Recent IT Security Breaches Are Alerts to Clean House

Nicole Smith, Dell enterprise technology blogger | 5/24/2011 | 4 comments

Nicole Smith
For several days in April, credit card operations at one of South Korea’s banks were crippled by an attack on its servers that may have resulted in irreparable data loss, according to Seoul media reports. The fallout for Nonghyup Bank is ongoing, as consumer groups weigh class-action lawsuits, and a trial over the security breach plays out in South Korean courts.

For large enterprise observers the world over, recent high-profile breaches like those at Sony and Nonghyup are apt to encourage senior executives to reevaluate whether their risk-assessment plans are adequate.

“The threat landscape is constantly changing,” says Charisse Castagnoli, a midmarket security strategist at Dell. “The question is how to have pragmatic security and risk management, while protecting your critical assets appropriately.”

Companies often underestimate their risk levels and, therefore, don’t have appropriate plans, Castagnoli notes. Any company handling large amounts of money, personal identification data, or critical infrastructure should consider itself at high-risk. Castagnoli says some of the questions senior leadership should consider are:

  • What makes my company attractive to political hackers and cybercriminals?
  • To what extent are my customers dependent on my Website?
  • How important to my business are my cyber-brand and cyber-reputation?
  • Are my employees computing at-large well educated on best-practices to avoid malware?

Castagnoli underscores the importance of avoiding malware contamination because of the difficulty involved in detecting it after a breach. In the Nonghyup case, the laptop of a senior IBM contractor was breached in September. The malware went undetected until the April 12 attack.

“Many companies only filter network traffic from the outside-in. If you are a high-risk target, you have to also monitor from the inside-out. Additionally, consider what protection your users have when they leave the protected corporate domain, such as when users are on public WiFi or home networks.”

Castagnoli says partnering with solutions providers like Dell SecureWorks, which offers 24/7 monitoring capabilities and other IT asset protection services, can make it affordable to institute and manage comprehensive monitoring.

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dugsong   Recent IT Security Breaches Are Alerts to Clean House   5/25/2011 6:12:58 PM
Re: Targeting users
Hi Nicole,

Attacks we've seen subvert out of band authentication have been man-in-the-middle attacks against SMS passcodes, and social-engineered phone callback interception. These both require an order of magnitude more effort from an attacker, who would normally just collect credentials from compromised endpoints en masse, and now has to deal with each user in real-time.

But we've also pioneered an out-of-band method that isn't vulnerable to this - our smartphone push authentication, which authenticates logins/transactions using a mobile app.

The threat model then advances to also getting malware onto a user's phone, and defeating the security isolation between applications on the phone itself - a trick we pioneered ourselves - but also know how to defend against.

When the hurdle for successful attack changes from simple mass endpoint compromise (drive-by malware, phishing, etc.) to compromising phones, and matching them up with user's compromised computers to answer cryptographic requests in real-time, it's a game changer - like the shift from Telnet to SSH (which we also have some familiarity with - see the ssh manpage ;-)

Thanks for your coverage of this issue!
Nicole Smith   Recent IT Security Breaches Are Alerts to Clean House   5/25/2011 4:18:05 PM
Re: Targeting users

You've raised some good points. Serious effort to educate and empower users to be more vigilant, particularly as they use mobile devices, ought to come along with the trust you mentioned. A user unaware that their system is compromised will still supply that secondary validation and unwittingly open more doors to the attacker.

Having a solid pre-breach strategy and clarifying what activity will trigger a response are important too.

Thanks for the insights. I'm interested in your thoughts on combatting malware that subverts out-of band authentication.

User Ranking: Blogger
dugsong   Recent IT Security Breaches Are Alerts to Clean House   5/25/2011 2:56:27 PM
Targeting users
Smart attackers are going after users, not systems, since they can simply follow users through all the security controls by impersonating them. No organization of any real size is ever going to be able to keep attackers out completely. The quote about "filtering" inbound traffic, but only "monitoring" outbound traffic is telling - we trust our users, but these attacks are succeeding because we simply cannot distinguish attackers from legitimate users once they've gotten inside.

Google, Facebook, Chase, Paypal, etc. are actually leading the way by providing an extra line of defense by requiring a user's mobile phone as a second login factor. Even if a user's computer is completely compromised, an attacker still needs their phone to complete a login or high-risk transaction. It's sad that most enterprises (and banks!) are less secure in this regard than Facebook (although we're hoping to change this at Duo Security)!
Technocrat   Recent IT Security Breaches Are Alerts to Clean House   5/24/2011 1:19:10 PM
Latte and a Good Book ?!

@ Nicole     Welcome !   A very good read and some really great points to remember about security threats.  Many overlook WiFi as one of the most insecure methods of infiltration by would be hackers.   I have been victim of this I must admit and I hope to think I know a little about computers, but that just goes to say that those who know considerably less are at a major risk of having their information stolen.  In my case, it was a home router I didn’t know supported WiFi ( much less that it was enabled ! ) and as a result my neighbors piggy back off my dime for months ?  Embarrassing I know. 

But I learned the hard way and unfortunately that will be the case of the Starbuck’s/Barnes and Noble groupie….while they think they are just enjoying a latte, a good book and some soothing music, someone could be recording their every keystroke rather easily.  If you are doing some kind of business in this environment – well you know the rest of the story.

Knowing is half the battle, doing something proactive is the other side of the coin, but how many of us will do it ?  Not many I am afraid, not until it is too late.  So leave your WiFi disabled when enjoying your latte and a good book or take the effort to protect yourself. 

Before it is too latte...  ( Sorry couldn't resist !)    : ) 

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