8/4/2015
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Lockheed Open Sources Its Secret Weapon In Cyber Threat Detection

Internal tool at defense company is made available to security community at large.



The cybersecurity team at Lockheed Martin will share some defensive firepower with the security community at Black Hat this week with the open source release of an internal advance threat tool it has been using in house for three years now. Dubbed Laika BOSS, this malware detection platform is meant to help security analysts better hunt down malicious files and activity in an enterprise environment.

Known for pioneering the cyber kill chain methodology of threat defense, Lockheed's cyber security team developed Laika BOSS to execute on kill chain defense philosophies. The development of the tool followed a similar path for many security solutions Lockheed hones, explains Mike Gordon, who oversees the Cyber Incident Response Team and network defense at the company.

It was first put together and piloted within its internal cybersecurity department to defend Lockheed assets and infrastructure. After widespread use, it was then rolled out to Lockheed's cybersecurity commercial services division for external customers of the company. Now with several years of proven performance, Lockheed believes the tool is too powerful to keep all to itself.

"Our philosophy at Lockheed Martin is to share frameworks that enable others and ourselves to advance in network defense without giving away any trade secrets to the adversary," Gordon says, explaining that was why the firm shared the kill chain process in the first place. "Laika BOSS is the next component in that framework. It's a platform that enables analysts to do their job."

Laika BOSS is different than many malware detection tools due to its ability to essentially 'atomize' individual file elements for analysis, says Adam Zollman, a network defender for the company and one of the user/designers of Laika BOSS.

"So rather than looking at an entire swath of traffic, you know, many gigabits of just massive amounts of data, we look at atomic elements, files, something that has semantic meaning, and we break those down into other units, particularly units with more semantic meaning," Zollman says.

For example, if an email has a body and attachments, the tool will look at the email body itself, break out the attachments and then look at all of the components within the attachment file itself. Each step of this analysis is done by its own self-contained module. This ensures that the tool never tries to eat the proverbial elephant all in one bite.

"What's unique about this approach is each module only has to do one thing," Zollman says. "Because the framework lets each module build on the inputs and outputs of all of the other ones, it's taking very small bites at the problem that collectively let us tackle this really significant challenge of adversaries always changing up their tactics."

This allows for a deeper level of inspection and correlation to threat intelligence that exists about malware attack techniques that go way beyond simple network behaviors, he says.

"It uniquely positions that software to apply all of our intelligence to all of those pieces rather than only to the outer layer of network traffic, like a lot of tools will do," Gordon says.

Over the years, the team at Lockheed has grown the platform from 20 modules up to 100 different modules and they believe that the open sourcing of Laika BOSS will only accelerate innovation with community involvement.

"Every time we see an adversary using a different technique to obscure malware, we can kind of easily adapt and extent the system to account for that," says Matt Arnao, cybersecurity analyst and designer of Laika BOSS. "So we've been able to kind of keep up with and in some cases get ahead of the threat."

The tool is now available on GitHub and Lockheed will be presenting technical details about it at Black Hat on Thursday. 

Black Hat USA is happening! Check it out here.

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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