Three Points on Artificial Intelligence and Cyber-Security for 2017

Although I have been known for longer posts, I would like to offer only three things to watch out for related to artificial intelligence and cyber-security for 2017, followed by sharing two videos.

1) Cyber attackers have long used machine learning and automation techniques to streamline their operations and may soon use full-blown artificial intelligence to do it. Botnets will become self-healing and will be able to detect when they are being discovered and can re-route in response. The botnet and cyber crime business will grow and become more organized. Showdan, the world’s first search engine for internet connected devices, will be used to target companies and individuals negatively. Yet it can also be used for safety and compliance monitoring, most likely when its feed into another analytical tool.

How to Hack with Showdan (For Educational Purposes Only):

2) It won’t be long until A.I. learns the patterns of mutating viruses and then has the ability to predict and/or stop them in their tracks. This is dependent on the most up to date virus definitions, and corresponding algorithms. How a Zero Day is made is heavily a math problem applied to a certain context and operating system. There should be a math formula to predict the next most likely Zero Day exploit – A.I. could provide this. It’s a matter of calculating all possible code various and code add on variations. It’s a lot more advanced than a Rubix Cube.
975f495fafd8c494591892412ecf87e33) A.I. has the potential to close the gap between the lesser developed world and the developed world. The technology behind A.I. is not limited to big companies like IBM or Microsoft for the long term. We may be surprised with tech start-ups out of the lesser developed world who are very creative. Lack of fiber optic cable connectivity has forced many lesser developed nations to rely heavily on cell tower smartphone based internet communications. This has inspired a mobile app growth wave in parts of Africa as described here; “the use of smartphones and tablets within the country has led to a mobile revolution in Nigeria. Essentially, people now tend to seek mobile solutions more often and thus, enhance the growth of the mobile app development industry” (Top 4 Mobile App development companies in Nigeria, IT News Africa, 2015). A.I. will likely close the gap between these two sectors though not drastically change it. If lesser developed countries can build their own mobile apps and outsource things to A.I.; they could become more independent from the economic constraints of the developed world.

The below video highlights some of the complications around these points. It is from a conference hosted by the ICIT on April 25, 2016, and I did not attend this. In the video, Donna Dodson (Associate Director, Chief Cybersecurity Advisor and Director, NIST), Mark Kneidinger (Director, Federal Network Resiliency, DHS), Malcolm Harkins (ICIT Fellow – Cylance) and Stan Wisseman (ICIT Fellow – HPE) discuss related concepts and share realistic examples of how these technologies are reshaping the cyber-security landscape.

ICIT Forum 2016: Artificial Intelligence Enabling Next-Generation Cybersecurity

If you want to contact me to discuss these concepts click here.

Demystifying 9 Common Types of Cyber Risk

1)       Crimeware
This is designed to fraudulently obtain financial gain from either the affected user or third parties by emptying bank accounts, or trading confidential data, etc. Crimeware most often starts with advanced social engineering which results in disclosed info that leads to the crimeware being installed via programs that run on botnets which are zombie computers in distant places used to hide the fraudsters I.P (internet protocol) trail. Usually the victim does not know they have crimeware on their computer until they start to see weird bank charges or the like, or an I.T. professional points it out to them. Often times it masquerades as fake but real looking antivirus software demanding your credit card info in an effort to then commit fraud with that info.

2)       Cyber-Espionage
The term generally refers to the deployment of viruses that clandestinely observe or destroy data in the computer systems of government agencies and large enterprises – unauthorized spying by computer, tablet, or phone. Antivirus maker Symantec described one noteworthy example where the U.S. Gov’t made a worm to disable Iran’s nuclear reactors arguably in the name of international security (Fig. 1).

“Stuxnet is a computer worm that targets industrial control systems that are used to monitor and control large scale industrial facilities like power plants, dams, waste processing systems and similar operations. It allows the attackers to take control of these systems without the operators knowing. This is the first attack we’ve seen that allows hackers to manipulate real-world equipment, which makes it very dangerous. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before – both in what it does, and how it came to exist. It is the first computer virus to be able to wreak havoc in the physical world. It is sophisticated, well-funded, and there are not many groups that could pull this kind of threat off. It is also the first cyberattack we’ve seen specifically targeting industrial control systems” (Accessed 03/20/16, Norton Stuxnet Review).

Richard Clarke is the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States and he commentated on Stuxnet and cyber war generally in this Economist Interview from 2013.


3)       Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
A DoS attack attempts to deny legitimate users access to a particular resource by exploiting bugs in a specific operating system or vulnerabilities in the TCP/IP implementation (internet protocols) via a botnet of zombie computers in remote areas (Fig. 2). This allows one host (usually a server or router) to send a flood of network traffic to another host (Fig. 3.). By flooding the network connection, the target machine is unable to process legitimate requests for data. Thus the targeted computers may crash or disconnect from the internet from resource exhaustion – consuming all bandwidth or disk space, etc (Fig. 3.). In some cases they are not very harmful, because once you restart the crashed computer everything is on track again; in other cases they can be disasters, especially when you run a corporate network or ISP (internet service provider).
Fig. 2.                                                                Fig. 3.Botnet and TCP image
Insider and Privilege Misuse
Server administrators, network engineers, outsourced cloud workers, developers, I.T. security workers, and database administrators  are given privileges to access many or all aspects of a company’s IT infrastructure. Companies need these privileged users because they understand source code, technical architecture, file systems and other assets that allow them to upgrade and maintain the systems; yet this presents a potential security risk.

With the ability to easily get around controls that restrict other non-privileged users they sometimes abuse what should be temporary access privileges to perform tasks. This can put customer data, corporate trade secrets, and unreleased product info at risk. Savvy companies implement multi-layered approvals, advanced usage monitoring,  2 or 3 step authentication, and a strict need to know policy with an intelligible oversight process.

5)       Miscellaneous Errors
This is basically an employee or customer doing something stupid and unintentional that results in a partial or full security breach of an information asset. This does not include lost devices as that is grouped with theft – this is a smaller category. The 2014 Verizon Enterprise Data Breach Investigation Report gives an example of this category as follows:

“Misdelivery (sending paper documents or emails to the wrong recipient) is the most frequently seen error resulting in data disclosure. One of the more common examples is a mass mailing where the documents and envelopes are out of sync (off-by-one) and sensitive documents are sent to the wrong recipient” (Accessed 02/21/16, Page 29).

6)       Payment Card Skimmers
This is a method where thieves steal your credit card information at the card terminals, often at bars, restaurants, gas stations, sometimes at bank ATMs, and especially where there is low light, no cameras, or anything to discourage the criminal from tampering with the card terminal.

Corrupt employees can have a skimmer stashed out of sight or crooks can install hidden skimmers on a gas pump. Skimmers are small devices that can scan and save credit card data from the magnetic stripe (Fig. 4.). After the card slides through the skimmer, the data is saved, and the crooks usually then sell the information through the internet or if they really want to be secure the Darknet which is a secure non-mainstream internet that requires a special browser or plug-in to access. After this counterfeit cards are made, then bogus charges show up, and the bank eats the costs which unfortunately drives up the cost of banking for everyone else. Also, some skimmers have mini cameras which record the pin numbers typed at ATM machines for a more aggressive type of fraud (Fig. 5.).  Here are two images of skimmer technologies:

Fig 4.                                                                       Fig 5.
Card Skimmer and Camera

7)       Physical Theft and Lose
This includes armed robbery, theft by accident, and/or any type of device or data lost.  Although some of the stolen or lost items may never end up breached or used for fraud sometime they are depending on what device and/or what data is on that device and/or if it was encrypted or not, or if it the data could be deleted remotely, etc.

8)       Point of Sale Intrusions
See my 2014 post on the Target Data Breach here for a good example.

9)       Web App Attacks
These incidents were carried out primarily via manipulation of vulnerabilities in input validation and authentication affecting common content management systems like Joomla, Magento, SiteCore, WordPress, and Drupal.

According to the 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report these types of attacks are not only a reliable method for hackers, but also fast with 60% of the compromises taking a few minutes or less(Accessed 02/21/16). With web applications commonly serving as an organization’s public face to the Internet, the ease of exploiting web-based vulnerabilities is alarming (Accessed 02/21/16, 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report). According to The Open Web Application Security Project these are two common types Web App weaknesses (Accessed 02/21/16, 2013, OWASP 10 Most Critical Web Application Security Risks):

“i) Injection flaws, such as SQL, OS, and LDAP injection occur when untrusted data is sent to an interpreter as part of a command or query. The attacker’s hostile data can trick the interpreter into executing unintended commands or accessing data without proper authorization.

ii) XSS flaws occur whenever an application takes untrusted data and sends it to a web browser without proper validation or escaping (Fig. 6.). XSS allows attackers to execute scripts in the victim’s browser which can hijack user sessions, deface web sites, or redirect the user to malicious sites access unauthorized pages”.

Fig. 6.
Jeremy Swenson, MBA is a seasoned, Intel certified, retail technology marketing and training representatives on assignment at Best Buy for clients including Intel, Trend Micro, Adobe, and others. He also doubles as a Sr. business analyst and project management consultant. Tweet to him @jer_Swenson.