‘Boxing With Ghosts,’ – 6 Most Dangerous New Cyber Attack Techniques In 2015: SANS Experts Lay Out The Up-And-Coming Trends In Cyber Attack Patterns At RSA Conference

‘Boxing With Ghosts,’ – 6 Most Dangerous New Cyber Attack Techniques In 2015: SANS Experts Lay Out The Up-And-Coming Trends In Cyber Attack Patterns At RSA Conference 


     Ericka Chickowski, posted an article (April 23, 2015) the website, Dark Reading, regarding the up-and-coming cyber attack patterns and trends — as presented by SANS researchers at this weeks RSA Conference in San Francisco, CA.  Ms. Chickowski writes that SANS Director John Pescatore, led a panel on future trends and threats in the cyber domain that included SANS Faculty Fellow and CEO of CounterHack Challenges, Ed Skoudis, Jonathan Ullrich, Dean of Research for SANS, and Michael Assante, SANS Project Lead for Industrial Control System (ICS), and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Security.  Each offered their thoughts on how they’ve seen [cyber] threats evolving; and, which techniques they expect to gain steam over the next year.”

     Technique Number 1:  Attackers Will Expose Breached Data Dumps In Dribbles:  According to Dr. Skoudis, “more organizations will need to face the prospect of attackers not only getting savvy in how they steal information; but, also in how they disseminate it, particularly if they’re looking to publicly humiliate their targets.  I’m talking of course, about the Sony situation.  Instead of just doing the big data dump, they put a little bit out there,” Skoudis said.  “The reason this is more damaging — is the organization doesn’t really know how to respond  What is the magnitude of the whole thing?  Also, the organization’s response…by the time you get to day three, or four, the disclosures — make what they said on day one look silly.  So, there’s more damage; and, it amplifies it for the target organization.  It”s like your boxing with ghosts.”

     Dr. Skoudis recommends that “organizations start including this kind of attack scenario in their tabletop exercises for breach response,” Ms. Chickowski writes.

     Technique Number 2:  Microsoft Kerberos Is Getting Spanked:  “As the Pass The Hash attacks grew mainstream back in 2011 or so, Skoudis explained that he and other experts always prefaced their talks  about these techniques — with the aside, that these attacks weren’t there yet on Microsoft Kerberos.  That’s no longer the case.”

     “So, what’s happening?  We have the pass the ticket attack.  That’s where a bad guy hacks into a machine in your environment [IT network], — maybe it’s a client machine, maybe it’s a server machine — and they harvest the Kerberos tickets for the user that’s authenticated on that machine,” he said, “explaining the attacker is able to use  those tickets for up to 10 hours.  You can do a lot of damage in 10 hours.”

     Technique Number 3:  Real-World Exploits Of The Internet Of Things Will Multiply:  “The more the workforce moves beyond bring your own device — with phones and tablets — and, further into bringing your own anything, be it printers, or wireless routers, the more the Internet of Things (IoT) vulnerabilities will intrude into the [IT] enterprise,” Dr. Skoudis warned.  “This gets amplified, as embedded hardware — in all nature of devices, becomes so cheap,” Ms. Chickowski noted.

     “With all these different things coming into the environment, if you don’t know it’s there, you can’t defend it,” he said.

     “And unfortunately, these devices are frequently vulnerable to very old attacks and methods that they were taken care of in traditional devices years ago.  But, these common vulnerabilities will start causing new, and unexpected consequences in IoT devices.

     “For example, one device Skoudis and his team looked into was actually irrevocably broken, following a simple, cross-site scooping attack.”

     “You could launch a cross side scripting attack against the darn thing; and, it would break the device,” he said.  “Look, I’ve seen a lot of scripting in my day, I’m sure, maybe you have as well.  I’ve never seen one that would break a device.  It was crazy.”

     Technique Number 4:  Encryption Is Becoming Security’s Number One Frenemy:  “Encryption is security’s number one frenemy, not just because — when poorly implemented — it can cause problems — see Heartbleed, and Bash bug — but also because it can be used against you,” explained Ullrich.

     “As crypto ransomware has grown in popularity, it has been seen largely as a consumer problem.  But, that [dynamic] is changing, as attackers start to shift their encryption ransomware delivery techniques,” Mr. Ullrich added.

     “And, in some ways from an enterprise point of view, encrypted information is probably less of a problem for you than leaked information, because they have backups,” he said.  “Until those backups start to be encrypted.”

     “For example,” Dr. Ullrich explained, “the attackers are starting to dedicate efforts in breaking into NAS devices, and others commonly used for backup storage — in order to carry out ransomware attacks against businesses.”

     “And, it only moves forward from there,” said Ullrich, “explaining that attackers are using web application vulnerabilities to break into web servers, then effectively encrypting data for a period of time; and, eventually removing the key before making a demand for ransom.”

     “So, all the data altered over the last six months on that particular web server got encrypted now, including the backups for the last six months,” said Ullrich.  “Then, on your website, you get to see the ransom notice asking you for a substantial amount of money to get your data back.”

     Technique Number 5:  Denial Of Service Attacks Are Advancing:  “Denial of service attacks have been a huge problem over the last few years; but for the most part, enterprises sort of have learned to live with it,” Ullrich said.  

     “Attackers are now taking denial of service to another level in a couple of ways.  In one way, the attacker is focusing on actual applications.  “So, these are layer 7-style denial of service attacks,” Ullrich said.  “With a relatively low level of traffic, like a couple of megabits, or maybe a gigabit, attackers can cause substantial harm to the application and render it unusuable.”

     “Additionally, instead of reflection attacks off the DNS server, attackers are setting up their attacks, so the request from actual clients, rather than denial of service botnets, or the like.”

     Technique Number 6:  ICS Attacks Are Becoming Targeted:  “Attackers are getting savvier about how they go after industrial control systems,” said Assante.  “There are now customized ICS exploits, that’s big news,” Assante added.  “It means your adversary did spend time thinking and focusing on it to build these.”

     “Additionally, attackers are taking advantage of controls over specific features within ICS systems.  And, they’re also learning the importance of delivery,” Ms. Chickowski wrote.  “Adversaries also demonstrated the understanding that many of the control systems out there today, are at least hidden behind one firewall, one logical segmentation,” he said.  “They came to the same thinking about that; and, figuring how do I focus on what, not necessarily payload — but, delivery.  How do I get in to where I want to be?  And, the number one thing we say is they focus on the ICS trusted relationships.”

     “As a result, there’s increased level of phishing attacks against production engineers, and those on the plant floor area, as well as watering hole attacks, against sites for information for ICS engineers. Even scarier, they;re starting to trojanize ICS files, and components — that are available for updating firmware, and finding ways to replace them in the supply chain — in order to get malware over the firewall, and into production environments.”

     None of this is really surprising.  The adversary is learning and adapting in this high stakes cyber game of breach and steal or degrade/destroy.  I also wonder if the technique of ‘trojanizing’ ICS files and components, and finding a way to replace them with their own, infected components — is a technique that Edward Snowden exposed in his reckless release of our sensitive sources and methods of intelligence collection.  Where, and how all this ends, is anyone’s guess.  V/R, RCP 


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