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Cyberspace – What is it?

Today, the word “cyberspace” is used in many contexts, but it is not always clear what exactly that term describes and what it means. In this post we will compare the definitions of cyberspace from several sources with the purpose of establishing a range of notions as to what cyberspace is and to derive its ontology. Sources are relevant entities like national or regional government, standardization bodies, and dictionary.

The reason why the term “cyberspace” is chosen is that all other terms (e.g., cyber security, cybercrime, cyberwar, cyberterrorism, etc.) are based on, or derived from, cyberspace itself. Therefore, cyber security is security of cyberspace. Cybercrime is crime committed within cyberspace or where elements from/of cyberspace are used as a vehicle to commit a crime, and so on for other derived terms.

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Who are these Cisco Security Intelligence Engineers?

Protecting data, resources, and assets, including audio-video (A/V) content and communications no matter where it resides or travels on Cisco-powered networks can be a daunting undertaking to say the least. People ultimately are responsible for making this happen. With this thought in mind, here are a few questions that frequently challenge someone with this type of responsibility:

  • How can one ensure that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the core network keeps pace with the introduction of new technologies, while managing the continuous stream of disclosures on existing product vulnerabilities and emerging threats?
  • What preemptive or corrective actions can one take to mitigate or remediate known or potential weaknesses in your network operations?
  • What trusted informational resources are available that we can apply in the design, operation and optimization of a secure network, and where can this information be found?

This article provides personal insight into a specialized role residing within Cisco’s Applied Intelligence team, a team which was highlighted in the Network World feature article (page 3), “Inside Cisco Security Intelligence Operations.” The role is that of the Security Intelligence Engineer (SIE), a role which focuses on researching and producing actionable intelligence, vulnerability analysis, and threat validation that typically leads to providing answers and solutions to the challenges posed by these questions.

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What is it Like to be a Cisco Security Analyst?

Security events, such as vulnerabilities and threats, that are detected globally continue to grow and evolve in scale, impact, diversity, and complexity. Compounded with this is the other side of the coin, the unreported or undetected events waiting in the wings, hovering below the radar in a stealthy state. With all of the security technologies at our disposal, are they sufficient enough to provide effective protection? Well, it is certainly a good start when applied correctly. At a summary level, Cisco’s Security Intelligence Operations (SIO) approach to this challenge was covered in the Network World feature article, “Inside Cisco Security Intelligence Operations.” However, one of the core human elements, which I will introduce, that deserves closer attention is the role of security analyst. In addition, this article provides those of you with career interests some additional insight into working in the IT security field.

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A Word Of Thanks

I rarely blog, and when I do it’s almost always about an event, rather than a person. This entry is an exception in no small part to draw attention to a seminal moment, and an illustrious career of someone who is finishing one chapter and about to start another.

On March 9, 2012, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) announced its top cybersecurity leader would retire at month’s end. Shawn Henry, the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director (EAD), has been at the forefront of the FBI’s response to cybersecurity crimes and investigations for the past several years, albeit his career at the FBI spans multiple decades and his responsibilities are broader than just cyber.

EAD Henry helped establish the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF) to mitigate and disrupt cyber attacks threatening national security in the US as well as other countries. He was instrumental in restructuring the Bureau’s cyber strategy and investigative programs, and recognized that his work in the United States alone would not be enough. He and his team reached out to national law enforcement agencies in Amsterdam, Romania and Estonia to make the necessary differences in those regions.

I was fortunate to work with EAD Henry during my time as a commissioner on the CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, at the National Cybersecurity Forensics Training Alliance (NCFTA), as well as on strategies and discussions to determine how we can make the Internet safer for all users.

As a leader, EAD Henry was quick to credit his team and not ever seek credit for himself. He built a bench at the Bureau that will carry the hard work into tomorrow. His influence spanned the public-private and law enforcement communities in the US and abroad, even if the mission was challenging.

The sacrifices he and his family made during his tenure were non-trivial; we all owe him, his family, and the women and men at the Bureau a debt of gratitude for their hard work. His understanding of the threat landscape, his passion and accomplishments, and his commitment to making the world a safer place has made him a hero to me – and one that will be missed at the FBI. That’s ok, though. He leaves a great team in place to take their next step, and he will be in the private sector still fighting the good fight, just from a different angle. And that’s good, because we need him to.

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Evolving Continuous Monitoring to a Dynamic Risk Management Strategy

Organizations implementing Continuous Monitoring strategies are remiss if they are not taking into account the value of network telemetry in their approach. NIST Special Publication 800-137, Information Security Continuous Monitoring for Federal Information Systems and Organizations provides guidance on the implementation of a Continuous Monitoring strategy, but fails to address the importance of network telemetry into that strategy. In fact the 38 page document only mentions the word “network” 36 times. The SP 800-137 instead focuses on two primary areas: configuration management and patch management.  Both are fundamental aspects of managing an organizations overall risk, but to rely on those two aspects alone for managing risk falls short of achieving an effective Continuous Monitoring strategy for the following reasons

First, the concepts around configuration and patch management are very component specific. Individual components of a system are configured and patched. While these are important the focus is on vulnerabilities of improper configuration or known weaknesses in software. Second, this approach presumes that with proper configuration control and timely patch management that the overall risk of exploitation to the organization’s information system is dramatically reduced.

While an environment that has proper configuration and patch management is less likely to be exposed to known threats, they are no more prepared to prevent or detect sophisticated threats based on unknown or day-zero exploits. Unfortunately, the customization and increase in sophistication of malware is only growing. A recent threat report indicated that nearly 2/3 of Verizon’s data breach caseload were due to customized malware. It is also important to keep in mind that there is some amount of time that passes between a configuration error is determined and fixed or the time it takes to patch vulnerable software. This amount of time can potentially afford an attacker a successful vector.  For these reasons organizations looking to implement a Continuous Monitoring strategy should depend on the network to provide a near real-time view of the transactions that are occurring. Understanding the behavior of the network is important to create a more dynamic risk management focused Continuous Monitoring strategy.

Network telemetry can consist of different types of information describing network transactions in various locations on the network. Two valuable telemetry sources are NetFlow and Network Secure Event Logging (NSEL). NetFlow is a mechanism that organizations can use to offer a more holistic view of the enterprise risk picture. NetFlow is available in the majority of network platforms and builds transaction records of machine-to-machine communications both within the enterprise boundary as well as connections leaving the enterprise boundary. These communication records provide invaluable information and identify both policy violations and configuration errors. Additionally, NetFlow also provides insight into malicious software communications and large quantities of information leaving an enterprise. Network Secure Event Logging uses the NetFlow protocol to transmit important information regarding activities occurring on enterprise firewalls. This is valuable data that can be aggregated with other NetFlow sources to bring additional context to the network behavior occurring.

Coupling the configuration and patch management guidance in SP 800-137 with an active NetFlow monitoring capability will provide organizations with a Continuous Monitoring strategy that is more system focused and more apt to fostering a dynamic risk management environment. Cisco will be discussing NetFlow, NSEL and other security topics at the March 21st,  Government Solutions Forum in Washington, D.C. If you’re interested in learning more, click on the following URL:

www.cisco.com/go/gsf

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