Tag Archive | security

Stay in the security picture and avoid the ransomware revival

Everyone loves a sequel – just look at how well the latest Toy Story instalment is performing at the box offices. But there’s one sequel that we could all do without: Ransomware 2. It’s back, and like the best horror movie villains, it’s nastier and bolder than ever before.

Ransomware 2 has already claimed a number of high-profile victims. At the end of June, two US cities paid around $500,000 each to get files and data unlocked following successful attacks. The bill for Norsk Hydro, a global aluminium producer, was even higher. It didn’t pay the ransom, but it still paid the price.

The entire workforce had to resort to pen and paper when ransomware took hold across 22,000 computers in 40 different countries – Norsk Hydro is still recovering nearly three months later. On average, a ransomware attack results in seven days of downtime.

Although the Norsk Hydro’s tough stance has boosted its reputation; it’s also damaged its bottom line – the cost of the attack has already topped £45 million. The company is not the first to end up with a multi-million dollar bill: the Baltimore City government was hit with a massive ransomware attack that left it crippled for over a month, with a loss value of more than $18 million.

The resurgence of ransomware is not surprising – it’s a proven business model and a repeatable one. It works not only at an enterprise level but a personal level too. Individuals can be just as willing to pay a ransom to unlock personal data, such as family photos and financial files, if they are the targeted by an attack.

So how do you avoid joining the ransomware ranks? Although ransomware is powered by malicious software, it still needs human interaction to succeed. Just one click on a spam email or an infected ad is all it needs for a ransomware attack to be initiated. Even a visit to a legitimate website can land you in trouble, if the site is infected with code installed to redirect users to a malicious website.

Better user education can help prevent ransomware being unleashed – whether it’s on a home device or a business computer – but it will never completely eliminate the risk. So organisations need to be ready to fight back when the ransomware ball starts rolling, which means they need robust protection from the DNS layer to the email and the endpoint.

Blocking spam and phishing emails along with malicious attachments and URLs is an important first step. But the need to balance employee flexibility with IT security means the net can never be fully closed.

Even if someone clicks on a malicious link or file, organisations can still supress an attack. If ransomware can’t connect back to the mothership, it can’t be activated.

With thousands of DNS requests being initiated across an enterprise every day, detecting which ones are genuine and which are malicious requires highly sophisticated technology. Instead of proxying all web traffic, intelligent ransomware defence solutions will route requests to risky domains for deeper URL and file inspection. They will also be able to draw  on contextual security to identify unusual and potentially unsafe requests from individual endpoints.

These insights enable IT teams to make quick risk judgements that block threats without blocking genuine business activity. With new risks emerging all the time, ransomware defence solutions need to receive constant updates on the latest sources of malicious content.

If the call back to a command and control server is successful, there are still ways to contain a ransomware attack before it proliferates across an entire organisation. For example, dynamic segmentation can prevent ransomware from travelling across the network – helping to avoid a full-scale outage as experienced by Norsk Hydro.

By taking a layered approach to security, organisations and individuals can mount multiple defences against ransomware whether it’s launched via the web or email. And they will need every one of these defences because Ransomware 2 looks like it’s going to be a blockbuster. Ransomware damages are predicted to reach $11.5 billion in 2019.

Stay safe until next time.

Colin Williams

Business Line CTO Computacenter UK – Networking and Security

https://www.coveware.com/blog/2019/4/15/ransom-amounts-rise-90-in-q1-as-ryuk-ransomware-increases

https://cybersecurityventures.com/ransomware-damage-report-2017-part-2/

2019 Security Predictions – “Ensure the basics are BRILLIANT”

Happy New Year and I hope the festive break was “a break”. Some continue to work throughout the festive season (or the global economy would meltdown), but for many back to work for 2019 started in earnest this week. I have so far avoided 2019 “predictions”, “prophecies”, “educated articulation of interesting stuff” to date based on so many of them circulating the social media and email landscape. However, a fair few messages asking for a perspective on the networking and security world for 2019 have stimulated me to scribble a few words.

And here comes the shock, I will be quite boring with my summary of the market and technology impacts for 2019 (well at least the first half) because I will continue to encourage to all who will listen that the most important edict they can institutionalize in their own psyche and the organisational operational IT approach is to ensure the basics are “brilliant”. Modern business should only have a single state, secure business with an unintentionally insecure environment almost unthinkable in the digital age. As the creation, processing, analysis and management of digital data streams continue to underpin and energize both user and business outcomes an intentionally secure by design philosophy is the only way to stem the attack tide.

Security isn’t the task of security professionals alone, but every application or system user with a level of consciousness about the consequence of breach or failure must now acknowledge “intentional security” is the responsibility of all.

Ensuring the basics are brilliant, with security controls mapped to business activity, outcome and consequence, with auditing and automation leveraged to optimize operations will increase the level of certainly of a user or organisations security posture.

·        Privileged account security

·        Multi factor authentication

·        Managed encryption.

·        Vulnerability management PLUS

·        Identity management PLUS

·        Enterprise anti phishing with associated user education

·        Intelligent endpoint security (user or things)

Can you embrace how boring the list above may seem – hopefully that’s the case. The list above are subset of the “Brilliant Basics” that MUST underpin the secure defences of all. You are possibly about to click away from this screen buoyed by the view “we have got all of those” and that may be the case. But even with great guidance from Cyber Essentials, CIS, NIST, etc many organisations I meet are a snippet of “luck” away from a comprehensive breach due to absence, failure or poor execution of the controls above with the negative consequence avoidable.

If there is no auditable and actively managed operational state of the items mentioned above integrated together to ensure security is seamless, intentional, proactive why consider the wealth of advanced and esoteric new products showcased daily – get the basics right.

So my 2019 ask so early in the year is to be brutal and rigorously appraise the brilliance of your “basic” security controls. Are they operational consistent, audited, integrated, holistic, bidirectional from an information and threat exchange, automated where possible – score your current state.

Why make it easier to be breached when organisations highly engineered, often very expensive, operational complex defences fail due to the failure to control the controllables or optimise the known basic elements.

Until next time.

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

LOB CTO – Networking and Security Computacenter UK

Note: This perspective is the viewpoint of Colin Williams and does not constitute an opinion of Computacenter Group.

Black Friday – Cyber Monday. “Be a beneficiary not a casualty”

This must be the “strangest” of strange states as our consumer society evolves from zero “Black Fridays” to two – and gives my original article a second lease of life. The early bird resellers launched Black Friday part one last week attempting to steal a march on the masses, but the real frenzy and furore starts now with the default Black Friday fast approaching followed by Cyber Monday just around the corner.

These two shopping days were absent from my childhood as I lived a world of window shopping that on the odd occasions evolved to in store browsing when I sought to interact and engage with the myriad of products I hoped I could one day afford to buy. Click and collect didn’t exist but via a very thick paper based catalogue “click and deliver” was a highly rewarding activity with the click of buttons on the home phone followed by that feeling of Christmas when the catalogue item was delivered via the postal service (nothing ever fitted or looked as amazing as the catalogue pictures).

But as we fast forward to the present day with frequent announcements of the demise of the high street, much of our in store browsing is online (and frequently from a mobile device), click and collect / deliver an essential way of life and our approach to product selection and purchasing is now unrecognisable from a decade ago. Our immersion in social networks, digital procurement platforms and financial systems have helped to make many of us digital by default when we shift into product buying mode because the sheer breadth of offerings and convenience is unmatched.

But it comes with a health risk. The “digital me (or you)” and our always on entity existing on both known and unknown public platforms, ensures we become valid targets for attackers seeking to emulate our digital personas for financial gain. Black Friday signals the start of one of the busiest and most frenzied trading weekends of the year. The mix of in store and online price reductions results in both “want and need” based purchasing to ensure “too good to be true” deals are not missed, culminating on Cyber Monday with an online price war second to none.

Secure business, secure purchasing, secure user experience are often assumed by customers without a second thought of the cyber threat spectre waiting in the wings. This leaves many combing the net for deals, offers, codes or any other digital token to make “cheap” even “cheaper”, blissfully unware that many of those “benefits” are fake, malware ridden or designed to harvest personal credentials for future use.

Cyber Monday 2017 surpassed $6.7bn of sales which for both retailers and cyber treat actors is a prize too lucrative to ignore (stat CNBC). For retailers, getting the security basics right will be essential to ensure successful and secure consumer trading outcomes. DDOS mitigation, enhanced phishing protection, web application security, anti-malware, access review and least privilege are essential controls that must be tested and optimised in advance of the starting gun for Black Friday.

For consumers / users, education and heightened levels of cyber vigilance plus a realisation that too good to be true – “is too good to be true” when interacting with online systems prior to and beyond the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend. This is the time of year where spam and phishing Email volumes reach unprecedented levels with social engineering used to make those “offers” too compelling to ignore. DONT CLICK emails for “amazing deals and offers” – pure and simple as a moment of weakness may result in malware, ransomware or other forms of compromise taking hold of your digital persona and potentially that of your company. Its safer to visit the website of the vendor in question “directly”, no need to click a link that may not be from the company in question.   

If you want to be “online smart” a few simple things can deliver HUGE security enhancements to your Black Friday shopping experience. Ensure you turn on the two-factor (or multi) authentication and notification options on your various online email services and accounts with further security improvements gained by using a password manager to ensure different passwords are applied to various services you use.

Building the walls higher just won’t do, both vendors and consumers must work in tandem to ensure the most secure possible online and digital trading experience is realised by all reducing the potential for data breach or subsequent misuse.

Safe and happy shopping during Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018 (and beyond).

Until next time.

Colin W

Twitter: @Colinwccuk

LOB CTO UK: Networking and Security – Computacenter UK

The rise of machines – “Time to worry about the digital soul within”​.

Things just became really interesting.

The recent news is awash with worrying claims from a credible source of “hidden” spying chips embedded within the motherboard of a leading server manufacturer. As yet, no manufacturer has released a statement confirming their existence but the information illuminating the potential is compelling. Surely it forces us all to consider our own personal, personal and professional “digital state” in this heavily connected world. Do we technically appraise every computer based device we use at design and component level to determine the source, use and security impact of all of the minute elements that make the device work. Of course we don’t, not only would the majority of us struggle to find out how to even open the device (have you tried to open a modern mobile phone with the myriad of specialist tools and hidden pressure points to make things pop open), we no way of actually understanding the function and outcome delivered by the components (when they work in harmony).

Can we be sure the most innocuous of household device has no secret and potentially malicious embedded elements that whilst not explicitly installed to be utilized in a nefarious way in the right hands can’t be leveraged to invoke a surveillance, recording or tracking function? It is this total ambivalence to the likelihood of it, until possibly today that means the potential may be more likely that we ever dreamed.

The days of hardcoded firmware delivering static intelligence to all but the most expensive and programmable devices is from a bygone era. Even the simplest digital device consists of user or system driven remotely programmable aspects that in some cases are core to the function of the device. Whether it’s used from software updates, device troubleshooting or in the case of some advanced modern vehicles to deliver totally new functionality, device or system programmability is a fundamental aspect of modern IT that enhances the consumer or user experience by making it “personal”.

Could we be shifting to a position of worry so great that we “sweep for bugs” when entering a room or prior to switching a device on in true James Bond mode – highly unlikely. But I suggest the recent announcements will ensure many IT leaders and operational teams increase the priority of network based security visibility platforms, AI or machine learning systems that examine and re-examine the most granular elements of telemetry and security aware behavioral analytics platforms that understand things we can’t comprehend.

Ask yourself when considering the IT platforms that underpin your business (or social existence), what can you really see, are you sure you know how they work and do you really understand the security heart that beats within?

Who would have thought, we are not even close to the iconic year 2020 and already we may be worrying about the moral intent in the digital soul of our machines. The future ahead is likely to be way more interesting than we have ever previously dreamed.

Until next time.

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

LOB CTO UK – Computacenter Networking and Security

Time for network change: “If you can’t connect you won’t connect.”

It has become an intellectual tug of war to determine which is more important in the “connected” or “digital age” – networks or applications. Silly argument I hear you say, it’s obviously the …… not easy to answer. In the pre-connected world (if it really did exist), personal computing was as personal as possible, with no connectivity to / with anyone else. Local application, local storage, local processing and a local user made the need for a network superfluous. Fast forward to the present day with distributed processing, “the Internet”, streaming, “always on”, cloud based interaction and a socio digital culture with collaboration and engagement at its core. Without a network, the media rich, highly collaborative now fundamental “always present and connected” mode we embody at work or play is at best compromised and at worst eliminated.

We cannot envisage a world where the network doesn’t work, whether mobile carrier based entities or the home Wi-Fi, if you can’t connect you won’t connect. I spend most days in positive disruption mode challenging colleagues and customers to rethink the traditional approach to enterprise networking with the onus on automation to unlock agility and consolidation to drive simplification. The enterprise networks that underpin today’s digital reality are a wonderful amalgam of technology, people, process plus twenty years’ experience of “getting things to work”. But more is required by the network than a functional existence, as the carrier of our “Digital DNA” an optimised, flexible, agile network holds to the key to many of our future successes. It’s time to be “bold” – to embark on the network evolution required enterprises must dare to dream and envision the secure transport layer required for enhance current user interaction and energise future business outcomes. And when the dream presents the storyboard of how things should or must be, “make it so”.

Technical feature wars labouring the technology based rationale for network modification will be fruitless with a dead heat between vendors the likely end result. Only a user experience driven or business change inspired network transformation agenda will contain the intellectual and emotional energy required to overcome the cultural tides ahead. Wait and see changes and nothing, the time for change is now. With the right network, with tomorrow’s network today a potentially business limiting factor becomes business enabling. And not forgetting, if you get stuck – drop me a line.

“If you can’t connect you won’t connect”

Until next time.

Colin W

Twitter @colinwccuk

Chief Technologist Computacenter UK – Networking and Security.

Predictions: “Security 10 for 2017” – Time to consider where to act and to “Act now”

Once a year either at the end of an old or the start of a new year, I deliver a view on the forthcoming year. Common to many industry analysts who “call” the market, it’s a view based on customer sentiment (I speak to many many customers), extensive research, market knowledge and many years of experience (an elegant way of writing “gut feel”). This year I will release the “Security 10 for 2017” earlier than normal to reduce the comparison to other market perspectives that will appear on mass in January. Important note: the views within are my own and do not constitute the views of Computacenter Group.

This overview will be slightly longer than my normal 400 – 500 words, however I hope you understand the content deserves the extra literary real estate. Happy reading.

1: IOT attacks will increase

Focus on IOT non-human devices with weak security may increase as they become the ideal candidates to be used as botnets or drones. The weaker security layers within IOT devices with less evolved security components may result in the industry acting in catch up mode as each compromise signposts the remediation required and the next likely targets. There is no easy fix in sight with between 24 and 50 million IOT connected devices expected by 2020 but security basics including changing default passwords and remaining in tune with vendor software and patch updates are mandatory first steps. Key tip when considering IOT to deliver a business outcome, start with security in mind and end with security by default.

2: DDOS mega attacks will continue and worsen

DDOS attacks haven’t gone away, in fact Akamai cite a 125% increase in year on year attacks. With an increased volume of bots enabled via compromised IOT platforms and the real world turmoil generated by the massive DYN DDOS attack in October, attackers may consider the potential for disruption second to none. DDOS protection solutions have been deploy and forget for far too long with insufficient proactive scrutiny of logs and early warning alerts that may indicate a future larger attack is pending. Now is the time to fully understand the protection delivered by the service provider as a minimum to determine the likelihood of a successful attack.

3: Rise of insider (user) driven attacks.

Sadly humans can be a weak link with non-malicious user errors and insiders encouraged, bribed or bullied into undertaking actions that compromise systems. As client and datacentre security solutions increase in capability, therefore deliver enhanced protection, the user remains the least protected vector. User awareness, education and (with emphasis on accountability and liability) is continually highlighted as essential – now is the time to act and assign the highest priority level possible to security education for end users.

4: Last minute rush for GDPR compliance

Common to other historical compliance requirements, GDPR may suffer from a yearlong “wait and see” with the result slow progress, then a crisis driven rush to design and deploy solutions. GDPR shines a light on privacy with emphasis on data that contains personally identifiable information must be secure by default. The journey to compliance starts with awareness of the key GDPR directives, quickly followed by the need to understand the type of data in existence, where it resides across the enterprise and whether it is within the scope of GDPR. GDPR assessment and remediation solutions will be a major business impacting activity through 2017.

5: Social engineering attacks may become undetectable

Social engineering attacks may become so personalised and well-crafted they may be hard to detect from a human or systems perspective. Whether it’s sales driven “Black Friday” or the Christmas “social” season updates, the endless stream of social media publicised events may act as a catalyst to drive increased volumes of “better than good enough” phishing messages with amazing offers (that sadly deliver a malware payload or redirect). Social engineering is an area positively affected by enhanced user awareness and education.

6: Ransomware may spiral out of control

2016 has proved a successful year for ransomware with ransoms increasing in size and frequency – 2017 may see attacks increase rather than decrease. Recent vendor commentary indicates as many as 54% of UK businesses have experienced some form of attack (source: malwareBytes). Ransomware authors based of the sheer volume of malware released have access to an unprecedented amount of potential human targets. Client security solution enhancement, with the arrival of specialist anti exploit solutions may slow the ransomware march but not without the assistance of greatly increased end user security education. The fear of modern ransomware will drive a review of existing endpoint security technologies to reduce or eliminate the number of “first casualties” as surely one casualty is one too many

7: Cloud computing specific attacks will increase.

With organisations moving to the cloud, dedicated attacks (compromised permissions, etc) on cloud delivered applications and workloads may become the norm based on the potential to gain the largest prize. Cloud platforms are extremely well protected but the long list of potential attack vectors including credential theft, DDOS, data theft, compromise via zero day exploits and many other general security attacks (but targeted at cloud computing) may steadily increase as enterprises accelerate their use of cloud computing solution delivery modes.

8: Credential theft will continue to rise.

A robust digital identity is fast becoming a key deliverable within modern enterprises to facilitate secure single sign on across multiple platforms. This makes a stolen credential more lucrative than ever. Digital identity and credential theft may rise to the top of the security risk agenda for many organisations with digital credentials the golden key to both known and unknown “digital enterprise locks”. Attackers are familiar with the process of stealing credentials for access or to create subsequent hidden and elevated credentials for use during an attack. A least privilege, zero trust approach to IT security must become the new normal.

9: Banking and payment system attacks will increase.

As the world moves to digital payment by default, compromise of a payment system, ATM, contactless platform or digital financial services intermediary may deliver a major shock to the confidence of the financial sector as a whole. We now have attacks on banking and payment systems that have successfully breached existing defences leveraging both known and unknown techniques. This may encourage attackers to invest further to ensure they remain one step ahead of not just those defending but equally other assailants seeking to attack first then disappear. Enhanced visibility is a must with assistance delivered by big data and machine learning enabled advanced security platforms to proactively stargaze “what could happen next” before it occurs.

10: Dedicated attacks on “HomeHub” smart technology

We are entering an era of smart home devices and intelligent digital assistants. This style of attack may exhibit nothing previously seen and include highly non standard attack modes including homes held to “thermal ransom” with heating systems shut down or the potential for unexpected orders / purchases from voice activated digital assistants that may not be detected until a later date. It is a valid assumption that “smart home” technology with wireless enabled devices, creating and accessing data continually will permeate even the most basic home / work environment. Protection of smart home / IOT platforms will evolve as adoption increases, but the initial lag may create a window of opportunity for attackers.

 

The “Security 10 for 2017”mentioned could be 20, 30 or 100 depending on the enterprise, vertical market and enterprise current state. A few of the perspectives mentioned may concur with other industry / market watchers and others may even deliver a totally different viewpoint. However all are areas of potential attack or compromise that should be considered to determine the likelihood of a successful attack and therefore form part of a pre-emptive protection or remediation plan for 2017.

2017 will be the year good enough security may not be “good enough”. Now is the time respond to minimize the need to react.

Until next time.

Colin

Twitter: @colinwccuk

Chief Technologist Computacenter UK:   Networking, Security and Collaboration

Important note: the views within are my own and do not constitute the views of Computacenter Group.

 

Time to change security – “no time for more of the same.”

I haven’t scribbled a blog for a while. Rather than bombard the web with yet more content and conjecture to add to the mass already present, I need a “discussion catalyst” to compel me to write. And it arrived on the front page of the Times newspaper today proclaiming “500m users hit by the biggest hack in history” (due to recently released findings from a 2014 attack).

I mentioned in previous blogs and commentary that those no longer sensationalist, but instead factual headlines may sadly continue with each one correctly announcing a breach bigger than the last. It’s time to rethink information security because the rules of the game have fundamentally changed. As an IT industry with extremely competent security professionals the time has come for hard conversations, which discuss difficult problems that drive and deliver far reaching change. The legacy approach to design, implement and support information security platforms should not be fully jettisoned overnight but a failure to understand the efficacy of the whole solution to deliver “known, measured and maintained (or enhanced)” levels of security can no longer be accepted as valid or sound behaviour (I apologise if this is overly hard hitting).

There are numerous highly viable reasons why a multi-vendor security infrastructure and security software environment can deliver secure business / IT workload outcomes. But any environment with siloed platforms that do not inform or update each other via vendor proprietary, industry standard data exchange layers or leverage other platforms that correlate and represent actionable information may be as useful as no security layer at all. I am not advocating a single vendor security environment (although it can unlock a number of notable advantages) but I am leaning to a “greatly reduced” vendor environment as the complex web of devices pervasive across many enterprise IT estates, delivers a false sense of security can be the perfect landing zone for an attacker.

Add to that, the importance and non-negotiable educational requirement to formally enhance the knowledge of IT system and application users of the “responsibility and accountability” they personally hold to protect the digital assets they interact with daily. Almost without exception the major hacks and attacks originate from an inadvertently compromised user (tricked or bribed) with the end result a valid way in for an attacker to undertake the reconnaissance necessary to undertake the main attack. It’s time for all IT users to change their level of understanding and intimacy with IT security outcomes with the result a major step towards helping the wider enterprise security programme to operate effectively.

The Times newspaper headline displayed the passport picture and details of Michelle Obama – as we continue to discuss the growing importance of digital identity with a passport one indelible example of an identity deemed more important than most, a system attack that successfully obtained the personal details of one of the most highly protected individuals in the world highlights that no one is safe and everyone is a potential target.

IT security 2020 is required today and required now. It starts with an understanding of current IT and digital assets, gap analysis of posture aligned with compliance, platforms and systems that interact together, user education and greatly increased end to end visibility of the whole estate. I could go on as the steps required are many fold, but they are not steps we don’t already know or shouldn’t be undertaking today. No change is unacceptable, more of the same is unacceptable. Sadly we can be sure that the next big breach will be bigger than the last but ideally no one wants to the star of the headline.

Time for security change – change is now

Until next time

Colin W

@colinwccuk