Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

9/15/2014
12:00 PM
Lance Cottrell
Lance Cottrell
Commentary
Connect Directly
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
100%
0%

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
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
RyanSepe
100%
0%
RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 2:10:07 PM
Silver Bullet
There is no silver bullet where security is concerned. Users need to be aware of the multiple threat vectors and need to be prepared on how to secure themselves against them. Security is a layered approach and you cannot and should not feel 100% safe with one security component. 

However, I think this again boils down to education. Articles like this are extremely helpful in providing where there are vulnerabilities and metrics as to most typical watering holes. I would like to see a follow up to this for user education as to what can be done to protect the average user from those 5 myths.
LanceCottrell
100%
0%
LanceCottrell,
User Rank: Author
9/15/2014 | 2:33:33 PM
Re: Silver Bullet
I agree that there is no silver bullet. While user education is useful, I think it also allows security professions to let themselves off the hook. If a user can accidentally compromise their system, then there is a real problem with the design of the system.

Education of the executives, to ensure that proper security and security planning is a priority, is much more important. This article focuses mostly on breaking people out of a sense of complacency.
Marilyn Cohodas
100%
0%
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
9/15/2014 | 2:40:02 PM
Re: Silver Bullet
Agree that the perennial problem of user education (or lack of security education) needs to be addressed, but what i found most provacative in this blog was Lance's statement in Myth #2: "I am smart enough to spot phishing attacks."

I'm sure he -- and most of the rest of you in the Dark Reading community -- are a lot smarter than I am about spotting a phishing email and other attacks, but if someone with a resume like Lance's admits that he too is susceptible to the myths of data securty risks, we all really need to sit up and take notice.
theb0x
50%
50%
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.

 
LanceCottrell
100%
0%
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. 
Kwattman
50%
50%
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.
Kwattman
50%
50%
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.
LanceCottrell
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Overcoming the Challenge of Shorter Certificate Lifespans
Mike Cooper, Founder & CEO of Revocent,  10/15/2020
7 Tips for Choosing Security Metrics That Matter
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  10/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-27621
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-22
The FileImporter extension in MediaWiki through 1.35.0 was not properly attributing various user actions to a specific user's IP address. Instead, for various actions, it would report the IP address of an internal Wikimedia Foundation server by omitting X-Forwarded-For data. This resulted in an inab...
CVE-2020-27620
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-22
The Cosmos Skin for MediaWiki through 1.35.0 has stored XSS because MediaWiki messages were not being properly escaped. This is related to wfMessage and Html::rawElement, as demonstrated by CosmosSocialProfile::getUserGroups.
CVE-2020-27619
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-22
In Python 3 through 3.9.0, the Lib/test/multibytecodec_support.py CJK codec tests call eval() on content retrieved via HTTP.
CVE-2020-17454
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-21
WSO2 API Manager 3.1.0 and earlier has reflected XSS on the "publisher" component's admin interface. More precisely, it is possible to inject an XSS payload into the owner POST parameter, which does not filter user inputs. By putting an XSS payload in place of a valid Owner Name, a modal b...
CVE-2020-24421
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-21
Adobe InDesign version 15.1.2 (and earlier) is affected by a memory corruption vulnerability due to insecure handling of a malicious .indd file, potentially resulting in arbitrary code execution in the context of the current user. User interaction is required to exploit this vulnerability.