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NSA Report: How To Defend Against Destructive Malware

In the wake of the Sony breach, spy agency's Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) arm provides best practices to mitigate damage of data annihilation attacks.

Prevent, detect, and contain: Those are the key overarching strategies for combating data-destroying malware attacks, according to a new report issued this month by the National Security Agency.

The NSA's Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) outlined key best practices for defending against such attacks-- à la Sony or Saudi Aramco -- that require organizations being proactive rather than reactive to a cyberattack.

"Once a malicious actor achieves privileged control of an organization's network, the actor has the ability to steal or destroy all of the data that is on the network," the NSA says in its new "Defensive Best Practices for Destructive Malware" report. 

The report comes in the wake of the massive and destructive attack on Sony, and includes some already well-known best security practices. 

Some tools can mitigate some of the damage, the report says, but preventing the attacker from getting control over the network is a more effective defense. "The earlier that network defenders can detect and contain an intrusion, the less damage the intruder can possible cause," the report says. Planning for the worst-case scenario is also key, according to the NSA.

NSA's recommendations recap some strategies the NSA previously had published in its "Information Assurance Mitigation Strategies" report. Among the best practices in the latest report for preventing, detecting, and containing attacks are:

  • Segregate network systems and functions so that if an attacker hacks in one area, he can't necessarily reach others
  • Reduce and protect administrator privileges to minimize the damage if a bad guy obtains them
  • Employ application whitelisting to prevent malicious code from executing
  • Limit workstation-to-workstation communication to reduce the attack surface
  • Run perimeter firewalls, application-layer firewalls, forward proxies, and sandboxing or other dynamic traffic and code analyses
  • Use and monitor host and network logging
  • Implement pass-the-hash mitigations
  • Run Microsoft's EMET or other anti-exploit tools
  • Employ antivirus reputation services to augment traditional signature-based AV
  • Run host intrusion prevention systems
  • Regularly update and patch software

On the incident response side, NSA recommends an incident response plan and regular testing of the plan. "Preparing through offline backups and exercised incident response and recovery plans can make the organization more resilient, enabling quick reconstitution and the resumption of normal business functions as soon as possible," the report says.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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macker490
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macker490,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2015 | 10:17:09 AM
Start at the Beginning
1. use a secure O/S.

2. look into using Named Spaces

remember that in implementing RACF on an MVS system access had to be granted on an item by item basis.  this is fundamental to security.    it gives you control over who has access to do what using the various tools available.   Your access list is an auditable item.    make sure your auditor knows how you are controlling access.

restricting access to files based on user ID is inadequate for any user who is running programs of an un-known nature.   remember: modern documents -- web pages, e/mail, and such must be treated as executable files where it is possible that the documents contains or links to something that is executable.

2014 has been headlined as "The Year of the Hack".    unless we start doing things differently 2015 will be more of the same.   Change will be painful as it so often is.   But at some point it becomes the only acceptable option.
Kelly Jackson Higgins
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Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
1/23/2015 | 3:45:23 PM
Re: Quick!
As long as you don't pull it after an attack--then there's no forensics trail. =)
andregironda
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50%
andregironda,
User Rank: Strategist
1/23/2015 | 1:49:16 PM
Quick!
Pull the plug!!!
1.9 Billion Data Records Exposed in First Half of 2017
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/20/2017
To Be Ready for the Security Future, Pay Attention to the Security Past
Liz Maida, Co-founder, CEO & CTO, Uplevel Security,  9/18/2017
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