested in seeing how we can work together to grow your incident response capabilities while keeping an eye on the ROI bottom line, visit us at https://www.DFLabs.com and schedule a demonstration of how we can utilize what you already have and make it better.

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.