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Interop: Understand Your Attackers For Better Network Defense

Knowing who will target you is key in network security prioritization.

The threats against enterprise networks continue to multiply. So if IT is going to effectively reduce the risks to its most valuable assets it needs to learn to prioritize. Otherwise it is never going to keep up with the threat actors.

"You can’t really try to protect everything against everyone," says Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of CrowdStrike. "That’s just not sustainable.  No one has the resources or capabilities to do that."

This week Alperovitch is taking his message to Interop, where he'll lead the talk "Understand Your Attackers" A long-time security veteran and proponent of leveraging actionable threat intelligence, Alperovitch regularly advocates for CIOs, CSOs and other IT leaders to do a better job understanding the motivations and standard techniques of attackers most likely to target their organizations in order to tailor their defenses to these likely suspects.

"If you don’t understand the attackers who may be coming after you, if you don’t know their tradecraft, you really have very little chance of tailoring your defenses to the threat that’s out there that you’re going to need to meet," he explains.

As organizations begin to understand the motivations and working conditions of attackers, they'll also start to get a better grasp of how persistent the adversary will be, even after having been thwarted from their first incursion into the network.

"People tend to think of breaches as a discrete event. A company gets hacked, they clean up, they announce to the world that everything is great again and the CEO writes a heartfelt apology to the customer," he says. "The reality is the adversaries don't give up when they've been detected and kicked out. They're launching long-term campaigns against us. Because if it's a nation-state operation, you've got  a soldier or an  intelligence officer who has a job to do and  he's got a general knocking on his door saying 'Where's my data from this  company?' and you don't just give up because you got kicked out."

When his firm deals with customers, he sees adversaries literally coming back within an hour of being discovered and booted from the network, trying again with a new line of attack. As he explains, being attacked is a continuum rather than a discrete event.

"If they don't come back, you should worry because it means they've already taken everything," he warns.

He explains one success that his team recently had, in which they discovered a Chinese attacker going after one of its customers. After initial clean-up, the attacker tried multiple venues over the course of four months, breaking in and failing to get traction, breaking in and failing again, rinse and repeat.

"So they brought in the 'A' team that brought a Windows kernel zero-day, which we detected and reported to Microsoft, effectively burning that zero-day," he says, explaining that the continuous work is what eventually got the attacker to give up because "we were able to raise the costs high enough where they decided those victims weren't worth it."

[Learn more about what motivates hackers from Dmitri during his conference session, Understanding Your Attackers, on Wednesday, April 29, at Interop Las Vegas.]


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
4/27/2015 | 9:10:18 PM
Re: Know your business
I second that, Ryan.  

Additionally, having something valuable necessitates a deep understanding of the marketplace your asset is valued in, how it is traded, sold and appraised, and what the related geography of the valued asset is.  An example is casinos and banks.  There is lots of data over the decades and centuries that these entities have evolved and intelligent casino and bank managers know their enemy.  Tech changes over time, but for the most part, casino and bank managers do a good job of keeping abreast of those who target them for purposes of theft.
User Rank: Ninja
4/27/2015 | 3:14:30 PM
Know your business
Conversely, to add on to this idea is to know your business. By this I mean if you are a United States company and you have no dealings with countries outside of the United States ensure that your safeguards and rules only allow for that type of traffic. Knowing your business is a nice complement to knowing your attacker.
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