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Our Unofficial Top Ten Cyber Trends for 2014

(I pulled this list together with the help of my colleague Martin Chorich. Or maybe it was the other way around. )

Every year, publications ranging from supermarket tabloids to serious academic journals issue forecasts for the coming year. Those with foresight hold on to these articles and read them again the following December for a good laugh, as we all know how accurate they can be. With that in mind, and following a long week of staring into a well and inhaling the fumes, we offer the following unofficial 2014 guide to trends for cyber security practitioners. These should not be construed in any way as representing Cisco expectations of future market or business conditions. As for their true value, this article and about $4.50 will get you a double mocha latté at a national coffee chain.

1. Changes in the Global Framework Governing the Internet – It is no secret that government policies around the world have had trouble keeping pace with the cultural and economic changes enabled by the Internet. At the same time, the Internet would not be the juggernaut it is without its borderless and unregulated nature. The Internet has developed around a multi-stakeholder model led by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In recent years, some stakeholders have called for a more government-centric model of Internet governance. In 2014, this conversation will intensify. Debate topics will include whether governance of the Internet should change, and what sort of new governing bodies might find consensus, as stakeholders consider the risks of Internet balkanization and the potential stifling effects of mounting regulatory requirements.

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Embracing IoT? Security Must Be at the Core

November 25, 2013 at 6:00 am PST

Last month I attended a summit of subject matter experts on securing the Internet of Things (IoT). At first, I thought I had the wrong room, because it seemed that everybody other than me was an architect or engineer working for a device manufacturer, and as a result the conversation was dominated by placing security controls into the devices, themselves. In contrast, I tend to approach the issue from the perspective of protecting the core of the network. But just when I was beginning to think I had wasted an hour-long drive and was going to be bored out of my skull all day, a few of us started debating the issue and the conversation began to evolve.  Before long, we had found common ground in the fact that security controls are all about trust relationships -- ‘I trust you, therefore I will allow you to do that’.

Now trust is a funny thing, because by its very nature it can neither be one-sided nor one-dimensional. Instead, it must be built into every aspect of the transaction; a sort of “digital handshake” to ensure all is well before doing business. In other words, each of our pre-conceived perspectives was correct, yet we were all being stubborn and short-sighted! Read More »

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Ten Simple Ways to Enhance Cyber Security for You and Others

October 3, 2013 at 5:00 am PST

Hi there and welcome to today’s U.S. National Cyber Security Awareness Month tip, courtesy of those of us involved in administering and/or contributing to Cisco Security Intelligence Operations!!

For all of you savvy technologists and those well versed in the security realm many of these tips may be old hat but, based on many of my discussions with both personal and professional peers, I know that most, if not all, of these Best Common Practices (BCPs) are not exactly “common.”  :-)

  1. Use non-trivial passwords - While most sites and applications now dictate requirements (lower/upper alphabetical, numerical, symbols, minimum length) for passwords, there are still those that rely on the user to utilize complex passwords. Password selection brings with it a challenging dichotomy -- on one hand we are  being told (and sometimes forced!) to use complex not-so-easy-to-guess passwords and on the other hand we are expected to be able to remember all of these passwords without writing them down and sticking them on our laptop! Check out Numeric Password Follies and Keep passwords safe and secure with password management for some information from previous Cisco Security Blog posts that may help you choose and manage your passwords more effectively.
  2. And now that we have finally chosen an acceptable complex password, and we have been able to commit it to memory!, we now have to make sure we Change Our Passwords Regularly!  :-)  You will find that many of your “more secure” sites implement a specific time frame, e.g., 30 or 60 days, after which time you _must_ change your password. For all those sites, applications, and situations in which this is not the case, it is HIGHLY recommended that you take the proactive approach and manually change your password regularly. It shouldn’t be that hard -- just create a repeating reminder in your daily calendar to help you remember to change your passwords!
  3. And while on the subject of passwords, here’s another recommended best practice! Don’t use the same password everywhere!!!  Again, our minds can only contain so many passwords (in addition to everything we need to remember on a daily basis) and things like passwords probably fall to the bottom of our priorities, so use a password manager tool. Because we often take the easy way out and, once we’ve developed that very complex, non-trivial password that we discussed in our first tip, we hang on to it for dear life and use it EVERYWHERE! Bad move! There are few days that go by in the security world where we don’t come across a hack or data breach that was helped along the way by the fact that so many people use the same passwords for both personal and professional sites and applications. Several examples of these breaches can be found in these previous Cisco Security Blog posts: July, a Busy Month for BreachesCompromised Accounts, Stepping Stones, and 6.5 million password hashes suggest a possible breach at LinkedIn.
  4. If it looks like phish and “smells” like phish it probably is phish - Do NOT open emails that appear “phishy” – go directly to the known website of the supposed sender of the email. You should also be careful clicking links in emails from known contacts that do not have human-looking text from your friend. For example, be leery of emails which contain nothing but one URL/link or emails that start out with text such as “open this, it is funny.” Agree with your friend to send something he knows that will identify him when he sends a single link. For example ask him her to put in “I was born in XXX, July 1934″ or what team he supports.
  5. Keep your operating system (OS) and application software up to date. Many OS vendors, e.g., Microsoft, provide automated means of updating software on a regular basis, so take advantage of this offering if your vendor provides it. It is certainly understandable that probably a great many of you have important devices and simply cannot take the chance with automated updates, but for those with less mission-critical concerns it is a worthwhile practice to use automatic software updates. The Cisco Security Intelligence Operations portal includes a section devoted to security alerts affecting both Cisco and non-Cisco products.
  6. Have your “social engineering” guard up at all times.  For many of us, the combination of our personalities and lack of time causes us to become more trustworthy and accepting all invitations - whether by email, phone call, or text - on their surface.  What we need to do when working online is put on our “tinfoil hat” and simply not trust anyone! So, when you get that next email soliciting you to “click on the link” to resolve a banking dispute think twice, do NOT click on that link, and then log in directly to the website of your bank (or call them) and resolve that “issue” the proper way. Clicking on links sent to you via email or text could cause you to inadvertently and unknowingly provide login credentials and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to the bad guys. Check out Levi Gundert’s recent post on how the loss (or theft) of PII can impact you.
  7. While Anti Virus (AV) Software is certainly not a silver bullet and probably won’t stop some of today’s more complex threats, it is still a useful tool to have in our security toolbox both for our corporate and personal devices. Although most corporate IT departments push out updates regularly to our professional devices, we need to also ensure that the AV Software running on our home and personal devices is kept current and is regularly updated.
  8. Understand the security measures that are available (and not available!) for social networking sites and applications. Many of you and your peers use some form of social networking -- e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. -- and it is imperative that you are aware of what information gets shared and what mechanisms are available to you to restrict access to the data you want shared to only those people with whom you wish to share! You would probably be surprised to find out that the data that gets shared, both freely and inadvertently, is often leveraged for malfeasance such as phishing emails!
  9. Who you gonna call? Know who and how to report any suspect network security incidents, i.e., phishing, spam, malware, DoS, etc. This recommendation may border on the nebulous but it is really important, whether you are on your personal device at home or on a corporate device, that you know that there are resources available should you come across activity, e.g., phishing emails, evidence of DDoS attack activities, etc., that you can contact to get assistance. This could be your ISP, your corporate IT department, Help Desk, Information Security (InfoSec) department, or even a friend or coworker.
  10. Be vigilant and stay abreast of cyber security news! Regardless of your role and your technical acumen, find at least one source of security intelligence to monitor via RSS, email, Twitter, or by just directly visiting websites. Please visit the Cisco SIO portal, which includes a variety of information such as security alerts, blog posts, technical white papers, best common practices, and upcoming security conferences. Some additional recommended sources of this information include CERTNANOGFull DisclosureBugtraqSANS Internet Storm Center (ISC), and Krebs on Security…..to name a few.

My call to action to all of you is to go out there and work together to make our cyber world just a little bit safer - one byte, one email, one phish, and one website at a time!

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Using DNS RPZ to Block Malicious DNS Requests

October 2, 2013 at 10:00 am PST

After delivering several presentations at Cisco Live and Cisco Connect this year, I received a few questions regarding DNS Response Policy Zones (RPZ) and how can they be used to block DNS resolution to known malicious hosts and sites. I decided to write this short post to explain what it is and provide several pointers.

DNS RPZ is a technology developed by ISC available since Bind version 9.8. Network administrators can use DNS RPZ to essentially stop malware-infected hosts from reaching their command and control (C&C) servers by blocking DNS resolution to known malicious hosts and sites. This effectively turns a recursive DNS server into a DNS firewall. In fact, many people refer to DNS RPZ as the “DNS Firewall.” Various ISPs are testing and implementing this to provide additional protection to their customers.

Note: DNS RPZ will block DNS resolution, machines connecting to the C&C via IP address will not be blocked.

The following figure provides an overview of how DNS RPZ works.

RPZ-overview1

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Cisco Security Intelligence Operations NCSAM 2013

For the last couple of years, Cisco Security Intelligence Operations has released a series of blog posts for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The theme for this month from the National Cyber Security Alliance is “Our Shared Responsibility.” The Department of Homeland Security is running a series on this theme, as are many other private organizations.

Our action and inaction have consequences for systems and services used by us, our friends, and our places of employment. Attackers use accounts compromised due to poor passwords and lack of two-factor authentication to launch other attacks on users connected to those accounts. End-user systems infected with malicious software are leveraged to conduct distributed denial of service attacks against financial and government websites. Users who fall victim to spear phishing attacks open the door for attackers to leap frog their way through sensitive networks and collect proprietary information from our places of employment.

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