Third era of Information Security

As I look over my experience in Information Security since 1999, I see three distinct eras with respect to the motivation driving technical control purchases:

  • Basic (mid-90’s to early 2000’s) – Organizations implemented basic host-based and network-based technical security controls, i.e. anti-virus and firewalls respectively.
  • Compliance (early 2000’s to mid 2000’s) – Compliance regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and PCI drove major improvements in security.
  • Breach Prevention and Incident Detection & Response (BPIDR) (late 2000’s to present) – Organizations realize that regulatory compliance represents a minimum level of security, and is not sufficient to cope with the fast changing methods used by cyber predators. Meeting compliance requirements will not effectively reduce the likelihood of a breach by more skilled and aggressive adversaries or detect their malicious activity.

I have three examples to support the shift from the Compliance era to the Breach Prevention and Incident Detection & Response (BPIDR) era. The first is the increasing popularity of Palo Alto Networks. No compliance regulation I am aware of makes the distinction between a traditional stateful inspection firewall and a Next Generation Firewall as defined by Gartner in their 2009 research report.  Yet in the last four years, 6,000 companies have selected Palo Alto Networks because their NGFWs enable organizations to regain control of traffic at points in their networks where trust levels change or ought to change.

The second example is the evolution of Log Management/SIEM. One can safely say that the driving force for most Log/SIEM purchases in the early to mid 2000s was compliance. The fastest growing vendors of that period had the best compliance reporting capabilities. However, by the late 2000s, many organizations began to realize they needed better detection controls. We began so see a shift in the SIEM market to those solutions which not only provided the necessary compliance reports, but could also function satisfactorily as the primary detection control within limited budget requirements. Hence the ascendancy of Q1 Labs, which actually passed ArcSight in number of installations prior to being acquired by IBM.

The third example is email security. From a compliance perspective, Section 5 of PCI DSS, for example, is very comprehensive regarding anti-virus software. However, it is silent regarding phishing. The popularity of products from Proofpoint and FireEye show that organizations have determined that blocking email-borne viruses is simply not adequate. Phishing and particularly spear-phishing must be addressed.

Rather than simply call the third era “Breach Prevention,” I chose to add “Incident Detection & Response” because preventing all system compromises that could lead to a breach is not possible. You must assume that Prevention controls will have failures. Therefore you must invest in Detection controls as well. Too often, I have seen budget imbalances in favor of Prevention controls.

The goal of a defense-in-depth architecture is to (1) prevent breaches by minimizing attack surfaces, controlling access to assets, and preventing threats and malicious behavior on allowed traffic, and (2) to detect malicious activity missed by prevention controls and detect compromised systems more quickly to minimize the risk of disclosure of confidential data.

Pursuing Koobface and ‘Partnerka’ — Krebs on Security

Pursuing Koobface and ‘Partnerka’ — Krebs on Security.

Brian Krebs highlights Nart Villeneuve’s detailed analysis of Koobface. This is the most detailed analysis I’ve read about how one type of botnet thrives.

The entrée point for Koobface is almost irresistible: a link sent from a fake “friend” prompting a visit to a video site that purportedly reveals the recipient captured naked from a hidden web cam. Who wouldn’t follow that link? But for the hapless recipient, that one click leads down a Kafka-esque rabbit hole of viruses and Trojan horses, and straight into the tentacles of the Koobface network.

In a sense, Koobface, while malware, is the opposite of Zeus because the value per illicit transaction is very low, while Zeus’s transaction value is very high.

The operators of Koobface have been able to successfully monetize their operations. Through the use of payper-click and pay-per-install affiliate programs, Koobface was able to earn over US$2 million between June 2009 and June 2010 by forcing compromised computers to install malicious software and engage in click fraud.

Without a victim, particularly a complainant, it is almost impossible for a police force to justify the resources to investigate a case like Koobface. Police officers ask: what’s the crime? Prosecutors ask: what or whom am I supposed to prosecute? In the case of Koobface, it is almost as if the system were purposefully designed to fall between the cracks of both questions.

New preventive and detective controls are needed to combat this new generation of malware. Think about this:

A recent study by Bell Canada suggested that CA$100 billion out of $174 billion of revenue transiting Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure is “at risk.” The same operator measured over 80,000 “zero day” attacks per day targeting computers on its network — meaning, attacks that are so new the security companies have yet to
register them.

Next-generation defense-in-depth includes both preventive and detective controls.

Preventive network security controls must include (1) next generation firewalls which combine application-level traffic classification and policy management with intrusion prevention, and (2) 0-day malware prevention which is highly accurate and has a low false positive rate.

Detective controls must include (1) a Log/SIEM solution which uses extensive contextual information to generate actionable intelligence , and (2) a cloud-based botnet detection service which can alert you to compromised devices on your network.