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Vulnerabilities / Threats

7/17/2014
12:05 PM
Brian Foster
Brian Foster
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A New Age in Cyber Security: Public Cyberhealth

The cleanup aimed at disrupting GameOver Zeus and CryptoLocker offers an instructive template for managing mass cyber infections.

Public health debates have endured for hundreds of years involving questions like when and how should people be notified of health issues and epidemics? Or, what is the best way to generate positive action without inducing panic?

Today, those same kinds of questions are being directed at the relatively new area of public cyberhealth management. In fact, the recent campaign to eradicate CryptoLocker Ransomware and Gameover Zeus was one of the first and largest experiments of its kind in cyberhealth notification and inoculation.

On June 2, the US Department of Justice announced a global operation to dismantle GameOver Zeus and CryptoLocker -- but not before hundreds of thousands of users were infected and victim losses exceeded $100 million in the US alone. The announcement included a warning for victims to clean their infected computers within two weeks, the estimated time it might take for the botmasters to resurface.

Managing mass cyber infections is challenging. Our adversaries are well funded, agile, and adaptive. They are also constantly seeking the next weakness to exploit. Clean-up operations require broad global cooperation from law enforcement, domain registrars, security vendors, sinkhole operators, and most importantly, victims -- who must largely "opt-in."

The DOJ effort aimed at disrupting GameOver Zeus and CryptoLocker is a blueprint for good public cyberhealth. Consider the template:

Infected users are asked to remedy their infected systems
As past botnet cleanup efforts have shown, user awareness of mass infections is short lived. Therefore, it is crucial that remediation tools and solutions be provided on day zero. With the first announcement of the botnet taken offline, the public was directed to cleanup tools from every major security vendor. In addition, users could find solutions via a list curated by US-CERT or Get Safe Online.

Registries either block or sinkhole domain-generation algorithm (DGA) elements of the infections
This came in response to a letter by ICANN supporting the policy-based blocking of malicious domain registries. The malware uses seven top-level domains: .com, .net, .biz, .info, .co.uk, and .ru. All but the last two are being blocked, while domains under .co.uk and .ru are pointing to sinkholes.

Remediation is approached as a mass infection that must be managed -- not completely taken down
As Code Red and Conficker have shown, eliminating every last viral installation may be virtually impossible; tthere are still thousands of hosts on the Internet today infected by Code Red and Conficker. The size and impact of some infections may require perpetual blocking and sinkholing. Bottom line: Botnets must be managed as mass infections, and cleanup as an opt-in experience.

The cleanup effort addresses a peer-to-peer (P2P) component of the malware infrastructure
The remediation of P2P networks has been explored in academic papers, but this is one of the larger, IP-based sinkhole efforts to date.

The evolution of cyber public health requires coordinated defenses across our community. But just as importantly, these efforts must continue to improve and evolve as our understanding of cyberthreats grows.

Brian Foster brings more than 25 years of successful product management and development experience to Damballa. Recently, he was SVP of product management for consumer security at McAfee, where he directed the strategy and development of consumer and mobile security ... View Full Bio
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Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
7/22/2014 | 10:42:25 AM
Re: Blueprint for fighting cyber infections
I totally agree, @Robert. I found the comparison to epidemiology very original and apt with respect to cybersecurity. There has always been a lot of talk about proper security hygiene but using the public health model as an education blueprint makes a lot of sense. 
Robert McDougal
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Robert McDougal,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 10:02:32 AM
Re: Blueprint for fighting cyber infections
Great Article!

Our biggest problem in this fight is the uneducated user. To use a crude analogy, the user's we have today are by and large akin to the populace prior to germ theory. People don't understand proper digital hygiene, they believe it is ok to click any link and run any program emailed to them. They are completely ok putting their credentials into any site that comes along.

In my opinion, we should treat this as a serious public epidemic and properly educate people of the dangers of the digital landscape. In other words, teach people the value of washing their digital hands and being aware of the cleanliness of others.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 3:23:37 PM
Re: Blueprint for fighting cyber infections
Thanks for those links @BrianFoster. (and sorry about the spam! it's gone now..)
I am definitely going to take a look at the DOJ release and check out the video from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Looks like quite a few heavy hitters on that panel, Taking Down Botnets: Public & Private Efforts to Disrupt and Dismantle Cybercriminal Networks. 

 




BrianFoster
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BrianFoster,
User Rank: Author
7/21/2014 | 3:03:09 PM
Re: Blueprint for fighting cyber infections
It was quite a concerted effort among a number of parties. The DoJ primer, though long, is worth a read, describing the industry cooperation. 

http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/June/14-crm-584.html

In addition, at a recent US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on botnet cleanups,
Leslie Caldwell (Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, DoJ)stated that some 30% of the GameOverZeus victims were cleaned up.

   http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/taking-down-botnets_public-and-private-efforts-to-disrupt-and-dismantle-cybercriminal-networks

While it's hard to compare all botnets to each other, in terms of general cleanups, this is twice what one normally sees with simple victim notification.
 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
7/18/2014 | 10:30:18 AM
Blueprint for fighting cyber infections
Great analogy for a cyber security defense.  Thanks for sharing wiith Dark Reading. Hoping you can tell us a little bit more about how the clean-up operations were coordinated among law enforcement, domain registrars, security vendors, sinkhole operators, and victims. Did DOJ take the lead and how was information shared?
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