Five Unique Tech Trends in 2018 and Implications For 2019

By Jeremy Swenson, MBA, MSST Angish Mebratu, MBA.

Every year we like to review and commentate on the most impactful technology and business concepts from the prior year. Those that are likely to significantly impact the coming year. Although incomplete, these are five areas worth addressing.

5. 5G Expansion Will Spur Business Innovation

Fig. 1. 1G to 5G Growth, Stock, 2018.

2018 was the year 5G moved from hype to reality, and it will become more widespread as the communications supply chain adopts it in 2019. 5G is the next iteration of mobile connectivity and it aims to be much faster and more reliable than 4G, 3G, etc. Impressively, data speeds with 5G are 10 to 100 times faster than 4G. The benefits of this includes enabling: smart IoT connected cities, seamless 8K video streaming, improved virtual reality styled gaming, self-driving cars that communicate with each other without disruption thereby enhancing safety and reliability, and improved virtual reality glasses (HoloLens, Google Glass, etc.) providing a new way of looking at the world around us.

As emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and edge computing — the practice of processing data near the edge of the network where the data is being generated, not a centralized data-processing repository — take hold everywhere, 5G can offer the advancements necessary to truly take advantage of them. These technologies require 5Gs bolstered data transfer speeds, interoperability, and its improved reliability. Homes will get smarter, hospitals will be able to provide more intelligent care, the Internet of Things will go into hyperdrive — the implications of 5G are massive. Yet most importantly, 5G has much less latency, thereby enabling futuristic real-time application experimentation.

“There’s no doubt that much of the recent 5G activity has been focused on investments from service providers and equipment manufacturers,” Nick Lippis, co-founder and co-chairman of the Open Networking User Group (Kym Gilhooly, BizTech, 11/08/18). “However, more IT leaders are starting to make plans for 5G, which includes determining its impact on their data center architecture, procurement strategies and the solutions they’ll roll out”(Kym Gilhooly, BizTech, 11/08/18). 

AT&T is one of the leaders in 5G distribution and as of 12/27/18 they have service up and running in these 12 cities: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco (CNN Wire, 12/27/18). Verizon has a similar initiative in an earlier phase in some cities. While Google has Google Fiber is some cities, but there is lots of debate about if its better or worse than 5G – time will tell. More data and faster speeds derive more connected devices which need security, data protection, and privacy — failure to protect it aggressively derives to much risk at high costs.

Fig. 2. Likely 5G Use Cases in 2020, Stock, 2018.

4. Browser/Device Fingerprinting Growth Will Spur Better PET (Privacy Enhancing Technologies)

Browser fingerprinting is a method in which websites gather bits of information about your visit including your time zone, set of installed fonts, language preferences, some plug-in information, etc (Bill Budington, Bennett Cyphers, Alan Toner, and Jeremy Gillula, Electronic Freedom Foundation, 12/22/18). These data elements are then combined to form a unique fingerprint that identifies your browser or more. The next step is to identify your specific device, and then you individually.

Fig. 3. Browser Finger Printing Data, Stock, 2018.

Device fingerprinting overcomes some of the inefficiencies of using other means of customer-tracking. Most notably, this includes cookies installed in web browsers, which businesses have long used monitor user behavior when we visit their websites (Bernard Marr, Forbes, 06/23/17). Employers do this at a much more invasive level, but the pay is the tradeoff. Yet when employees use their own mobile device for work-related things, protection of their personal data is best achieved via data containerization tools like AirWatch and Centrify. Even on these devices, the problem is that cookies can be deleted whenever we want. Its relatively easy for us to stop specific sites, services or companies from using them to track us — depending on how technical we are. Device fingerprinting doesn’t have this limitation as it doesn’t rely on storing data locally on our machines, instead, it simply monitors data transmitted and received as devices connect with each other” (Bernard Marr, Forbes, 06/23/17).

This type of data exploitation, even with the user’s consent, allows for more complexity and thus higher malware or SPAM/advertising risk. Antivirus makers are challenged to stay ahead of these exploits. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) unequivocally states that this kind of personal data collection and user tracking is not permitted to override the “fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject, including privacy” and is, we believe, not permitted by the new European regulation (Bill Budington, Bennett Cyphers, Alan Toner, and Jeremy Gillula, Electronic Freedom Foundation, 12/22/18). The high courts will validate this over time.

Further complicating the matter is the terms of service on data-centric technology platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Instagram, Amazon, etc. Their business models require considerable data sharing with third and fourth-party business entities, who gather elements of specific user data and then combine them with other browser and device fingerprinting data elements, thus completing the dataset. All the while the data subject and interconnected entities are mostly clueless. This further complicates compliance, erodes privacy, but is great for marketers — many people appreciate that Amazon correctly suggests what they often desire. Yet that is not always a good thing because this starts to precondition a person or a culture to norms at the expense of originality. In the past we saw tobacco companies do this unethically targeting young people, and there are more examples — think for yourself.

This begs the question of who owns these datasets and at what point in their semblance, where are they stored, how are they protected, and to what extent can informed consumers opt out if practicable — observing there is be some incidental data collection that has business protection. This paradox spurs competition and the growth of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs). Existing PETs include communication anonymizers, shared bogus online accounts, obfuscation tools, two or three-factor authentication, VPNs (virtual private networks), I.P. address rotation, enhanced privacy ID (EPID), and digital signature algorithms (encryption) which support anonymity in that each user has unique public verification key and a unique private signature key. Often these PETs are more useful when used with a fake account or server (honeynet). This attempts to divert and frustrate a potential intruder but gives the defender valuable intelligence.

Fig. 4. VPN Data Flow Diagram, Stock, 2018.

Opera, Tor and Firefox are leading secure browsers but there is an opportunity for better security and privacy plugins from the Chrome (Google) browser, while VPN (Virtual Private Network) technologies should be used at the same time for added privacy. These technologies are designed to limit tracking and correlation of users’ interactions with third-party entities. Limited-disclosure (LD) often uses cryptographic-techniques (CT) which allows users to retrieve only data that is vetted by providers, for which the transmitted data to the third party is trusted and verified.

3. Artificial Intelligence Will Grow on The SMB (Small and Medium Business) and Individual Market

In the past artificial intelligence (AI) has been primarily the plaything of big tech companies like Amazon, Baidu, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, and some well-funded cybersecurity startups like Cylance. Yet for many other companies and sects of the economy, these AI systems have been too expensive and too difficult to roll out effectively. Heck, even machine learning and big data analytics systems can be cost and time prohibitive for some sects of the economy, and for sure the individual market in prior years. However, we feel the democratizing of cloud-based AI and machine learning tools will make AI tools more accessible to the SMB and individual market.

Fig. 5. Open Source TensorFlow Math AI, Google, 2018.

At present, Amazon dominates cloud AI with its AWS (Amazon Web Services) subsidiary. Google is challenging that with TensorFlow, an open-source AI library that can be used to build other machine-learning software. TensorFlow was the Machine Learning behind suggested Gmail smart replies. Recently Google announced their Cloud AutoML, a suite of pre-trained systems that could make AI easier to use (Kyle Wiggers, Venture Beat, 07/28/18). Additionally, “Google announced Contact Center AI, a machine learning-powered customer representative built with Google’s Dialogflow package that interacts with callers over the phone. Contact Center AI, when deployed, fields incoming calls and uses sophisticated natural language processing to suggest solutions to common problems. If the virtual agent can’t solve the caller’s issue, it hands him or her off to a human agent — a feature Google labels “agent assist” — and presents the agent with information relevant to the call at hand” (Kyle Wiggers, Venture Beat, 07/28/18). 

The above contact center AI and chatbots can both be applied successfully to personal use cases such as medical triaging, travel assistance, self-harm prevention, translation, training, and improved personal service. Cloud platforms and AI construction tools like the open source TensorFlow will enable SMBs to optimize insurance prices, model designs, diagnosis and treat eye conditions, and build intelligence contact center personas and chatbots, and much more as technology evolves in 2019.

2. Useful Big Data Will Make or Break Organizational Competitiveness

Developed economies increasingly use big data-intensive technologies for everything from healthcare decisioning to geolocation to power consumption, and soon the world will to. From traffic patterns, to music downloads to web service application histories and medical data. It is all stored and analyzed to enable technology and services. Big data use has increased the demand for information management companies such as, Oracle, Software AG, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce, SAP, HP, and Dell-EMC — who themselves have spent billions on software tools and buying startups to fill their own considerable big data analytics gaps.

Fig. 6. Big Data Venn Diagram, Stock, 2018.

For an organization to be competitive and to ensure their future survival a “must have big data goal” should be established to handle the complexity of the ever-increasing massive volume of both, structured (rows and table) and unstructured (images and blobs) data. In most enterprise organizations, the volume of data is too big, or it moves too fast or it exceeds current processing capacity. Moreover, the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices provides new data, APIs, plugins/tools, and thus complexity and ambiguity.

We know there are open source tools that will likely improve reliability in big data, AI, service, and security contexts in 2019. For example, Apache Hadoop is well-known for its capabilities for huge-scale data processing. Its open source big data framework can run on-prem or in the cloud and has very low hardware requirements (Vladimir Fedak, Towards Data Science, 08/29/18). Apache Cassandra is another big data tool born out of Facebook around 2010. It can process structured data sets distributed across a huge number of nodes across the world. It works well under heavy workloads due to its architecture without single points of failure and boasts unique capabilities no other NoSQL or relational database has. Additionally it features, great liner scalability, simplicity of operations due to a simple query language used, constant replication across nodes, and more (Vladimir Fedak, Towards Data Science, 08/29/18).

For 2019 organizations should consider big data a mainstream quality business practice. They should utilize and research new tools and models to improve their big data use and applications — creating a center of excellence without being married to buzzwords or overly weak certifications that all too often squash disruptive solutioning. Lastly, these centers of excellence need to be dominated not by the traditional IT director overloads. Rather, the real people between the cracks who know more and have more creative ideas than these directors who often build yes clichés around themselves and who are often not the most qualified — great ideas and real leaders defy title.

1. Election Disinformation and Weak U.S. Polling Systems Harms Business and Must Be Fixed

The intersection of U.S. politics and media can be at times nasty, petty, selfish, or worse outright lies and dirty smear campaigns under shadow proxies who skirt campaign finance laws by being either a policy advocacy group – non-political, or worse yet, a foreign-sponsored clandestine intelligence agency of an enemy to the nation whose only rule is to disrupt U.S. elections. Perhaps Russian, North Korea, or even China affiliated groups.

Innovations in big data and social media, browser proxies and fiber optic cable, 5G, in conjunction with the antiquated and insecure U.S. polling system, makes election news and security complicated, fragile and highly important. At present, there are few people and technology companies that can help resolve this dilemma. For a state-sponsored hacker group altering a U.S. election is the ultimate power play.

Respect for all parties is a must and disinformation of any type should not be tolerated. Universities, think tanks, startups, government, and large companies need to put time and money into experimenting as to how we can reduce disinformation and better secure the polling systems. The first step is public awareness and education on checking purported news sources, especially those from digital media. The second step is more frequent enforcement of slander laws and policies. Lastly, we should hold technology companies to high media ethics standards and should write to their leaders when they violate them. 

As for securing the polling systems, multi-factor authentication should be used, and voting should be done digitally via secure encrypted keys. If Amazon can securely track the world’s purchases of millions of products with way more data and complexity, and with service a moon shot better than your local state DMV (driver and motor vehicle) office, than the paper ballot and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) scanners need to go. There are many Android and iOS applications that are more secure, faster, and easier to use than the current U.S. polling system and they are doing more complex things and with more data that is changing at an exponentially faster rate. They were also made for less money. Shame on the U.S. OCR election system.

Business should not be afraid to talk about this, because, like a poisonous malware, it will spread and be used to easily run businesses out of business – often due to greed and/or petty personal differences. Examples of this include hundreds or thousands of fraudulent negative Yelp reviews, driving a competitor’s search rankings down or to a malicious site, redirecting their 1-800 number to a travel scam hotline, spreading false rumors, cyber-squatting, and more. Let 2019 be the year we stand to innovate via disruptive technologies for a more ethical economy.

About the Authors:

Fig. 7. Swenson and Mebratu.

Jeremy Swenson, MBA, MSST & Angish Mebratu, MBA meet in graduate business school where they collaborated on global business projects concerning leadership, team dynamics, and strategic innovation. They also worked together at Optum / UHG. Mr. Swenson is a seasoned (14 years) IT consultant, writer, and speaker in business analysis, project management, cyber-security, process improvement, leadership, music, and abstract thinking. Over 15 years Mr. Mebrahtu has worked with various fortune 500 companies including Accenture and Thomson Reuters, and he is currently principal quality engineer/manager at UnitedHealthcare. He is also an expert in software quality assurance, cybersecurity technologies, and design and architecture of technology frames.

Top 12 Ways Small To Med Businesses Can Reduce Cyber Risk

1) Use the Free DHS Developed CSET (Cybersecurity Evaluation Tool) To Assess Your Security Posture: High, Med, or Low.

Figure 1. (DHS, 2018).
CSET Process.PNG

2) Educate Employees About Cyber Threats and Hold Them Accountable. 

Educate your employees about online threats and how to protect your business’s data, including safe use of social networking sites. Depending on the nature of your business, employees might be introducing competitors to sensitive details about your firm’s internal business. Employees should be informed about how to post online in a way that does not reveal any trade secrets to the public or competing businesses. Use games with training and hold everyone accountable to security policies and procedures.

3) Protect Against Viruses, Spyware, and Other Malicious Code.

Make sure each of your business’s computers are equipped with antivirus software and anti-spyware and updated regularly. Such software is readily available online from a variety of vendors. All software vendors regularly provide patches and updates to their products to correct security problems and improve functionality. Configure all software to install updates automatically. Especially watch freeware which contains malvertising.

4) Secure Your Networks.

Safeguard your Internet connection by using a firewall and encrypting information. If you have a Wi-Fi network, make sure it is secure and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Have a secure strong password such as (xeyg1845%RELIGO) to protect access to the router.

5) Base Your Security Strategy Significantly on the NIST Cybersecurity Framework 1.1: Identity, Detect Defend, Respond, and Recover.

Fig. 2. (NIST, 2018).
NIST

6) Establish Security Practices and Policies to Protect Sensitive Information.

Establish policies on how employees should handle and protect personally identifiable information and other sensitive data. Clearly outline the consequences of violating your business’s cybersecurity policies and who is accountable.

7) Require Employees to Use Strong Passwords and to Change Them Often.

Consider implementing multi-factor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multi-factor authentication for your account. Smart card plus pass-code for example.

8) Employ Best Practices on Payment Cards. 

Work with your banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may also have additional security obligations related to agreements with your bank or processor. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and do not use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.

9) Make Backup Copies of Important Business Data and Use Encryption When Possible.

Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly, and store the copies either offsite or on the cloud.

10) Control Physical Access to Computers and Network Components.

Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

11) Create A Mobile Device Protection Plan.

Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Use a containerization application to separate personal data from company data. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

12) Protect All Pages on Your Public-Facing Web-pages, Not Just the Checkout and Sign-Up Pages.

Make sure submission forms can block spam and can block code execution (cross side scripting attacks).

Contact Abstract Forward here for more info.

Abstract Forward Podcast #4: Network Scanning Tips With Chip Harris.

Chip Harris.jpgIn this episode, we have a deep conversation with CISO Consultant Chip Harris. We start with an overview of network scanning, both free open source tools like OpenVAS and other more costly options like Tenable. We then talk about red teaming, issues with data security lakes, the Equifax data breach, how leadership impacts security, and how threat actors are better at innovating than defenders typically are. We also cover the evolution of messaging, mobile device application hype and exploits, mobile application containerization, how the cyber kill chain came about, and a few things about the future of incident response.

Harris has an extensive background in government and business InfoSec engineering and red team planning and operations  — with over 25 years of experience designing and managing IT systems. His expertise is in identifying and solving problems by delivering projects and solutions. His experience includes serving as the IT lead and project manager within the business unit, evaluating system performance, helping business leaders and non-technical clients understand how technology can improve workflow, developing and enforcing standard IT practices, and ensuring IT compliance with regulations such as NERC CIP, PCI, GDPR, HIPAA, and SOX.

He has a Ph.D. in Cyber Security and Cyber Operations from the United States War College, a Masters in Cyber Security and Cyber Crime from the United States War College, and a Bachelors in Computer Science and Animation from Memphis College of Art. He has the following certifications: MCE, MCSE, NCE, MCSA, MCM, MCT, Security +, SUSE Novell Linux, Open SUSE Enterprise, Ubuntu Server Admin, PICK WMS, Backtrack 5, Netools 5, Dell Kace 3000 and 1000, IBM Q-Radar, Carbon Black, Tenable Security Suite, Dark Trace, Q-Radar, IBM Guardium, OWASP, Check Point, RHL, Kali Linux Certified, C|EH, C|PT, C|HFI, CCE, GIAC Rated, Barracuda, and he is even Tripwire Certified.

Fig 1. (OpenVAS Greenbone Scan Demo, 2018).
OpenVAS.png

Listen to the podcast here.


Learn more about Abstract Forward Consulting here.

Disclaimer:  This podcast does not represent the views of former or current employers and / or clients. This podcast will make every reasonable effort to verify facts and inferences therefrom. However, this podcast is intended to entertain and significantly inform its audience based on subjective reason based opinions. Non-public information will not be disclosed. Information obtained in this podcast may be materially out of date at or after the time of the podcast. This podcast is not legal, accounting, audit, health, technical, or financial advice. © Abstract Forward Consulting, LLC.

Top Ten Ways Companies Can Reduce Cyber Risk

cost-of-cyber-attacks-to-business-mq593szq6dt3vzuawhu5qtm2upt66jfkqpxzl18l8sMid-sized businesses are defined from about $50 million to $800 million in revenue. A 2017 report published by Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute found more than 50% of small and medium business had been breached in the past 12 months, but only 14% of them rated their ability to defend against cyber-threats as “highly effective” (Keeper / Ponemon, 2017). According to the 2017 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 75% of the breaches were caused by outsiders with 51% involving organized criminal groups and the remaining involved internal actors. Not surprising, malware installed via malicious email attachments was present in 50% of the breaches involving hacking(Verizon, 2017). Here are ten steps (applicable to any size business) you can take to shield your mid-sized business from cyber-attacks:

10) Train Staff Often:

Most cyber-attacks take the form of phishing and spear phishing which is hackers targeting individuals rather than computer systems – typically with the help of good social engineering (IT Governance Blog, 2017). Therefore, employees need to be educated to roll back what they share on social media and to opt out of data harvesting when they can. Training needs to be ongoing because the threat landscape and technology change so fast. For example, ransomware was not a serious attack vector 6 years ago, but it is front and center today. Additionally, crypto-currency mining networks is an exploit vector that is arguably less than 2 years old and growing rapidly. Lastly, training more often improves the company security culture and that is directly related to keeping a good business reputation and core customer base. Here are a few more training necessities:

1. Follow cyber security best practices and conduct audits on a regular basis – based on your selected one or two frameworks (Cobit 5, ISO 2700, etc)

2. Use games contest and prizes to teach cyber safety – leadership must do this as well.

3. Notify and educate staff of any current cyber-attacks – have a newsletter.

4. Teach them how to handle and protect sensitive data – do lunch and learns.

9) Secure Wireless Networks:

Wireless networks can be easily exploited by cyber attackers, unknowing guests, and even angry customers. Your network is not like a coffee shop community room but rather it’s like a bank vault with many segmented areas – map the segments and know their rank order value. To harden your wireless network, avoid WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption (which can be cracked in minutes) and use only WPA2, which uses AES-based encryption and provides better security than WPA.

Fig 1. (WPA2 Selection Screen Clip).

wpa_top

If you have a Wi-Fi network, be sure access to the router is secured by a password and hidden so that it does not broadcast the network name. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Also, remember to password-protect access to the router. Additionally, for protection against brute-force attacks, protect your network with a complex passphrase containing at least 25 characters and including a mix of letters, upper and lower case and numerals and symbols. Use a firewall and encryption to safeguard your internet connection.

8) Physically Secure Your Environment:

Focusing on web tools and monitoring is needed, but it’s also important to remember there are physical concerns about securing your network as well. To a threat actor overcoming all of your security measures may be as easy as walking up to your router and pressing the reset button. Make sure that your key pieces of in-office infrastructure are secure, and that you’re monitoring them with video, sensors or other physical security controls. Make sure to be creative and thorough about how you define a physical security connection point including: doors, public lobbies, windows, air vents, turnstiles, roofs, printer room, network closet, and USB ports on machines, etc. Lastly, employees should keep their devices near them at all times.

7) Double Down on Firewalls:

While most routers have a firewall built in that can protect your internal network against outside attacks, you should know that it may not be automatically activated. It’s generally called something like SPI (stateful packet inspection) or NAT (network address translation). Either way, turn it on (Chelsea Segal, Cox Blue, 09/16/18).

It’s also important to ensure that your own software isn’t sending information out over the network or the internet without your permission. For that, you’ll want to install firewall software on your PC as well. PC Magazine’s top pick is Check Point ZoneAlarm Pro, but the default firewall that comes with Windows 8 and 10 is also a good start.

6) Evaluate Your Operational Resilience and Cyber-Security Practices Quarterly: 

A good start is the US-CERT’s Cyber Resilience Review (CRR), which helps organizations assess enterprise programs and practices across 10 domains including risk management, incident management, service continuity, and more (SBA, 2018). They can also use the CSET (Cyber Security Evaluation Tool), which is a free customizable multi-framework DHS created general cyber security assessment.

5) Review Control Access / IAM and Audit Access Regularly:

Administrative access to your systems should only be granted on a need-to-know basis – least privilege principle. The correct job roles should be in the correct windows access groups. Keep sensitive data – such as payroll – out of the hands of anyone who doesn’t need it to do their job, marketing for example. Remove unused, stale, or unnecessary IAM users/credentials. Also, consider decommissioning old systems for risk reduction and cost savings – with the appropriate project analysis done. Use a secure strong password especially for single sign on interfaces – two factor authentication. Organizations should audit their IAM user activity to see which users haven’t logged into AWS for at least 90 days and revoke their permissions. Monitor user activity in all cloud services (including IAM user activity) to identify abnormal activity indicative of threats arising from a compromised account, or malicious/negligent internal employee – when corroborated with event logs and related intelligence.

4) Back up and Secure Your Systems and Data but Don’t Over Retain:

Ransomware, or viruses used by hackers to encrypt an organization’s computer files and detain them until a ransom is paid, has emerged as a serious and growing threat to businesses worldwide, according to the FBI (FBI CISO Report 2018). Whether data is stored in the cloud, on-premises, or in a hybrid data center, businesses should back up all files to hard drives stored in a safe place outside the reach of cyberthieves. These are some key data backup subpoints.

1. Limit access to sensitive data to only a few authorized employees.

2. Encrypt all your sensitive data – do not over-classify.

3. Backup your data periodically and store it in an offsite location.

4. Protect all devices with access to your data – third party vendor implications.

5. If you accept credit cards transactions, secure each point of sale.

3) Create a Guidebook for Mobile Security:

While mobile devices allow for work anywhere, anytime, they create significant security challenges. The FCC suggests requiring users to password-protect their devices, encrypt data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks (FCC, Feb 2018). Plus, set reporting procedures for lost or stolen mobile devices. Draft a BYOD policy that separates personal vs. corporate data and covers the below points.

1. Ensure your equipment has the latest security software and run anti-virus/malware scans regularly. If you don’t have good anti-virus software installed, buy and install it.

2. Install all software updates as soon as they are available, including all web browsers.

3. Have the latest operating systems on your devices with access to regular updates.

4. Make sure your internet connect is protected with firewall security.

5. Make sure your Wi-Fi network is encrypted, hidden, and password protected.

2) Use Encrypted Websites for E-commerce Via Strong Third-Party Risk Management Policies:

Only buy from encrypted websites by looking for https on every page. Don’t’ be teased in by super low prices or the like, it may be a drive by download set-up. Ensure that the owner of the website is reputable and is who they say they are. This kind of gets at third party and supply chain risk management, which should be based on some applicable security framework for your industry, etc.

1) Avoid When Possible and Rigorously Evaluate Freeware:

There are a lot of free options for software including anti-virus (AVG), graphic design (GIMP), marketing and sales applications, some of which are quite reliable. However, many are not reliable and pose risk because they often come with malvertising, utility ad ons that slow things down, or direct malware. All of this complicates cyber risk and blurs sight lines into the infrastructure stack. Cyber security isn’t a good place to cut costs so pay for a good antivirus and firewall tool-set. If you are going to use a robust free graphic design tool like GIMP make sure it is documented, always updated, and that it is run in a limited area.

Bonus) Have a Sound Way To Prioritize Patching.

Establish a process to risk-rate vulnerabilities based on: ease of exploit and potential impact of the vulnerability (reference the CVE scores), if other working defenses are in place, and lastly by grouping the assets they may impact.

Reach out to me here for questions.

British Airways Data Breach Likely The First GDPR Rollback Test.

On 08/21/18 British Airways (BA) suffered the start of a data breach which ended on or about 09/05/18. A UPS (uninterruptible power supply) failure and subsequent power surge was partly how the breach was exacerbated. It was also indicated that a third party (vendor) was involved in some way which complicates liability and brings supply chain security more into scope.

The breach allowed cyber criminals to steal personal and financial information from about 380,000 customers who booked directly with the airline in the preceding two weeks (Ivana Kottasová, CNN, 09/07/18). When a passenger makes a booking through the BA website, they must submit their name, e-mail address, address, and credit or debit card details including: the number, expiration date, date, and the security code or “Card Verification Value” (CVV) — all of this was compromised.

BA Breach
Photo: Steve Parsons/PA.

Yet most interestingly, this is one of the first major data breaches since GDPR came into effect in May this year, Walters said (Samuel Gibbs, the Guardian, 09/07/18). “It appears that the company notified the Information Commissioner’s Office and customers within the GDPR’s mandatory 72 hours but the breach will now be investigated and the company could be penalized if it did not take all the necessary measures to protect customer data” (Samuel Gibbs, the Guardian, 09/07/18).

The GDPR rules now in force could see a great increase in the penalties slapped on firms for past data breaches, with fines levied at a maximum of 4% of global revenues. For British Airways’ this amounts to about $630 million dollars based on last years revenue (Gwyn Topham, the Guardian, 09/06/18).

Yet many observers see fines this hefty as counterproductive and the catalyst to push business outside of the EU. Moreover, many international law firms and economists have doubts about the applicability of the GDRP outside of the EU, citing state sovereignty, and free enterprise protection in the United States, etc. The courts will likely further define the context of GRPRs applicability and may roll its reach back some. It is way to early to know what GDPR means in practicality but pushback is coming from well funded, well organized, well researched powerful law and business interest groups. GDPR is dangerously overbroad and ambiguous as echoed in this law firm newsletter (Wendy Butler Curtis and Jeffrey McKenn, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, 09/09/18). We welcome the debate for a better more modern GDPR.

Thousands of MikroTik Routers Hacked to Spy On Network Traffic

router-hacking.pngAt present more than 7,500 Mikrotik routers have been compromised with malware when attackers configured the devices to forward network traffic to a handful of IP addresses under their control (Shaun Nichols, The Register, 09/04/18). According to Chinese cyber research firm 360 Netlab the attackers obtained access to the devices by exploiting CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) 2018-14847. Ironically this vulnerability had a patch available since April 2018.

This vulnerability is associated with Any Directory File Read (CVE-2018-14847) in MikroTik routers which was found as exploitable by the CIA Vault 7 hacking tool identified as Chimay Red, along with another MikroTik’s Webfig remote code execution vulnerability.

Since 08/24/18 the 360 Netlab honeypot network had picked up on more than 5 million devices with an open TCP/8291 port worldwide, of which 1.2 million are MikroTik devices. Out of those, about 31 percent, or 370,000, are vulnerable to the flaw (Tara Seals, Threatpost, 09/04/18).

The infection does not appear to be targeting any country, as the hacked devices reside across five different continents with Russia, Iran, Brazil, and India being the most commonly impacted. The top 10 countries with compromised MickroTik routers are (Ms. Smith, CSO Online, 09/04/18).

  1. 1,628 in Russia
  2. 637 in Iran
  3. 615 in Brazil
  4. 594 in India
  5. 544 in Ukraine
  6. 375 in Bangladesh
  7. 364 in Indonesia
  8. 218 in Ecuador
  9. 191 in the US
  10. 189 in Argentina

The researchers noted that the malware is also resilient to reboots, leaving a firmware update as the only permanent solution to the problem (Shaun Nichols, The Register, 09/04/18). “In order for the attacker to gain control even after device reboot (IP change), the device is configured to run a scheduled task to periodically report its latest IP address by accessing a specific attacker’s URL,” Netlab writes.

Also, the attackers seek to infect victims with the browser-based Coinhive cryptomining script (Fig. 1). They achieve this by redirecting the HTTP proxy settings to an error page they created, where they placed the mining script. “By doing this, the attacker hopes to perform web mining for all the proxy traffic on the users’ devices,” 360 Netlab researchers indicated.

Hive

However, the attackers made a mistake when they set up proxy access control lists that block all external web resources, including those required for the mining operation (Fig. 1).

360 Netlab says it does not know what the ultimate goal of the attacker will be. Their analysis shows that the attacker is particularly interested in ports 20, 21, 25, 110, and 144, which are for FTP-data, FTP, SMTP, POP3, and IMAP traffic. An unusual interest is in traffic from SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) ports 161 and 162, which researchers cannot explain at the moment (Shaun Nichols, The Register, 09/04/18).

“This deserves some questions, why the attacker is paying attention to the network management protocol regular users barely use? Are they trying to monitor and capture some special users’ network SNPM community strings?” 360 Netlab asks.

Bleeping computers research recommends that MikroTik users install the latest firmware version on the device. Based on the information provided by 360 Netlab users can check if HTTP proxy, Socks4 proxy, and network traffic capture features are active and exploited by a malicious actor (Ionut Ilascu, Bleeping Computer, 09/04/18).

Reach out to my company Abstract Forward Consulting if you have questions.

In Cybersecurity There Are Two Kinds Of People: Those With Certs And Those Who Are Creative.

In cybersecurity there are two kinds of people, those with certifications and those who have proved they don’t need them. Just like degrees, certifications are only as good as the person holding them. If a person has a CISSP, a CISA, or another related certification, but does no more that attend the minimum continuing education to keep their certs in good standing, they will have little relevant security competence. Additionally, these certifications can not be compared to a CPA where the math and rules are clear and do not change at the speed of technology.

A person can show real world cybersecurity competency by building and defending websites and applications, by attending many top cybersecurity conferences and leaving some, by accurately following and blogging about threat actors (Brian Krebs), and by frequently speaking at security conferences – but more importantly their content needs to be validated by other thought leaders.

 

This is not at all to say that degrees and certifications have no value, but it is to say they are hyped up and not for everyone, especially those like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, and about 95% (est) of real hackers and technology security makers. These people are too focused on the synergies of the technology and threats “in the now” that they do not focus on memorizing things for tests that will likely become obsolete in 2-4 years anyway.

The problem with standardized tests is that they teach conformity in a limited non-real-world context based on limited information with no accurate knowledge of the future. A standardized test cannot teach or confirm creativity, quality character, incident response savvy, backwards engineering, your ability to actually build and defend an application, your ability to lead and inspire people in the right direction, stress management, and most importantly that you understand the threat actor profile and landscape and can adapt on your feet.

Many people who study for a security certification realize it’s a memorization and buzz word test. Yes, it will prove you are not a “complete moron” in security, but it will prove no more, and it has nothing to do with creativity. Yet the best security protections must be creative because the enemy is. Hackers use creativity and new technology models to break into systems in ways not thought of before. Yet before they break into these systems they have to learn and backwards engineer them. They do this with a type of intelligence and experience-based creativity that is too high for any standardized test to confirm.

If you survey all the major data breaches and hacks to find out what caused them and what could have prevented them, it is never because an organization “needed more people with standardized security certifications”. Rather, it is usually due to: lack of creativity, corporate silos, office bureaucracy, turfs wars (think why the FBI and CIA missed 9/11) poor communication, not enough real world red teaming, failure to patch, poor internet hygiene education, failure to measure and prioritize risk, and incompetent security leaders who only hire their friends or people who conform to their biases.

If you really want to learn and stay updated about cybersecurity, grab your laptop or tablet and blog real time at the Cybersecurity Summit in MN 10/22/18 to 10/24/18 – register here. Blogging is important because it makes you write down what you are learning, and your followers will force you to talk more about what your posting, so you will learn more by defended or changing it. You must be an active learner by creating and supporting the web technology behind your web-site – 100%.

Also, when attending these events don’t be like most people and hang only with your “established click”. Meet new people and be open to diverse viewpoints even ones that are hard to swallow – you grow more from that. Leave your assumptions at the door. Do not boast about the fact that you have an advanced degree or certification to someone else. You never know what the other person is capable of or has achieved. Remember most hackers and the best technology people are unorthodox.

Here is a run down of the amazing Cybersecurity Summit speakers.

  • Bruce Schneier, who will be signing copies of his forthcoming book “Click Here To Kill Everybody”
  • Chris Roberts, one of the world’s foremost experts on counter threat intelligence
  • Tony Sager, who leads the development of the CIS Critical Security Controls for the Center for Internet Security
  • Peter Brecl, Director of Managed Security Services at CenturyLink
  • Scott Borg, Director and Chief Economist at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit
  • Brian L. Levine, who recently engaged in the first criminal trial of a Chinese entity for trade secret theft that cost a U.S. company more than $1 billion
  • Tim Crothers, who built and leads the Cyber Fusion Center at Target

And many others!

To learn more and register for the event, go to www.cybersecuritysummit.org Register now now because prices will increase after Aug. 30. Came say hi to me at the event and reach out to my company Abstract Forward Consulting if you have questions.

Abstract Forward Podcast #1: Data Classification With Jim Danburg.

data_classification_2.jpgIn this episode, renowned governance, risk and compliance critical infrastructure security and resiliency expert Jim Danburg joins us for a candid and thought-provoking conversation on data classification, including a funny story doing a project for a CISO (chief information security officer).  More specifically, we discuss the four types of data classification vs. only three, data over-classification, data mis-classification, governance risk and compliance, data security, role based access control (RBAC), need to know policy, litigation discovery risk, the declining cost of data storage: disk vs. solid state, outsourcing data and PCI risk, mapping dependencies, the relationship between executives and data policy compliance, insider threat, bring your own device (BYOD) containerization: corporate vs. personal data with privacy implications, the secure destruction of data and hardware – and what it takes to improve all this!

Contact Abstract Forward Consulting here.

Disclaimer: This podcast does not represent the views of former or current employers and / or clients. This podcast will make every reasonable effort to verify facts and inferences therefrom. However, this podcast is intended to entertain and significantly inform its audience based on subjective reason based opinions. Non-public information will not be disclosed. Information obtained in this podcast may be materially out of date at or after the time of the podcast. This podcast is not legal, accounting, audit, health, technical, or financial advice. © Abstract Forward Consulting, LLC.

6 Pronged Approach to Data Exfiltration Detection

The best way to detect precursors to data exfiltration is to employ a six-prong detection approach applied to all risk areas as practicable. Figure 1. shows the six-pronged detection approach.

Figure 1. Six-Pronged Data Exfiltration Precursor Detection Approach [1] [2].

1) Signature Based.

Characteristics: 1) Uses known pattern matching to signify attack; 2) Former zero days, known exploits, etc.

Advantages: 1) Widely available; 2) Most antivirus is based heavily on this; 3) Fairly fast; 4) Easy to implement; 5) Easy to update.

Disadvantages: 1) Cannot detect attacks for which it has no signature – Zero days; 2) Insider threat.

2) Host Based.

Characteristics: 1) Runs on a single host; 2) Can analyze audit-trails, logs, the integrity of files and directories, etc.

Advantages: 1) More accurate than NIDS; 2) Less volume of traffic so less overhead.

Disadvantages: 1) Deployment is expensive; 2) No plan for if the host gets compromised – Real risk for organizations with more than 10 thousand employees.

3) Human Based [2].

Characteristics: 1) Has the unique experience set deriving intuition; 2) Has five senses.

Advantages: 1) Has the ability to learn multiple tools and connect the dots; 2) Can set team direction and inspire people; 3) Can think creatively; 4) Can think with the voice of the customer or recipient of a phishing e-mail.

Disadvantages: 1) Bias and ego; 2) Cannot calculate large numbers fast.

4) Anomaly Based.

Characteristics: 1) Uses statistical model or machine learning engine to characterize normal usage behaviors; 2) Requires big data and other software tools; 3) Recognizes departures from normal as potential intrusions.

Advantages: 1) Can detect attempts to exploit new and unforeseen vulnerabilities; 2) Can recognize authorized usage that falls outside the normal pattern.

Disadvantages: 1) Generally slower, more resource intensive compared to signature-based tools; 2) Greater complexity, difficult to configure; 3) Higher percentages of false alerts.

5) Network Based.

Characteristics: 1) NIDS (network intrusion detection system) examine raw packets in the network passively and triggers alerts.

Advantages 1) Easy deployment; 2) Unobtrusive; 3) Difficult to evade if done at the low level of network operation.

Disadvantages: 1) Fail Open; 2) Different hosts process packets differently; 3) NIDS needs to create traffic seen at the end host; 4) Need to have the complete network topology and complete host behavior; 5) Highly unlikely.

6) Externally Based.

Characteristics: 1) Studies show there are 258 externally measurable characteristics about network infrastructure (without any inside info).

Advantages: 1) Beaching marking – identifying mismanagement symptoms such as poorly configured DNS or BGN networks; 2) Beaching marking – identifying malicious activity which mostly includes SPAM, phishing, and port scanning; 3) One study found it to be highly reliable in predicting breaches (90% true positives in a closed limited test) [3].

Disadvantages: 1) Its low hanging fruit – easy weaknesses to spot; 2) Good I.T. audits and red teaming is similar.

[1] Dash, Debabrata. “Introduction to Network Security”. PowerPoint presentation. 2017.
[2] Photo of public figure Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland. https://www.schneier.com/ 2018.
[3] Liu, Yang; Sarabi, Armin; Zhang, Jing; Naghizadeh, Parinaz; Karir, Manish; Bailey, Michael; and Liu, Mingyan. “Cloudy with a Chance of Breach: Forecasting Cyber Security Incidents” 2015. Pg. 1.

Decryption Options For 3 Ransomware Types

ransomware-main.pngRansomware is on the rise and is going after more victims with little to no defenses, small to medium-small sized businesses and even quiet non-profits. Here are a few tools with a valid track record of stopping and removing 3 common types of ransomware.
1) LockCrypt is a ransomware discovered in June 2017 but is still active in various mutations. It spreads by brute forcing Remote Desktop Protocol credentials – a key port (3389) that should be obviously locked. A prominent example of this exploit occurred in December 2017 when an employee opened an email which was maliciously sent from another co-worker’s account. This was merely an attempt to trick the person to click on the malicious attachment which was appended to the letter. Once it was opened, the ransomware download began after which 48 out of 500 servers of North Carolina County were compromised with LockCrypt (Ugnius Kiguolis, Spyware.com, 12/11/17).

As per Bitdefender, this ransomware family has several sub-variants with the following specific extensions, the first (.1btc) is decryptable with this free Bitdefender tool and the others may be decryptable with the free Trend Micro Malwarebytes Ransomware File Decryptor tool (check for updates).

  1. .1btc (decryptable and included in this version of the tool)
  2. .lock (decryptable, not included in our tool)
  3. .2018 (decryptable, not included in our tool)
  4. .bi_d (not decryptable)
  5. .mich (decryptable, not included in our tool)

2) The five-year-old ransomware Trojan-Ransom.Win32.Rakhni has received a facelift recently which now allows it to decide whether or not to install its traditional ransomware or to drop a cryptominer.

The malware is delivered through spam campaigns where the email comes with a PDF attached which the receiver is prompted to save and then enable editing. When the victim attempts to open the document he or she is presented with an executable that portrays itself as an Adobe Reader plugin and it asks the person to allow it to make changes to their computer (Doug Olenick, SC Magazine, 07/06/18).

According the Kaspersky labs, the current injection chain on this newer exploit is largely the same as before. However, the malware moves along a rather complex path before it decides which form it will take. During the process it will check to make sure the device is not a virtual machine, it will check for and disarm an AV software and also Widows Defender and finally erase most of the footprints made during the malware installation.

The executable, which is written in Delphi and has its strings encrypted, then presents a message box that states the PDF could not be opened, basically to keep the victim from thinking anything negative is about to happen (Doug Olenick, SC Magazine, 07/06/18).

It first checks that the device has one of the substrings:

  1. \TEMP
  2. \TMP
  3. \STARTUP
  4. \CONTENT.IE
  5. Registry check

It then checks to see if the registry contains checks that in the registry there is no value HKCU\Software\Adobe\DAVersion and if it finds this is so it creates HKCU\Software\Adobe\DAVersion = True (Doug Olenick, SC Magazine, 07/06/18). As of Feb 2018 Kaspersky Labs has a free decryption tool (since updated) to get rid of most variations of this infection.

3) Thousands of LabCorp’s servers were impacted by the SamSam ransomware attack on 07/13/18, a CSO online report confirmed (Steve Ragan, 07/19/18). Early information indicates that the company contained the spread of the infection and neutralized the attack within 50 minutes – great. However, before the attack was fully contained, 7,000 systems and 1,900 servers were negatively impacted; 350 were production servers (Steve Ragan, CSO Online, 07/19/18. This is a growing trend in the healthcare sector that reached 15% in 2016 (Fig1. Greg Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 04/11/18).

Fig. 1.
Ransomeware Health.pngAs per Jessica Davis of HealthcareITnews, “SamSam is the virus that shut down the Allscripts platform for about a week in January 2017 and is known to use brute force RDP (remote desktop protocol) attacks to breach a system and spread. The variant is also responsible for taking down Hancock Health, Adams Memorial and the government systems of Atlanta — among a host of others” (HealthcareITNews.com, 07/20/18).

The ransom note it displays is quite interesting, giving the option of randomly-selected file encryption (if you don’t pay the full amount). They’ll also unlock one file for free as a token of trust that they will give your files back after payment (Christopher Boyd, Malwarebytes Labs, 05/01/18).

Fig 2.
samsam-ransomware-infected-file-sensorstechforum-com-sorry-for-files-html-virus
The virus has been updated a couple of times. Currently, it appends one of the following file extensions (Julie Splinters, spyware.com, 06/23/18):

  1. .weapologize;
  2. .AreYouLoveMyRansFile;
  3. .breeding123;
  4. .country82000;
  5. .disposed2017;
  6. .fucku;
  7. .happenencedfiles;
  8. .helpmeencedfiles;
  9. .howcanihelpusir;
  10. .iaufkakfhsaraf;
  11. .mention9823;
  12. .myransext2017;
  13. .noproblemwedecfiles;
  14. .notfoundrans;
  15. .prosperous666;
  16. .powerfulldecryp;
  17. .supported2017;
  18. .suppose666;
  19. .VforVendetta
  20. .Whereisyourfiles;
  21. .wowreadfordecryp;
  22. .wowwhereismyfiles;
  23. .loveransisgood.

Different variants of the virus might drop different versions of ransom notes. However, at the moment victims might receive one of these ransom notes in:

  1. 0009-SORRY-FOR-FILES.html,
  2. IF_WANT_FILES_BACK_PLS_READ.html,
  3. 000-PLEASE-READ-WE-HELP.html,
  4. 000-No-PROBLEM-WE-DEC-FILES.html,
  5. READ-FOR-DECCCC-FILESSS.html,
  6. HELP_DECRYPT_YOUR_FILES.HTML,
  7. 001-HELP_FOR_DECRYPT_FILE.html,
  8. 006-READ-FOR-HELLPP.html,
  9. PLEASE_READ_FOR_DECRYPT_FILES_[Number].html,
  10. PLEASE-README -AFFECTED-FILES.html.

SamSam is the newest and most powerful of the three types of ransomeware mentioned above. There is no known decryption tool or fix for data that you don’t already have your data backed up. Yet it is known to uses tools such as Mimikatz to steal valid user credentials and common IT management tools to move malware to new hosts. Attackers and their malware are increasingly reliant on Mimikatz and similar tools, such as PsExec — associated with everything from PoS malware to webshells — to spread through the network and do damage (Dark Reading, 06/20/18, Ajit Sancheti). Stay tuned here for updates regarding a stable decryption tool for SamSam.