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Cloudy with a Chance of Scalable Malware Protection

Cisco CWS The proven value of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, that we all access daily from multiple devices, makes the cloud a reality, but SaaS also creates an environment in which anyone, anywhere in an organization, can be attacked at any time. Modern Networks go beyond traditional walls and include data centers, endpoints, virtual and  mobile – all linked by cloud services. To some the cloud is an attack vector while to others it’s a business enabler. Security as a Service bridges these two definitions to deliver the scale of cloud engines to address security challenges found anywhere in the Modern Network, whether physical, virtual, local or remote.

Two recent stories from our Cloud Web Security (CWS) Service , illustrate the power of the cloud to address security concerns. The first focuses on the sheer processing power we can deliver from our global data center estate, and the second covers the elastic capacity our investment in Next Generation infrastructure provides, ensuring we can turn up the dial when our customers need more bandwidth, delivered securely.

The first example goes to the heart of our latest announcement, demonstrating how the cloud can learn from one environment and quick leverage that learning to improve the security coverage of all customers.  Last week the CWS team release  CWS Premium for advanced threat protection. CWS Premium combines the two distinct services of Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) which examines file reputation, file behavioral analysis, inclusive of sandboxing and retrospective alerting of infected hosts, and Cognitive Threat Analytics (CTA), which uses machine learning to examine traffic patterns for anomalous behavior indicative of compromise. The combination of these two announcements brings enterprise-class advanced threat protection delivered from the cloud and addresses the number one request from our growing global customer base.

During the AMP pilot we learned something about the power of the cloud-delivered service. A beta user submitted an unknown file to the AMP sandbox, a file not known to anyone – external verification showed zero detects. What happened next showed that the file was far from benign and produced a very detailed set of reports and analysis. The high level summary goes like this: Our sandbox discovered that the file was in fact malware, and then classified the file as malicious in the AMP cloud, sending a retrospective alert to the CWS user. This enabled the user to see where the file came from, the behavior of the file over time and what other systems had been infected. Moving outside this customer, with the AMP cloud aware of the malicious nature of this file, over the next 12 hours the file was detected and removed in nine other CWS enterprise customers, without anyone having to make a decision to change policy or reconfigure existing solutions. This demonstrates the closed loop nature of our system, teaching itself and automatically projecting its new knowledge by way of protection to all of our customers – all without human intervention. If those nine customers within the first 12 hours had – at a conservative estimate – 15,000 end points each, that’s 135,000 users protected without anyone actually doing anything. Within 24 hours that number of customers was beyond 30, and the number of estimated end users at almost half a million and no one pushed a button after the original file was submitted to the cloud.

The second example pivots us away from advanced threats and demonstrates the power of the cloud to scale. We are always updating and investing, growing to meet capacity, and recently we became aware that a very popular consumer hardware and software vendor was about to release an upgraded version of its operating system to potentially test that capacity. I can’t name names, but it’s safe to say that fans of the device worldwide were thrilled by news of new software, and were eager to download the update the instant it was released. This posed a number of challenges, particularly for web security services. Traffic volumes after past such events have increased between 15-20% worldwide, which not only places a strain on our customers’ networks but also means our cloud-delivered service has to be ready to process a vast increase in capacity.

How vast an increase?  The daily volume of CWS traffic for this particular update spiked to 16TB. Stop for a moment to imagine 16TB. Imagine a premium Netflix account, streaming 1GB per hour in HD. Now imagine watching 1,000 hours of video, that’s 41 days worth of constantly watching HD movies.  That’s 1TB.  It would take 656 days – almost two years of data streaming at the same rate and about 4,500 movies – to equal 16TB, the same amount of extra data rammed through the global CWS estate in 24 hours with no degradation of service. And that’s 16TB of additional traffic, not counting the rest of the daily web content being processed.

Our mission has been to proactively ensure that CWS customers continued to experience excellent performance from their own networks during the first few days of the update availability, while delivering the stable, high-performing CWS service that customers have come to expect.  We tuned data centers in readiness, advised customers of the impending spike, gave them the option to block the relevant traffic if they chose and we monitored traffic patterns in real time to optimize loads. No support cases raised and no drop in performance. Mission accomplished.

Today’s cyber attacks threaten precious Intellectual Property (IP), valuable customer information and state secrets. You only have to look at the daily news headlines to find about the next  high-profile attack. In fact, Cisco reports stopping an average of 320 million cyber attacks each day, up substantially year over year. That’s like everyone in the US launching a cyber attack each and every day. The web is the attack vector in an increasing number of these cases. To protect valuable resources requires a threat-centric, operational model that is advanced beyond an attacker’s abilities and addresses the extended network and evolving business environment. Whether harnessing cloud power or offering scalability, CWS is a crucial component in enabling organizations to embrace this approach and capitalize on the efficiencies that a cloud-based model offers.

For more information, visit: http://cisco.com/go/cws

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Wiper Malware – A Detection Deep Dive

This post was authored by Christopher Marczewski with contributions from Craig WIlliams

A new piece of wiper malware has received quite a bit of media attention. Despite all the recent press, Cisco’s Talos team has historic examples of this type of malware going back to the 1990s. Data is the new target, this should not surprise anyone. Recent examples of malware effectively “destroying” data -- putting it out of victims’ reach – also include Cryptowall, and Cryptolocker, common ransomware variants delivered by exploit kits and other means.

Wiping systems is also an effective way to cover up malicious activity and make incident response more difficult, such as in the case of the DarkSeoul malware in 2013.

Any company that introduced proper back-up plans in response to recent ransomware like Cryptolocker or Cryptowall should already be protected to a degree against these threats. Mitigation strategies like defense in depth will also help minimize the chance of this malware reaching end systems.

The Deep Dive

Initially we started investigating a sample reported to be associated with the incident to improve detection efficacy. Based off our analysis of e2ecec43da974db02f624ecadc94baf1d21fd1a5c4990c15863bb9929f781a0a we were able to link 0753f8a7ae38fdb830484d0d737f975884499b9335e70b7d22b7d4ab149c01b5 as a nearly identical sample. By the time we reached the network-related functions during our analysis, the relevant IP addresses belonging to the C2 servers were no longer responding back as expected. In order to capture the necessary traffic we had to modify both of the aforementioned disk wiper components. One modification replaced one of the hard-coded C2 server IP addresses with a local address belonging to a decoy VM while changing references to the other hard-coded addresses to point to this local address instead. The other modification simply changed the parameter being passed to an instance of the Sleep() function so debugging efforts wouldn’t be put on hold for 45 minutes (the original sample used a 10 minutes sleep).

When we initially examined a rule that was being distributed in the public we were looking for areas where we could improve coverage to better protect our customers. The new Wiper variant is poorly written code and luckily includes very little obfuscation.The author(s) made the mistake of allocating a buffer for the send() function that surpasses the data they wished to include in the payload: a null-terminated opening parentheses byte, the infected host’s local IP address, and the first 15 bytes of the host name. This incorrect buffer allocation results in the desired data, in addition to some miscellaneous data already present on the stack (including the 0xFFFFFFFF bytes we alerted on in the first revision of our rule).

Simply running the disk wiper component on different versions of Windows proves the miscellaneous data from the stack that we onced alerted on only applies to beacons being sent from Win XP hosts:

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A Circular Problem in Current Information Security Principles

Editor’s Note: In this second installment of the blog series on more responsive security, we take a closer look at the circular problems associated with four common security principles in managing “weak link” risks in Information Technology organizations.

Before discussing what constitutes this responsive approach to security, let us first look at a few of the fundamental principles of information security to understand the unique challenges organizations face today in managing security risks.

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Ancient Mac Site Harbors Botnet that Exploits IE Vulnerability

This post was authored by Alex Chiu and Shaun Hurley.

Last month, Microsoft released a security bulletin to patch CVE-2014-6332, a vulnerability within Windows Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) that could result in remote code execution if a user views a maliciously crafted web page with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Since then, there have been several documented examples of attackers leveraging this vulnerability and attempting to compromise users. On November 26th, Talos began observing and blocking an attack disguised as a hidden iframe on a compromised domain to leverage this vulnerability and compromise Internet Explorer users.

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Key Considerations for Threat-Based Security Programs

As we often say at Cisco, every business is a security business. That’s been true ever since widespread online presence led to widespread cyber threats. It became even more applicable as those threats became more sophisticated and less detectable. And now, with the Internet of Everything (IoE), that phrase is more relevant than ever before.

Cisco estimates that by 2020, 50 billion devices will be connected, whether you know it or not. Other advances in technology, such as mobility and cloud computing, will require a new way of thinking about network security. In today’s world of IoE, security must be top of mind as the number and type of attack vectors continues to increase, as does the amount of data that needs to be protected. Take a look at three key considerations for building your security program.

First, it’s essential to understand what kinds of threats are coming at you, as well the motivation behind them. You cannot protect against what you cannot see. Second, you need application visibility and control; a real-time, accurate picture of devices, data, and the relationships among them that helps make sense of billions of devices, applications, and their associated information. And third, you need an adaptable, flexible security posture supported by some of today’s biggest innovations and brightest minds.

The IoE is creating a host of new security challenges. A risk mitigation strategy based on these key tenets is essential to securing your information assets. Please let me know your thoughts, experiences and strategies regarding this complex issue in the comments section.

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