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    Author Archive - Martin Roesler




    What is the difference between cybercrime and a “cyber war”?

    There are different elements of an attack that help us understand this: the targets, the threat actors behind it, as well as the tools used. But I think one of the most important aspects, something that drives all the other aspects, is also the answer to the question I posed earlier: intent.

    I believe this difference in intent matters because it defines the threat itself. There are a lot of reports on different kinds of organizations being successfully victimized by targeted attacks, and it has become so overwhelming to the point that it has obscured our view of what kind of threats we’re dealing with. And though knowing the intent might not be able to help us stop an attack, it can enable us assess if we are a potential target.

    Cyber war or Cybercrime?

    For example, when a threat actor from country A conducts a targeted attack against several companies in country B, does it count as cyber war, or cybercrime? The answer, again, depends on the intent.

    Cyber war, as Raimund Genes also said in his 2013 predictions, refer to politically motivated attacks that may destroy data or even cause physical damage to infrastructure of a specific country. So in my example above, if the goal of the attack is to destroy the companies’ data or their infrastructure with a political intent, it may be considered an act of cyber war.

    However, if the attack is conducted in order to steal information from the companies with a pure financial intent, then it should be considered a form of cybercrime. Most of the cybercrime schemes we’ve seen in the past aimed to affect as many individual users as possible, but the cybercriminals have found a bigger and better target in companies.

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    Last time, I talked about how attackers are at an advantage when it comes to targeted attacks, and how it is important that we accept that fact in order to deal with attacks properly. Here comes the hard part: knowing that attackers have a great level of control, what do we do now?

    Remember that even though we’ve come to accept that attackers have greater control, does not mean that we don’t have any of it. We do, and it is important to take note of that because using that control is highly critical in dealing with targeted attacks.

    Control the Perimeter

    Of course, any form of control can only be truly successful if founded on an awareness of what we truly own. Acquiring a firm grasp of what and who gets access to the network and the level of access that is provided may come at the expense of what most employees see as convenient, but considering the dangers of targeted attacks, it is important to put security first.

    Part of identifying the network is also having a deep understanding of it, specifically the operations, processes, events, and behavior we consider normal. Knowledge of what is truly normal and what is not will help identify anomalies better and faster.

    Once the network is defined, it is critical to have a means to monitor the network, which means having visibility and control of everything that goes in and out of it. A good example of a technology that can help network administrators do this is DNS Response Policy Zone. DNS RPZ provides a scalable means to manage connections to and from the network. If complemented with a domain name blacklist, it would create a network environment that is significantly safer.

    Deploy Inside-Out Protection

    Traditional defenses focus on hardening firewalls and keeping bad components out through blacklisting. Now, while this “outside-in” strategy would be effective for dealing with fairly straightforward attacks, it would be utterly unreliable against targeted attacks. Traditional defenses are made for attacks where the form and source are easily recognizable, which is not the case for targeted attacks.

    Figure 1. Traditional defense

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    Posted in Targeted Attacks | Comments Off on Understanding Targeted Attacks: How Do We Defend Ourselves?



    Most of the things our industry has learned about targeted attacks were realized the hard way: through analysis of successful attacks. Our realizations have so far revealed just how unfamiliar we are with the “battle ground” we are currently in, and how that unfamiliarity has caused the industry to be unable to understand what is needed to deal with such attacks. But why is this so? Do the attackers really have the upper hand? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

    Unfair Advantage

    To put it simply, attackers have a greater level of control and a wider range of resources. They get to decide on the very nature of the threat — how and when the attack will play out. They can employ the use of the numerous tools available on the Internet, including legitimate services. More importantly, they can get intelligence on what they are up against – they can do research on the target and find information that can make infiltration easy and almost undetectable.

    And while attackers are able to utilize such flexibility, targets, on the other hand, are faced with multiple limitations that even by themselves are already difficult to manage. With the dawn of consumerization and rise of mobile computing, it is already a big struggle for companies to identify their own network, even more so to protect it. They can only do so within the limitations of available strategies, whatever control they have over the network, and the awareness of their people.

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    Posted in Targeted Attacks | Comments Off on Understanding Targeted Attacks: What Are We Really Up Against?



    Google recently removed websites under the .CO.CC second-level domain (SLD) from its search engine’s results. As a means to protect users, we do not think this is a good solution.

    Based on our research and monitoring of malicious domains and cybercrime activity, we know for a fact that all major cybercriminals have already moved from *.co.cc to other similarly abused SLDs like *.rr.nu or *.co.tv. This abuse of rogue SLDs is excessive and is rapidly escalating. Cybercriminals routinely jump from one SLD to another in order to keep their FAKEAV via blackhat search engine optimization (SEO) schemes alive, among other Web-based attacks.

    The following list of the number of malicious URLs we found on certain SLDs suggests why blocking *.co.cc domains is a short-term band-aid solution:

    In addition, if we chart the typical infection chain for the majority of blackhat SEO attacks nowadays, you will notice that the malicious SLDs are more often used for the second, third, up to the fourth jumps or redirections. The doorway pages—those that are actually indexed by search engines—very rarely use *.co.cc. So, blocking these makes no sense.

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    Yesterday, I read an article that reported how our counterparts at Sophos “slammed Microsoft” over its reported malware blocking stats for SmartScreen® Application Reputation built-in Internet Explorer (IE) 7, 8, and 9.

    This issue was much too interesting for me to not follow up with my own thoughts.

    Having also read the Microsoft blog article as well as media reports, I was enticed to run a few checks.

    I took a look at Trend Micro’s own internal competitive benchmarking results. As you can see from the chart below, of those companies whose products we tested against, the security company closest to Trend Micro’s own blocking rate was, in fact, Kaspersky.

    In our test, IE9 achieved a less than 10 percent success rate for malicious URL blocking. So, while we cannot comment on the exact methodology used in Microsoft’s own tests, we have to agree with Sophos’ questioning of the rather surprising results Microsoft published.

    null 

    Note: Internal benchmarking results (Figure 1) updated to include additional company (May 25, 9:07 PM UTC-7).

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