Network-Based Malware Detection: Introduction [new blog series]

Evidently this is the month of anti-malware research for us – I’m adding to the Malware Analysis Quant project by starting a separate related series. We’re calling it Network-based Malware Detection: Filling the Gaps of AV because that’s what we need to do as an industry. Current State: FAIL It’s no secret that our existing malware defenses aren’t getting it done. Not by a long shot. Organizations large and small continue to be compromised by all sorts of issues. Application attacks. Drive-by downloads. Zero-day exploits. Phishing. But all these attack vectors have something in common: they are means to an end. That end is a hostile foothold in your organization, gained by installing some kind of malware on your devices. At that point – once the bad guys are in your house – they can steal data, compromise more devices, or launch other attacks. Or more likely all of the above. But most compromises nowadays start with an attack dropping some kind of malware on a device. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better – these cyber-fraud operations are increasingly sophisticated and scalable. They have software developers using cutting-edge development techniques. They test their code against services that run malware through many of the anti-malware engines to ensure they evade that low bar of defense. They use cutting-edge marketing to achieve broad distribution, and to reach as many devices as possible. All these tactics further their objective: getting a foothold in your organization. So it’s clear the status quo of anti-malware detection isn’t cutting it, and will not moving forward. The first generation of anti-malware was based on signatures. You know: the traditional negative security model that took a list of what’s bad and then looked for it on devices. Whether it was endpoint anti-virus, content perimeter (email, web filtering) AV, or network-based (IDS/IPS), the approach was largely the same. Look for bad and block it. Defense in depth meant using different lists of signatures and hoping that you’d catch the bad stuff. But hope is not a strategy. The value of pattern matching You may interpret the previous diatribe as an indictment of all sorts of approaches to pattern matching – the basis of the negative security model across all its applications. But that’s not our position. Our point is that these outdated approaches look for the wrong patterns, in the wrong data sources. We need to evolve our detection tactics beyond what you see on your endpoints or on your networks. We need to band together and get smarter. Leverage what we see collectively and do it now. It’s an arms race, but now your adversaries have bullets designed just to kill you. But a bullet can only kill you in so many ways. So if you can profile these proverbial ways to die you can look for them regardless of what the attack vector looks like. Here’s where we can start to turn the tide, because all this malware stuff leaves a trace of how it plans to kill you. Maybe it’s where the malware phones home. Maybe it’s the kind of network traffic that is sent, its frequency, or an encryption algorithm. Maybe it’s the type of files and/or the behavior of devices compromised by this malware. Maybe it’s how the malware was packed or how it proliferates. Most likely it’s all of the above. You may need to recognize several possible indicators for a solid match. The point (as we are making in the Malware Analysis Quant project) is that you can profile the malware and then look for those indicators in a number of places across your environment – including the network. We have been doing anti-virus on the perimeter, within email security gateways, for years. But that was just moving existing technology to the perimeter. This is different. This is about really understanding what the files are doing, and then determining whether something is bad. And by leveraging the power of the collective network, we can profile the bad stuff a lot faster. With the advancement of network security technology, we can start to analyze those files before they make their way to our devices. Can we actually prevent an attack? Under the right circumstances, yes. No panacea Of course we cannot detect every attack before it does anything bad. We have never believed in 100% security, nor do we think any technology can protect an organization from a targeted and persistent attacker. But we certainly can (and need to) leverage some of these new technologies to react faster to these attacks. In this series we will talk about the tactics needed to detect today’s malware attacks and the kinds of tools & analysis required, then we’ll critically assess the best place to perform that analysis – whether it’s on the endpoints, within the perimeter, or in the ‘cloud’ (whatever that means). As always, we will evaluate the pros and cons of each alternative with our standard brutal candor. Our goal is to make sure you understand the upside and downside of each approach and location for detecting malware, so you can make an informed decision about the best way to fight malware moving forward. But before we get going, let’s thank our sponsor for this research project: Palo Alto Networks. We can’t do what we do (and give it away to you folks) without the support of our clients. So stay tuned. We’ll be jumping into this blog series with both feet right after the Christmas holiday. Share:

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Incite 12/21/2011: Regret. Nothing.

Around the turn of the New Year, I always love to see the cartoon where the old guy of the current year gives way to the toddler of the upcoming year. Each new year becomes a logical breakpoint to take stock of where you’re at, and where you want to be 12 months from now. Some of us (like me) aren’t so worried about setting overly specific goals anymore, but it’s a good opportunity to make sure things are moving in the right direction. I recently met with a friend who knows change is coming. Being a bit older than me, with kids mostly out of the house, this person is somewhat critically evaluating daily activities and will likely come to the conclusion that the current gig isn’t how they’d like to spend the next 20 years. But you know, for a lot of people change is really hard. It’s scary and uncertain and you’ll always struggle with that pesky what-if question. So most folks just do nothing and stay the course. I try my best to not look backwards but sometimes it’s inevitable. I still get calls from headhunters every so often about some marketing job. About two minutes after I submit this post, I’m sure Rich will request that I change my phone number. But not to worry, fearless leader, most of the time the companies are absolute crap. To the point where I wouldn’t let any of my friends consider it. Every so often there is an interesting company, but all I have to do is recall how miserable I was doing marketing (and I was), and I decline. Sometimes politely. After 20+ years, I’ve figured out what I like to do, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it every day. Why would I screw that up? But I fear I’m the exception, not the rule. You don’t want to have regret. Don’t look back in 2020 and wonder what happened to the past decade. Don’t let the fear of change stop you from chasing your dreams or from getting out of a miserable situation. I have probably harped on this specific topic far too often this year, but the reality is that I keep having the same conversations with people over and over again. So many folks feel trapped and won’t change because it’s scary, or for any of a million other excuses. So they meander through each year hoping it gets better. It doesn’t, and unfortunately many folks only figure that out at the bitter end. When I look back in 10 years, I’ll know I tried some new stuff in 2012. Some of it will have worked. Most of it won’t. But that’s this game we call life and I live mine without regret. -Mike Photo credits: “regret. nothing.” originally uploaded by Ed Yourdon Research Update: We’ve launched the latest Quant project, digging deeply into Malware Analysis. Given the depth of that research, we’ll be posting it on the Project Quant blog. Check it out, or follow our Heavy Feed via RSS. Incite 4 U In the beginning: My start in security was completely accidental. I was in Navy ROTC and as a fundraiser we all worked security for home football games. Technically I should have been pouring beer or cleaning floors, but since I was in color guard the guy in charge of security got confused and treated me like an upperclassman. With those haircuts we all looked the same anyway. Three years later I was the guy in charge, and weirdly enough that experience (plus some childhood hacking) kicked off my security career after I started in IT as an admin and (later) developer. So I have no direct experience of what it takes to get started in security today, but @fornalm is about to graduate with a degree in computer security and talks about the challenges and opportunities he faces. This is great reading even for old hands, as it gives us an idea of what it’s like to start today, and perhaps ways to help bring up some young blood. We can certainly use the help. – RM Silent, but deadly: I’m a bit surprised that there wasn’t more buzz and/or angst about Microsoft’s decision to silently update IE in 2012. That’s right, the software will update in the background and you (most likely) won’t know about it. Google does this already with Chrome, so it’s not unprecedented. Enterprise customers will still be able to control updates in accordance with their change management processes. On balance, this is likely a good thing for all those consumers who can’t be bothered to click the button on Windows Update. Obviously there is some risk here (ask McAfee about the challenges of a bad update), but given the hard unchanging reality that bad guys find the path of least resistance – which is usually an unpatched machine – this is good news. – MR Browser Bits: Interesting tidbits on Twitter this week. Joe Walker has a good idea to combat self-XSS to help protect against socially engineered cross site scripting attacks. In essence, the protection is built into the browser, and enabled with a configuration flag. With XSS a growing attack vector, this would be a welcome addition to protect the majority of users without major effort. And in case you missed it, here is a clever little frame script to detect whether the browser has NoScript enabled. Check the page source to see how it works. It goes to show that there are ways marketing organizations can learn about you and browser, as most protection leaves fingerprints. – AL Why compete in the field, when you can compete in the courts? It was inevitable, but Juniper is the first to sue Palo Alto based on patents relating to “firewall technology used to protect communications networks from intrusion.” Yeah, I’m sure they could have similar claims against other network security companies. You know, small companies like Cisco, Check Point, and

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