How cyber warfare is escalating- machines v hackers

There is a gaping hole in the digital defences that companies use to keep out cyber thieves.

There is a gaping hole in the digital defences that companies use to keep out cyber thieves.

 

The hole is the global shortage of skilled staff that keeps security hardware running, analyses threats and kicks out intruders.

Currently, the global security industry is lacking about one million trained workers, suggests research by ISC2 – the industry body for security professionals. The deficit looks set to grow to 1.8 million within five years, it believes.

The shortfall is widely recognised and gives rise to other problems, says Ian Glover, head of Crest – the UK body that certifies the skills of ethical hackers.

“The scarcity is driving an increase in costs,” he says. “Undoubtedly there’s an impact because businesses are trying to buy a scarce resource. And it might mean companies are not getting the right people because they are desperate to find somebody to fill a role.”

While many nations have taken steps to attract people in to the security industry, Mr Glover warns that those efforts will not be enough to close the gap.

Help has to come from another source: machines.

That is a problem when the analysts expected to defend companies are “drowning” in data generated by firewalls, PCs, intrusion detection systems and all the other appliances they have bought and installed, he says.

Automation is nothing new, but now machine learning is helping it go much further.

The analytical power of machine learning derives from the development of algorithms that can take in huge amounts of data and pick out anomalies or significant trends.

These “deep learning” algorithms come in many different flavours.

Some, such as OpenAI, are available to anyone, but most are owned by the companies that developed them. So larger security firms have been snapping up smaller, smarter start-ups in an effort to bolster their defences quickly.

Simon McCalla, chief technology officer at Nominet, the domain name registry that oversees the .uk web domain, says machine learning has proven its usefulness in a tool it has created called Turing.

This digs out evidence of web attacks from the massive amounts of queries the company handles every day – queries seeking information about the location of UK websites.

Mr McCalla says Turing helped analyse what happened during the cyber-attack on Lloyds Bank in January that left thousands of customers unable to access the bank’s services.

The DDoS attack generated a huge amount of data to handle for that one event, he says.

“Typically, we handle about 50,000 queries every second. With Lloyds it was more than 10 times as much.”

Once the dust had cleared and the attack was over, Nominet had handled a day’s worth of traffic in a couple of hours.

Turing absorbed all the information made to Nominet’s servers and used what it learned to give early warnings of abuse and intelligence on people gearing up for a more sustained attack.

It logs the IP addresses of hijacked machines sending out queries to check if an email address is “live”.

“Most of what we see is not that clever, really,” he says, but adds that without machine learning it would be impossible for human analysts to spot what was going on until its intended target, such as a bank’s website, “went dark”.

The analysis that Turing does for Nominet is now helping the UK government police its internal network. This helps to block staff accessing dodgy domains and falling victim to malware.

There are also even more ambitious efforts to harness the analytical ability of machine learning.

At the Def Con hacker gathering last year, Darpa, the US military research agency, ran a competition that let seven smart computer programs attack each other to see which was the best at defending itself.

The winner, called Mayhem, is now being adapted so that it can spot and fix flaws in code that could be exploited by malicious hackers.

Machine learning can correlate data from lots of different sources to give analysts a rounded view of whether a series of events constitutes a threat or not, says Mr Tavakoli.

It can get to know the usual ebbs and flows of data in an organisation and what staff typically get up to at different times of the day.

So when cyber thieves do things such as probing network connections or trying to get at databases, that anomalous behaviour raises a red flag.

But thieves have become very good at covering their tracks and, on a big network, those “indicators of compromise” can be very difficult for a human to pick out.

Data breaches cost tens of millions off UK firms’ market valueData breaches cost tens of millions off UK firms’ market value

Security experts say the fact that data breaches at FTSE 100 firms cost on average £120 million in market value should be a wake-up call for boards to ensure they have an adequate cyber security strategy.

Security experts say the fact that data breaches at FTSE 100 firms cost on average £120 million in market value should be a wake-up call for boards to ensure they have an adequate cyber security strategy

Cyber attacks on top UK companies are leading to losses of 1.8% of share price or £120 million on average, according to a study on the effects of data breaches on share prices.
This has doubled in the past 18 months, according to the report released by global advisory firm Oxford Economics and IT and business process services firm CGI.
The report is based on a study of 65 severe or catastrophic breaches at FTSE 100 companies in the past four years and indicates that investors are now punishing companies more harshly for cyber attacks.
The cyber value connection report, which is aimed at helping senior business people understand the impact of cyber breaches on company market value, reveals that investors have lost at least £42bn since 2013 due to the severe public domain cyber security incidents used for the study.
However, the report notes that this figure includes only 65 publicly known severe breaches, which means the true amount of company value lost due to cyber attacks is likely to be far higher.
The report examines factors such as how new regulations for mishandling data will also strongly impact the public visibility of future breaches and therefore how organisations will plan for, manage and report cyber crime as incidents continue to rise.
A good example of the effects of data breaches on company value is Yahoo, which was forced to discount by $350 million the sale price of its core business to Verizon after revelations of data breaches in 2013 and 2014 affecting one billion and 500 million accounts, and of hackers forging cookies to gain access to customer accounts.
The cost of cyber attacks to investors is likely to skyrocket in the near future, said Rogoyski, as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Network Information Security (NIS) directive mean that firms dealing with European citizens’ data must disclose all breaches of that data.
They estimate that only around 10% to 20% of the major breaches companies suffer in Europe are currently made public, so lost shareholder value across European markets could rise by as much as a factor of 10 when the new regulations take effect in May 2018.

CGIís recommends eight steps to achieve effective cyber security governance:

1. Appoint someone at board level to be responsible for cyber security with the authority and know-how to address the risks and demonstrate leadership during times of crisis.
2. Include cyber security on every board agenda, reporting on: risk to the business, nature of sensitive data and mitigation progress at a minimum.
3. Treat cyber security as a company-wide business risk and assess as you would with other key business risks such as major safety issues, environmental disasters and accounting scandals,
4. Ensure that the company understands the rapidly developing legal landscape that applies to cyber risk ñ in particular, begin preparing for the GDPR and NIS directive now.
5. Get specialist expertise to advise and inform the board, whether from internal teams or external advisors.
6. Set a programme of work to manage cyber risk, allowing a realistic time and budget.
7. Encourage discussion about risk appetite, risk avoidance, risk mitigation and cyber security insurance.
8. Assume you have already been breached but you might not yet know about it. Take action to reassure yourself no such attack has taken place, but plan on the assumption that they have.

So if you want to save yourself stress, money and a damaged reputation from a cyber incident please ring us now on 01242 521967 or email
[email protected] or complete the form on our contact page NOWContact Cyber 139

UK businesses need to up cyber security with one in five hit by attacks

Big UK businesses are targeted by cyber attacks more heavily, but all need to improve cyber security with one in five UK firms falling victim in the past 12 months.

Big UK businesses are targeted by cyber attacks more heavily, but all need to improve cyber security with one in five UK firms falling victim in the past 12 months  

Out of the 20% of UK businesses hit by cyber attacks in the past year, 42% were companies with more than 100 staff, compared with 18% with fewer than 99 employees, according to the survey of more than 1,200 businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The results indicate that 63% of businesses are reliant on IT providers to resolve issues after an attack, compared with just 12% of banks and financial institutions and 2% of police and law enforcement organisations.

The findings show that while 21% of businesses believe the threat of cyber crime is preventing their company from growing, only a quarter of businesses have cyber security accreditations in place, such as the UK governmentís Cyber Essentials Scheme or ISO 27001.
Smaller businesses are far less likely to have accreditation, with 10% of sole traders and 15% of those with 1 to 4 employees having accreditations, compared with 47% of businesses with more than 100 employees.
Of the businesses that do have accreditations, nearly half believe it gives their business a competitive advantage over rival companies, and a third consider it important in creating a more secure environment when trading with other businesses.
Businesses that use personal data should be mindful that they will have to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) from 25 May 2018.
In October 2016, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) warned that UK businesses could face up to £122 billion in penalties for data breaches under the GDPR, which will introduce fines for groups of companies of up to Ä20m or 4% of annual worldwide turnover, whichever is greater ñ far exceeding the current maximum of £500,000.
Using UK data breach statistics for 2015 and a maximum fine of 4% of global turnover, the fines paid to the European regulator could see a near 90-fold increase, from £1.4bn in 2015 to £122bn, the PCI SSC calculated.
The cyber threat to UK business is significant and growing, according to a joint report by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) published in March 2017.
However, the report said UK businesses should not be defeatist. There are ways of mitigating attacks, the report said, adding that the NCSC is working with government agencies, tech companies and industry to fix some lower-level threats automatically and at scale to enable information security professionals to focus on the most damaging threats.
The report also said businesses should improve basic defences. Cyber attack is inevitable, the report said, adding that even basic cyber defences can protect against most of the attacks affecting businesses and that weak defences are likely to invite repeated attacks.
Businesses should handle all data assets as potential targets because there is a market value for all data that can be exploited by criminals, the report said. It also recommended promoting awareness of stronger basic ìcyber hygieneî to customers and employees.
Businesses should be more open to sharing knowledge and expertise, as all businesses can benefit from doing so in a secure, confidential and timely manner through services such as the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP), the report said.
Developing cyber skills and awareness was another key piece of advice. Partnership work between law enforcement and industry, the report said, has led to the improvement of cyber knowledge for the wider public and industry.
Finally, businesses should report the crime to Action Fraud. If cyber attacks are reported, the report said law enforcement agencies can investigate, arrests can be made and preventative actions can be taken.

So if you want to save yourself stress, money and a damaged reputation from a cyber incident please ring us now on 01242 521967 or email
[email protected] or complete the form on our contact page NOWContact Cyber 139

What to do first when hit by a cyber attack

At some point, your business may have to deal with a cyber security incident. But when you are under pressure and your team is stressed, people make mistakes.

At some point, your business may have to deal with a cyber security incident. But when you are under pressure and your team is stressed, people make mistakes.

Delaying too long in making critical response decisions may exacerbate the impact of the incident but, conversely, making knee-jerk decisions can cause further damage to the business or hinder a complete response.
There are many ways you may suspect that a security incident has happened, from detecting unusual activity through proactive monitoring of critical systems or during audits, to outside notification from law enforcement and compromised data located in the wild.
However, indicators such as unusual CPU (central processing unit) and network usage on a server may have multiple potential causes, many of which are not information security incidents. So it is vital to investigate further before jumping to conclusions.
Do you have any corroborating evidence? For example, if the IDS (intrusion detection system) detects a brute force attack against the website, do web logs support this having occurred? Or, if a user reports a suspected phishing attack, has this email been received by other users and did the user click on links or open documents?
You also need to think about answering questions about the nature of the incident. Is it a generic malware infection, or an active system hack?  Is there an intentional denial of service (DoS) attack in progress and is this an incidence of deliberate insider action?
Once you have confirmed an incident has occurred, you need to take time out from initial response activities to prioritise your actions and decide, definitively, what the business objectives are for the response operation. Incident triage generally consists of classifying the incident in terms of impact and urgency and how it should be handled. The incident response team can then use the impact, urgency and priority evaluation to define the objectives for the incident response operation and assign actions or further investigation, as required.
Impact classifications defined by the National Cyber Security Centreís (NCSC) GovCertUK and adopted by Crest, the body that represents the technical security industry, may provide a useful point of reference for initial classification based on the perceived or established impact.

These incidents will usually cause the degradation of vital service(s) for a large number of users, involve a serious breach of network security, affect mission-critical equipment or services or damage public confidence in the organisation.
It is not necessary to report on incidents with little or no impact or those affecting only a few users, such as isolated spam or antivirus alerts, minor computer hardware failure and loss of network connectivity to a peripheral device, such as a printer.

 

Isolated anti-virus alert or spam email.

The urgency of an incident should also be assessed along with the impact. Some incidents are unlikely to worsen over time, such as the discovery of a historical compromise by a former employee. But in other cases, such as a ransomware outbreak, it may be absolutely critical to respond rapidly to isolate the infection.
Mobilising full emergency incident response capabilities may not be applicable or appropriate in every situation. You need to understand as much about what you are dealing with as you can. For example, who is the attacker? How was the attack introduced? When did the attack occur? What data or systems have been compromised? Is the attack ongoing? Why were we the target of the attack?

The goal of triage is to understand the methodology and the extent of the attack as fully as possible, in the shortest possible time.

Information about the incident, the impact, urgency and business impact analysis for the affected data or systems will guide the incident response operation. If possible, the business priorities should be pre-determined and documented in incident response plans.
For organisations with known advanced threat actors, continued covert observation of an attacker to determine their goals and modus operandi may be an objective of the incident response operation for intelligence-gathering purposes, even if the urgency for containment is high. Experienced internal or external incident handlers should be used to inform these decisions.
Once the priority of the incident and the objectives of the response have been defined, it is time to act and allocate activities to the incident response teams.

So if you want to save yourself stress, money and a damaged reputation from a cyber incident please ring us now on 01242 521967 or email
[email protected] or complete the form on our contact page NOWContact Cyber 139

GCHQ-developed phone security open to surveillance

A security researcher has said software developed by the UK intelligence agency GCHQ contains weaknesses making it possible to eavesdrop on phone calls.

A security researcher has said software developed by the UK intelligence agency GCHQ contains weaknesses making it possible to eavesdrop on phone calls.

The security protocol is used to encrypt Voice Over Internet Protocol (Voip) calls.
In a blog, University College London researcher Steven Murdoch said the encryption process was vulnerable.
GCHQ said it was “totally wrong” to suggest there was a “backdoor” into conversations.
Dr Murdoch did not say that the vulnerability would give direct access to conversations, but that it would make it possible to undermine the system’s security.
The network operator could listen in to calls, or authorise someone else to, and anyone who hacked the system would be able to eavesdrop, he said.

One of Dr Murdoch’s chief concerns was that the security standard has “key escrow” by design – meaning, for example, that a third party has access to data sent between two people in a conversation.

This, he said, is an example of a backdoor. In this case, it could allow an intelligence agency, or the organisation which is using the standard, to intercept phone calls, Dr Murdoch said.
“I think this comes from a conflict of interest within GCHQ in that they are there to prevent spying but they are also there to spy – so they facilitate spying,”
Dr Murdoch added that he was aware of two products which use the standard, both of which are government certified. “They could be in use inside government,” he said.

The protocol in question is known as Mikey-Sakke (Sakai-Kasahara key encryption in multimedia internet keying).

It works by generating encryption keys that are used to encrypt and decrypt voice conversations. Although it is technically possible to create these keys on two separate computers and only share part of those keys publicly, the Mikey-Sakke protocol does not do this.
Instead, keys are distributed by a third party to the conversation participants – the process known as key escrow – meaning that they are much more vulnerable to interception.
It was up to GCHQ, he said, to make the scope of the protocol clear.
“If you don’t explain how you’re going to use it, what systems it’s going to be used in, what the scope and limit of the escrow facility is, then you’re going to get bad publicity,” he said.
A spokesman for GCHQ said: “We do not recognise the claims made in this paper.
“The Mikey-Sakke protocol enables development of secure, scalable, enterprise grade products.”
In a statement, GCHQ added: “Organisations using Mikey-Sakke do not share a common Key Management Server, so it is totally wrong to suggest there is a secret master key or ‘backdoor’ that would allow GCHQ or any other third party to access real time or historic conversations.

What to do first when hit by a cyber attack

At some point, the chances are growing that your business will have to deal with a cyber security incident.

At some point, the chances are growing that your business will have to deal with a cyber security incident.
But when you are under pressure and your team is stressed, people make mistakes.

Crisis patterns over the past decade have changed dramatically. 10 years ago elements such as civil war and oil prices were the top global risks to take into account. Now we see water crisis and extreme weather events taking control of keeping us up at night.

Delaying too long in making critical response decisions may exacerbate the impact of the incident but, conversely, making knee-jerk decisions can cause further damage to the business or hinder a complete response.

There are many ways you may suspect that a security incident has happened, from detecting unusual activity through proactive monitoring of critical systems or during audits, to outside notification from law enforcement and compromised data located in the wild.

However, indicators such as unusual CPU (central processing unit) and network usage on a server may have multiple potential causes, many of which are not information security incidents. So it is vital to investigate further before jumping to conclusions.

Do you have any corroborating evidence? For example, if the IDS (intrusion detection system) detects a brute force attack against the website, do web logs support this having occurred? Or, if a user reports a suspected phishing attack, has this email been received by other users and did the user click on links or open documents?

You also need to think about answering questions about the nature of the incident. Is it a generic malware infection, or an active system hack? Is there an intentional denial of service (DoS) attack in progress and is this an incidence of deliberate insider action?

Once you have confirmed an incident has occurred, you need to take time out from initial response activities to prioritise your actions and decide, definitively, what the business objectives are for the response operation. Incident triage generally consists of classifying the incident in terms of impact and urgency and how it should be handled. The incident response team can then use the impact, urgency and priority evaluation to define the objectives for the incident response operation and assign actions or further investigation, as required.

Impact classifications defined by the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) GovCertUK and adopted by Crest, the body that represents the technical security industry, may provide a useful point of reference for initial classification based on the perceived or established impact.

Many minor types of incident can be capably handled by internal IT support and security. All events should be reported back to the information security team who will track occurrences of similar events. This will improve understanding of the IT security challenges and may raise awareness of new attacks.

It is not necessary to report on incidents with little or no impact or those affecting only a few users, such as isolated spam or antivirus alerts, minor computer hardware failure and loss of network connectivity to a peripheral device, such as a printer.

The urgency of an incident should also be assessed along with the impact. Some incidents are unlikely to worsen over time, such as the discovery of a historical compromise by a former employee. But in other cases, such as a ransomware outbreak, it may be absolutely critical to respond rapidly to isolate the infection.

Mobilising full emergency incident response capabilities may not be applicable or appropriate in every situation. You need to understand as much about what you are dealing with as you can. For example, who is the attacker? How was the attack introduced? When did the attack occur? What data or systems have been compromised? Is the attack ongoing? Why were we the target of the attack?

The goal of triage is to understand the methodology and the extent of the attack as fully as possible, in the shortest possible time.

Information about the incident, the impact, urgency and business impact analysis for the affected data or systems will guide the incident response operation. If possible, the business priorities should be pre-determined and documented in incident response plans.

Objectives for the incident response team could include:

Resumption of service as quickly as possible, where the affected system is critical in terms of availability for the business.
Rapid ring-fencing and protection of confidential information, where the affected system or network is critical in terms of confidentiality for the business.
Integrity checking of the affected systems, where integrity of data is critical for the business.
Preservation of evidential integrity, where criminal activity is suspected and prosecution is likely to be an outcome of the incident, or where culpability must be established definitively.
Identification of the origin of the threat and gathering intelligence about the activities being conducted during the incident.

For organisations with known advanced threat actors, continued covert observation of an attacker to determine their goals and modus operandi may be an objective of the incident response operation for intelligence-gathering purposes, even if the urgency for containment is high. Experienced internal or external incident handlers should be used to inform these decisions.

Once the priority of the incident and the objectives of the response have been defined, it is time to act and allocate activities to the incident response teams.

So if you want to save yourself stress, money and a damaged reputation from a cyber incident please ring us now on 01242 521967 or email [email protected] or complete the form on our contact page NOWContact Cyber 139

Average DDoS attacks fatal to most businesses, report reveals

Criminal activity is top motivation for DDoS attacks as average attacks become strong enough to down most businesses.

Criminal activity is top motivation for DDoS attacks as average attacks become strong enough to down most businesses.

Average intensity distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are now great enough to knock most businesses offline, a report has revealed.
According to Arbor Networksí annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report, the largest attack reported in the past year was 500Gbps, representing a 60 times increase in 11 years.

There were also reports of attacks of 450Gbps, 425Gbps and 337Gbps, but these are fairly rare, said Gary Sockrider, principal security technologist at Arbor Networks.

Another significant change, he said, is that for the first time in several years criminal activity has replaced hacktivism and vandalism as the top motive for DDoS attacks.

DDoS attacks are being used mostly by cyber criminals to demonstrate attack capabilities, mainly for extortion purposes.
A growing number of businesses are also seeing DDoS attacks being used as a distraction or smokescreen for installing malware and stealing data.
Arbor Networksí survey of more than 350 network operators, including service providers and enterprises, also revealed that complex attacks are increasing.
More than half of respondents reported multi-vector attacks that targeted infrastructure, applications and services simultaneously, up from 42% the previous year.
A third of respondents saw attacks targeting their cloud-based services, up from 19% in 2013 and 29% in 2014, while just over half of datacentre operators saw DDoS attacks saturate their internet connectivity. There was also a 10% increase from 2014 in datacentres seeing outbound attacks from servers within their networks to 34%.
According to the report, firewalls continue to fail during DDoS attacks, with more than half of enterprise respondents reporting a firewall failure as a result of a DDoS attack, up from a third the year before.
Firewalls add to the attack surface and are prone to becoming the first victims of DDoS attacks as their capacity to track connections is exhausted, the report said.
The proportion of enterprise respondents seeing malicious insiders is up on the previous year, from 12% to 17%, and the proportion of respondents reporting security incidents relating to employee-owned devices more than doubled from the previous year to 13%.
However, nearly 40% of all enterprise respondents still do not have tools deployed to monitor employee-owned devices on the network, the report said.
Response to attacks improving
On the positive side, the survey showed an increasing focus on better response, with 57% of enterprises looking to deploy systems to speed the incident response process.
Also, a third of service providers have reduced the time taken to discover an advanced persistent threat (APT) in their network to under one week, and 52% stated their discovery to containment time has dropped to under one month.
Advanced threats are one of the top concerns for enterprise organisations, the survey revealed. Loss of personal information and/or disruption of business processes are perceived as the top business risks from an advanced threat.
2015 also saw an increase in the proportion of enterprise respondents who had developed formal incident response plans, and dedicated at least some resources to respond to such incidents, up from around two-thirds to 75%.
However, it remains a challenge for companies to recruit people with the right cyber security skills to enable them to improve incident preparedness and response, with only 38% of respondents looking to expand their internal teams, down from 46% the year before.
As a result, the report showed an increasing reliance on managed services and outsourced support, with 50% of enterprises and 60% of service providers having contracted an external organisation for incident response and 74% seeing more demand from customers for managed services.