Why ‘WannaCry’ must be a lesson for all

Oct 24, 2017 by infocon in  cyber security Security

May 12, 2017 is one of the most dreadful days of the year for cyber experts and its stakeholders. About 150 countries across the globe suffered a cyber-attack, affecting 200,000 computers.

It was the infamous “WannaCry” ransomware in which hackers locked people out of their computers, demanding a ransom of $300 in bitcoins. Medical care became inaccessible and factories were shut down for more than 2 days to minimize loss of confidential and further damage.

Here goes a brief on one of the most dangerous ransomware attacks in the Cyber-verse:

What is “WannaCry”?

“WannaCry” appears to have utilized a flaw in Microsoft’s software, discovered by the National Security Agency, which was quickly leaked by hackers. The malicious code that relied on the victims opening a zip file emailed to them, spread rapidly across networks locking away files one by one. From then on, the programme used Microsoft’s flaw to thrive.

Microsoft had released a security update which addressed the vulnerability in the sixteen year old Windows XP operating system, in March 2017. This update was exploited by the hackers to trigger the massive ransomware attack.

 

 

Who got affected?

Several computer networks worldwide were affected, including Telefonica as well as other major organizations in Spain. The British National Health Service (NHS), too, was forced to cancel scheduled patients.

FedEx, Deutsche Bahn, the Russian Interior  Ministry and Russian telecom MegaFon were barred from normal operating services. According to Quartz the three bitcoin wallets used in the attack received just under 300 payments totalling a sum of 48.8635565 bitcoins, which is the equivalent of about $101,000.

 

What is a ransomware attack?

The term ‘ransomware’ appeared in 2005 in the US with the first notable biggest threats to security. While cyber experts maintain it to be 2005, the history of ransomware goes back to 1989.

 

PC CYBORG advisory from 1989. Screenshot via Security Focus

 

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, the earliest ransomware attack occurred in 1989, targeting the healthcare industry. Tracing the same, the healthcare industry still remains a top target for such attacks even after twenty eight years.

Ransomware is a cyber-attack wherein hackers gain control over a computer system and block access to it until the demanded ransom is paid. Hackers get control of systems by downloading a type of malicious software onto a device within the network. This is usually done by getting a victim to click on download link by mistake. The link is normally attached with an email, which once opened, encrypts the hard drive. Once the software gets into the victim’s computer, it enables the hackers to launch an attack that locks all files it can find within that network.

The recent ‘WannaCry’, also known as Wanna Decryptor is a ransomware programme that locks all the available data in the system leaving the user with only instructions on what to do next and the Wanna Decryptor programme itself.

When the software is opened, it tells the users that the files on their computer have been encrypted. It then gives them a few days to pay up, warning that their files will otherwise be deleted. It generally gives them instructions to pay in Bitcoin, providing the Bitcoin address for it to be sent to.

 

 

What is the way out?

Larger organizations should ideally follow the guidelines provided by concerned institutions:

  • Apply the latest Microsoft security patches for this particular flaw.
  • Ensure all outgoing and incoming emails are scanned for malicious attachments.
  • Ensure anti-virus programmes are up to date and conducting regular scans.
  • Backup all key data and information.
  • Organize education programmes on malware so employees can identify scams, malicious links or emails that may contain hazardous viruses.
  • Run “penetration tests” against your network’s security at least once a year.

Many experts even suggested restoring all files from a backup. If that isn’t possible, there are tools that can decrypt and recover some information.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) to affect 60%-70% of the current jobs

Oct 18, 2017

As the world moves from ‘globalization’ to ‘glocalization’, the era of digitization seems to make its entry into global markets too. We’ve stepped into the age of ‘digital disruption’ where every new technology succeeds over its predecessor, proving the former a failure.
Increasing digital market environments are becoming a goal for every contemporary business organization. Digital interventions of social, analytics, mobile, big data and cloud technologies are laying the foundation for transformation. When these are integrated into cognitive computing, robotics, internet of things, 3 D printing, they form multiple disruptive scenarios like P2P, remote healthcare, digital banks, etc.
From the industry perspective, digital disruption is blurring lines between practices and learning from one industry being implemented in the other. Proliferation of smart devices and surge of AI, is the new battleground that is taking many sectors by storm.
AI has become the new hiring manager as job losses are projected to be the next big story. A recent World Bank research shows that AI threatens 69% and 77% of jobs in India and China respectively. A report by US-based research firm HfS Research states that about 7 lakh low-skilled workers in IT and BPO industry in India are likely to lose their jobs 2022, due to automation and AI.
Further, AI is set to affect 60%-70% of the current jobs. They will either get marginalized or totally eliminated.
A number of AI-based startups like Skillate, Belong, Stockroom, etc. scan through resumes and contain automatically updating algorithms for CVs. All of these are slowly taking over jobs portals like monster.com, Indeed, etc.
AI is shaking up the recruitment industry. Companies like Airbnb, WeWork, are starting pay-per-use models in both products and services. This has consistently given rise to freelancers who enroll for project-based work in growing gigs economy. Projections show that 43% of the US workforce will be freelancers by 2020.
In the time interactivity, where AI ensures upgrade on the go, jobseekers often complained of websites becoming useless for their resumes. Many even complained of no update on feedback on their interviews.
With AI, the most prime concern is of privacy. It is naïve to believe that AI-based platforms only track data in the public domain. A lot of times, a candidate’s political bias might potentially affect the employer’s decision-making. Or in the digitally-dominated world, potentially employable candidates who don’t use a lot of computers, may miss out on opportunities.
It is largely expected by cyber specialists that gradually, a person’s digital footprints will significance in the future.

A brief on India’s Cyber Security Status

Oct 17, 2017

The biggest story of 2016 is undoubtedly the alarming rise of cyber crime. A look at global IT industries explains that we’re facing a lack of efficient professionals. According to the Cyber Security Ventures ‘Cyber Security Jobs Report’, there were 1 million cyber security job openings in 2016. The number is expected to grow to 1.5 million by 2019.

Against the backdrop, the scenario of India’s cyber security industry is no exception. A quick glance at one of the most notable security breaches in the country shows:

1)   Cyber criminals breached the country’s largest government site – the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website, stealing around 10 million records from the server of the e-ticketing portal.

2)    A cyber criminal by the name ‘Faisal’ allegedly breached the website of Canara Bank, defacing it by inserting a malicious page and blocking some of its payment services.

3)    Fraudsters broke into the email account of Binny Bansal, CEO of Flipkart, sending two emails to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) demanding a sum of $80,000.

Further look at similar incidents show that majority of these attacks happened in the e-commerce and banking sectors. The reason for this is found to be a high value of personally identifiable information )PII) in these industries.

According to ‘M-Trends 2016, Asia-Pacific Edition’ by Mandiant Consulting, Indian organizations are more susceptible to data breaches. Poor investments in high-end security solutions are to blame, as experts say. This must sound caution to smaller and bigger organizations both.

In the wake of this, the Indian government has started to invest money in recruiting cyber security experts. Partnerships with top international security firms have also been registered. The recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the national cyber security agencies of India and the U.K. is a step in the direction. The exchange of technical information on cyber attacks, security incidents and solutions will benefit both countries in fighting cyber crime together.

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What is cyber security? How to build a cyber security strategy

Dec 28, 2017

Organizations face many threats to their information systems and data. Understanding all the basic elements to cyber security is the first step to meeting those threats.

Cyber security is the practice of ensuring the integrity, confidentiality and availability (ICA) of information. It represents the ability to defend against and recover from accidents like hard drive failures or power outages, and from attacks by adversaries. The latter includes everyone from script kiddies to hackers and criminal groups capable of executing advanced persistent threats (APTs), and they pose serious threats to the enterprise. Business continuity and disaster recovery planning are every bit as critical to cyber security as application and network security.

Security should be top of mind across the enterprise, and come with a mandate from senior management. The fragility of the information world we now live in also demands strong cyber security controls. Management should see that all systems are built to certain security standards and that employees are properly trained. All code, for example, has bugs, and some of those bugs are security flaws. Developers are only human, after all.

Security training

The human is always the weakest element in any cyber security program. Training developers to code securely, training operations staff to prioritize a strong security posture, training end users to spot phishing emails and social engineering attacks — cyber security begins with awareness.

All companies will experience some kind of cyber attack, even if strong controls are in place. An attacker will always exploit the weakest link, and many attacks are easily preventable by performing basic security tasks, sometimes referred to as “cyber hygiene.” A surgeon would never enter an operating room without washing their hands first. Likewise, an enterprise has a duty to perform the basic elements of cyber security care such as maintaining strong authentication practices and not storing sensitive data where it is openly accessible.

A good cyber security strategy needs to go beyond these basics, though. Sophisticated hackers can circumvent most defenses, and the attack surface — the number of ways or “vectors” an attacker can gain entry to a system — is expanding for most companies. For example, the information and the physical world are merging, and criminals and nation-state spies now threaten the ICA of cyber-physical systems such as cars, power plants, medical devices, even your IoT fridge. Similarly, the trends toward cloud computing, bring your own device (BYOD) policies in the workplace, and the burgeoning internet of things (IoT) create new challenges. Defending these systems has never been more important.

Further complicating cyber security is the regulatory climate around consumer privacy. Compliance with stringent regulatory frameworks like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also demands new kinds of roles to ensure that organizations meet the privacy and security mandates of the GDPR and other regulations.

As a result, growing demand for cyber security professionals has hiring managers struggling to fill positions with qualified candidates. That struggle requires organizations to have a sharp focus on areas of greatest risk.

Types of cyber security

The scope of cyber security is broad. The core areas are described below, and any good cyber security strategy should take them all into account.

Critical infrastructure

Critical infrastructure includes the cyber-physical systems that society relies on, including the electricity grid, water purification, traffic lights and hospitals. Plugging a power plant into the internet, for example, makes it vulnerable to cyber attacks. The solution for organizations responsible for critical infrastructure is to perform due diligence to protect understand the vulnerabilities and protect against them. Everyone else should evaluate how an attack on critical infrastructure they depend on might affect them and then develop a contingency plan.

Network security

Network security guards against unauthorized intrusion as well as malicious insiders. Ensuring network security often requires trade-offs. For example, access controls such as extra logins might be necessary, but slow down productivity.

Tools used to monitor network security generate a lot of data — so much that valid alerts are often missed. To help better manage network security monitoring, security teams are increasingly using machine learning to flag abnormal traffic and alert to threats in real time.

Cloud security

The enterprise’s move into the cloud creates new security challenges. For example, 2017 has seen almost weekly data breaches from poorly configured cloud instances. Cloud providers are creating new security tools to help enterprise users better secure their data, but the bottom line remains: Moving to the cloud is not a panacea for performing due diligence when it comes to cyber security.

Application security

Application security (AppSec), especially web application security, has become the weakest technical point of attack, but few organizations adequately mitigate all the OWASP Top Ten web vulnerabilities. AppSec begins with secure coding practices, and should be augmented by fuzzing and penetration testing.

Rapid application development and deployment to the cloud has seen the advent of DevOps as a new discipline. DevOps teams typically prioritize business needs over security, a focus that will likely change given the proliferation of threats.

Internet of things (IoT) security

IoT refers to a wide variety of critical and non-critical cyber physical systems, like appliances, sensors, printers and security cameras. IoT devices frequently ship in an insecure state and offer little to no security patching, posing threats to not only their users, but also to others on the internet, as these devices often find themselves part of a botnet. This poses unique security challenges for both home users and society.

Types of cyber security threats

Common cyber threats fall under three general categories:

Attacks on confidentiality: Stealing, or rather copying, a target’s personal information is how many cyber attacks begin, including garden-variety criminal attacks like credit card fraud, identity theft, or stealing bitcoin wallets. Nation-state spies make confidentiality attacks a major portion of their work, seeking to acquire confidential information for political, military, or economic gain.

Attacks on integrity: Also known by its common name, sabotage, integrity attacks seek to corrupt, damage, or destroy information or systems, and the people who rely on them. Integrity attacks can be subtle — a typo here, a bit fiddled there — or a slash and burn campaign of sabotage against a target. Perpetrators can range from script kiddies to nation-state attackers.

Attacks on availability: Preventing a target from accessing their data is most frequently seen today in the form of ransomware and denial-of-service attacks. Ransomware encrypts a target’s data and demands a ransom to decrypt it. A denial-of-service attack, typically in the form of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, floods a network resource with requests, making it unavailable.

The following describes the means by which these attacks are carried out.

Social engineering

Attackers aren’t going to hack a computer if they can hack a human instead. Socially engineered malware, often used to deliver ransomware, is the No. 1 method of attack (not a buffer overflow, misconfiguration, or advanced exploit). An end-user is tricked into running a Trojan horse program, often from a website they trust and visit often. Ongoing user education is the best countermeasure against this attack.

Phishing attacks

Sometimes the best way to steal someone’s password is to trick them into revealing it This accounts for the spectacular success of phishing. Even smart users, well-trained in security, can fall for a phishing attack. That’s why the best defense is two-factor authentication (2FA) — a stolen password is worthless to an attacker without a second factor, such as hardware security token, or soft token authenticator app on the user’s phone.

Unpatched software

It’s hard to blame your enterprise if an attacker deploys a zero-day exploit against you, but failure to patch looks a lot like failure to perform due diligence. If months and years pass after disclosure of a vulnerability, and your enterprise has not applied that security patch, you open yourself to accusations of negligence. Patch, patch, patch.

Social media threats

Catfishing isn’t just for the dating scene. Believable sock puppet accounts can worm their way through your LinkedIn network. If someone who knows 100 of your professional contacts strikes up a conversation about your work, are you going to think it strange? Loose lips sink ships. Expect social media espionage, of both the industrial and nation-state variety.

Advanced persistent threats

Speaking of nation-state adversaries, your enterprise has them. Don’t be surprised if multiple APTs are playing hide-and-go-seek on your corporate network. If you’re doing anything remotely interesting to someone, anywhere, you need to consider your security posture against sophisticated APTs. Nowhere is this more true than in the technology space, an industry rich with valuable intellectual property many criminals and nations will not scruple to steal.

Cybersecurity careers

Executing a strong cyber security strategy requires you have the right people in place. The demand for professional cyber security folk has never been higher, from the C-suite down to the security engineers working on the front lines. Security leaders have elbowed their way into the C-suite and boardrooms, as protecting company data becomes mission critical for organizations. A chief security officer (CSO) or chief information security officer (CISO) is now a core management position that any serious organization must have.

Roles have also grown more specialized. The days of the generalist security analyst are fading fast. Today a penetration tester might focus on application security, or network security, or phishing users to test security awareness. Incident response may see you on call 24/7. The following roles are the foundation of any security team.

CISO/CSO

The CISO is a C-level management executive who oversees the operations of an organization’s IT security department and related staff. The CISO directs and manages strategy, operations, and the budget to protect an organization’s information assets.

Security analyst

Also referred to as cyber security analyst, data security analyst, information systems security analyst, or IT security analyst, this role typically has these responsibilities:

  • Plan, implement and upgrade security measures and controls
  • Protect digital files and information systems against unauthorized access, modification or destruction
  • Maintain data and monitor security access
  • Conduct internal and external security audits
  • Manage network, intrusion detection and prevention systems
  • Analyze security breaches to determine their root cause
  • Define, implement and maintain corporate security policies
  • Coordinate security plans with outside vendors

Security architect

A good information security architect straddles the business and technical worlds. While the role can vary in the details by industry, is that of a senior-level employee responsible to plan, analyze, design, configure, test, implement, maintain, and support an organization’s computer and network security infrastructure. This requires knowing the business with a comprehensive awareness of its technology and information needs.

Security engineer

The security engineer is on the front line of protecting a company’s assets from threats. The job requires strong technical, organizational and communication skills. IT security engineer is a relatively new job title. Its focus is on quality control within the IT infrastructure. This includes designing, building, and defending scalable, secure, and robust systems; working on operational data center systems and networks; helping the organization understand advanced cyber threats; and helping to create strategies to protect those networks.

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