Tag Archives: malware

Uh-Oh Cyber-News: Infect a Friend, Rebooting Boeings, No-Authentication Holes, and More.

Hi folks!

Herewith, the next installment in my ‘Uh-oh Cyber-News’ column – the one in which I keep you up to date with all that’s scarily fragile and frailly scary in the digital world.

Since the last ‘Uh-oh’ a lot has piled up that really needs bringing to your attention. Yep, the flow of ‘Uh-ohs’ has indeed turned from mere mountain-stream trickle to full-on Niagara levels. And that flow just keeps on getting faster and faster…

As a veteran of cyber-defense, I can tell you that in times past cataclysms of a planetary scale were discussed for maybe half a year. While now the stream of messages is like salmon in spawning season: overload! So many they’re hardly worth mentioning as they’re already yesterday’s news before you can say ‘digital over-DDoSe’. “I heard how they hacked Mega-Corporation X the other day and stole everything; even the boss’s hamster was whisked away by a drone!”…

Anyway, since the stream of consciousness cyber-scandals is rapidly on the up and up, accordingly, the number of such scandals I’ll be writing about has also gone up. In the past there were three of four per blogpost. Today: seven!

Popcorn/coffee/beer at the ready? Off we go…

1) Infect a Friend and Get Your Own Files Unlocked for Free.

Read on: Effective Hacker Headhunting…

A Brief History of DDoS Attacks.

And so it’s come to pass: the abbreviation ‘DDoS‘ has entered the lexicon to such an extent that it often doesn’t get written out in full these days in the general interest newspapers. Well, some actually may still not know what it stands for, but everyone and their dog does know that a DDoS is very bad thing for a certain large target, with something very important suddenly not working, with employees twiddling their thumbs as the network’s down, and with their tech-support’s telephones requiring an ice bath as they’re so hot from ringing – and disgruntled clients swearing down them all the time. What’s more, everyone and their cat also knows that normally a DDoS attack gets carried out by unknown, mysterious – and just plain bad – cyber-enemies.

DDoS attacks have evolved very quickly, as you’ll find out reading this blogpost. They’ve grown much nastier and become a lot more technically advanced; from time to time the adopt utterly unusual attack methods; they go after fresh new targets; and break new world records in being the biggest and baddest DDoS’s ever. But, then, the world in which DDoS find themselves in has evolved very quickly too. Everything and the kitchen sink is online: the number of assorted ‘smart’ [sic] devices connected to the net now far outstrips the number of good old desktop and laptop computers.

The result of these two evolutions running in parallel – of DDoS’s themselves plus the digital landscape in which they dwell – has brought us equally evolved headlines: botnets made up of IP cameras and home Wi-Fi routers breaking DDoS records on size (Mirai), and massive DDoS attacks on Russian banks.

If, earlier, botnets were made up of zombie PCs, soon they’ll be made up of zombie refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, tumble dryers and coffee machines.

brevity-comic

Read on: So what’s next?…

Flickr photostream

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The Internet of Harmful Things.

In the early 2000s I’d get up on stage and prophesize about the cyber-landscape of the future, much as I still do today. Back then I warned that, one day, your fridge will send spam to your microwave, and together they’d DDoS the coffeemaker. No, really.

The audience would raise eyebrows, chuckle, clap, and sometimes follow up with an article on such ‘mad professor’-type utterances. But overall my ‘Cassandra-ism’ was taken as little more than a joke, since the more pressing cyberthreats of the times were deemed worth worrying about more. So much for the ‘mad professor’…

…Just open today’s papers.

Any house these days – no matter how old – can have plenty of ‘smart’ devices in it. Some have just a few (phones, TVs…), others have loads – including IP-cameras, refrigerators, microwave ovens, coffee makers, thermostats, irons, washing machines, tumble dryers, fitness bracelets, and more. Some houses are even being designed these days with smart devices already included in the specs. And all these smart devices connect to the house’s Wi-Fi to help make up the gigantic, autonomous – and very vulnerable – Internet of Things, whose size already outweighs the Traditional Internet which we’ve known so well since the early 90s.

Connecting everything and the kitchen sink to the Internet is done for a reason, of course. Being able to control all your electronic household kit remotely via your smartphone can be convenient (to some folks:). It’s also rather trendy. However, just how this Internet of Things has developed has meant my Cassandra-ism has become a reality.

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Read on: The phantom ransomware menace…

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Laziness, Cybersecurity, and Machine Learning.

It’s just the way it is: the human being is a lazy creature. If it’s possible not to do something, we don’t do it. However, paradoxically this is a good thing, because laziness is… the engine of progress! What? How so? Well, if a job’s considered too hard or long-winded or complex for humans to do, certain lazy (but conscientious) humans (Homo Laziens?: ) give the job to a machine! In cybersecurity we call it optimization.

Analysis of millions of malicious files and websites every day, developing ‘inoculations’ against future threats, forever improving proactive protection, and solving dozens of other critical tasks – all of that is simply impossible without the use of automation. And machine learning is one of the main concepts used in automation.

Machine learning has been applied in cybersecurity for more than a decade – only without marketing fanfare.

Automation has existed in cybersecurity right from the beginning (of cybersecurity itself). I remember, for example, how back in the early 2000s I wrote the code for a robot to analyze incoming malware samples: the robot put the detected files into the corresponding folder of our growing malware collection based on its (the robot’s) verdict regarding its (the file’s!) characteristics. It was hard to imagine – even back then – that I used to do all that manually!

These days however, simply giving robots precise instructions for tasks you want them to do isn’t enough. Instead, instructions for tasks need to be given imprecisely. Yes, really!

For example, ‘Find the human faces on this photograph’. For this you don’t describe how human faces are picked out and how human faces differ from those of dogs. Instead what you do is show the robot several photographs and add: ‘These things here are humans, this is a human face, and these here are dogs; now work the rest out yourself’! And that, in a nutshell, is the ‘freedom of creativity’ that calls itself machine learning.

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Read on: ML + CS = Love…

The Artificial ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Bubble and the Future of Cybersecurity.

I think the recent article in the New York Times about the boom in ‘artificial intelligence’ in Silicon Valley made many people think hard about the future of cybersecurity – both the near and distant future.

I reckon questions like these will have been pondered on:

  • Where’s the maniacal preoccupation with ‘AI’, which now only exists in the fantasies of futurologists going to lead to?
  • How many more billions will investors put into ventures which, at best, will ‘invent’ what was invented decades ago, at worst – will turn out to be nothing more than inflated marketing… dummies?
  • What are the real opportunities for the development of machine learning cybersecurity technologies?
  • And what will be the role of humans experts in this brave new world?

Sometimes when I hang around with A.I. enthusiasts here in the valley, I feel like an atheist at a convention of evangelicals.

Jerry Kaplan, computer scientist, author, futurist and serial entrepreneur (inc. co-founder of Symantec)

What’s going on now in the field of ‘AI’ resembles a soap bubble. And we all know what happens to soap bubbles eventually if they keep getting blown up by the circus clowns (no pun intended!): they burst.

Now, of course, without bold steps and risky investments a fantastical future will never become a reality. But the problem today is that along with this wave of widespread enthusiasm for ‘AI’ (remember, AI today doesn’t exist; thus the inverted commas), startup-shell-companies have started to appear.

A few start-ups? What’s the big deal, you might ask.

The big deal is that these shell-startups are attracting not millions but billions of dollars in investment – by riding the new wave of euphoria surrounding ‘AI’ machine learning. Thing is, machine learning has been around for decades: it was first defined in 1959, got going in the 70s, flourished in the 90s, and is still flourishing! Fast forward to today and this ‘new’ technology is re-termed ‘artificial intelligence’; it adopts an aura of cutting-edge science; it gets to have the glossiest brochures; it gets to have the most glamorously sophisticated marketing campaigns. And all of that is aimed at the ever-present human weakness for belief in miracles – and in conspiracy theories about so-called ‘traditional’ technologies. And sadly, the cybersecurity field hasn’t escaped this new ‘AI’ bubble…

artificial-intelligence

Read on: Too much AI will kill you…

Darwinism in IT Security, Pt. 3: Time to Deal with These No-Good Parasites.

Hi all!

On a bit of a roll here on the survival-of-the-fittest-in-IT theme. Wasn’t planning a trilogy… it just kinda happened. Sort of…

…Sort of, as, well, the specific problem of parasites in the IT Security world I’ll be writing about today has been at the back of my mind for a long time already. This Darwinism talk seemed the perfect opportunity to finally let rip. You’ll see what I mean…

Today folks: parasites. But not those we’re fighting against (the ‘very’ bad guys); those who claim are also fighting the very bad guys (philosophical question: who’s worse?).

Infosec parasites practicing detection adoption is killing the industry and indirectly assisting cybercrime

The IT industry today is developing at a galloping pace. Just 10-15 years ago its main themes were desktop antiviruses, firewalls and backups; today there’s a mass of new different security solutions, approaches and ideas. Sometimes we manage to stay ahead of the curve; sometimes we have some catch-up to do. And there are other times we fall into a stupor from astonishment – not from new technologies, innovations or fresh ideas, but from the barefaced brazenness and utter unscrupulousness of our colleagues in the security industry.

But first, let me explain how events have been developing.

There’s a very useful service called the VirusTotal multiscanner. It aggregates around 60 antivirus engines, which it uses to scan files and URLs folks send it for malware checking, and then it returns the verdict.

Example: Joe Bloggs finds a suspicious application or office document on a hard drive/USB stick/the Internet. Joe’s own antivirus software doesn’t flag it as containing a malware, but Joe is the paranoid type; he wants to make really sure it’s not infected. So he heads over to the VirusTotal site, which doesn’t have just one antivirus solution like he does, but ~60. It’s free too, so it’s a no brainer. So Joe uploads the file to VirusTotal and gets instant info on what all the different AVs think about it.

First of all, to clarify: both the folks at VirusTotal and those at VirusTotal’s owners Google are firmly on the ‘good guys’ side. They have no connection with parasites whatsoever. VirusTotal is run by a very professional team, which has for years been fulfilling the task at hand extremely effectively. (Still need convincing? How about VirusTotal winning the MVP award last year at the Security Analyst Summit (SAS)?) Today VirusTotal is one of the most important sources of new malware samples and malicious URLs; and also a very cool archeological tool for researching targeted attacks.

The problem lies with a handful of shady users of the multiscanner who, alas, are becoming more and more unblushingly unabashed in how they conduct themselves.

Read on: Things getting interesting… for wrong reasons

Darwinism in IT Security: Adapt or Die.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable to change.”
– Charles Darwin

It’s been a while since I’ve opined on these here cyber-pages on my favorite topic – the future of IT Security, so here’s making up for that. Get ready for a lot of words – hopefully none too extraneous – on the latest Infosec tech, market and tendencies, with a side dish of assorted facts and reflections. Popcorn at the ready – off we go…

I’ll be writing here about ideal IT Security and how the security industry is evolving towards it (and what’s happening along that evolutionary road towards it), and how all that can be explained with the help of Mr. Darwin’s theory of evolution. How natural selection leads certain species to dominate, while others fall by the wayside – left for the paleontologists in years to come. Oh, and what is symbiosis, and what are parasites.

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I’ll start with some definitions…

Almost-Perfection in an Imperfect World.

Perfect protection – 100% security – is impossible. The IT Security industry can and should of course aim for perfection, in the process creating the best-protected systems possible, but each inching nearer 100% costs exponentially more – so much more that the cost of protection winds up being greater than the cost of potential damage from the harshest of scenarios of a successful attack.

Ideal protection is that where the cost of a successful attack is greater than the gain

Accordingly, it’s logical to give the following definition of realistic (attainable) ideal protection (from the viewpoint of potential victims): Ideal protection is that where the cost to hack our system is greater than the cost of the potential damage that could be caused. Or, looking at it from the other side of the barricades: Ideal protection is that where the cost of a successful attack is greater than the gain attackers would receive.

Of course, there’ll be times when how much an attack may cost doesn’t matter to the attackers; for example, to state-backed cyberwar-mongers. But that doesn’t mean we just give up.

So how do we develop a security system that provides realistic (attainable) ideal (maximum) protection?

Read on: The survival of IT’s fittest…

Uh-oh Cyber-News: Infected Nuclear Reactors, Cyber-Bank Robbers, and Cyber-Dam-Busters.

Just a quick read of the news these days and you can find yourself wanting to reach for… a Geiger counter. I mean, some of the news stories are just so alarming of late. Or am I overreacting? Let’s see…

Uh-oh News Item No. 1: Apocalypse Averted – for Now. 

inews-1Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It was reported that the IT system of Unit B of the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Swabia, Bavaria, southwestern Germany – right on the 30-year anniversary to-the-day of the Chernobyl disaster (!) – had been infected by some malware. However, it was also reported that there’s no reason to worry at all as no danger’s being posed whatsoever. All’s ok; we can all sleep soundly; everything’s under control; the danger level couldn’t be lower.

After sighing a ‘pheewwwww’ and mopping one’s brow, you read further…

… And as you do, you get a few more details of the incident. And it does indeed seem all is ok: the background radiation level, after all, didn’t go up – that’s the main thing, surely. Right? But then you read further still…

And you find out that the (Internet-isolated) system that was infected happens to be the one that controls the movement of nuclear fuel rods. It’s here you stop, rub the eyes, and read that again slowly…

WHAAAAT?

Read on: Cyber-Spy-Novel-Worthy …

Get Your KICS en Route to Industrial Protection.

Hurray!

We’ve launched our KICS (Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity), the special cyber-inoculation against cyber-disease, which protect factories, power plants, hospitals, airports, hotels, warehouses, your favorite deli, and thousands of other types of enterprises that use industrial control systems (ICS). Or, put another way, since it’s rare for an enterprise today to manage without such systems, we’ve just launched a cyber-solution for millions of large, medium and small production and service businesses all around the world!

So what’s this KICS all about exactly? What’s it for? First, rewind…

Before the 2000s a cyberattack on an industrial installation was a mere source of inspiration for science fiction writers. But on August 14, 2003 in northeastern USA and southeastern Canada, the science fiction became a reality:

kaspersky-industrial-security-1Oops

Because of certain power grid glitches, 50 million North Americans went without electricity – some for several hours, others for several days. Many reasons were put forward as to the reasons behind this man-made catastrophe, including unkempt trees, a bolt of lightning, malicious squirrels, and… a side-effect from a cyberattack using the Slammer (Blaster) computer worm.

Read on: Hacked in 60 seconds…

The Big Picture.

Last spring (2015), we discovered Duqu 2.0 – a highly professional, very expensive, cyber-espionage operation. Probably state-sponsored. We identified it when we were testing the beta-version of the Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack (KATA) platform – our solution that defends against sophisticated targeted attacks just like Duqu 2.0.

And now, a year later, I can proudly proclaim: hurray!! The product is now officially released and fully battle ready!

Kaspersky Anti-Targeted Attack Platform

But first, let me now go back in time a bit to tell you about why things have come to this – why we’re now stuck with state-backed cyber-spying and why we had to come up with some very specific protection against it.

(While for those who’d prefer to go straight to the beef in this here post – click here.)

‘The good old days’ – words so often uttered as if bad things just never happened in the past. The music was better, society was fairer, the streets were safer, the beer had a better head, and on and on and on. Sometimes, however, things really were better; one example being how relatively easy it was to fight cyber-pests in years past.

Of course, back then I didn’t think so. We were working 25 hours a day, eight days a week, all the time cursing the virus writers and their phenomenal reproduction rate. Each month (and sometimes more often) there were global worm epidemics and we were always thinking that things couldn’t get much worse. How wrong we were…

At the start of this century viruses were written mainly by students and cyber-hooligans. They’d neither the intention nor the ability to create anything really serious, so the epidemics they were responsible for were snuffed out within days – often using proactive methods. They simply didn’t have any motivation for coming up with anything more ominous; they were doing it just for kicks when they’d get bored of Doom and Duke Nukem :).

The mid-2000s saw big money hit the Internet, plus new technologies that connected everything from power plants to mp3 players. Professional cybercriminal groups also entered the stage seeking the big bucks the Internet could provide, while cyber-intelligence-services-cum-armies were attracted to it by the technological possibilities if offered. These groups had the motivation, means and know-how to create reeeaaaally complex malware and conduct reeeaaaally sophisticated attacks while remaining under the radar.

Around about this time… ‘antivirus died’: traditional methods of protection could no longer maintain sufficient levels of security. Then a cyber-arms race began – a modern take on the eternal model of power based on violence – either attacking using it or defending against its use. Cyberattacks became more selective/pinpointed in terms of targets chosen, more stealthy, and a lot more advanced.

In the meantime ‘basic’ AV (which by then was far from just AV) had evolved into complex, multi-component systems of multi-level protection, crammed full of all sorts of different protective technologies, while advanced corporate security systems had built up yet more formidable arsenals for controlling perimeters and detecting intrusions.

However, that approach, no matter how impressive on the face of it, had one small but critical drawback for large corporations: it did little to proactively detect the most professional targeted attacks – those that use unique malware using specific social engineering and zero-days. Malware that can stay unnoticed to security technologies.

I’m talking attacks carefully planned months if not years in advance by top experts backed by bottomless budgets and sometimes state financial support. Attacks like these can sometimes stay under the radar for many years; for example, the Equation operation we uncovered in 2014 had roots going back as far as 1996!

Banks, governments, critical infrastructure, manufacturing – tens of thousands of large organizations in various fields and with different forms of ownership (basically the basis of today’s world economy and order) – all of it turns out to be vulnerable to these super professional threats. And the demand for targets’ data, money and intellectual property is high and continually rising.

So what’s to be done? Just accept these modern day super threats as an inevitable part of modern life? Give up the fight against these targeted attacks?

No way.

Anything that can be attacked – no matter how sophisticatedly – can be protected to a great degree if you put serious time and effort and brains into that protection. There’ll never be 100% absolute protection, but there is such a thing as maximal protection, which makes attacks economically unfeasible to carry out: barriers so formidable that the aggressors decide to give up putting vast resources into getting through them, and instead go off and find some lesser protected victims. Of course there’ll be exceptions, especially when politically motivated attacks against certain victims are on the agenda; such attacks will be doggedly seen through to the end – a victorious end for the attacker; but that’s no reason to quit putting up a fight.

All righty. Historical context lesson over, now to that earlier mentioned sirloin…

…Just what the doctor ordered against advanced targeted attacks – our new Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack platform (KATA).

So what exactly is this KATA, how does it work, and how much does it cost?

First, a bit on the anatomy of a targeted attack…

A targeted attack is always exclusive: tailor-made for a specific organization or individual.

The baddies behind a targeted attack start out by scrupulously gathering information on the targets right down to the most minor of details – for the success of an attack depends on the completeness of such a ‘dossier’ almost as much as the budget of the operation. All the targeted individuals are spied on and analyzed: their lifestyles, families, hobbies, and so on. How the corporate network is constructed is also studied carefully. And on the basis of all the information collected an attack strategy is selected.

Next, (i) the network is penetrated and remote (& undetected) access with maximum privileges is obtained. After that, (ii) the critical infrastructure nodes are compromised. And finally, (iii) ‘bombs away!’: the pilfering or destruction of data, the disruption of business processes, or whatever else might be the objective of the attack, plus the equally important covering one’s tracks so no one knows who’s responsible.

The motivation, the duration of the various prep-and-execution stages, the attack vectors, the penetration technologies, and the malware itself – all of it is very individual. But not matter how exclusive an attack gets, it will always have an Achilles’ heel. For an attack will always cause at least a few tiny noticeable happenings (network activity, certain behavior of files and other objects, etc.), anomalies being thrown up, and abnormal network activity. So seeing the bird’s-eye view big picture – in fact the whole picture formed from different sources around the network – makes it possible to detect a break-in.

To collect all the data about such anomalies and the creation of the big picture, KATA uses sensors – special ‘e-agents’ – which continuously analyze IP/web/email traffic plus events on workstations and servers.

For example, we intercept IP traffic (HTTP(s), FTP, DNS) using TAP/SPAN; the web sensor integrates with the proxy servers via ICAP; and the mail sensor is attached to the email servers via POP3(S). The agents are real lightweight (for Windows – around 15 megabytes), are compatible with other security software, and make hardly any impact at all on either network or endpoint resources.

All collected data (objects and metadata) are then transferred to the Analysis Center for processing using various methods (sandbox, AV scanning and adjustable YARA rules, checking file and URL reputations, vulnerability scanning, etc.) and archiving. It’s also possible to plug the system into our KSN cloud, or to keep things internal – with an internal copy of KpSN for better compliance.

Once the big picture is assembled, it’s time for the next stage! KATA reveals suspicious activity and can inform the admins and SIEM (Splunk, Qradar, ArcSight) about any unpleasantness detected. Even better – the longer the system works and the more data accumulates about the network, the more effective it is, since atypical behavior becomes easier to spot.

More details on how KATA works… here.

Ah yes; nearly forgot… how much does all this cost?

Well, there’s no simple answer to that one. The price of the service depends on dozens of factors, including the size and topology of the corporate network, how the solution is configured, and how many accompanying services are used. One thing is clear though: the cost pales into insignificance if compared with the potential damage it prevents.