Five Things Small to Medium Businesses Can Do To Mitigate Cyber Risk

Small to medium businesses should evaluate their 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).

b7.contentThey can also use the CSET (Cyber Security Evaluation Tool), which is a free customizable multi-framework DHS created general cyber security assessment. 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). Here are five steps you can take to shield your small business from cyber-attacks:

1) 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 today 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’s directly related to keeping their 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.

2) 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.

3) Control Access / IAM and Audit Access Often

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.

5) 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 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, as well as password protected.

For more information reach out to Abstract Forward Consulting here.

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.

Two Equifax Leaders Charged with Insider Trading Amid Data Breach Mess

equifax (1).jpgA former software developer for Equifax, Sudhakar Reddy Bonthu, faces insider trading charges related to the company’s massive data breach last year, according to the SEC and federal prosecutors. Allegedly, in August 2017, Bonthu was asked to participate in Project Sparta, which Bonthu’s bosses described as a major project for one of the company’s clients who suffered a major breach that exposed details of over 100 million users.

Unknown to Bonthu at the time, that client was Equifax itself, which a month prior discovered that it was hacked and an intruder stole details for over 145.5 million US and international users. Bonthu was tasked with creating “an online user interface into which users could input information to determine whether they had been impacted by the breach.” According to court documents, he was told that “the project was a high priority for the unnamed company and had a short deadline because the client intended to ‘go live’ on September 6, 2017, with the breach remediation applications designed by Equifax.”

To create the website, which later turned out to be equifaxsecurity2017.com, Bonthu was given test data and was included in mailing lists exchanging information about the still-secret breach. SEC investigators say that Bonthu concluded on his own that the secret client in Project Sparta was in fact Equifax itself.

In an attempt to obstruct his trail he used his wife’s trading account, wherefrom he purchased eighty-six out-of-the-money put option contracts for shares of Equifax common stock with an expiration date of September 15, 2017, and a strike price of $130 per share. Bonthu made this purchase despite the fact that Equifax’s policies expressly prohibit any trading in derivative securities, including put and call options.

By purchasing out-of-the-money put options, Bonthu could make money only if the market price of Equifax stock were to drop below the put option strike price before the contract expired approximately two weeks later, on September 15. If the market price did not so drop, the put options would expire and his investment would be worthless.

On September 8, the price of Equifax common stock closed at $123.23, a drop of $19.49 (nearly 14%) per share from the prior day’s closing price of $142.72. […] As a result of the precipitous drop in Equifax’s share price, Bonthu turned his initial investment of $2,166.11 into $77,333.79 in only six days. In sum, Bonthu’s ill-gotten gains from his trading in Equifax options totaled $75,167.68, a return of more than 3,500% on his initial investment.

3028.03.15equifaxchart.JPG

The SEC says Bonthu had never previously traded in Equifax options. Equifax fired Bonthu in March 2018 after he allegedly refused to cooperate on an internal investigation on charges that he violated the company’s insider trading policy. Bonthu has agreed today to a permanent injunction and to return ill-gotten gains plus interest. If the settlement is approved by a judge, this will terminate SEC civil charges.

The equifaxsecurity2017.com website, on which Bonthu worked, has been deemed one of the most poorly put together breach notification sites in recent years, with several issues affecting it.

He is the second Equifax employee charged with insider trading after Equifax’s breach last year. Earlier this March the SEC charged former CIO of Equifax U.S. Information Solutions Jun Ying. Equifax says it tipped off the Department of Justice and the SEC to Ying’s alleged insider trading.

Although Ying wasn’t directly told that Equifax had been breached, he was assigned to assist Equifax’s Global Consumer Solutions unit with what was billed as “a business opportunity for an unnamed client,” code-named Project Sparta, according to court documents. The project was designated as “urgent,” and everyone participating, including Ying and his team, were instructed to cancel their Friday evening plans and respond to all requests.

At 5:27 p.m. that day, Ying texted a co-worker that the breach they were working on “sounds bad” and noted: “We may be the one breached. . .. Starting to put 2 and 2 together,” according to the SEC complaint. Later that evening, Ying learned that Equifax’s CSO, chief legal officer and vice president of cybersecurity had all canceled their travel plans, it adds.

The following Monday, around 10 a.m., “Ying used a search engine to find information on the internet concerning the September 2015 cybersecurity breach of Experian, another one of the three major credit bureaus, and the impact that breach had on Experian’s stock price,” according to the complaint. “The search terms used by Ying were: (1) ‘Experian breach’; (2) ‘Experian stock price 9/15/2015’; and (3) ‘Experian breach 2015.’

“This defendant took advantage of his position as Equifax’s USIS chief information officer and allegedly sold over $950,000 worth of stock to profit before the company announced a data breach that impacted over 145 million Americans,” says U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Our office takes the abuse of trust inherent in insider trading very seriously and will prosecute those who seek to profit in this manner. By selling when he did, Ying avoided losses in excess of $117,000.”

Earlier this month, Equifax revised its estimate of the breach’s impact to 147.9 million U.S. consumers. About 15 million U.K. consumers – of which about 860,000 are at risk of identity theft – and 8,000 Canadian consumers also saw their personal information get breached (see Equifax Breach Victims: UK Count Goes Up).

I identified Equifax’s control gaps and conflict of interest in a post shortly after the breach in 2017. I suspected then as I do now that more people will be charged related to conflict of interest with LifeLock identity theft protection.

Information sourced from Tara Siegel Bernard for the New York Times, Allison Prang for the Wall Street Journal, and the associated press. Curated and edited by Jeremy Swenson of Abstract Forward Consulting.

Chinese Hackers Stole About 614GB of Data from Unnamed U.S. Navy Contractor

A series of cyber attacks backed by Chinese government hackers earlier this year infiltrated the computers of a U.S. Navy contractor, allowing a large amount of highly-sensitive data on undersea warfare to reportedly be stolen. Likely by A People’s Liberation Army unit, known as Unit 61398, which is filled with skilled Chinese hackers who pilfered corporate trade secrets to benefit Chinese state-owned industry. The breaches, which took place in January and February 2018, including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on US submarines by 2020, according to American officials.

Fig. 1. U.S. Navy Submarine.
Navy Image

This data was of a highly sensitive nature despite it being housed on the contractor’s unclassified network – putting it here was mistake and exacerbated vulnerabilities. A contractor who works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I. — a research and development center for submarines and underwater weaponry — was the target of the hackers, the Post reported. While the unnamed officials did not identify the contractor, they told the newspaper that a total of 614 gigabytes of material was taken. Included in that data was information about a secret project known as Sea Dragon, in addition to signals and sensor data and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library. The Washington Post said it agreed to withhold some details of what was stolen at the request of the U.S. Navy over fears it could compromise national security.

A Navy spokesperson told Fox News in a statement the service branch will not comment on specific incidents, but cyber threats are “serious matters” officials are working to “continuously” bolster awareness of. There are measures in place that require companies to notify the government when a cyber incident has occurred that has actual or potential adverse effects on their networks that contain controlled unclassified information,” Cmdr. Bill Speaks said. “It would be inappropriate to discuss further details at this time.”

Fig 2. China’s first domestically manufactured aircraft carrier returns to port in Dalian after sea trials on 05/18/2018.

chinese-aircraft-carrier
Military experts fear that China has developed capabilities that could complicate the Navy’s ability to defend US allies in Asia in the event of a conflict with China. The Chinese are investing in a range of platforms, including quieter submarines armed with increasingly sophisticated weapons and new sensors, Admiral Philip Davidson said during his April nomination hearing to lead US Indo-Pacific Command. And what they cannot develop on their own, they steal – often through cyberspace, he said. “One of the main concerns that we have,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “is cyber and penetration of the dot-com networks, exploiting technology from our defense contractors, in some instances.”

Chinese government hackers have previously targeted information on the U.S. military, including designs for the F-35 joint strike fighter which they copied. Last year, South Korean firms involved in the deployment of the U.S. Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. No matter how fast the government moves to shore up its cyber defenses, and those of the defense industrial base, the cyber attackers move faster.

Compiled from Jennifer Griffin at Fox News, The Post, The Wall Street Journal, Independent News, and Huff Post. Edited and curated by Jeremy Swenson of Abstract Forward Consulting.

Key Updates to the NIST Cyber Security Framework

framework-01The first version of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework came about in Feb. 2014. In May 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing all federal agencies to use the framework to manage this risk, including future versions. Conversely, the private sector more so uses it as a non-uniform guide (sometimes in part) when needed. They use other more industry specific frameworks as well. On 04/17/18 NIST released the updated version of this standard-setting framework. We attended the NIST hosted webcast reviewing this on 04/27/18 and my key points are:

Framework 7 Step Process:

1)    Prioritize and Scope: Implementation tiers may be used to express varying risk tolerances.
2)    Orient
3)    Create a Current Profile
4)    Conduct a Risk Assessment
5)    Create a Target Profile: When used in conjunction with an Implementation Tier, characteristics of the Tier level should be reflected in the desired cybersecurity outcomes.
6)    Determine, Analyze, and Prioritize Gaps
7)    Implementation Action Plan

These recent changes to the framework are based on feedback collected through public calls for comments, questions received by team members, and workshops held from 2016 to 2017.

NIST Cyber Security Framework 3 Areas

The newest version (1.1) includes these updates:

1)    Clarifies utility as a structure and language for organizing and expressing compliance with an organization’s own cyber security requirements.

2)    Added a new section for self-assessing cybersecurity risk which explains how organizations can use the framework. Emphasizes the role of measurements in self-assessment stresses critical linkage of business results:

  • Cost
  • Benefit
  • to cybersecurity risk management
  • Continued discussion of this linkage will occur under
  • Roadmap area – Measuring Cybersecurity

3)    Added a new section for supply chain risk management which focuses on identifying, assessing, and mitigating acquired products and services that may contain malicious functionality, be counterfeit, or have critical vulnerabilities because of poor manufacturing practices.

4)    Added new focus area for small business – what this means is yet to be seen.

“Engagement and collaboration will continue to be essential to the framework’s success,” said Matt Barrett of NIST. “The Cybersecurity Framework will need to evolve as threats, technologies and industries evolve. With this update, we’ve demonstrated that we have a good process in place for bringing stakeholders together to ensure the framework remains a great tool for managing cybersecurity risk”, he said.

PwC’s 2018 Global State of Information Security Survey (GSISS) indicated that respondents from healthcare payer and provider organizations, as well as oil and gas companies, said the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is the most commonly adopted set information security standards in their respective industries.

In another case, the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Division (BSD) successfully implemented the Cybersecurity Framework to help them comply with HIPAA and other federal data security rules.

If you want to know how to customize this to your organization please contact us.

Review of the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Report

The 11th edition of the DBIR (Data Breach Investigation Report) was released this month. It analyzed more than 53,000 cybersecurity incidents and over 2,200 data breaches across the globe. Here is a summary of its key findings:
Ransomware continues to be a top cybersecurity threat, according to the report. Ransomware is found in almost 39 % of malware attacks – double the amount in last year’s analysis. “Ransomware remains a significant threat for companies of all sizes,” says Bryan Sartin, executive director security professional services, Verizon. “It is now the most prevalent form of malware, and its use has increased significantly over recent years.” This comes as no surprise to many city and state officials that have battled with ransomware takeovers recently. Systems in the city of Atlanta were offline for several days last month following a ransomware attack. Government offices and municipal systems have also been targeted in Baltimore, North Carolina, San Francisco, and others yet to come forward – the government does not like to admit their errors.

The report also shows that attacks on public sector organizations continue to focus on espionage. 43 % of public sector attacks were motivated by espionage. Of those attacks, 61 % were carried out by state-affiliated actors. Privilege misuse and error by insiders account for a third of breaches. Small businesses represent 58 percent of data breach victims. Over 50% of the attacks on public sector organizations were accomplished using backdoors in software, which arguably makes the case for why putting backdoors in software is a bad idea even if a government plans to use it for its own purposes – the government is far behind the private sector in incubating innovation here. Using phishing techniques to get data from individuals remains the most popular method as individuals continue to be the weakest link when it comes to security.

Fig 1. Data Breach Causes, Verzion 2018
Using stolen credentials topped the list of causes for data breaches (See Fig 1. for the other top causes). A common saying is “it’s easier to ask the employee for their password than try to guess it”, so social engineering continues to be a very useful tactic for hackers. For most employees, the only security protection system is their password. If a cyber-criminal obtains it, they can easily bypass most of the company’s security controls.

Attribution is probably one of the most difficult tasks in cyber-crime which already has more challenges than most people realize, with misdirection and lack of digital footprints to help lead to the cyber-criminal. This is likely due to several virtual machines and botnets used to facilitate the attack across several nations – all of which are likely unfriendly to the United States. Specifically, 73% of cyber-attackwere caused by outsiders. Organized crime rings are very likely using hackers as a service because 50% of cyber-attacks were attributed to organized crime. 12% was attributed to nation-states – APT (advanced persistent threats) who have unlimited funds.

Specific to Healthcare: The healthcare industry is rife with error and misuse. In fact, it is the only industry that has more internal actors behind breaches than external. In addition to these problem areas, ransomware is endemic in the industry—it accounts for 85 % of all malware in healthcare.

In total, there were 750 incidents and 536 with confirmed data disclosed. The top three patterns include: miscellaneous errors, crimeware, privilege misuse – 63 % of all incidents within healthcare. Breach threat actors breakdown: 56 % internal, 43 % external, 4 % partner, 2 % multiple parties. Breach actor motives are: 75 % financial, 13 % fun, 5 % convenience, Data compromised: 79 % medical, 37 % personal, 4 % payment.

The full report is available here.

Abstract Forward Consulting can help you review the issues in this report to build stronger security and process controls. Contact us here to learn more.

Jeremy Swenson, MBA, MSST

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New Consulting Site: www.Abstractforward.com Is Up

My new website, updated and stylistic, is up at: https://www.abstractforward.com/
AbstractForward New WebsiteThe site will serve as my corporate site going forward while the old site: https://www.jeremy-swenson.com/ will serve as a more personal blog.

If we can be of service to you in any way please contact us here.

Respectfully,

Jeremy Swenson, MBA, MSST
CEO & Principal Consultant: Abstract Forward Consulting, LLC
Speaker / Writer / Futurist

Abstract Forward Consulting Now Open For Business!

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In 2016 Mr. Swenson decided to go back to graduate school to pursue a second masters degree in Security Technologies at the University of MN’s renowned Technological Leadership Institute to position himself to launch a technology leadership consulting firm. This degree was completed in 2017 and positions Swenson as a creative and security savvy Sr. consultant to CIOs, CTOs, CEOs, and other business line leaders. His capstone was on “pre-cursor detection of data exfiltration” and included input from many of the regions CIOs, CISOs, CEOs, and state government leaders. His capstone advisor was technology and security pioneer Brian Isle of Adventium Labs.

Over 14 years, Mr. Swenson had the honor and privilege of consulting at 10 organizations in 7 industries on progressively complex and difficult problems in I.T. including: security, proj. mgmt., business analysis, data archival and governance, audit, web application launch and decommission, strategy, information security, data loss prevention, communication, and even board of directors governance. From governments, banks, insurance companies, minority-owned small businesses, marketing companies, technology companies, and healthcare companies, he has a wealth of abstract experience backed up by the knowledge from his 4 degrees and validated by his 40,000 followers (from LinkedIn, Twitter, and his blog). Impressively, the results are double-digit risk reductions, huge vetted process improvements, and $25+ million on average or more in savings per project!

As the desire for his contract consulting work has increased, he has continued to write and speak on how to achieve such great results. Often, he has been called upon to explain his process and style to organizations and people. While most accept it and get on board fast, some aren’t ready, mostly because they are stuck in the past and are afraid to admit their own errors due to confirmation bias. Two great technology leaders, Steve Jobs (Apple) and Carly Fiorina (HP) often described how doing things differently would have its detractors. Yet that is exactly why there is a need for Abstract Forward Consulting.

With the wind at our backs, we will press on because the world requires better results and we have higher standards (if you want to know more reach out below). With a heart to serve many organizations and people, we have synergized a hybrid blend of this process and experience to form a new consulting firm, one that puts abstract thinking first to reduce risk, improve security, and enhance business technology.

Proudly announcing: Abstract Forward Consulting, LLC.

Company Mission Statement: We use abstract thinking on security, risk, and technology problems to move business forward!

Company Vision: To be the premier provider of technology and security consulting services while making the world a better and safer place.

Main service offerings for I.T. and business leaders:

1) Management Consulting

2) Cyber Security Consulting

3) Risk Management Consulting

4) Data Governance Consulting

5) Enterprise Collaboration Tools Consulting

6) Process Improvement Consulting

If you want to have a free exploratory conversation on how we can help your organization please contact us here or inbox me. As our business grows, we will announce more people and tactics to build a tidal wave to make your organization the best it can be!

Thanks to the community for your support!

Founder and CEO: Abstract Forward Consulting, LLC.

Jeremy Swenson, MBA MSST (Master of Science In Security Technologies)

Three Unique Tech Trends in 2017 and Implications for 2018

Minneapolis – 12/24/2017

Each year we like to review and commentate on the most impactful technology and business concepts that are likely to significantly impact the coming year. Although this list is incomplete, these are three items worth dissecting.

3. The Hyper Expansion of Cloud Services Will Spur Competition and Innovation:
Cloud computing is a utility that relies on shared resources to achieve a coherent economy of scales benefit – with high-powered services that are rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort via the internet (Fig. 1). It presently consists of these main areas: SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), and IaaS (infrastructure as a service). It is typically used for technology tool diversification, redundancy, disaster recovery, storage, cost reduction, high powered computer tests and models, and even as a globalization strategy. Cloud computing generated about $127 billion in 2017 and is projected to hit $500 billion by the year 2020. At this rate, we can expect many more product startups and consulting services firms to grow and consolidate in 2018 as they are forced to be more competitive thus bringing costs down.

The line between local and cloud computing is blurry because the cloud is part of almost all computer functions. Consumer-facing examples include: Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, GMAIL, and the iPhone infrastructure. Apple’s cloud services are primarily used for online storage, backups and synchronization of your mail, calendar, and contacts – all the data is available on iOS, Mac OS, and even on Windows devices via the iCloud control panel.

Fig. 1. Linked Use Cases for Cloud Computing.
Cloud Infra

More business sided examples include: Salesforce, SAP, IBM CRM, Oracle, Workday, VMware, Service Now, and Amazon Web Services. Amazon Cloud Drive offers storage for music, images purchased through Amazon Prime, as well as corporate level storages that extends services for anything digital. Amazon’s widespread adoption of hardware virtualization, service-oriented architecture with automated utilization will sustain the growth of cloud computing. With the cloud, companies of all sizes can get their applications up and running faster with less IT management involved and with much lower costs. Thus, they can focus on their core-business and market competition.

The big question for 2018 is what new services and twists will cloud computing offer the market and how will it change our lives. In tackling this question, we should try to imagine the unimaginable. Perhaps in 2018 the cloud will be the platform where combined supercomputers can use quantum computing and machine learning to make key breakthroughs in aerospace engineering and medical science.  Additionally, virtual reality as a service sounds like the next big thing; we will coin it (VRAAS).

2. The Reversal of Net Neutrality is Awful for Privacy, Democracy, and Economics:
Before it was rolled back, net neutrality required service providers to treat all internet traffic equally. This is morally and logically correct because a free and open internet is just as important as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the free market concept. The internet should be able to enable startups, big companies, opposing media outlets, and legitimate governments in the same way and without favor. The internet is like air to all these sects of the economy and to the world.

Rolling back net neutrality is something the U.S. will regret in coming months. Although the implications of it are not fully known, it may mean that fewer data centers will be built in the U.S. and it may mean that smaller companies will be bullied out of business due to gamified imbalances of cost in internet bandwidth. Netflix and most tech companies dissented via social media resulting in viral support (Fig 2).

Fig 2. Viral Netflix Opposition to Rolling Back Net Neutrality.
Netflix Twitter

Lastly, it exacerbates the gap between the rich and the poor and it enables the government to have a stronger hand in influencing the tenor of news media, social norms, and worst of all political bias. As fiber optic internet connectivity expands, and innovative companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook turn into hybrid news sources, a fully free internet is the best thing to expose their own excesses, biases, and that there are legitimate conflicting viewpoints that can be easily found.

1. Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods Tells Us the Gap Between Retailer and Tech Service Company is Closing:

For quite a long time I have been a fan of Amazon because they were anti-retail establishment. In fact, in Amazon’s early days, it was the retail establishment that laughed at them suggesting they would flounder and fail. “How dare you sell used books by mail out of a garage”. Yet their business model has turned more into a technology and logistics platform than a product-oriented one. Many large and small retailers and companies of all types – employ their selling, shipping, and infrastructure platform to the degree that they are, in essence, married to Amazon.

Magazine Business Insider said, “The most important deal of the year was Amazon’s $13.7 billion-dollar acquisition of Whole Foods. In one swoop, Amazon totally disrupted groceries, retail delivery, and even the enterprise IT market” (Weinberger, 12/17/17). The basis for this acquisition was that grocery delivery is underserved and has huge potential in the U.S. as the population grows, less people own cars, and people value not wasting time walking around a retail store so much (getting socialized to a new level of service) (Fig 3).

Fig. 3. How Amazon Can Use Whole Foods to Serve High Potential Grocery Delivery.
Amazon Whole Foods

By Jeremy Swenson and Angish Mebrahtu

Mr. Swenson and Mr. Mebrahtu meet in graduate business school where they collaborated on global business projects concerning leadership, team dynamics, and strategic innovation. They have had many consulting stints at leading technology companies and presently work together indirectly at Optum / UHG. Mr. Swenson is a Sr. consultant, writer, and speaker in: business analysis, project management, cyber-security, process improvement, leadership, and abstract thinking.  Mr. Mebrahtu is a Sr. developer, database consultant, agile specialist, application design and test consultant, and Sr. quality manager of database development.