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Threat Spotlight: “A String of Paerls”, Part 2, Deep Dive

July 8, 2014 at 7:28 am PST

This post has been coauthored by Joel EslerCraig WilliamsRichard HarmanJaeson Schultz, and Douglas Goddard 

In part one of our two part blog series on the “String of Paerls” threat, we showed an attack involving a spearphish message containing an attached malicious Word doc. We also described our methodology in grouping similar samples based on Indicators of Compromise: static and dynamic analysis indicators. In this second part of the blog series we will cover the malicious documents and malicious executables. For the technical deep dive see the write up on the VRT blog here.

 

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The Expanding Burden of Security

July 8, 2014 at 6:00 am PST

[ed. Note: This post was updated 7/9/2014 to include new information not available to the author at the time of original publishing]

I just returned from the Gartner Security Summit at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor Maryland. Each morning I took my run along the Potomac River and passed this sculpture of a man buried in the sand.

KT_sandman

In speaking with many IT executives they expressed specific concerns around their IT security, and this sculpture of the “man in the sand” took on new meaning for me. I could see how they might similarly feel overwhelmed and buried given their limited resources and the abundance of threats to their environments. Yes, I’ve been in this industry too long! Anyway, throughout all of my conversations it was abundantly clear that people were looking for a new way to approach securing their networks and applications. Customers are recognizing that unsecured access to the network is a critical threat vector; however, when leveraged properly, the network itself also provides a significant platform that offers comprehensive protection to close those gaps. So, what do I mean by that?

The network uniformly sees and participates in everything across the threat continuum, whether before, during or after an attack. If we can leverage the insights and inherent control the network provides, IT organizations can truly augment their overall end-to-end security across this continuum. If done correctly, this augmentation can happen without investing a large amount of time, energy, and resources in filling all the gaps to secure their environments -- regardless of legacy network, endpoint, mobile, virtual, or cloud usage models

Cisco strongly believes that the network must work intimately with various security technologies in a continuous fashion to offer protection for networks, endpoints, virtual, data centers and mobile.

The New Security Model

Given Cisco’s breadth and depth of security, we did not have room to exhibit our networking devices. However, within much of our networking (and even security) offerings, we have embedded security capabilities that provide more comprehensive protection across the entire threat continuum.

An example of this is Cisco TrustSec embedded network access enforcement, which provides network segmentation based on highly differentiated access policies. Cisco TrustSec works with Cisco ISE to provide consistent secure access that is mapped to IT business goals. Cisco ISE and TrustSec are part of the Cisco Unified Access solution and leverage a superior level of context and simplified policy management across the entire infrastructure in order to ensure that the right users and devices gain the right access to the right resources at any given time.

Cisco’s integrated approach to security reduces complexity, while providing unmatched visibility, continuous control and advanced threat protection, which, in turn, allows customers to prioritize more efficiently and act more quickly - before, during, and after an attack. Through Cisco’s New Security Model, we help you achieve a more pleasant experience and get you dug out of the sand. To learn more and go beyond just a shovel and pail, go to Cisco’s Security Page.

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Summary: Governing the World of Many Clouds with Cisco Cloud Consumption Optimization Service

CIOs face a scary reality. They only know about 5-10% of the cloud applications that are being used within their organization. This shadow IT is ripping holes in their security strategies. In fact, a recent Forrester study cited that 43% of respondents said they believed shadow IT practices were major threats to their respective organizations. And, as the fallout from recent high-profile attacks have shown, both IT and business leaders will face the consequences if a security breach occurs.

To help leaders uncover shadow IT, we launched Cloud Consumption Assessment Service in January. But discovering shadow IT is only the first step that organizations need to take to manage cost and risks.

[Read the full post by Robert Dimicco on the Cisco Data Center blog...]

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HAVEX Proves (Again) that the Airgap is a Myth: Time for Real Cybersecurity in ICS Environments

July 3, 2014 at 7:00 am PST

The HAVEX worm is making the rounds again. As Cisco first reported back in September 2013, HAVEX specifically targets supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), industrial control system (ICS), and other operational technology (OT) environments. In the case of HAVEX, the energy industry, and specifically power plants based in Europe, seems to be the primary target. See Cisco’s security blog post for technical details on this latest variant.

When I discuss security with those managing SCADA, ICS and other OT environments, I almost always get the feedback that cybersecurity isn’t required, because their systems are physically separated from the open Internet. This practice, referred to in ICS circles as the “airgap”, is the way ICS networks have been protected since the beginning of time; and truth be told, it’s been tremendously effective for decades. The problem is, the reality of the airgap began to disappear several years ago, and today is really just a myth.

Today, networks of all types are more connected than ever before. Gone are the days where only information technology (IT) networks are connected, completely separated from OT networks.  OT networks are no longer islands unto themselves, cut off from the outside world. Technology trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT) have changed all of that. To gain business efficiencies and streamline operations, today’s manufacturing plants, field area networks, and other OT environments are connected to the outside world via wired and wireless communications – in multiple places throughout the system! As a result, these industrial environments are every bit as open to hackers and other cyber threats as their IT counterparts. The main difference, of course, is that most organizations have relatively weak cybersecurity controls in these environments because of the continued belief that an airgap segregates them from the outside world, thereby insulating them from cyber attacks. This naivety makes OT environments an easier target.

The authors of HAVEX certainly understand that OT environments are connected, since the method of transmission is via a downloadable Trojan installed on the websites of several ICS/SCADA manufacturers. What’s considered a very old trick in the IT world is still relatively new to those in OT.

It’s absolutely essential that organizations with ICS environments fully understand and embrace the fact that IT and OT are simply different environments within a single extended network. As such, cybersecurity needs to be implemented across both to produce a comprehensive security solution for the entire extended network. The most important way to securely embrace IoT is for IT and OT to work together as a team. By each relinquishing just a bit of control, IT can retain centralized control over the extended network – but with differentiated policies that recognize the specialized needs of OT environments.

We’ll never completely bulletproof our systems, but with comprehensive security solutions applied across the extended network that provide protection before, during, and after an attack, organizations can protect themselves from most of what’s out there. A significant step in the right direction is to understand that the airgap is gone forever; it’s time to protect our OT environments every bit as much as we protect our IT environments.

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A New Model to Protect the Endpoint, Part 2: Attack Chain Weaving

In my last post, I talked about the need for a paradigm shift from point-in-time detection technologies to a new model that combines a continuous approach with a big data architecture. This new model lets Cisco deliver a range of other innovations that enhance the entire advanced malware protection process across the full attack continuum—before, during, and after an attack.

One of these innovations, unique to Cisco AMP for Endpoints, is Attack Chain Weaving which introduces a new level of intelligence not possible with point-in-time detection technologies.

We all know that attackers are making it their job to understand traditional point-in-time detection technologies and innovate around their limitations to penetrate endpoints and networks. However, as these attacks unfold, they leave in their wake massive volumes of data. Attack Chain Weaving allows defenders to use this data to their advantage. A big data architecture handles the ever-expanding volume of data that is essential to effective malware detection and analytics, and a continuous approach uses that data to provide context and, most importantly, prioritization of events when and where you need it.

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