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.

Endpoint

12/2/2020
10:00 AM
Avi Shua
Avi Shua
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
100%
0%

Why I'd Take Good IT Hygiene Over Security's Latest Silver Bullet

Bells and whistles are great, but you can stay safer by focusing on correct configurations, posture management, visibility, and patching.

Here's the scenario: A state-sponsored attacker uses a zero day to breach the environment. This foothold lets him run previously unknown, fileless attacks originating from an exploited process. Fortunately, his evil plan is foiled by our next-generation, AI-powered security tool that detected and prevented it in nanoseconds!

While silver bullets shine brightly, unfortunately, they work mostly against werewolves, not real-life cybersecurity incidents. 

Related Content:

Good Cyber Hygiene in a Pandemic-Driven World Starts with Us

The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence

New on The Edge: ISP Security: Do We Expect Too Much?

I spent a decade in intelligence with Unit 8200 of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), considered one of the most elite cybersecurity offensive units in the world. After the military, I spent another decade at Check Point Software Technologies, one of the largest pure-play security vendors. 

The most important cyber defense lesson I learned in the IDF and at Check Point is that security basics are always more important than shiny new security toys. Why? Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how sexy your “next-gen, real-time enforcement cyber death ray” is — attackers will always take the simplest path to breach your cyber defenses. 

I'm not the only one to have this belief. Security basics are often listed as fundamentals in anyone's cybersecurity pyramid, as illustrated by Gartner's cloud security report visual below. 

This fundamentals-first strategy is no surprise to experienced practitioners. Having the correct infrastructure configuration, effective posture management, full visibility to the environment, and patching and configuring are all at the base of the pyramid. Meanwhile, advanced threat detection tools are at the top of the pyramid, indicating that they're Important, but remove less risk. Simply put, good IT hygiene dramatically reduces risk more than quasi-advanced silver-bullet solutions.

Consider these three examples to illustrate why.

Multifactor Authentication (MFA) Versus Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Some vendors preach that they use capable heuristics and AI to detect anomalies and account takeover rather than real user behavior. At the end of the day, all of this AI is based on some basic features: time, geolocation, superhuman anomalies (someone who simultaneously logs in from two or more locations), and similar such measures.

The reality is that machine learning is not a crystal ball. If your users leverage passwords without MFA, such advertised heuristics put them on very shaky ground. 

My grandma, who was 90+ years old, knew how to use a VPN to watch streaming episodes not available at her location. Do you really expect an attacker not to look at your user location (readily available on Facebook) and use a VPN to access it from the same place? Because of this threat, a practitioner who deploys MFA can sleep better at night.

Patching vs. IPSes
Intrusion prevention systems (IPSes) function by intercepting traffic, matching it against attack traffic, and blocking the bad traffic while allowing good traffic to pass. This might be so effective that why should we even bother to patch? 

In real life, a vulnerability is a bug, which is exploitable in numerous ways. Some exploitation methods appear all too similar to legitimate requests. Meanwhile, IPSes need to distinguish between legitimate and malicious requests within milliseconds. You must maintain a balance between false positives, false negatives, and performance because you can't win all three.

In many cases, this harsh truth means that vendors end up having the sign of a specific attack, and not the vulnerability itself, which means that the attackers can slightly change the code and sneak in. The practitioner who patched the environment shouldn't need to worry about this happening.

Detecting Lateral Movement Risk vs. Actual Lateral Movement
The most common way to perform lateral movement is to reuse privileges in the assets that attackers have a foothold on, such as secrets and credentials stored on breached machines. Vendors will preach that they can distinguish between legitimate traffic and lateral movements — to even automatically block such illicit activity. They'll use terms like machine learning and AI to make their product sound advanced, but these capabilities are very limited.

The product may block well-known malware that performs the exact same sequence in any invocation and hence was "signed" by them — making such products glorified, network-based, signature-matching systems. But because AI and machine learning are based on training, they aren't able to distinguish between legitimate traffic and lateral movement with an accuracy that fully supports runtime prevention.

Moreover, no one knows how these applications work in all scenarios. Are you willing to block traffic just because it hasn't been seen before? Or what about an edge case in the app it's never seen? 

On the other hand, managing lateral movement risk is definitely possible. This can be done by analyzing the secrets and privileges stored and associated with any given asset and determining if they're overly permissive. Hopefully, before an attacker reaches these credentials, your security team has had time to analyze and remove such threats, without relying on a silver bullet to dodge an attacker who has already discovered them. 

By returning to the basics, security teams can protect their public cloud estates from being breached by their weakest links. These common threats include having misconfigured workloads; being unpatched or running on unsupported operating systems; not using MFA; or protecting against known vulnerabilities and lateral movement risks. 

A little IT hygiene goes a long way, and until you get the security basics right, all the fancy buzzword-enabled tools in the world won't protect you.

Avi has more than 25 years of experience in cybersecurity. Prior to co-founding Orca Security, Avi was the chief technologist at Check Point Software Technologies and held key positions within Unit 8200, the Israeli NSA. While at Check Point, he built and scaled cybersecurity ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
VictorW322
50%
50%
VictorW322,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2020 | 4:17:44 PM
Basics are required before layering automation
Avi, you are correct.  These basics are required for other more advanced tools can be effective.  It makes no sense to have advanced endpoint malware protection and response in place if you can't identify who is using the asset.  It is far better to restrict admin access to the databases using roles instead of layering database monitoring tools on top of a database that is open and already compromised before the fancy daily activity report can be delivered for analysis.  The problem is that the silver bullet is easier to sell to the board, while more hands for asset inventory and access control seems a hard sell for managers.  This is a problem at the executive level, not solved by the analyst.  We as an industry need to insist on proper staffing and pay, by educating our executives, rather than trying to solve vulnerabilities with deployments doomed to mediocracy at best.
Commentary
What the FedEx Logo Taught Me About Cybersecurity
Matt Shea, Head of Federal @ MixMode,  6/4/2021
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
A View From Inside a Deception
Sara Peters, Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  6/2/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-23394
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-13
The package studio-42/elfinder before 2.1.58 are vulnerable to Remote Code Execution (RCE) via execution of PHP code in a .phar file. NOTE: This only applies if the server parses .phar files as PHP.
CVE-2021-34682
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
Receita Federal IRPF 2021 1.7 allows a man-in-the-middle attack against the update feature.
CVE-2021-31811
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
In Apache PDFBox, a carefully crafted PDF file can trigger an OutOfMemory-Exception while loading the file. This issue affects Apache PDFBox version 2.0.23 and prior 2.0.x versions.
CVE-2021-31812
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
In Apache PDFBox, a carefully crafted PDF file can trigger an infinite loop while loading the file. This issue affects Apache PDFBox version 2.0.23 and prior 2.0.x versions.
CVE-2021-32552
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
It was discovered that read_file() in apport/hookutils.py would follow symbolic links or open FIFOs. When this function is used by the openjdk-16 package apport hooks, it could expose private data to other local users.