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)
Another crucial episode in the affair of the RSA Breach. In a letter published yesterday by mean of the Executive Chairman Art Coviello, letter that will probably go into the annals of computer security, RSA has confirmed that information taken in March had been used as an element of an attempted broader attack on Lockheed Martin. This evidence was obtained, according to the company, on June the 2nd, and so far, the Lockeed Martin attack is the only one, among those (alleged) aimed to other contractors, which has been confirmed directly related to the use of compromised seeds.
Finally this letter indirectly confirms that, given the stolen information, SecureID tokens have been comprimised (but this was implicitly said in the original letters as well):
While at this time we are confident that the information extracted does not enable a successful direct attack on any of our RSA SecurID customers, this information could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack
and moreover, as was quite clear from the beginning, RSA believes that certain characteristics of the original attack indicated that the perpetrator’s most likely motive was to obtain an element of security information to be used to target defense secrets and related IP. For this reason, the Company worked with government agencies and companies in the defense sector to replace their tokens on an accelerated timetable as an additional precautionary measure.
Another interesting (and shareable) point of the letter is the fact that the unprecedented wave of cyber attacks against Epsilon, Sony, Google, PBS, and Nintendo have commanded widespread public attention. Albeit totally unrelated to the breach at RSA, this events, and this is a really important point, delineate a changing threat landscape and hence have heightened public awareness and customer concern: a landscape in which Cybercrime and Cyberwar dangerously overlap.
As a result, the Company is expanding its security remediation program including two offers for assuring SecureID users’ confidence:
- An offer to replace SecurID tokens for customers with concentrated user bases typically focused on protecting intellectual property and corporate networks.
- An offer to implement risk-based authentication strategies for consumer-focused customers with a large, dispersed user base, typically focused on protecting web-based financial transactions.
Is this a new dawning age for two-factors authentication?
I just finished reading this interesting article that seems to offer a different view for the attack at Lockheed Martin (actually, a lone voice which does not consider the attack related to compromised seeds), that here it is another bolt from the Blue. As a matter of fact Wired reports that a second Defense Contractor, L-3, has been targeted with penetration attacks leveraging information stolen from the infamous RSA Breach. This information was contained into an E-mail, dated April 6, sent to the 5000 group’s employees. t’s not clear from the e-mail whether the hackers were successful in their attack, or how L-3 determined SecurID was involved.
Protecting our network is a top priority and we have a robust set of protocols in place to ensure sensitive information is safeguarded. We have gotten to the bottom of the issue.
Is the only comment of the company.
This revelation occurs few days after the explosive news pertaining the attack led with similar methods to another Defense Contractor, Lockeed Martin.
Maybe all the defense contractors should have followed the wise example of Raytheon (another Defense Contractor) which declared to have taken immediate companywide actions in March when incident information was initially provided to RSA customers, to prevent a widespread disruption of their network.
If confirmed, this event is a further corroboration of the fact the real target of the Hackers was not RSA but their customers, event if at this point I wonder if military contractors are the only targets or if they have been the only ones capable to detect the attempts because of their strict security protocols and policies.
- Second Defense Contractor L-3 ‘Actively Targeted’ With RSA SecurID Hacks (wired.com)
- More Random Thoughts on the RSA Breach (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- Some Random Thoughts On RSA Breach (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
Probably it was a quite easy prediction, however it looks like what I suggested on my random thoughts on the RSA Breach has definitively come true: RSA was not the target, probably its customers were.
On this front, the last two days were quite turbulent, and what seemed initially a simple speculation of an attack using compromised SecureID seeds targeted to “a very large U. S. defense contractor”, is revealing to be one of several attacks towards military contractors of U.S. Defense, using the data stolen during the famous breach of March.
According to a source with direct knowledge of the attacks, quoted in the above linked Reuters article:
The hackers learned how to copy the security keys with data stolen from RSA during a sophisticated attack that EMC disclosed in March, according to the source.
In any case EMC, the parent company of RSA, and the other main U.S. defense contractors possibly involved refused to comment.
I was not surprised by these details, more than one month ago I delineated a possible attack scenario which seems to be very close to what happened, at least for Lockheed Martin. Since the token on its own it is not enough to carry on a successful attack (it must be linked to the owner and very often the real password is also combined with a PIN), other combined actions must be performed to obtain the missing pieces of the puzzle.
I suggested a possible scenario of exploiting the weakness of software tokens, for instance by mean of specific keylogger malware to grab user details and the PIN. It is not exactly what happened in case of Lockheed Martin, but the real attack scenario is quite close since a keylogger was involved as well and used to access the intranet and consequently to get access to the internal network: as a matter of fact, for security reasons many companies use a double layer of authentication for remote access and internal resources. In this case the company forced 100.000 users to reset their passwords.
In reality, as stated by Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs, the initial RSA attack was followed by malware and phishing campaigns seeking specific data that would link tokens to end-users, suggesting that the current attacks may have been carried out by the same hackers. And the game is not over.
Unfortunately the use of phishing to lure the users (and to attack an organization for cybercrime purposes) is not surprising as well. Nowadays this technique, to initially target the users with phishing, leading them to download malware, is the “main engine” of APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) and it is revealing to be the common denominator of the main breaches and huge scale attacks of this annus horribilis for Information Security. The fact that in this circumstance it was used in combination with the duplicated key of SecureID is only the last unedited variant, and I am afraid it will not be the last.
Fortunately, in any serious situation there is always a flash of humor: according to this article of NYT, the intruders had been detected as they were trying to transfer data by security software provided by NetWitness Corporation, a company that provides network monitoring software. Does NetWitness Corporation sound familiar to you? Of course It does indeed! In April, just after the breach, NetWitness was acquired by RSA’s parent company, EMC.
As Morpheus stated: “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony”, and this is worthwhile for Information Security as well.