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Attacks/Breaches

9/15/2014
12:00 PM
Lance Cottrell
Lance Cottrell
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5 Myths: Why We Are All Data Security Risks

I am absolutely sure that I could be tricked by a well-crafted spear phishing attack, and I am equally sure I could do the same to you.

With new breaches announced almost daily, it’s pretty clear that we are making little progress against attacks. And, the reason for this is twofold. First, hackers are growing in sophistication, which leads to far more complex and creative approaches. Second, there is far too much misinformation leading to a false sense of security. The myths below serve as prime examples.

Myth #1: I am not a target. Most people feel that they are not valuable enough to target, but the simple truth is that everyone is a target -- if only for their computer or email to send spam. Actually, if you have access to personal or corporate bank or investment accounts, company secrets (R&D, M&A, etc.), strategies, or customer data, you are a prime target. Today’s attackers will customize their approach specifically to you using handcrafted phishing emails. Once a hacker gets through, the exploits will target your known hardware and software configurations. 

Myth #2: I am smart enough to spot phishing attacks. Almost everyone can spot the Nigerian prince scams, and most people know how to spot the standard banking scams. Security-aware people also know to check the URL of links, and not to click links from unknown senders.

Considering the sophistication level of today’s hacker, that’s all child's play. In fact, well-crafted spear phishing attacks are effective against everyone. This is true in part because the attack will appear to be from someone you know. It will reference you and your activities specifically. It will be relevant to things you are doing and have interest in. It will have good grammar and spelling. It will look like all the other legitimate emails you get every day from people you know. I am absolutely sure that I could be tricked by a well-crafted spear phishing attack, and I am equally sure I could do the same to you.

Myth #3: I delete my cookies, so I can't be tracked, identified, or targeted. Cookies are only one piece of the pie and since they are built into all browsers they are the easiest. However, attackers use many different methods to track users. For instance, your IP address identifies your individual computer, or your local network if you are behind a NAT firewall. IP addresses for devices on office or home networks rarely change and are easy to associate with users. IP addresses also provide information about your location and your network. VPNs can help here.

In addition, super cookies provide the same basic functionality as cookies, but in a way that stays around even when users try to delete all cookies and trackers. They embed information in places the browser does not think about, but which the website can retrieve later to identify you.

Furthermore, your computer and browser also have a practically unique fingerprint. Although others may have similar characteristics (e.g. utilizing Windows 8, Chrome 36.0.1985.125, the AmazonMP3DownloaderPlugin, or a 2560x1440x24 screen resolution), very few are identical. That information is visible to any website that wants to look, and serves as a powerful identifier that’s quite difficult to change, and hugely cumbersome to change frequently.

Myth #4: If I avoid the Internet back alleys I am safe. Danger or the potential for danger exists regardless of where you point your browser. The likelihood of opening yourself up for attack does not just reside in shady areas. In fact recent reports show the opposite may actually be true. Simply put, attackers are intently focused in finding vulnerabilities and seizing opportunities. For instance, heavily used shopping sites and search engines are 20 times more likely to deliver malware than counterfeit software sites, and 182 times more likely than porn sites.

Myth #5: My firewall and anti-virus software will protect me. This myth is at the heart of the all-too-common false sense of security that gets people into trouble. Relying on these tools alone is like sticking your head in the sand and saying no one can see you. They may be a part of the equation, but their use does not equal complete protection. After all, firewalls will allow your browser to make any request it wants. What makes that scary? Even the best anti-malware scanners only detect 45 percent of attacks.

The key to successfully overcoming many of the myths prevalent today is to avoid falling into a state of complacency. There is a dire need to find and embrace new security models that protect us when we are targets, when we fail to spot the phishing attack, get tracked, visit compromised sites (back alley or not), or get hit with zero day vulnerabilities.

Lance Cottrell founded Anonymizer in 1995, which was acquired by Ntrepid Corp. (then Abraxas) in 2008. Anonymizer's technologies form the core of Ntrepid's Internet misattribution and security products. As Chief Scientist, Lance continues to push the envelope with the new ... View Full Bio
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SandraP573
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SandraP573,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/12/2014 | 6:49:39 AM
data theft
I don't know much about encryption to be honest  but i do know it is important and can save your data from loss and that is why i use encryption. Data protection is the software i use for encryption. Good software.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
9/17/2014 | 2:54:05 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
Totally agree with your point, Lance and the operative word here is "under pressure." Yes, in the best case, an educated user will know how to recognize a phishing attack. But it will only take one time, when s/he is on a deadline and moving through the inbox really fast. It only takes one click, and after that, you can't take it back. 
Kwattman
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Kwattman,
User Rank: Black Belt
9/17/2014 | 2:13:51 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
Agreed! Ignoring any viable option can even be worse than plain lazy.
LanceCottrell
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LanceCottrell,
User Rank: Author
9/17/2014 | 2:07:34 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
I don't think we are actually disagreeing. Certainly training can help users detect many attacks, and can make them more consistent about doing so. My point is that no users will be 100% consistent, not all users will be even somewhat consistent, and well crafted attacks are almost certain to slip by even the ones that are paying close attention.

For that reason, I think that we need to design the security based on the assumption that users will not contribute to their own security. Not because they won't, or that they should not be trained to do so as much as possible, but because we can't count on it.

I often see security people suggest, and I am not saying that you are doing so, that users are the problem and all we need to do is make better users. I think that is a lazy cop out by the security developers, and unrealistic to boot.
Kwattman
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Kwattman,
User Rank: Black Belt
9/17/2014 | 2:00:16 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
Curious as to how you came to that conclusion. While I don't disagree that the typical coffee break or death by PPT approach is unworkable, there are programs that actually work as they concentrate on changing behaviors and do it frequently enough to work, not point of failure or embedded training, which doesn't work. I've seen great success with layered defense-in-depth and security awareness (behavior training) as part of that - seems to reall make a major difference.
LanceCottrell
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LanceCottrell,
User Rank: Author
9/17/2014 | 1:49:18 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
I agree that they should be trained, but a well done phishing attack will pass all the tests that a typical user would know how to apply. Users should have security knowledge and training, but relying on that to keep us secure seems like building your castle on sand. While they may know the right thing to do, most will ignore it if under pressure.
Kwattman
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Kwattman,
User Rank: Black Belt
9/17/2014 | 1:41:18 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
Interesting idea -- but according to a study done in the past 3 weeks, 90% of IT managers get at least a few phishing emails every month that miss the filters. So users still have to know what to look for.
Kwattman
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Kwattman,
User Rank: Black Belt
9/17/2014 | 1:38:21 PM
5 Myths
In a quick poll of security professionals posted yesterday, statistics read that 40% do not have ANY security awarenessness in place and another 39% only do it annually. This lack of effective training breeds the complacency you talk about. Phishing, spear-phishing and vishing techniques used by cyber criminals vary and IT security pros need to keep this top of mind with users so they don't get fooled. Varying tests and training can prevent it from becoming background noise.
LanceCottrell
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LanceCottrell,
User Rank: Author
9/15/2014 | 5:03:56 PM
Re: Spear Phishing
There is only a very fine line between that and opting out of email and other communications entirely, which would indeed prevent spear phishing by email. 
theb0x
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theb0x,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 4:30:23 PM
Spear Phishing
Lance, I am absolutly sure you could not trick me in a spear phishing attack for several reasons.

1) You must correctly pass a elaborate challenge/response request, spoof prevention, and GeoIP/blacklist Filter in order to register to have a unique email identifier generated to attempt to contact me.

2) HTML Markup, URLs, and Attachments are all stripped from all email.

3) The challenge/response sent to you just might be a counter-spear phishing attack.

 
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