Can You Stop a Targeted Attack?

The question of stopping targeted attacks has been on my mind for a while. Of course my partners and I have to suffer through far too many vendor briefings where they claim to stop an APT with fairy dust and assorted other black magic. But honestly, it is a legitimate and necessary question. Ever since Google came clean a few years back about Aurora, and everyone then acknowledged the persistent, likely state-sponsored attacker as a class of adversaries, vendors have been APT-washing their stuff trying to convince anyone who would sit still that their run-of-the-mill IPS or endpoint protection product had a chance. Basically this rash act was necessary to keep the cash cow hemorrhaging money, even in the face of mediocre (or worse) efficacy of existing controls. But here is the thing these vendors missed. Very few of the adversaries most organizations face are advanced or persistent. Most are today’s version of script kiddies trying to smash and grab their way out of the despondency of their existence. It’s much easier and more lucrative than robbing a bank, after all. So most existing controls still have some role to play in tomorrow’s defense. But we all know existing controls are not sufficient. Yet targeted attacks do exist, and the legitimately advanced attackers are now targeting further afield to achieve their objectives. They are attacking the supply chains of their targets to gain deeper footholds, earlier. And now that we have a better idea of the tactics they are using, we start to see offerings built very specifically for these kinds of attacks. I won’t say we’re seeing real innovation yet, but lots of vendors are learning and evolving their offerings to factor in this new class of attacker. Unfortunately it’s still way too early to get a feel for whether real innovation is happening (or will happen), or whether this is just a classier version of APT-washing. Regardless of what happens on the prevention side, you still need to monitor the hell out of your stuff. As Mandiant described in a blog post that has since disappeared from their site (wonder if they’re now doing work for Global Payments, hmmmm), the folks at Global Payments evidently found the first breach themselves by monitoring their egress traffic and seeing stuff they didn’t like leaving their network. Was it too late? Of course. But it’s a hell of a lot better to catch it yourself than to hear from your payment processor or the FBI that you have a ‘problem’. We will see a lot of new stuff, as everybody tries to get ahead of attacks – even targeted ones. But it’s career-limiting to plan on stopping them; so we still push investment in monitoring, forensics, and response – even in the presence of new and innovative protections. Or is “Can you stop a targeted attack?” the wrong question to even ask? Photo credit: “Bullseye” originally uploaded by bitsofreality Share:

Read Post

Incite 6/27/2012: Empty Nest

Be quiet. Be vewy vewy quiet. Now listen. What do you hear? Listen very closely. Do you hear anything? No? That’s exactly the point. The Boss and I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of nothing. No grumbling about having to get ready for school. No kvetching about ill-fitting bathing suits, and no asking for this play date or that activity. No crappy Disney Tween shows blaring from the TV. No nothing. The house is quiet. On Sunday we put the kids on the bus for sleepaway camp. Barbarians that we are, we ship the kids off to Pennsylvania every summer. The girls go for 6 weeks. The Boy is going for 4 weeks, as it’s his first summer away. So for the first time since XX1 was born, we will have the house to ourselves for longer than a day. Will we miss the kids? Of course. We huddle around the laptop every night and look for pictures posted on the camp website. We dutifully write them letters every day. Well actually, we type the letters into a website, which then prints a copy for delivery to them. We’ll trudge off to the mailbox every day, hoping we got a letter. But we will also enjoy the time they are away. We’re going to see Earth, Wind and Fire tonight – and we don’t have to worry about arranging for a baby sitter. We may take a long weekend at a nearby resort. Or we might not. We can sleep late. We can work late. We can go to the pool at 2pm if we feel like it. We can BBQ on Wednesday, and I could party on Friday night, knowing that I don’t have to wake up early to take a kid to a game or activity. Best of all, I can spend quality time with the Boss without the constant crushing pressure of being the involved parents of active kids. We don’t have to worry about who’s making lunches, or picking up from the dance studio, or folding the laundry. Two adults don’t really generate that much laundry. These quiet times also prepare us for the inevitable, when the kids leave the nest. Lots of parents forget to have their own relationship because they are too busy managing the kids. Not us – for here on, our nest will be empty every summer. We are painfully aware that the kids are with us for a short time, and then they will live their own lives. And 6 weeks every summer is a big chunk of their summer vacation. Like everything, it’s a trade-off. Ultimately the decision is easy for us. They learn independence and how to function as part of a group, without their parents telling them what to do. We take very seriously our responsibility to prepare our kids to prosper in the wide world, and I don’t think there is a better place to apply the skills we teach them than at summer camp. It’s also great for the kids. On the first day we have seen the boy at the pool, at the lake doing paddle boats, at the firing range, playing basketball, and watching some kind of show put on by the counselors. That was one day. So as barbaric as it may seem to send our kids away for that long, there is no other place they’d rather be every summer. And that’s a win/win in my book. –Mike Photo credits: Empty Nest originally uploaded by Kristine Paulus Heavy Research We’re back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently under way. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, with all our content in its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too. Understanding and Selecting Data Masking Buyer’s Guide Use Cases Pragmatic Key Management Choosing Your Key Management Strategy The Four Enterprise Key Management Strategies Evolving Endpoint Malware Detection Controls, Trade-offs and Compromises Providing Context Incite 4 U Blue Horseshoe loves threat intelligence: For a long time, the reactive approach to doing security worked well enough. But the past few years, not so much. So large organizations, with significant security infrastructure, have started to try to learn a bit about attackers before they attack. Wait, what? You mean an intel type function, which requires investment? Yup. So not only are we seeing a re-emergence of vulnerability trackers like iDefense, but also some new business models based on using intelligence to deceive attackers (as described in Dark Reading), or buying up zero-days to share with the good guys (Aaron Portnoy’s new shop, Exodus Intelligence). We love content, and cannot be happier that we’re finally seeing security content valued on its own merits – not just as part of a widget. – MR The future of software: We see continuing evidence in support of the assertion made by Red Monk’s founder Stephen O’Grady: Large software firms will be making money with software rather than from software. And I totally agree with that statement! While the main thrust of the post is to argue that Microsoft’s share price has suffered from poor choices in direction and lack of innovation, the really interesting aspects highlight the competitive forces within the software industry. In part it’s the transition from desktop, to web app, to mobile app, but it’s also about growing adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) and what I consider the real long-term direction for back office applications: Platform as a Service (PaaS). Many of his observations are solid, but the dim picture he paints for Microsoft and other software vendors fails to account for their mobile and PaaS efforts, or the pricing pressures these larger software vendors will inflict on the rest of the market when they start offering the entire back office stack – including hardware and service – for a single price. Apple’s – and to a lesser extent Google’s – more consumer-oriented cloud service models

Read Post

Totally Transparent Research is the embodiment of how we work at Securosis. It’s our core operating philosophy, our research policy, and a specific process. We initially developed it to help maintain objectivity while producing licensed research, but its benefits extend to all aspects of our business.

Going beyond Open Source Research, and a far cry from the traditional syndicated research model, we think it’s the best way to produce independent, objective, quality research.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed ‘live’ on the blog. Primary research is generally released in pieces, as a series of posts, so we can digest and integrate feedback, making the end results much stronger than traditional “ivory tower” research.
  • Comments are enabled for posts. All comments are kept except for spam, personal insults of a clearly inflammatory nature, and completely off-topic content that distracts from the discussion. We welcome comments critical of the work, even if somewhat insulting to the authors. Really.
  • Anyone can comment, and no registration is required. Vendors or consultants with a relevant product or offering must properly identify themselves. While their comments won’t be deleted, the writer/moderator will “call out”, identify, and possibly ridicule vendors who fail to do so.
  • Vendors considering licensing the content are welcome to provide feedback, but it must be posted in the comments - just like everyone else. There is no back channel influence on the research findings or posts.
    Analysts must reply to comments and defend the research position, or agree to modify the content.
  • At the end of the post series, the analyst compiles the posts into a paper, presentation, or other delivery vehicle. Public comments/input factors into the research, where appropriate.
  • If the research is distributed as a paper, significant commenters/contributors are acknowledged in the opening of the report. If they did not post their real names, handles used for comments are listed. Commenters do not retain any rights to the report, but their contributions will be recognized.
  • All primary research will be released under a Creative Commons license. The current license is Non-Commercial, Attribution. The analyst, at their discretion, may add a Derivative Works or Share Alike condition.
  • Securosis primary research does not discuss specific vendors or specific products/offerings, unless used to provide context, contrast or to make a point (which is very very rare).
    Although quotes from published primary research (and published primary research only) may be used in press releases, said quotes may never mention a specific vendor, even if the vendor is mentioned in the source report. Securosis must approve any quote to appear in any vendor marketing collateral.
  • Final primary research will be posted on the blog with open comments.
  • Research will be updated periodically to reflect market realities, based on the discretion of the primary analyst. Updated research will be dated and given a version number.
    For research that cannot be developed using this model, such as complex principles or models that are unsuited for a series of blog posts, the content will be chunked up and posted at or before release of the paper to solicit public feedback, and provide an open venue for comments and criticisms.
  • In rare cases Securosis may write papers outside of the primary research agenda, but only if the end result can be non-biased and valuable to the user community to supplement industry-wide efforts or advances. A “Radically Transparent Research” process will be followed in developing these papers, where absolutely all materials are public at all stages of development, including communications (email, call notes).
    Only the free primary research released on our site can be licensed. We will not accept licensing fees on research we charge users to access.
  • All licensed research will be clearly labeled with the licensees. No licensed research will be released without indicating the sources of licensing fees. Again, there will be no back channel influence. We’re open and transparent about our revenue sources.

In essence, we develop all of our research out in the open, and not only seek public comments, but keep those comments indefinitely as a record of the research creation process. If you believe we are biased or not doing our homework, you can call us out on it and it will be there in the record. Our philosophy involves cracking open the research process, and using our readers to eliminate bias and enhance the quality of the work.

On the back end, here’s how we handle this approach with licensees:

  • Licensees may propose paper topics. The topic may be accepted if it is consistent with the Securosis research agenda and goals, but only if it can be covered without bias and will be valuable to the end user community.
  • Analysts produce research according to their own research agendas, and may offer licensing under the same objectivity requirements.
  • The potential licensee will be provided an outline of our research positions and the potential research product so they can determine if it is likely to meet their objectives.
  • Once the licensee agrees, development of the primary research content begins, following the Totally Transparent Research process as outlined above. At this point, there is no money exchanged.
  • Upon completion of the paper, the licensee will receive a release candidate to determine whether the final result still meets their needs.
  • If the content does not meet their needs, the licensee is not required to pay, and the research will be released without licensing or with alternate licensees.
  • Licensees may host and reuse the content for the length of the license (typically one year). This includes placing the content behind a registration process, posting on white paper networks, or translation into other languages. The research will always be hosted at Securosis for free without registration.

Here is the language we currently place in our research project agreements:

Content will be created independently of LICENSEE with no obligations for payment. Once content is complete, LICENSEE will have a 3 day review period to determine if the content meets corporate objectives. If the content is unsuitable, LICENSEE will not be obligated for any payment and Securosis is free to distribute the whitepaper without branding or with alternate licensees, and will not complete any associated webcasts for the declining LICENSEE. Content licensing, webcasts and payment are contingent on the content being acceptable to LICENSEE. This maintains objectivity while limiting the risk to LICENSEE. Securosis maintains all rights to the content and to include Securosis branding in addition to any licensee branding.

Even this process itself is open to criticism. If you have questions or comments, you can email us or comment on the blog.