Counter-Strike?

Rick Holland

On Monday the Wall Street Journal ran a story on hacking back titled, “Support Grows to Let Cybertheft Victims Hack Back.”  The article describes a growing desire to permit the private sector to retaliate against attackers. Being proactive is one thing, but the notion of enterprises retaliating against attackers is ludicrous. I honestly cannot understand why this topic is still in the public discourse. I thought debating this was so 2012.  Legality is an issue, but so is the ability of companies to successfully conduct these types of operations without blowback. 

The article explains, “… companies that experience cybertheft ought to be able to retrieve their electronic files or prevent the exploitation of their stolen information." I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for most organizations, once the data has left your environment the chances of you retrieving it are very slim. Your data has left the building and it isn’t going to “re-spawn.”  If you couldn’t prevent exfiltration of this data in the first place, what would make you think that you could prevent the subsequent exploitation of it?  

As I said back in January in my “Five Steps To Build An Effective Threat Intelligence Capability” report, “If you have a mature security program, you can consider counterintelligence operations, but leave the hacking back to governments and militaries.” 

There are many suggested strategies for dealing with the threat landscape. Hacking back should not be one. 

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Observations on the 2013 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report

Rick Holland

I was very excited to finally get a copy of the much-anticipated 2013 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR.)  I have found the report to be valuable year after year.  This is the 6th iteration and this year’s report includes 621 confirmed data breaches, as well as over 47,000 reported security incidents.  18 organizations from across the globe contributed to the report this year.  The full report is 63 pages, and I have to say that Wade Baker and company did a great job making it an enjoyable read. I enjoyed the tone, and I found myself laughing several times as I read through it (Laughing and infosec aren't commonly said in the same breath.)  There are tons of great references as well, ranging from NASCAR, to Biggie Smalls, the Violent Femmes and more.  The mantra of this year’s report is “Understand Your Adversary’ is Critical to Effective Defense and Response.”   Here are a few observations: 

The focus on the adversary answers customer questions.  Who is the adversary? This is a frequent question from Forrester clients.  The Mandiant APT1 report stirred up much debate on state sponsored actors and Verizon's data and analysis gives us more perspective on this class of threat actor. The first table in the report profiles the threat actors that are targeting organizations.  It provides a high level view that I suggest you include in any type of executive engagement activity you participate in.  This 3rd party snapshot of the threat actors should resonate with a wide degree of audiences.

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Avoid The Information Security Squirrel

Rick Holland

"My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak. Squirrel!"  

In the Pixar film Up, squirrels frequently distract Dug the talking dog. In our space, we are frequently distracted by technology. "I am a good and smart security professional; I must protect my enterprise so that we are secure. APT defense in a box!"  

The expo floors at industry events such as the RSA Conference and Blackhat contribute to this. Signage touts the next great piece of technology that will solve all of our security problems. We allow Big Data, security analytics, threat intelligence, and APT defense in a box to distract us.  It is easy to do; there is no shortage of challenges for today’s security and risk professional. The threat landscape is overwhelming. We have problems recruiting and retaining the right staff.  Day-to-day operational duties take up too much time. Our environments are complex, and we struggle to get the appropriate budget.

These “security technology du jour” solutions are very appetizing.  They compel us much like IDS, IPS, and SIM did in the past. We want and need the “easy” button.  Sadly, there is no “easy” button and we must understand that threat protection doesn't equal a product or service; there is no single solution. Technology alone isn't the answer we are looking for. 

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Introducing Forrester's Cyber Threat Intelligence Research

Rick Holland

We have started a new report series on Cyber Threat Intelligence.  The first report, "Five Steps To Build An Effective Threat Intelligence Capability," is designed to help organizations understand what threat intelligence is and how to establish a program. If you're not a Forrester client and would like the report, Proofpoint is providing a complementary copy. On Thursday March 28th, I will be conducting a Forrester webinar on the report.  Please join me if you'd like to get a deeper perspective on it.  In the future, we will expand on sections of this intial report with additional research including:

  • A collaborative report with Ed Ferrara looking at the cyber threat intelligence vendor landscape
  • An in depth report on "Step No. 5: Derive Intel" 
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Bit9’s Operational Oversight Is Probably Your Operational Reality

Rick Holland

You are now no doubt aware that Boston-based security firm Bit9 suffered an alarming compromise, which resulted in attackers gaining access to code-signing certificates that were then used to sign malicious software. See Brian Kreb’s article for more details. (Symantec breathes a quiet sigh of relief to see a different security vendor in the headlines.)

The embarrassing breach comes at a time when the company has been seen as one of the security vendor landscape’s rising stars. Bit9 has actually been around for more than a decade, but the rise of targeted attacks and advanced malware has resulted in significant interest in Bit9’s technology. In late July, Bit9 secured $34.5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital. Bit9’s future was bright. 

On Friday afternoon, Bit9 CEO Patrick Morley published a blog providing some initial details on the breach. A few of his comments stood out:  “Due to an operational oversight within Bit9, we failed to install our own product on a handful of computers within our network … We simply did not follow the best practices we recommend to our customers by making certain our product was on all physical and virtual machines within Bit9."

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Incident Response Isn’t About Point Solutions; It’s About An Ecosystem

Rick Holland

Today EMC announced the acquisition of Silicium Security.  Silicium’s ECAT product is a malware threat detection and response solution.  ECAT did not adopt the failed signature based approach to malware detection and instead leveraged whitelisting and anomaly detection.  Incident response teams can leverage ECAT to quickly identify and remediate compromised hosts.  ECAT joins NetWitness and enVision.  

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Observations From Black Hat - More Defense Please

Rick Holland

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 15th annual Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. I have attended DEFCON in the past, but never Black Hat. The conference has grown significantly each year, and judging by the size of the expo floor, the vendors understand its significance. I enjoyed the conference and had great conversations with practitioners and vendors alike. Here are some observations from two of the sessions that I attended:

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Kim Kardashian And APTs

Rick Holland

On Wednesday, American footwear company Skechers agreed to pay the US Federal Trade Commission $40 million. This settlement resulted from a series of commercials that deceived consumers claiming that the Shape-Ups shoe line would “help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles.”  Professional celebrity Kim Kardashian appeared in a 2011 Super Bowl commercial personally endorsing the health benefits of these shoes.  

This settlement was part of an ongoing FTC campaign to “stop overhyped advertising claims.”  A similar effort would serve the information security community well.  For example, one particular claim that causes me frequent grief is: “solution X detects and prevents advanced persistent threats.”  It is hard, dare I say impossible, to work in information security and not have heard similar assertions. I have heard it twice this week already, and these claims make my brain hurt.

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Planning For Failure, Personal Edition -- Strategies To Protect Yourself In 2012

Rick Holland

This week I did a webcast, Planning for Failure, which makes the assumption that if you haven't been breached, it is inevitable, and you must be able to quickly detect and respond to incidents.  An effective response can be the difference between your organization's recovery and future success or irreparable damage.  While I was working on the slides for the webcast, I started to reflect back on the 2011 security breaches that personally impacted me.   Three breaches immediately came to mind:

  1. Texas Teacher Retirement System -  My personal data was stored unencrypted on a public server
  2. Epsilon - Email compromise that resulted in increased phishing attempts
  3. STRATFOR - My personal information, credit card and password hash were stolen
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