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6 Most Dangerous New Attack Techniques in 2015

SANS experts lay out the up-and-coming trends in attack patterns at RSA Conference.

SAN FRANCISCO, WEDNESDAY, APR. 22  -- Experts with the SANS Institute convened at RSA Conference for their annual threats panel, this time dishing on the six most dangerous new attack techniques. Led by SANS Director John Pescatore, the panel featured Ed Skoudis, SANS faculty fellow and CEO of CounterHack Challenges, Johannes Ullrich, dean of research for SANS, and Michael Assante, SANS project lead for Industrial Control System (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) security. Each offered up thoughts on how they've seen threats evolving and which techniques they expect to gain steam over the next year.

Technique #1: Attackers Will Expose Breached Data Dumps In Dribbles

According to Skoudis, more organizations will need to face the prospect of attackers not only getting savvy in how they steal information, but also in how they disseminate it, particularly if they're looking to publicly humiliate their targets.

"I'm talking, of course, about the Sony situation.  Instead of just doing the big data dump, they put a little bit out there," Skoudis said. "The reason this is more damaging is the organization doesn’t really know how to respond.  What is the magnitude of this whole thing? Also, the organization’s response, by the time you get to day three or four of the disclosures, makes what they said on day one look silly.  So there’s more damage and it amplifies it for the target organization.  It’s like you’re boxing with ghosts."

He recommends that organizations start including these scenarios in their tabletop exercises for breach response.

Technique #2: Microsoft Kerberos Is Getting Spanked

As Pass the Hash attacks grew mainstream back in 2011 or so, Skoudis explained that he and other experts always prefaced their talks about the techniques with the aside that these attacks weren't there yet on Microsoft Kereberos. That's no longer the case.

"So what’s happening? We have the pass the ticket attack.  That’s where a bad guy hacks into a machine in your environment—maybe it’s a client machine, maybe it's a server machine-- and they harvest the Kerberos tickets for the user that’s authenticated on that machine," he says, explaining the attacker is able to use those tickets for up to 10 hours. "You can do a lot of damage in 10 hours."

Technique #3: Real-World Exploits of Internet of Things Will Multiply

The more the workforce moves beyond bring your own device with phones and tablets and further into bring your own anything, be it printers or wireless routers, the more that Internet of Things vulnerabilities will intrude into the enterprise, Skoudis warned. This gets amplified as embedded hardware in all nature of devices becomes so cheap.

"With all these different things coming into the environment, if you don’t know it’s there, you can’t defend it," he said.

And, unfortunately, these devices are frequently vulnerable to very old attacks and methods that were taken care of in traditional devices years ago. But these common vulnerabilities will start causing new and unexpected consequences in IoT devices.

For example, one device Skoudis and his team looked into was actually irrevocably broken following a simple cross-site scripting attack.

 "You could launch a cross side scripting attack against the darn thing and it would break the device," he said. "Look, I’ve seen a lot of scripting in my day, I'm sure maybe you have as well, I’ve never seen one that would break a device.  It was crazy."

Technique #4: Encryption Is Becoming Security's #1 Frenemy

Encryption is security's number one frenemy, not just because when poorly implemented it can cause problems—see Heartbleed and BASH bug—but also because it can be used against you, explained Ullrich.

As crypto ransomware has grown in popularity, it has been seen largely as a consumer problem. But that's changing as attackers start to shift their encryption ransomware delivery techniques, he says.

"And in some ways, from an enterprise point of view, encrypted information is probably less of a problem for you than leaked information, because they have backups" he said. "Until those backups start being encrypted."

For example, he explained that attackers are starting to dedicate efforts in breaking into NAS devices and others commonly used for backup storage in order to carry out ransomeware attacks against busineses.

"And it only moves forward from there," said Ullrich, explaining that attackers are using web application vulnerabilities to break into web servers, then effectively encrypting data for a period of time and eventually removing the key before making a demand for ransom

"So all data altered over the last six months on that particular web server got encrypted now, including all the backups for the last six months," said Ullrich. "Then on your website you get to see the ransom notice asking you for a substantial amount of money to get your data back."

Technique #5: Denial of Service Attacks Are Advancing

"Denial of service attacks have been a huge problem over the last few years, but for the most part, enterprises sort of have learned to live with it," Ullrich said.

Attackers are now taking denial of service to another level in a couple of ways. In one way, the attacker is focusing on actual applications. "So, these are layer 7-style denial of service attacks," Ullrich said. "With a relatively low level of traffic, like a couple megabits or maybe a gigabit, attackers can cause substantial harm to the application and render it unusable. "

Additionally, instead of reflection attacks off the DNS server, attackers are setting up their attacks so the request from actual clients, rather than denial of service botnets or the like. 

Technique #6: ICS Attacks Are Becoming Targeted

Attackers are getting savvier about how they go after industrial control systems, said Assante."There are now customized ICS exploits, that's big news," Assante said. "It means your adversary did spend time thinking and focusing on it to build these."

Additionally, attackers are taking advantage of controls over specific features within ICS systems. And they're also learning the importance of delivery. "Adversaries also demonstrated the understanding that many of the control systems out there today are at least hidden behind one firewall, one logical segmentation," he said. "They came to the same thinking about that and figuring how do I focus on what, not necessarily payload, but delivery.  How do I get in to where I want to be? And the number one thing we say is they focus on ICS trusted relationships. "

As a result, there's increased level of phishing attacks against production engineers and those on the plant floor area, as well as watering hole attacks against sites with information for ICS engineers. Even scarier, they're starting to trojanize ICS files and components that are available for updating firmware and finding ways to replace them in the supply chain in order to get malware over the firewall and into production environments. 

Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 9:34:53 AM
I definitely agree with most of these, especially with the IoT. Devices are being made smart down to the nearest toaster. (Aside from the satire in that statement the big example I have in mind right now is the smart watch) These devices will only become more prevalent and for security to keep up will be a challenge.
User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 3:24:13 PM
Data Engineering
Of these, I think it is Technique #1 that interests me the most in terms of how lethal it can actually be.  When you look at Data Engineering (acquire->ingest->transform->store->retrieve) programmatically, there is this incredible opportunity to inject AI into the software that drives illegal data engineering, especially when the source is internal, such as a whistleblower or disgruntled worker, and someone who can help place malicious code onsite.  Then, with endpoints working together, cyber criminals can program data manipulation activities that are innocuous and ride everyday traffic, raise no alarms, and have as their key attribute patience.  Sensitive data leaks have the potential to become almost imperceptible with the addition of dummy endpoints (shadow companies, banks, etc) receiving information from both malicious sources and unsuspecting (depending on how well the insider is able to plant malicious code).  In short, data science holds the key to taking what used to be blatant and forensic-heavy incidents and now burying it into the white noise of everyday electronic traffic. 
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