Cyber Incident · cybersecurity · Distaster Recovery · Hacking · Malware · Ransomeware

Trick or Treat – Ransomware is a Trick disguised as a Treat

This time of year, causes me to think about cyber lessons learned, malware related questions from customers and colleagues and all the ghoulish activities we have witnessed in 2017. We have seen obvious phishing mails that are clearly spoofed email addresses or URL’s and have provocative messages to drive users to click. These provoke the users to click the message, open an attachment or a click infected URL that cause the execution of the malware. Another common way to be become infected is through compromised websites that can trigger the installation of an unintentional program download.  These are “Tricks” used to cause a user to change their normal behaviors. As we have more and more awareness of Phishing and Ransomware, our ability to be “Tricked” has been reduced, but not eliminated.

Ransomware has now become synonymous with Phishing. The two attack types are merged together into an embedded encryption attack. The statistics are showing that over 90% of all Phishing attacks now contain Ransomware encryption. The technique of the Phishing mails is changing in the business world to draw employees in and cause the attack to be successful. The emails that are now seen include a personalized message with a correct salutation that includes subjects of interest by job category. These are effective attacks and are gaining popularity. Sophistication of social engineering is improving in these types of attacks, while the skilled and resources required by an attacker execute them has diminished rapidly Any criminal can leverage ‘ransomware as a service’ on the dark web and inflict serious damage along with potentially huge financial gains.

Ransomware is also getting in to business systems through the vulnerability of operating systems and software. Targeted attacks are being delivered on outdated security software or system software. These types of attacks are broad and successful as we have seen over the past few months. The Malware enters the organization via targeted attacks of known vulnerabilities and they migrate through systems to infect the entire network and its connected devices.

Ransomware works in a very orchestrated manner. Once the ransomware program has been executed it starts communicating with its host to acquire an encryption key. This happens very quickly. Once the program has its key it encrypts the data on a system. The data is then unusable. Encrypted data can “typically” be recovered using the decryption key, but there are no guarantees given the source of the attack. Once the decryption key is delivered back to the program, the process can then be reversed.

The best preparation an organization can take is to follow common best practices. From updating end-point protection products, to implementing stringent data back-up procedures to patching and updating of software, best practices are not difficult in themselves, but require commitment and focus. These along with a cybersecurity process of Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover are extremely valuable for any business. Phishing/Ransomware Employee education and training continues to be a highly valuable process to do on a continual basis.

In addition to developing a Cybersecurity process and following a standardized framework, vulnerability scanning and monitoring network behavior are must have proactive countermeasures.

Lastly, nothing is guaranteed to keep your business safe, but, reducing your attack surface area will be worth the investment. The ability to know in real-time if an attack is in process and the knowledge to remediate or immediately take the suspect system off-line, can save you significant time, energy and money, the real “treats” of this Halloween season.

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Cyber Incident · cybersecurity · Distaster Recovery · Hacking · Incident Response

Life was so simple, then Equifax, SEC, Whole Foods, Deloitte all hacked!

I have been getting calls and emails for the last few weeks about all the hacks and cyber events.  The central question is always, “what do I do to protect myself?”  It’s actually an impossible question to answer.  Why?  We do not have control of our own identities and assets.  They are managed and may even be owned by 3rd parties.  How can this be true?

The Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) own and or sell our credit identity information as a business.  Who owns your identity from a credit reporting perspective?  Perhaps it is not you.  But, let’s ask the question, how did I lose control of my credit identity to a 3rd party?  The information in your credit report comes directly from companies that have extended you credit in the past or from those with which you have open accounts. Credit card companies, banks, credit unions, retailers, and auto and mortgage lenders all report the details of your credit activity to the credit reporting agencies (CRAs).  The CRAs also receive information from debt collectors, and they purchase public records, such as bankruptcies, tax liens, and judgments, from public record providers.  Now, we know how our credit identity was assembled, but, what obligation do the CRAs have, to protect this information?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published a Safeguards Rule for protecting consumer information.  Institutions under FTC jurisdiction must have measures in place to keep customer information secure.  The CRAs fall under the FTC jurisdiction by definition. The safeguards are designed to be flexible for implementation by each organization vs prescriptive in nature.  The references for implementation processes to protect consumer information reference:

The recent testimony and prepared statement from Equifax point to a failure in process and implementation of a standard software patching process.  The other fact from the prepared testimony that was alarming was the lack of monitoring and process of a known vulnerability then the awareness (and lack of action), several months later, of a vulnerability through network traffic monitoring.  The vulnerability identified led the forensics team back to the original software that had an identified vulnerability that was not patched.  The contradiction and or lack of monitoring tools usage is a key message.  Monitoring of critical systems, identified vulnerabilities and changes of behavior of the network traffic are critical controls of a cybersecurity program.  In addition to training and process management, a cyber event can be prevented and/or observed in real-time based the network behaviors.

Back to the original question… “What do I do to protect myself?”  Here are some helpful tactics that are just good cyber hygiene.

    1. Change your passwords to be unique, do not repeat the same password
    2. Use complex passwords or a password generator
    3. Set up identity service monitoring through reputable sources
    4. Set up monitoring and alerts of banking accounts for money movement
    5. Option to shut down all credit application services
    6. Run device anti-virus/anti-malware products on all owned devices
    7. Make sure you have a firewall and the settings are not set to “default”
    8. Make sure all connected devices are protected and not set to default, segment if possible
    9. Learn about phishing and ransomware best practices
    10. Don’t surf unknown web sites
    11. If it looks suspicious or you are questioning its authenticity- investigate vs act


CUI · Cyber Incident · cybersecurity · Distaster Recovery

Defining CUI – Controlled Unclassified Information for the Manufacturing Segment

The definition of CUI, or Controlled Unclassified Information, by the Department of Defense is challenging for most small and medium manufactures to grapple. The NIST Frameworks for Cybersecurity SP800-171 have defined CUI under the context of “Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) in Nonfederal Information Systems and Organizations.” The security requirements of 800-171 apply to all components of nonfederal systems and organizations that process, store or transmit CUI, or that provide security protection for such components. I will walk through the various standards and definitions to highlight the specifics that affect our manufacturers who need to meet compliance with the NIST cybersecurity guidelines. As this background currently applies to commercial manufacturing under DOD contracts, the guidance and definitions are in either draft or consideration for other verticals, including financial services, healthcare, food safety, automotive and other related verticals.

What is CUI? According to the National Archives, “Only information that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls pursuant to and consistent with law, regulations, and government-wide policies may be CUI. this excludes all information that is classified under Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009, or the atomic Energy act, as amended.” In commercial manufacturing, this would be anything other than COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) and includes modified COTS products. The summary and extension is to any organization that provides a product or solution that is designed for government or modified for government, the information associated with such would be considered CUI. CUI is: (i) provided to the contractor by or on behalf of DoD in connection with the performance of the contract; or (ii) collected, developed, received, transmitted, used, or stored by or on behalf of the contractor in support of the performance of the contract; falls in any of the following categories: (i) controlled technical information, (ii) critical information, (iii) export control (iv), any other information, marked or otherwise identified in the contract, that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls pursuant to and consistent with law, regulations, and government-wide policies (e.g., privacy, proprietary business information).

How do you protect CUI? Provide adequate security to safeguard covered defense information that resides on or is transiting through a contractor’s internal information system or network. Adequate security is defined as implementation of NIST SP800-171 that include the 14-controls for cybersecurity and is required by 12/31/2017. Compliance with 800-171 is considered 100 percent complete with any waivers or deviations approved by the DOD CIO. An organization can demonstrate through Plans of Action (POAM) and System Security Plans (SSPs) that they are in-progress as part of a contractor’s risk management decision of CUI protection by their supply chain.

Cyber incidents are another component of the compliance or CUI program. A cyber incident is an action(s) taken through the use of computer networks that results in a compromise or an actual or potentially adverse effect on an information system and/or the information residing therein. “Compromise” means disclosure of information to unauthorized persons, or a violation of the security policy of a system, in which unauthorized intentional or unintentional disclosure, modification, destruction, or loss of an object, or the copying of information to unauthorized media may have occurred.

What steps must be taken if a cyber incident occurs? Affected parties must:

  • Review contractor network(s) for evidence of compromise of covered defense information using contractor’s available tools including, but not limited to, identifying compromised computers, servers, specific data and user accounts.
  • Identify covered defense information that may have been affected in the cyber incident.
  • According to DFARS Clause 252.204-7013(c)(1), they must rapidly report (within 72 hours of the discovery of an incident) directly to DoD and the subcontractors need to provide the incident report number, automatically assigned by DoD, to the prime Contractor (or next higher-tier subcontractor) as soon as is practical.

The need for critical infrastructure and supply chain cyber improvement has now become a requirement. We are seeing more and more cyberattacks on this market segment that result in the rapid and “unknown” theft of intellectual property, data and designs. Copied and counterfeit products, parts and infrastructure cause damage to the US economy.

The extension of the standards to other vertical markets is not a question of “if,” but a question of “when.”  Prepare to adopt the NIST framework in every vertical market as a measurable, identifiable and comprehensive approach to understanding cyber posture of any organization.


**DFARS Clause 252.204-7012(c)(1)

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Artificial Intelligence · cybersecurity

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Cybersecurity: It’s All About Behavior!

The latest leading-edge data intelligence topics referred to as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and, Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) are currently experiencing significant venture and corporate capital investments. Some of the advantages of ingesting large quantities of data and creating a corpus of knowledge to draw insights are very interesting for complex subjects such as cybersecurity, healthcare and financial services. The use cases of AI in healthcare such as DNA/genome research are truly captivating to read. The parallels to cybersecurity research and respective knowledge base for predicting and analyzing data will be step-functions of change needed to understand the data collection and interpretation of threats. The application of any form of AI includes a “people factor,” as directly linked to both ends of a “cyber activity.” A “cyber event” is started by a person and the resolution is implemented and managed by the same.

The behavior part of cybersecurity also involves people, but machine behavior plays a significant role in cyber events. For example, if we can measure a baseline of machine behavior that is “known good,” then we can react—potentially in real-time—to machine changes in behavior. There are many parameters to consider and behaviors that may be considered non-issues to filter; however, having a system of behavioral analytics under the category of AI/ML/ANN brings data-driven decision making.

A few scenarios to outline this include known devices on the network or IoT devices changing their state. In the first case of known devices, this has been a topic we have been discussing in the security space for a very long time. Products and technologies have been built for attestation, key management and device authentication—to capture a few categories. As we move up a level from the cryptography space to understanding the metadata a device produces, we can measure changes, arrival, departure and state. By observing anything with an IP address in relationship to the context of its metadata, we can filter “good” and “bad” activities, behaviors and changes. If a known device comes on the network at 8 am on Monday normally, but an unknown device comes on the network at 3:00 am, we can create an action to change that behavior and thus become proactive in our cyber preparedness. Alternately, if a known device that was once considered “good” starts talking to a “bad” actor site or shows a change in its metadata that is considered out of policy/standard, then actions can be taken to quarantine or remediate accordingly.

In the second example of IoT devices changing their state, we have seen this with IP cameras, and medical devices. The potential case of industrial systems being taken over by the “zombie robot apocalypse” is not as far removed from reality as one might think. Hackers can exploit flaws and create subtle changes to industrial control systems, which could be dramatic in scale or event. I am not suggesting that the machines will take over the world, but I am suggesting close monitoring of IoT devices for behavioral changes that could indicate the presence or possibility of a wider scale issue.

As an industry, we can start to move from a reactive to a proactive state in the category of cyber preparedness. A real-time approach to monitoring device behaviors could reduce cyber event time to discovery from the current industry average of 256 days. The cost of discovery time is escalating every year. Our small and-medium businesses cannot afford the costs of remediation and losses that accompany a cyber event. The statistics of survival for SMBs in a cyber event estimate that roughly 60 percent or 6 out 10 will not be in business in six months.

The current state of cybersecurity necessitates the establishment of continuous monitoring practices—to monitor both known devices on networks and IoT devices changing their state. The innovations of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and artificial neural networks (ANN) are paving the way for a proactive cyber approach.


cybersecurity · IoT · Malware · Ransomeware

“Flipper” role in protection of our resources – it’s an IoT fish story!

Many may remember the TV series, “Flipper.” For those who do not remember, the theme and plot is as follows: Flipper, a bottle-nose dolphin, helps to protect his lagoon park and preserve its wild inhabitants. He is instrumental in apprehending criminals and thugs in the park.

How does this story draw parallels to cybersecurity?

This past week, an unnamed North American casino experienced a cybersecurity breach via a fish tank. The casino’s self-cleaning fish tank, programmed via sensors to monitor water temperatures and fish feeding schedules, was targeted by hackers. Through the fish tank system, the cyber thugs broke into the casino’s computer network and downloaded sensitive data to a Finland location.

Connecting the dots of this story back to “Flipper,” the idea of observing and monitoring one’s environment is vitally important. Like Flipper—whose role was to apprehend criminals through observation and data collection—we must remain vigilant, and can no longer blindly trust even the most innocent of devices, such as programmed fish tanks.

Fish tanks are now IoT devices on our networks and, as seen in the case of this casino, can create an open door for clever cyber thugs. Today’s cyber thugs and criminals leave breadcrumbs of information that we can collect to understand the risks associated with certain IT decisions. The same advice and best practices apply to fish tanks as they do to any other sensor on our networks. Understand, Monitor, Prevent and Segment to protect your most critical assets: DATA!





Where are cybersecurity threats coming from?

There has been a lot of recent news and discussion about several malware variants that have been defined as ransomware attacks. There are and have been other damaging malware attacks, but ransomware popularity is currently very well publicized.

Ransomware attacks are not simple but are commonplace in the market today. These attacks typically find their way into an organization through social engineering. To be more specific, the malware is embedded in an attachment as an executable. There are several outcomes from ransomware that we have seen thus far: an individual machine is encrypted and the decryption key is held for ransom by the attacker and a currency request of a “Bitcoin” is requested to decrypt the machine in question. The nastier variants can traverse from machine to machine through the network, creating a systemwide infection. This attack causes severe networkwide shutdowns, causing an organization to recover through more significant ransom payments, or if the company was prepared, backup remediation steps are taken.

The availability of targets for ransomware attacks is almost unlimited, with small and medium businesses (SMBs) being the most vulnerable. Most SMBs are not well-equipped to handle these attacks. There are a few typical dilemmas the SMBs face: What is a bitcoin and how do I get one/them? We did not prepare our network and back-up processes to remediate the problem. Lastly, law enforcement does not recommend payment to the ransom and there is no guarantee that the attacker will actual provide a legitimate decryption key.

The other type of attack—less publicized but equally damaging—is the “insider threat,” wherein the attacker is currently or was previously authorized to work inside your organization. These individuals can cause incalculable damage to your company. As an example, these can be system level attacks or result in losses of intellectual property. The insider threat is as complex to detect and remediate as an external attack. The differentiator here is the insider knows the weaknesses and knows where to find the most valuable information. As with external threats, experts recommend both employee training and monitoring capabilities to detect real-time behavioral changes.

Some additional processes to help SMBs monitor their employees, networks and behaviors to identify insider and external threats include:

  • Developing and enforcing policies for access to information systems
  • Monitoring and auditing inappropriate access – remediating upon discovery
  • Enforcing authentication and limited login attempt processes
  • Monitoring printers, downloading (large), queries and email
  • Deploying real-time networks monitoring for flow, files, connections, ports and suspicious IPs
  • Managing identities of current and past employees




The background on Industry Cybersecurity Standards – NIST, CSET, DFARS

How to best understand the  Cybersecurity guidance and volumes of information is an ominous challenge? The foundational cybersecurity work produced by NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) is  a comprehensive cybersecurity review. Rather than diving too deep in to NIST and the regulatory nature of the definition of classified vs unclassified information and its protection, I will touch on the value of measuring a commercial organizations cybersecurity posture.
The recommended NIST standards, should you be interested to read, are noted as NIST SP 800-171, published October 18, 2015 identifies a couple very useful tools and premises for measurements. One tool, that is very useful is the CSET (Cyber Security Evaluation Tool), which is a self-test, that any organization can use for “free.” While this tool is comprehensive in nature, it does require the user of the tool, to have an in-depth IT and Cyber background to accurately answer the 109 technical questions.
The second very useful part of the NIST publication is the breakdown of measurements into the specific 14-controls: Access Control, Awareness and Training, Auditing and Accountability, Configuration Management, Identification and Authentication, Incident Response, Maintenance, Media Protection, Personnel Security, Physical Protection, Risk Assessment, Security Assessment, System and Communication Protection, System and Information Integrity. By accurately measuring these controls in both a self-test environment (CSET) and using network scanning/situational awareness tools, an organization can get a true grade of their cybersecurity posture to uncover looming vulnerabilities.
The tool (CSET) produces a private result that are defined as a percentage out of 100%, with 100% being equal to compliance. The commercial customer can be measured against a publicly available industry standard, that has been architected to look at a company’s posture without bias. The meaning is to use an industry standard, and by definition, an industry standard is not proprietary. The consulting, technology and solutions market typically use a proprietary methodology to assist in assessments. However, leveraging the standards will give your organization a measurable outcome and baseline for improvements.
Now that we have reviewed the foundations, putting this into practice and having a vision of the effect on your company is an important discussion. Today, any organization, that supplies the federal government with product, solutions or services under a DOD contract, MUST BE COMPLIANT BY 12/31/2017. This date is non-negotiable. Organizations can self-assess or outsource the entire process to cyber experts. There are a few other requirements for compliance beyond providing the 100% System Security Plan, which include a Plan of Action and Milestones (your cyber improvement plan), a gap analysis (what are my company challenges), continuous monitoring and cyber incident reporting processes. The commercial market cyber need is increasing daily, with both compliance, business continuity needs and basic preparedness.  The standards approach is a very good methodology and starting place.
Other industries that will see changes for compliance in variations of this standard include: Healthcare, Financial Services, Food Safety, manufacturing and the Small and Medium Businesses (SMB’s). Here are some great references to see where the future of Cybersecurity preparedness is heading.

  • DFARS 252.204-7012 referenced as contract language for federal NIST 800-171 – designed for non-federal information systems (commercial)
  • NIST 800-53 cybersecurity framework for Federal information systems
  • Cybersecurity Framework for critical infrastructure – references NIST 800-53
  • Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force recommends NIST Cybersecurity framework