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Posts Tagged ‘APT’

The Unbearable Lightness of Being an APT

April 25, 2012 2 comments

Or better “The Unbearable Lightness of (Human) Beings and APTs”. Immediately after my post on Cyber Weapons, I was pointed out that APTs are not Cyber Weapons. On a more general perspective, APTs are not things but (groups of) human beings who have the capability and the intent to target specific entries with multi-factor attacks. Said in few words an APT is not a “what” but is a “who”. On the other hand, how many could afford to hire (and pay) a double agent capable of implanting a malware inside a nuclear complex through an infected USB thumb?

An Oxford dictionary for Information Security has not already been published, hence this term is commonly used to refer to cyber threats or long-term sophisticated hacking attacks. The latter is the interpretation closer to what I meant in compiling the chart.

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What is a Cyber Weapon?

April 22, 2012 11 comments

What is a Cyber Weapon? At first glance this seems an immediate question to answer, but should anyone try to analyze the meaning of this term more deeply, probably he would be quite surprised and disappointed in discovering that the answer is not so immediate since an exact definition has not been given (at least so far).

A real paradox in the same days in which The Pentagon, following the Japanese Example, has unveiled its new strategy aimed to dramatically accelerate the development of new Cyber Weapons. And do not think these are isolated, fashion-driven examples (other nations are approaching the same strategy), but rather consider them real needs in the post-Stuxnet age, an age in which more and more government are moving their armies to the fifth domain of war [you will probably remember the (in)famous episode, when F-Secure was able to discover Chinese Government launching online attacks against unidentified U.S. Targets].

Recently Stefano Mele, a friend and a colleague of the Italian Security Professional Group, tried to give an answer to this question in his paper (so far only in Italian but it will be soon translated in English) where he analyzes Cyber Weapons from a legal and strategical perspective.

As he points out “Correctly defining the concept of Cyber Weapon, thus giving a definition also in law, is an urgent and unavoidable task, for being able to assess both the level of threat deriving from a cyber attack, and the consequent political and legal responsibilities attributable to those who performed it”. Maybe this phrase encloses the reason why a coherent definition has not been given so far: a cyber weapon is not only a technological concept, but rather hides behind it complex juridical implications.

Having this in mind, according to Stefano’s definition: a cyber weapon is:

A device or any set of computer instructions intended to unlawfully damage a system acting as a critical infrastructure, its information, the data or programs therein contained or thereto relevant, or even intended to facilitate the interruption, total or partial, or alteration of its operation.

The above definition implies that cyber weapons may span in theory a wide range of possibilities: from (D)DoS attacks (which typically have a low level of penetration since they target the “surface” of their targets), to “tailored” malware like Stuxnet, characterized by a high intrusiveness and a low rate of collateral damages.

One could probably argue whether a cyber weapon must necessarily generate physical damages or not, in which case, probably, Stuxnet, would be the one, so far, to encompass all the requirements. In any case, from my point of view, I believe the effects of a cyber weapon should be evaluated from its domain of relevance, the cyberspace, with the possibility to cross the virtual boundaries and extend to the real world (Stuxnet is a clear example of this, since it inflicted serious damages to Iranian Nuclear Plants, including large-scale accidents and loss of lifes).

With this idea in mind, I tried to build a model to classify the cyber weapons according to four parameters: Precision (that is the capability to target only the specific objective and reduce collateral damages), Intrusion (that is the level of penetration inside the target), Visibility (that is the capability to be undetected), and Easiness to Implement (a measure of the resource needed to develop the specific cyber weapon). The results, ranging from paintball pistols to smart bombs, are summarized in the above chart.

As you may notice, in these terms a DDoS attack is closer to a paintball pistol: the latter has a low level of penetration and the effects are more perceived than real (it shows the holder’s intention to harm the victim rather than constituting a real danger ), nevertheless it may be used to threaten someone, or worst to make a robbery. The same is true for a DDoS, it is often used to threaten the target, its action stops at the surface and usually the effects are more relevant in terms of reputation of the victims than in terms of damages done. Nevertheless, for the targets, it may lead to an interruption of service (albeit with no physical damages) and monetary losses.

On the opposite site there are specific “surgical” APTs: they have a high level of penetration with reduced collateral damages, they are able to go hidden for long time, but require huge investments to be developed, which ultimately make their adoption not so easy.

Of course, in between, there is a broad gray area, where the other Cyber Weapons reside depending on their positioning according to the four classification parameters identified… So, at the end what do you think? Do you agree with this classification?

January 2012 Cyber Attacks Timeline (Part 1)

January 15, 2012 2 comments

Click here for part 2.

New year, new Cyber Attacks Timeline. Let us start our Information Security Travel in 2012 with the chart of the attacks occurred in the first fifteen days of January. This month has been characterized so far by the leak of Symantec Source Code and the strange story of alleged Cyber Espionage revolving around it. But this was not the only remarkable event: chronicles tell the endless Cyber-war between Israel and a Saudi Hacker (and more in general the Arab World), but also a revamped activity of the Anonymous against SOPA (with peak in Finland). The end of the month has also reserved several remarkable events (such as the breaches to T-Mobile and Zappos, the latter affecting potentially 24,000,000 of users). In general this has been a very active period. For 2012 this is only the beginning, and if a good beginning makes a good ending, there is little to be quiet…

Browse the chart and follows @paulsparrows to be updated on a biweekly basis. As usual after the jump you will find all the references. Feel free to report wrong/missing links or attacks.

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What Security Vendors Said One Year Ago…

January 10, 2012 2 comments

I did not resist, so after publishing the summary of Security Predictions for 2012, I checked out what security vendors predicted one year ago for 2011. Exactly as I did in my previous post, at the beginning of 2011 I collected the security predictions in a similar post (in Italian). I also published in May an update (in English) since, during the Check Point Experience in Barcelona held in May 2011, the Israeli security firm published its predictions. Even if the latters have been published nearly at the half of 2011, for the sake of completeness, I decided to insert them as well in this year-to-year comparison.

Then, I included Symantec (for which this year I did not find any prediction), McAfee, Trend Micro, Kaspersky, Sophos and Cisco. I included Check Point in a second time and I did not include Fortinet, At that time I missed their five security predictions, which I only discovered later so I decided to provide an addendum for this post including Fortinet as well in order to provide a deeper perspective.

The security predictions for 2011 are summarized in the following chart, which reports what the vendors (with the partial above described exception of Checkpoint) expected for the past year in terms of Information Security trends.

But a strict side-by-side comparison with the 2012 information security predictions (extracted by my previous post) is more helpful and meaningful:

As you may notice mobile threats were on top even among the predictions for 2011. This prediction came easily true most of all for Android which suffered (and keeps on suffering) a huge increase in malware detection samples (even if the overall security risk remains contained). Social Media were on top as well: they have been crucial for the Wind of the Changes blown by the Arab Spring but in the same time Social Media have raised many security concerns for reputation, the so called Social Network Poisoning (who remembers Primoris Era?). Although 2011 was the year of the Anonymous, hacktvism ranked “only” at number 4, behind Advanced Persistent Threats, which however played a crucial role for information security (an APT was deployed for the infamous RSA Breach, but it was not an isolated case).

Also botnets, web threats and application vulnerabilities ranked at the top of Security predictions for last year (and came true). As far as botnets are concerned, fortunately 2011 was a very important year for their shutdown (for instance Hlux/Kelihos, Coreflood, Rustock). In several cases the botnets were taken down thanks to joint operations between private sectors and law enforcement agencies (another prediction came true). On the application side, this prediction came true most of all thanks to the Sony breach, the Liza Moon infection and the huge rate of SQLi based attacks and ASP.NET vulnerabilities. We have also assisted to an hard blow to SSL/TLS and XML Encryption.

But what is more surprising (and amusing) in my opinion is not to emphasize which predictions were correct, but rather to notice  which predictions were dramatically wrong: it looks like that, against the predictions, virtualization threats were snubbed by cybercrookers in 2011 (and nearly do not appear in 2012). But the most amusing fact is that no security vendor (among the ones analyzed) was able to predict the collapse of the Certification Authority model thanks most of all to the Comodo and Diginotar Breaches.

Browsing Security Predictions for 2012

January 8, 2012 4 comments

Update 01/11/2012: Year-to-Tear comparison with 2011 Security Predictions

The new year has just come, vacations are over, and, as usually happens in this period, information security professionals use to wonder what the new year will bring them from an infosec perspective. The last year has been rich of events, whose echo is still resounding, and as a consequence, if RSA and Sony breach were not enough, the main (and somehow obvious) question is: will 2012 stop this trend or rather bring it to unprecedented levels, or, in other words, which threat vectors will disturb the (already troubled) administrators’ sleep?

Unfortunately my divination skills are not so developed (in that case I would not be here), but security firms can give a crucial help since they started to unveil their security predictions for 2012, at least since the half of December, so putting them together, and analyzing them is quite a straightforward and amusing task. Maybe even more amusing will be, in twelve years, to see if they were correct or not.

The security prediction that I take into consideration included, at my sole discretion (and in rigorous alphabetical order):

•    Cisco;
•    Fortinet;
•    Kaspersky;
•    McAfee;
•    Sophos;
•    Trend Micro;
•    Websense;

That is the only leader vendors for which I found predictions issued with original documents (feel free to indicate if I missed someone and I will be very glad to include them in the chart).

In any case, the landscape is quite heterogeneous since it encompasses security vendors covering different areas: one vendor, McAfee, covering all the areas (network, endpoint and content security), two vendors and one half focused on network and content security (Cisco, Fortinet and partially Sophos thanks to the Astaro acquisition), and two vendors focused essentially on endpoint security (Kaspersky and Trend Micro).

The following table summarizes their predictions:

In order to correctly understand the chart a premise is needed: as you will probably have already noticed, in several cases the predictions reflect the specific security focus for the analyzed vendor. For instance, Websense is focused on DLP, and that is the reason why the adoption of DLP is one of its predictions. Analogously McAfee is investing huge resources for Security on Silicon, and this implies that embedded systems and Malware Moving Beyond OS are present among its predictions. Same speech could be applied for Trend Micro and its Cloud Prediction and so on.

Some trends for this year are clearly emphasized: easily predictable Hactivism appears on 6 of the 7 vendors, as mobile (with different connotations) does. Social Media is on the spot as well as are SCADA, Embedded Systems and, quite surprisingly in my opinion, cloud. I would have expected a greater impact for APTs, but for a complete and more accurate analysis one should consider them together with threats targeting embedded systems or ICS. Even because according to several security firms, for instance Kasperky, APT Stuxnet-like will be used for tailored campaigns, whilst more “general purpose malware”, including botnets will be used for massive campaigns (this item is summarized as Mass Targeted Campaigns).

 

Some “old acquaintances” will be with us in 2012: consumerization, at least according to Sophos and Trend Micro (even if consumerization is strictly connected, if not overlapped with mobile) and, if the Comodo and Diginotar affaires were not enough, Rogue Certificates, according to McAfee. Instead some “new entries” are absolutely interesting, such as the threats related to NFC (even if in this case I would have expected a greater impact) or related to Virtual Currency. Besides let us hope that the prediction to adopt DNSSEC be more than a prediction but a consolidated practice.

The most conservative security firm? In my opinion Cisco. The most “visionary”? Maybe Fortinet, I found the “Crime as a Service (CaaS)” absolutely awesome, and most of all not so visionary, since there are already some (even if clumsy) attempts.

In any case with this plenty of Cyber Nightmares is not a surprise the fact the Enterprise security market is going to reach $23 billion worldwide in 2012 with a 8.7% growth year-on-year.

December 2011 Cyber Attacks Timeline (Part II)

December 30, 2011 2 comments

This infamous 2011 is nearly gone and here it is the last post for this year concerning the 2011 Cyber Attacks Timeline. As you will soon see from an infosec perspective this month has been characterized by two main events: the LulzXmas with its terrible Stratfor hack (whose effects are still ongoing with the recent release of 860,000 accounts), and an unprecented wave of breaches in China which led to the dump of nearly 88 million of users for a theoretical cost of nearly $19 million (yes the Sony brech is close). For the rest an endless cyberwar between India and Pakistan, some hactivism and (unfortunately) the usual amounts of “minor” breaches and defacement. After the page break you find all the references.

Last but not least… This post is my very personal way to wish you a happy new infosec year.

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One Year Of Lulz (Part II)

December 26, 2011 1 comment

Christmas has just gone and here it is my personal way to wish you a Happy New Year: the second part of my personal chart (first part here) of Main 2011 Cyber Attacks covering the time window from August to November 2011 (December is not yet finished, and featuring remarkable events, so expect an update very soon). This memorable year is nearly over and is time, if you feel nostalgic, to scroll down the second part of the list to review the main Cyber Events that contributed, in my opinion, to change the landscape and the rules of the (information security) game. Many events in this period among whom, IMHO, the most noticeable is the one carried on against Diginotar. Since then our trust in conventional authentication models is not (and will not be) the same anymore.

Of course this is my personal selection. Suggestions are well accepted and if you need more details about the cyber events in 2011, feel free to consult my 2011 Cyber Attacks Master Index. As usual after the page break you find all the references…

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One Year Of Lulz (Part I)

December 15, 2011 2 comments

Update December 26: 2011 is nearly gone and hence, here it is One Year Of Lulz (Part II)

This month I am a little late for the December Cyber Attacks Timeline. In the meantime, I decided to collect on a single table the main Cyber Attacks for this unforgettable year.

In this post I cover the first half (more or less), ranging from January to July 2011. This period has seen the infamous RSA Breach, the huge Sony and Epsilon breaches, the rise and fall of the LulzSec Group and the beginning of the hot summer of Anonymous agsainst the Law Enforcement Agencies and Cyber Contractors. Korea was also affected by a huge breach. The total cost of all the breaches occurred inthis period (computed with Ponemon Institute’s estimates according to which the cost of a single record is around 214$) is more than 25 billion USD.

As usual after the page break you find all the references.

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