Advanced Persistent Threats are changing the information security paradigm and Next Generation IPS will probably be, together with SIEM, the new weapons in the hands of information security professionals for stopping this new category of threats that are proving to be the real nightmares for CISOs in this troubled 2011.
If you have just learned what a Next Generation Firewall is, you will probably be a little disappointed in knowing that it is not the last frontier of information security (as many security firms claim), instead the growing impact and influence of APTs, which are threats acting on different layers (user, network and applications), different timeframes and different portions of the network, are redesigning the network security paradigm, requiring additional intelligence at the perimeter, and shifting the game to a context-aware model in order to grant the holistic view that is necessary to stop them.
Now let us suppose to make a brand new information security recipe, taking the main features of a NGF (user awareness and application awareness), the main features of a Firewall (access control) and the main features of an IPS (protocol awareness and vulnerability awareness), blend them in a virtual pot and add a little bit of reputation (for instance obtained from a globally distributed network of sensors) and other features such as geo-location, application heuristics and, last but not least, an application anomaly detection engine (which is completely different from a traditional protocol anomaly engine). You will obtain a new information security dish: the Next Generation IPS, a new class of devices that likely represents the near future of network security.
NG-IPSs are characterized by two main features:
- They shift the enforcement of security policies from a content-based to a context-based model (where the context is defined by the interaction of user with applications);
- They leverage new technologies such as reputation and geo-location to provide the holistic view necessary to stop APTs.
So what do we have to expect at the perimeter? The traditional Firewall and IPS (or UTMs) will likely be replaced by NG-IPS, while specific “vertical” security devices, such as Web Application Firewall will remain in place in strategic portion of the netowork (just in front of Web Farms) to protect specifically Web (read HTTP and HTTPS) applications. As you may see from the following table a NG-IPS encompasses all the features of the “old” technologies plus new features allowed by a growing adoption of Reputation and Cloud-Based services.
Since WAF will follow a parallel and co-existing walk, meanwhile I reccomend you to read my Q&A on Next-Gen and Web Application Firewall.
- Next Generation Firewalls and Web Applications Firewall Q&A (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
A couple of weeks ago, during the RSA Conference in London, Tom Heiser, president of RSA declared that two separate hacker groups already known to authorities were behind the serious breach affecting tbe Security Firm early this year in March, and were likely working at the behest of a government. Heiser also declared that the attackers possessed inside information about the company’s computer naming conventions that helped their activity blend in with legitimate users on the network, concluding that, due to the sophistication of the breach:
“we can only conclude it was a nation-state-sponsored attack.”
In a statement issued after the breach, the Security Firm declared that some information related to their two-factor authentication technology SecurID had been extracted during the attack, and that information could be used, as part of a broader attack, to decrease the effectiveness of the two-factor authentication.
Curiously RSA refused to name the involved nation, so not confirming the suspects directed to China. Regardless of the nation, among Security Professional it was immediately clear that the true target of the attack was not RSA but its customers: SecurID tokens are used by 40 million people in at least 30,000 organizations worldwide to allow secure access to IT systems. So it was not a surprise the fact that few weeks after the breach three Defense Contractor were attacked using compromised seeds, and although in two cases (L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman) there was no direct evidence of a direct involvement of compromised tokens but only rumors, in one case (Lockheed Martin), RSA admitted the use of compromised tokens and offered to replace the tokens to affected customers.
Today another interesting piece of the puzzle: in his blog Brian Kerbs publishes a list of companies whose networks were shown to have been phoning home (i.e. connect to the C&C Server) to some of the same control infrastructure that was used in the attack on RSA. The first victims appear to have begun communicating with the attacker’s control networks as early as November 2010. According to the list 760 other organizations had networks compromised with some of the same resources used to hit RSA and almost 20 percent of the current Fortune 100 companies are on this list.
Scroll down the names on the list and you will find many interesting and surprising firms, even if the author correctly advises that:
- Many of the network owners listed are Internet service providers, and are likely included because some of their subscribers were hit;
- It is not clear how many systems in each of these companies or networks were compromised, for how long those intrusions persisted, or whether the attackers successfully stole sensitive information from all of the victims;
- Some of the affected organizations (there are also several antivirus firms mentioned) may be represented because they intentionally compromised internal systems in an effort to reverse engineer malware used in these attacks.
So at the end, what’s the matter with China? Simple, at the bottom of the article there is a chart reporting the location of more than 300 command and control networks that were used in these attacks. Guess where 299 of them were located…
(Thanks to @MasafumiNegishi for reporting the original blog post).
We have not completely assimilated the BEAST vulnerability, and here it comes, from Bochum, Germany, another serious flaw involving Encryption, or better, involving XML Encryption.
XML Encryption, is a W3C standard widely used to securely transmit information inside Application-to-Application Web services connections. It was believed to be a robust standard mechanism to protect data exchange between a wide class of applications using web services and deployed in different sectors, for instance business, e-commerce, financial, healthcare, governmental and military applications. For the generic user a typical scenario involves, for example, credit card information encryption for a payment within an XML-based purchase order.
Unfortunately it lools like the mechanism is not so robust as it was supposed to be, and the discovery comes from Juraj Somorovsky and Tibor Jager, two Researchers at the Ruhr University of Bochum (RUB) who were successful in cracking parts of the XML encryption process used in web services, thus making it possible to decrypt encrypted data. They demonstrated their work at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago this week.
As far as the attack technique is concerned, once again CBC (Cipher-Block Chaining) is indicted since the new discovered vulnerability, as in case of the BEAST attack, is exploitable only in this encryption mode.
The attack strategy seems very similar to the one behind the BEAST Attack and allows to decrypt data, encrypted in AES-CBC, by sending modified ciphertexts to the server, and gathering information from the received error messages using the cryptographic weakness of the CBC mode, in particular the fact that, by conveniently manipulating the IV, ciphertexts encrypted in CBC mode can be modified so that the resulting ciphertext is related to the original ciphertext in a certain way (see the description of the BEAST attack for an example).
So, by choosing a given ciphertext, the attacker is able to recover the entire plaintext and the only prerequisite requires the availability of what the researchers define an “oracle”, that is a pattern telling the attacker if a given ciphertext contains a “correctly formed” plaintext that is a valid encoding (e.g. in UTF-8 or ASCII) of a message. Even worse XML signature is not able to mitigate the attack.
In their paper the authors showed that a moderately optimized implementation of the attack was able to decrypt 160 bytes of encrypted data within 10 seconds by issuing 2,137 queries to the Web Service, morever the complexity of the attack grows only linearly with the ciphertext size, thus allowing to recover a larger plaintext of 1,600 bytes takes about 100 seconds and 23,000 queries.
The proof of concept has been performed on a Web Service based on the Apache Axis2 XML framework and verified on JBoss, but many other vendors are affected, that is the reason why the two researchers announced the vulnerability to the W3C XML Encryption Working Group in February 2011. Vendors affected include the above mentioned Apache Software Foundation (Apache Axis2), RedHat Linux (JBoss), but also IBM and Microsoft.
Unfortunately fixing the flaw will not be that easy, the only suitable way is to replace CBC mode by using a symmetric cryptographic primitive providing confidentiality and integrity, this means to change the XML Encryption standard!
Anonymous and Antisec broke their apparent October silence and renewed the tradition of the Friday Dumps against law enforcement agencies releasing a 600MB data dump of confidential data belonging to Law enforcement agencies.
According to the original statement, no more available on pastebin:
In solidarity with the Occupation Movement and the International Day of Action Against Police Brutality, allied #anonymous and #antisec vessels took aim at the corrupt bootboys of the 1%: the police. We hacked, defaced, and destroyed several law enforcement targets, leaking over 600MB of private information including internal documents, membership rosters, addresses, passwords, social security numbers, and other confidential data. According to the IACP’s development documents, their systems cost several hundred thousand dollars. We are pleased to destroy it all for free, leaking their private info and defacing their websites in one swift blow.
Victims of the attack include: the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), (BPPA) and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s office in Alabama. Patrolmen’s Association
As part of the raid, Antisec hackers compromised webservers used by Matrix Group, a web development firm located in Arlington, VA (the latest example of a Contractor hacked), boasting several law enforcement and government clients. The attack on Matrix Group led to the removal of dozens of websites from the Internet, and several other defacements (with an anti-police rap video) even if unrelated sites on their servers were intentionally excluded from the attack. The defacements included Matrix Group information including sever logs and history files, financial data, client lists, and project information. The leaked 600MB of private information include internal documents, membership rosters, addresses, passwords, social security numbers, and other confidential data.
The attack, probably performed by mean of SQL Injection, was performed in support of the so-called 99% movement, a reference to the Occupy Wall Street protests spreading around the world (and comprising the 99% of the population), particularly in Boston, and also in solidarity with the dozens of alleged “Anonymous” members around the world facing charges for “hacking”.
If one does not consider the alleged threats and hacking attempts against Thomas Ryan, an independent security consultant who released a trove of e-mail communications from the Occupy Wall Street protesters, this is the second circumstance in which Anonymous backs the OccupyWallStreet movement with a direct hacking action (after the doxing of the “Pepper Spray Officer), even if in this case the size of the operation is quite huge, resembling the attacks perpetrated against BART at the end of August.
Is the World going to face another massive wave of hactivism motivated data dumps?
In few circumstances I happen to deal with my old (and short) career of Astrophysical. Except when I enjoy to tell my friends the history of the Hubble Constant, and my delusion when I discovered that its value is greater than 50 (most precise determination is 72 ± 8 km/s/Mpc implying a forever expanding Universe which will likely die of Entropy), the chances in which my current activity, information security, and my “would-have-been” career of Astrophysics overlap are really rare.
You may imagine how surprised I have been, when I came across this post by F-Secure concerning the Duqu malware and the images hidden inside the traffic generated by the malware and directed to the C&C Server.
Typically keyloggers try to hide the malicious traffic by resembling legitimate traffic, and of course the infamous Stuxnet-based keylogger is not an exception to this schema, by making the transfer look innocent in case somebody is watching network traffic.
Duqu connects to a server (220.127.116.11 a.k.a. canoyragomez.rapidns.com – which used to be in India) and sends an http request. The server will respond with a blank JPG image. After which Duqu sends back a 56kB JPG file called dsc00001.jpg and appends the stolen information (encrypted with AES) to the end of the image file.
Even if somebody is watching outbound traffic, this wouldn’t look too weird.
Nothing new except the fact that Duqu components contain different JPG files. One of them is an image of the Hubble Space Telescope: NGC 6745 also dubbed Bird’s Head (have a deep look to the image and you will discover why).
NGC 6745 (also known as UGC 11391) is an irregular galaxy about 206 million light-years (63.5 mega-parsecs) away in the constellation Lyra. It is actually a triplet of galaxies in the process of colliding.
Why did they decide to insert an astronomical image? And why just an Image representing three galaxies colliding? A possible metaphorical reference to a cyber war between three nations? The curiosity has stimulated a funny contest by F-Secure even if no interpretation, so far, seems convincing (I also tried to brainstorm but unfortunately my residual notions of Astronomy are not enough, so at first Glance I was not able to find any correspondence.
From an information security perspective, I could not help but notice that this is not the only overlapping between Stuxnet and Astronomy. As a matter of fact the original version of Stuxnet is programmed to automatically switch off on June, 24th 2012: even if a remind to the alleged End of the World according to the Mayan Calendar is unavoidable, this date is also linked to the so-called Grand Cross, corresponding to the date that Pluto in Capricorn squares off against Uranus in Aries.
But there is also another funny aspect and coincidence: do you remember the alleged Stuxnet-like worm that Iran claimed to have detected on April 25 2011? Curiously it was called Stars, and although no evidences of the malware (and not even samples as far as I know) were collected, so that many Information Security experts stated Iran was crying wolf, again the malware was dubbed with a term recalling astronomy. At this point I inevitably (and joyfully) wonder if Stars derived its name from hidden stellar images as in case of Duqu.
- Back to The Future of Stuxnet (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
While the U.S. and U.K. are debating whether to use Cyberwarfare, someone, somewhere, has decided not to waste further time and has anticipated them, developing what appears to be a precursor of Stuxnet 2.0. In a blog post, Symantec explains how it came across the first samples of the malware thanks to a research lab with strong international connections, which, on October 14 2011, alerted the security firm to a sample that appeared to be very similar to Stuxnet.
The brand new threat has been dubbed “Duqu” [dyü-kyü] because it creates files with the file name prefix “~DQ”, and has been discovered in some computer systems located in the Old Continent. After receiving and analyzing the samples, Symantec has been able to confirm that parts of Duqu are nearly identical to Stuxnet, but with a completely different purpose.
Unlike its infamous predecessor Duqu does not target ICS but rather appears to be a RAT developed from the Stuxnet Source Code, whose main features may be summarized as follows (a detailed report is available here):
- The executables [...] appear to have been developed since the last Stuxnet file was recovered.
- The executables are designed to capture information such as keystrokes and system information.
- Current analysis shows no code related to industrial control systems, exploits, or self-replication.
- The executables have been found in a limited number of organizations, including those involved in the manufacturing of industrial control systems.
- The exfiltrated data may be used to enable a future Stuxnet-like attack.
- Two variants were recovered [...], the first recording of one of the binaries was on September 1, 2011. However, based on file compile times, attacks using these variants may have been conducted as early as December 2010.
Of course this event rises inevitably many security questions: although cyberwar is actually little more than a concept, cyber weapons are a consolidated reality, besides it is not clear if Duqu has been developed by the same authors of Stuxnet, or worst by someone else with access to the source code of the cyber biblical plague (and who knows how many other fingers in this moment will be coding new threats from the same source code).
Anyway one particular is really intriguing: only yesterday the DHS issued a Bulletin warning about Anonymous Threat to Industrial Control Systems (ICS), not event 24 hours after the statement a new (potential) threat for ICS appears in the wild… Only a coincidence?
Advanced Persistent Threats are probably the most remarkable events for Information Security in 2011 since they are redefining the infosec landscape from both technology and market perspective.
I consider the recent shopping in the SIEM arena made by IBM and McAfee a sign of the times and a demonstration of this trend. This is not a coincidence: as a matter of fact the only way to stop an APT before it reaches its goal (the Organization data), is an accurate analysis and correlation of data collected by security devices. An APT attack deploys different stages with different tactics, different techniques and different timeframes, which moreover affect different portion of the infrastructure. As a consequence an holistic view and an holistic information management are needed in order to correlate pieces of information spread in different pieces of the networks and collected by different, somewhat heterogeneous and apparently unrelated, security devices.
Consider for instance the typical cycle of an attack carried on by an APT:
Of course the picture does not take into consideration the user, which is the greatest vulnerability (but unfortunately an user does not generate logs except in a verbal format not so easy to analyze for a SIEM). Moreover the model should be multiplied for the numbers of victims since it is “unlikely” that such a similar attack could be performed on a single user at a time.
At the end, however, it is clear that an APT affects different components of the information security infrastructure at different times with different threat vectors:
- Usually stage 1 of an APT attack involves a spear phishing E-mail containing appealing subject and argument, and a malicious payload in form of an attachment or a link. In both cases the Email AV or Antispam are impacted in the ingress stream (and should be supposed to detect the attack, am I naive if I suggest that a DNS lookup could have avoided attacks like this?). The impacted security device produce some logs (even if they are not straightforward to detect if the malicious E-mail has not been detected as a possible threat or also has been detected with a low confidence threshold). In this stage of the attack the time interval between the receipt of the e-mail and its reading can take from few minutes up to several hours.
- The following stage involves user interaction. Unfortunately there is no human firewall so far (it is something we are working on) but user education (a very rare gift). As a consequence the victim is lured to follow the malicious link or click on the malicious attachment. In the first scenario the user is directed to a compromised (or crafted) web site where he downloads and installs a malware (or also insert some credentials which are used to steal his identity for instance for a remote access login). In the second scenario the user clicks on the attached file that exploits a 0-day vulnerability to install a Remote Administration Tool. The interval between reading the malicious email and installing the RAT takes likely several seconds. In any case Endpoint Security Tools may help to avoid surfing to malicious site or, if leveraging behavioral analysis, to detect anomalous pattern from an application (a 0-day is always a 0-day and often they are released after making reasonably sure not to be detected by traditional AV). Hopefully In both cases some suspicious logs are generated by the endpoint.
- RAT Control is the following stage: after installation the malware uses the HTTP protocol to fetch commands from a remote C&C Server. Of course the malicious traffic is forged so that it may be hidden inside legitimate traffic. In any case the traffic pass through Firewalls and NIDS at the perimeter (matching allowed rules on the traffic). In this case both kind of devices should be supposed to produce related logs;
- Once in full control of the Attacker, the compromised machine is used as a hop for the attacker to reach other hosts (now he is inside) or also to sweep the internal network looking for the target data. In this case a NIDS/anomaly detector should be able to detect the attack, monitoring, for instance, the number of attempted authentications or wrong logins: that is the way in which Lockheed Martin prevented an attack perpetrated by mean of compromised RSA seeds, and also, during the infamous breach, RSA detected the attack using a technology of anomaly detection Netwitness, acquired by EMC, its parent company immediately after the event.
At this point should be clear that this lethal blend of threats is pushing the security firms to redefine their product strategies, since they face the double crucial challenge to dramatically improve not only their 0-day detection ability, but also to dramatically improve the capability to manage and correlate the data collected from their security solutions.
As far as 0-day detection ability is concerned, next-gen technologies will include processor assisted endpoint security or also a new class of network devices such as DNS Firewalls (thanks to @nientenomi for reporting the article).
As far data management and correlation are concerned, yes of course a SIEM is beautiful concept… until one needs to face the issue of correlation, which definitively mean that often SIEM projects become useless because of correlation patterns, which are too complex and not straightforward. This is the reason why the leading vendors are rushing to include an integrated SIEM technology in their product portfolio in order to provide an out-of-the-box correlation engine optimized for their products. The price to pay will probably be a segmentation and verticalization of SIEM Market in which lead vendors will have their own solution (not so optimized for competitor technologies) at the expense of generalist SIEM vendors.
On the other hand APT are alive and kicking, keep on targeting US Defense contractors (Raytheon is the latest) and are also learning to fly though the clouds. Moreover they are also well hidden considered that, according to the Security Intelligence Report Volume 11 issued by Microsoft, less than one per cent of exploits in the first half of 2011 were against zero-day vulnerabilities. The 1% makes the difference! And it is a big difference!
- Information, The Next Battlefield (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
Sony states than a total of 93,000 accounts corrsesponding to one tenth of one percent (i.e. 0.1%) of their PSN, SEN and SOE consumers may have been affected (PSN/SEN: approximately 60,000 accounts; SOE: approximately 33,000). In these cases the attempts succeeded in verifying valid sign-in IDs and passwords, so the accounts were temporalily locked. As a preventative measure, Sony will be sending email notifications to these account holders and will be requiring secure password resets or informing consumers of password reset procedures.
At least this time the defense were active and the Company states it was able to stop these attempts taking steps to mitigate the activity, moreover Sony also stated that credit card numbers associated with these accounts are not at risk as a result of the unauthorized attempts.
The attempts appear to include a large amount of data obtained from one or more compromised lists from other companies, sites or sources. These were unauthorized attempts to verify valid user accounts on our services using very large sets of sign-in IDs and passwords. Between October 7 – 10 US Pacific Daylight Time, we confirmed that these were unauthorized attempts, and took steps to thwart this activity.
A couple of hot considerations:
- The Japanese giant learned the lesson. After the infamous breaches of March (with more than 100 million users affected and estimated cost of $21 billion), Sony hired Philip Reitinger (who annouced the attack on Playstation Blog), the former deputy under secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as senior vice president and chief information security officer at Sony. The nomination was made on September but is possible that the strategy of establishing a security strategy has already been successful: it looks like the company was able to immediately detect the attack (and also is also immediately sending email notifications to the owners of the compromised accounts);
- I cannot help but notice the strategy of the attack consisting in a “very large sets of sign-In IDs and passwords obtained from on ore more compromised lists of company”. Probably read “spearphishing”: once again old techniques with new motivations. The organizations seems to have learned how to deal with these trhreats. The users are still far from that.
Hope to have more news very soon, most of all which were the compromised lists of companies (Epsilon?).
Yesterday I stumbled upon a couple of really interesting news published respectively by the Chaos Computer Club, the famous German hacker community, and by CNET, concerning in both cases “new” technologies aimed to fight crime. But if the news published by the CCC is yet another example of alleged Government Malware, that is a spyware built with the purpose to spy and collect evidences on the target’s computers, the news published by CNET sounds incredible and brings our minds to the well-known scenes of Minority Report, where Police used precognition to prevent crime.
In any case, both articles mix information security, privacy and ethics, and raise many concerns about the role of technology to fight crime and its right to cross the boundaries with ethics and privacy
Let us begin from the FAST
FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology) is the name of a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which aims to prevent crime using algorithms based on ethnicity gender, breathing and heart rate (At Least no PRECOG so far). FAST seeks to develop behavioral screening technologies that will enable security officials to test the effectiveness of current screening methods at evaluating suspicious behaviors and judging the implications of those behaviors. The ultimate goal of the FAST project is to equip security officials with the tools to rapidly assess potential threats.
According to a June 2010 Document, FAST is already in operation and its test is ongoing on a Planned Limited User Evaluation after an initial test on DHS Employees. For this initial sample of Employees, the system collected video images, audio recordings, and psychophysiological measurements (i.e., heart rate, breathing pattern, thermal activity, and other physiological and behavioral cues). The data were used for Baseline. A field testing has been conducted in an undisclosed location in the Northeast, with a select group of participants on a volunteer basis.
In the latter case several data were collected such as: demographic information (age, gender, occupation, and ethnicity), medical information (heart, circulation, respiratory, and vision issues), current medications, and substance use in the last week (caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, other substances).
The document also states DHS will only have access to aggregated and anonymized data and this was confirmed to CNET by a Homeland Security spokesman.
So definitively, are the criminals really going to be captured by PRECOGs before perpetrating a crime? Not yet! DHS, provided a statement to CNET that said:
The department’s Science and Technology Directorate has conducted preliminary research in operational settings to determine the feasibility of using non-invasive physiological and behavioral sensor technology and observational techniques to detect signs of stress, which are often associated with intent to do harm. The FAST program is only in the preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this time.
And Proceed with the Furious
Maybe German people would be quite furious in this moment, in knowing that they have been possible targets of a (un)lawful interception Malware allegedly crafted by the German Police Force (dubbed “0zapftis”, “Bundestrojaner” or “R2D2″) with the purpose to spy online activity and record Skype internet calls. Its discovery was announced yesterday by the Chaos Computer Club which reversed engineered and analyzed the malware.
The malware, according to its original concept, should have been a light variation of the original “Bundestrojaner” forbidden by the German constitutional court on February 27 2008. Even before this sentence, the German government introduced a less conspicuous variant of the spyware dubbed “Quellen-TKÜ” (the term means “source wiretapping” or lawful interception at the source), whose only purpose, by definition, was to wiretap internet telephony, enforced through “technical and legal” means.
Unfortunately the analysis conducted by CCC has shown that the “Bundestrojaner light” goes much further than its initial concept violating the terms set by the constitutional court and, even worse, according to the analyzers is badly written and lacks the basic security measures (for instance no mutual authentication and poor encryption), so making a malicious third party capable to intercept the captured or use the Trojan to install arbitrary programs or upload arbitrary data on the target’s computer.
This is not the first case of a Government Spyware: Sophos reports about a German state-sponsored cyber-spying in in 2008, when there were claims that German Foreign Intelligence Service deployed spyware to monitor the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Afghanistan, and almost ten years ago when there were concerns that the FBI would ask anti-virus companies to deliberately not detect spyware that they had written – dubbed “Magic Lantern“. Even a recent occurrence also happened in Italy when, as part of an investigation against a criminal conspiracy, the police injected a spyware into the computer of an individual used to collect evidences of his role inside the conspiracy.
Easily predictable this affair will rise a political storm in Germany. Although it is not clear if it was really written by the German Police, the CCC has informed the German Ministry of the Interior. If it is true that the malware is really capable not only to gather information, but also to upload data or install other programs, it also possible that it could be (or worst has already been) used to build (and gather) artificial evidences against the target (this is the reason of my logical link with the FAST affair).
The boundary between lawful interception and privacy is blurred, maybe is time, for the legislators, to regulate the growing use of spyware for lawful interception and the consequent authorized infiltration of suspects’ computers and their secret hard drives scanning.