Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

8/1/2016
08:00 AM
Simon Crosby
Simon Crosby
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Crypto Malware: Responding To Machine-Timescale Breaches

The game has changed again with hackers' ability to steal your data at record speeds and cripple your organization before the first alert.

The thousand-fold increase in crypto-malware highlights a profound change in the cyber-landscape: Previously, an attacker seeking to steal intellectual property, personal identifiable information or payment card information would need to successfully breach and persist on one or more endpoints, carefully research the network, stealthily exfiltrate data, and finally process it in order to sell it on the dark web – a lot of effort for an uncertain payout. But crypto-malware is a clear signal that hackers have changed the game. 

With crypto-malware – ransomware that encrypts files until a ransom is paid – every compromised device, whether company or personally owned, can be quickly monetized. If money isn’t the goal, attackers can use it to cripple a target for political or military advantage because it’s quick, precise and lethal, and much simpler and more effective than a messy kinetic weapon.  For organizations whose missions depend on availability of computer systems, including hospitals, law enforcement and military targets, this new form of attack is a nightmare.

A crypto-malware attacker avoids the risk of post-breach detection or interrupted exfiltration by leaving data in place, but encrypting it without being detected. The attacker also maximizes fear and impact in a shocking way: via the ransom notice. That is, a personalized victim ransom page usually containing the initial ransom amount, instructions for how to purchase Bitcoins, and a countdown clock, which adds pressure to the victim by letting them know how much time they have to pay up before the ransom doubles or the data is deleted.

The attacker doesn’t even have to decide what data is valuable. Encrypting all data forces the victim to decide. Being both fearful and unsure, the victim is very likely to pay the ransom. Likewise, rather than having to sell stolen data at a discounted black-market price, encrypting it in place allows the attacker to directly demand top dollar from the victim, who values the data most.

Most importantly, crypto-malware breaches occur at machine speed, meaning there is no need for a remote human attacker to carefully dig deeper searching for valuable data. As soon as the endpoint is compromised the attack inflicts maximum damage.  And since most such malware is undetectable by design, legacy AV suites offer scant assurance that you will be protected.  Enterprise security teams have no opportunity to detect and respond to a breach as they do with traditional attacks. 

Lest you think that crypto-malware is consumer focused, or that paying to decrypt your files is a simple way out, think again:

● Attacks have rapidly evolved to incorporate traditional breach techniques. Enterprise variants can propagate through the network to other devices and encrypt file shares and cloud storage to maximize impact.

● Following the classic approach of extortionists, attackers can charge different amounts to decrypt different parts of your data, or demand regular payments to keep data from being re-encrypted.

● It won’t be long before encrypted data is exfiltrated so the bad guys get to keep a copy too. 

“Sorry, you’re going to be pwned”
Sadly, the security industry was already failing to protect its customers from traditional manual adversaries before attackers realized the benefits of machine-speed breaches.  Vendors continue to peddle “maybe” technologies, like “next-gen antivirus” (NG-AV), that try to “detect to protect.” They tout their unbelievable ability to detect yesterday’s attacks – when in fact 99 percent of today’s malware morphs into new, undetectable variants in under a minute, according to the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. And they fail to protect against threats at the time of infection, instead offering remediation instead of prevention. Once the damage is done it’s too late.

Security vendors dodge responsibility for their failures, glibly encouraging their customers to continually look for signs of a breach they missed. But if you try to secure your organization assuming you will be breached by an adversary who operates on a human timescale, whose stealthy theft of data you must detect post-breach, you will undoubtedly be devastated by a machine-speed attack that cripples your organization before the first alert, then drains your bank account to “help” you back on your feet.

Protection at Machine-Speed
Today’s NG-AV tries to detect attacks and protect each endpoint individually, using signatures and heuristics updated by vendors on a human timescale. With absolute certainty this approach will fail, giving an attacker the foothold he needs to breach the enterprise at machine-speed. 

To protect the entire enterprise at machine speed, you cannot rely on detection. The only solution is to protect “by design” -- architecting your environment to be resilient to attack.  For a start, you ought to segment your network according to privilege or “need to know:” PCs that only access web applications need never be fully trusted on the enterprise network. Instead isolate them on their own VLAN or network subnet, and make users jump through authentication “gates” to get to high value applications or back-end services.  

Don’t give users access to file shares that are not necessary, and keep database access limited to database applications. This concept of micro-segmentation of the enterprise network is being promoted by vendors of private and public cloud infrastructure, and the concepts apply on end user PCs through micro-virtualization.  Ensure that users that need administrative access to corporate infrastructure are only able to elevate their privileges on a separately managed, VDI-based backend that can only be accessed from the enterprise intranet. Prohibit privilege escalation without forcing the user to log in under a different identity.

Rigorous separation of duties, with enforcement using tools from virtualization -- VDI, micro-segmentation and micro-virtualization -- are fundamental to building an enterprise infrastructure that is inherently more resilient to machine timescale attacks. Rigorous infrastructure-based enforcement of the principle of least privilege is a fundamental requirement for a resilient enterprise infrastructure architecture.

It is time to move beyond a model where we bet the security of the enterprise on the security of a single endpoint and human-timescale detection tools. The only way to defeat machine-timescale attacks is to embrace virtualization-enforced isolation to help enterprises protect themselves by reducing the enterprise attack surface.

Related Content:

 

Simon Crosby is co-founder and CTO at Bromium. He was founder and CTO of XenSource prior to the acquisition of XenSource by Citrix, and then served as CTO of the Virtualization & Management Division at Citrix. Previously, Simon was a principal engineer at Intel where he led ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
DotComCTO
50%
50%
DotComCTO,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2016 | 4:08:26 PM
Re: In my humble opinion
You're presuming that crypto-malware gets onto your machine and starts its nasty business of encryption. What do you do if it simple lies dormant for a day, a week, or a month and then proceeds to destroy your machine?

And yes, for an Enterprise these are the types of attacks that keep people like me awake at night. Even if you have backups (on-site, off-site, cloud, etc), something there might have been compromised beforehand.

Don't get lulled into a false sense of security.
Olaf Barheine
50%
50%
Olaf Barheine,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2016 | 8:49:07 AM
In my humble opinion
Crypto malware is not really a problem for me. My solution is quite simple: I have always a copy of my hard disk in my desk. And every day I make a backup of my data. Thus, after a successful attack it would take perhaps 10 minutes and I could continue with my work. But sure, in bigger companies it could be more complicated.

 
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
Google Lets iPhone Users Turn Device into Security Key
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/15/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-5647
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
The Chrome Plugin for Rapid7 AppSpider can incorrectly keep browser sessions active after recording a macro, even after a restart of the Chrome browser. This behavior could make future session hijacking attempts easier, since the user could believe a session was closed when it was not. This issue af...
CVE-2011-3612
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) vulnerability exists in panel.php in UseBB before 1.0.12.
CVE-2011-3613
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An issue exists in Vanilla Forums before 2.0.17.9 due to the way cookies are handled.
CVE-2011-3614
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An Access Control vulnerability exists in the Facebook, Twitter, and Embedded plugins in Vanilla Forums before 2.0.17.9.
CVE-2011-3621
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
A reverse proxy issue exists in FluxBB before 1.4.7 when FORUM_BEHIND_REVERSE_PROXY is enabled.