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11/21/2014
02:10 AM
Carric Dooley
Carric Dooley
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When Every Minute Counts (Part 2)

Acting on key Indicators of Attack for incident response is crucial.

The increasing frequency and severity of incident headlines these days really makes it clear that we live and work in an increasingly complex digital world. I’ve been in the industry for a long time – leading teams on comprehensive security assessments for hundreds of businesses – and this latest report from Evalueserve for Intel Security is proof that we need to do more around proactive security.

In this study, over half of the companies surveyed had investigated more than 10 targeted attacks or advanced persistent threats in the past year. Many of these investigations uncovered the fact that the attackers had been in the environment, undetected, often for months, and even sometimes years. To gain insight into tactics for disrupting the attack before the compromise, the report also shares the experiences of our Foundstone investigators, Ismael Valenzuela and Jake Babbin, who have assisted with more than 200 investigations this year. The experts on my team were asked about the types of indicators that were the most meaningful in real-world situations.

The Foundstone incident-response team found that a few indicators have a high probability of signaling that an attack is imminent or underway. Generally, examples we have seen reflect a pattern of unusual alerts, inbound, internal, or outbound. An inbound example might be caused by probing or reconnaissance testing for vulnerabilities. An internal suspicious pattern might be anomalous traffic within the LAN such as repeated login attempts from one user account across a range of hosts, which may reveal stolen identities or privileges. Finally, patterns of suspicious outbound traffic expose likely compromised hosts, command and control activities, and data exfiltration. Many of these patterns score higher on the relevance radar when there are many of them in a short period of time, since concentrated activities show an active and determined actor.

It has been my experience that every organization should assess its ability to collect and correlate security data as it relates to these eight possible Indicators of Attack: 

1)    Internal hosts communicating with a foreign country where you do not do business, or to known bad destinations.

2)    Internal hosts communicating to external hosts over non-standard ports or ports that do not match the protocol being used.

3)    Publicly accessible (DMZ) hosts communicating with internal hosts, indicating a potential leak that could be used for infiltrating your systems or exfiltrating data.

4)    Alerts that happen outside your standard operating hours signaling a compromised host.

5)    Network scans and probing by internal hosts, which could reveal an attacker moving laterally within the network.

6)    Duplicated events across multiple machines in the same subnet over a 24-hour period, such as repeated authentication failures.

7)    Repeated reinfection of a system after being cleaned, signaling the presence of a rootkit or persistent compromise.

8)    A user account trying to log in to multiple resources within a few minutes from/to different regions – a sign that the user’s credentials have been stolen or that a user is up to mischief.

Every minute counts in almost every one of these attack scenarios, but specifically the report uncovered three issues that directly affected response times and effectiveness:

1)    The full potential of the enterprise’s security defenses were not active, with some systems still at default or weak security settings.

2)    Important data was not being captured or shared.

3)    Dated security information and event management (SIEM), firewalls, and endpoint protection may lack real-time correlation.

I’m excited that we have this report to share with the public, because knowledge and awareness are critical in defending against these attacks. What the report confirms is that, while new technology will likely help, security teams often fail to leverage the capability they already have, missing out on insight that could be gained from data, tools, and tactics available today. Download your free copy of this special report to see our detailed recommendations and findings:  http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/reports/rp-when-minutes-count.pdf

Carric Dooley has extensive experience leading comprehensive security assessments as well as network and application penetration tests in a wide range of industries across North America, Europe, and Asia. As the Worldwide VP of Foundstone Services at McAfee, part of Intel ... View Full Bio
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