Thursday, 1 December 2016

Cyber Security Roundup for November 2016

Several major UK household brands made the headlines for wrong reasons following cyber attacks in October. Tesco Bank refunded £2.5 million to over 20,000 of its customers after Tesco Bank account credentials were hacked and account funds were stolen. Mobile giant ‘Three’ said 6 million of its customer’s personal data records could be at risk after hundreds of new mobile phones were stolen following the hack of a Three employee account. The National Lottery disclosed 26,500 of its online customer accounts had been accessed by hackers, leading to three arrests. Elsewhere a 17 year old pleaded guilty to taking part in the recent TalkTalk hack.

The next evolution of ransomware has arrived with a new variant called Ransoc, and it's pretty nasty. The malware scans internet history, social media accounts, Skype and photos, and then uses any found illegal, embarrassing and sensitive information to threaten the victim’s reputation should a payment not be sent. 

It turns out locked computer desktops aren’t as safe as you might think after a security researcher Samy Kamar released details of new attacking method called PoisonTap. Samy is famous for hacking MySpace with a worm way back in the day, I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago - An Evening with Samy, creator of the Samy MySpace Worm. In simple terms PoisonTap works by plugging a £4 Raspberry Pi Zero computer configured with hacking tools into a USB port, forcing the USB port to act as a network port, the tool is able to eavesdrop non-encrypted network traffic and steal web sessions from web browser sessions running in the background on PCs and Apple Macs, despite the desktop being locked with password protection. Samy released the source code for PoisonTap on Github, and I intend to create a PoisonTap tool for myself in the next few days.

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Thursday, 17 November 2016

"Hacked Again" by Scott N Schober - Book Review

I have just finished reading the book "Hacked Again" by US CyberSecurity Expert Scott Schober. Along with covering and explaining several recent major hacks, the book provides excellent advice and tips for staying safe from cyber crime. 

What I found particularly interesting was Scott's own account on how he was hacked. As CEO of his own successful Wireless Security company and a popular Cyber Security TV pundit, I imagine Scott's natural instinct would be to not disclose his "been hacked" experience with the world. Scott disregards any potential embarrassment to himself and chooses to explain what exactly happened to him and why, passing on valuable lessons learnt to help others, a brave and noble undertaking I applaud.
What "Hacked Again" is, is a potent reminder that no one is ever safe from the clutches of persistent cyber criminals. But this doesn't mean we should give up trying to be secure, on the contrary, as following the practical advice given in the book significantly reduces your chances of becoming a victim of cybercrime.

Hacked Again is available from Amazon as a Hardback, Paperback, Kindle or an Audiobook.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Stay Safe from Cyber Crime - Top Ten Tips InfoGraphic

Given I am regularly asked to explain cyber attacks and then advise on how to protect against them, particularly to home users of late, I thought I would try my hand at creating a simple InfoGraphic to help. It was a challenge to create due to the limitation to the amount of space for text, which means you can't cover everything and you can't go into much detail. However concise messaging is kind of the point of infographics, especially when using them as awareness tools. 

This InfoGraphic is squarely aimed at the average "home user", it highlights what the bad guys are after, their most popular and most successful attack methods, and then provides 10 tips to help avoid and detect home user cyber attacks, simples.

If this InfoGraphic proves popular I'll create some more, starting with one covering home IoT Security advice, another subject I'm regularly asked about at the moment.


Download full version here

Monday, 7 November 2016

Why a Cyber Attack can cost a Law Firm an Arm and a Leg

Law firms collect, process and store vast amounts of extremely sensitive data about their clients, this when combined with a poor 'people security' culture and a general lack of digital security know-how, is a recipe that leaves legal companies highly vulnerable to cyber attacks. Given the typical large scope and sensitivity of data held by law firms, cyber attacks in the legal industry can be particularly costly affairs to recover from. Often you will read about regulators imposing considerable data breach fines on companies that have been the subject of a cyber attack. Yet the hidden cost of a data breach recovery in using crisis management services, disruption of critical business operations, contractual penalties, bringing in forensic investigators, and engaging a legal counsel, ironic I know, and the loss of client trust often exceeds the financial penalty figures plastered across the headlines.

Emphasising the legal profession's vulnerability to cyber attacks, Logikcull, a provider of automated data discovery and management to the legal sector, have compiled an InfoGraphic of data breach statistics to highlight the issue, and tips to help safeguard data and prevent cyber attacks from being successful.

The Downright Terrifying Cost of Data Breach Infographic

Via logikcull

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Cyber Security Roundup for October 2016

Cyber security experts have long predicted that thousands of vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as internet-connected CCTV systems would be hacked on mass and directed to perform huge DDoS attacks. That’s exactly what happened on 21st October when 152,000 IoT devices infected with malware were remote controlled by hackers and then used to orchestrate a 1Tb DDoS attack, the largest in history. A tsunami of network traffic was directed at a company called Dyn, a major domain name registrar, and it impacted their client’s web services, including Twitter, Yammer, PayPal, Starbucks, The Guardian, PlayStation, Wix, CNN, Spotify, Github, Weebly and Reddit.

Those IoT developers may want to read up on my IoT guidance on the IBM developersWorks website - Combating IoT cyber threats Top security best practices for IoT applications

The UK National Cyber Security Centre HQ went operational, which is part of the UK government's 5 year £1.9 billion cyber defence strategy,  a much-needed investment to help safeguard the UK's digital economy from cyber attacks during these uncertain economic times for the country.

Ransomware continues to cause problems, especially within NHS, but on the flipside the https://www.nomoreransom.org/ website continues to be supported, with site providing excellent advice to both home users and businesses.  I have even added a separate Ransomware Help section on my own website - https://itsecurityexpert.co.uk/en/securityhelp/ransomware-help

A couple of surveys show UK businesses are still struggling to understand what they need to do in order to comply with new strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May 2018 despite brexit. I plan to do a blog post providing business help the GDPR in the coming weeks.

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Thursday, 27 October 2016

How to Protect Against Mobile Malware

IBM Security recently released a white paper on the mobile malware threat, which included general guidance on managing the mobile threat and an overview of IBM’s MaaS360 Mobile Threat Management tool, I thought it was good advice and well worth sharing.


According to Arxan Technologies. 97% and 87%t of the top paid Android and iOS apps, respectively, have been hacked and posted to third-party app stores.
Mobile Security Guidance (by IBM Security)
  • Educate Employees about Application Security: Educate employees about the dangers of downloading third-party applications and the potential dangers that can result from weak device permissioning.
  • Protect BYOD devices: Apply enterprise mobility management capabilities to enable employees to use their own devices while maintaining organisational security.
  • Permit Employees to download from Authorised App Stores Only: Allow employees to download applications solely from authorised application stores, such as Google Play, the Apple App Store and your organisation’s app store, if applicable.
  • Act Quickly when a Device is Compromised: Set automated policies on SmartPhones and tablets that take automatic action if a device is found compromised or malicious apps are discovered. This approach protects your organisation’s data while the issue is remediated.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Cyber Security Roundup for September 2016

The theft of over half a billion Yahoo user accounts by hackers has dominated the news headlines in the last couple of weeks. Since announcing the largest hack in history, Yahoo has come in for heavy criticism, given it took two years for Yahoo to notice the massive data theft, talk of lacklustre security behind the scenes at the company, and doubts over Yahoo’s claims the cyber attack was state-sponsored. Lawyers representing users, the US Senate and the UK ICO have all lined up to take pop-shots at Yahoo and are threatening action.  I posted known Yahoo hack information and advice, and Yahoo hack industry analysis

Interesting example of Hacktivism after a Russian group called "Fancy Bears" hacked and released the World Anti-Doping Agency medical records of prominent British and American Olympic athletes. The motivate appears to be a revenge protest aimed at causing embarrassment to medal winning Western athletes following the banning of several Russian athletes at the recent Rio Olympic games for banned sport enhancing drug use. The posted stolen records showed western athletes had taken a variety of banned drugs for legitimate reasons and conditions, which all were approved by the Anti-Doping Agency. Fascinating case for both athletics and data protection worlds, as even athletes in the public eye still have a right to privacy, especially when it concerns information about any medical conditions they have.

UK payment card fraud has risen by 53% over the last 12 months. The shock increase was blamed on scammers using more sophisticated attack methods. This spike in payment card fraud certainly would have been noted by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), as it gears up to launching next month. The NCSC is part of the UK government’s £1.9 billion investment plan to beef up the UK’s cyber security capabilities over the next 5 years.

There is an interesting video webinar posted this month, which reviews the $81 million SWIFT Bank Hack by the company that investigated it. It concludes with the SWIFT Bank investigators firmly pointing the finger of blame at weak endpoint security at the bank. Elsewhere the Locky Ransomware continues to be evolved by hackers seeking to make their fortune out of the nefarious tool.

On Tuesday 27th September I spoke at the R3 Summit (Resilience, Response and Recovery) in London, and summarised my advised approach with cyber incident management in a blog post the following day - Cyber Security Incident Management, Response and Recovery Guidance

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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Cyber Security Incident Management, Response and Recovery Guidance

Yesterday I spoke at the R3 Summit (Resilience, Response and Recovery) in London, on the topic of Cyber Security Incident Management and response. Given the Q & A and the ensuing discussion after my talk, the attendees were particularly interested in my views on incident containment ahead of recovery. Below is a summary of what I said.

Step 1: Incident Management Planning and Preparation
The most crucial part of incident management is the preparation, it is important to always consider cyber security incidents as a ‘When’ not an ‘If’ as you plan ahead. So here’s my ‘brain dump’ of an incident management planning strategy:

  • A company Cyber Security Incident Management Policy
    • It must define what the company (aka the board) consider as a cyber security incident
  • Cyber Security Incident notification communications channel or even better a reporting application/system
    • Upon identifying an incident who do staff notify (the incident management team)
    • Staff awareness of how to detect and report incidents is a key element.
  • Verify the ability to detect incidents, not just IT system alerts, but human side (staff)
  • Document the Incident Management Team and Response Plan
  • Incident Management Team
    • A pool of contacts with responsibility or expertise covering every possible type and aspect of a cyber security incident
    • An Incident Management Team will be assembled based on what’s required for specific cyber security incident types
      • Note. Every team member must play an active part or not be in the team
    • Communication plan i.e. document team member phone numbers and a have dedicated incident management telephone conference call line
      • Do not rely on computer IT systems like email (what if they are taken down)
    • Tools (forensics) and an ability to IT access systems and logs (to investigate and obtain incident facts)
  • Business Risk Assessment
    • The business critical services must be risk assessed, so the business impact of any incident can be known and understood by the incident management team
  • Cyber Threat Assessment
    • Performing a cyber threat assessment against critical business services, aside from possible risk mitigation, threat assessing enables various cyber attack scenarios to be documented and incident response planned for and tested. Threat assessments can play a key role in helping the cyber security incident management teams prepare for incidents.
  • Test the Cyber Security Incident Management Plan regularly. (at the very least annually)
    • Use different attack / breach scenarios
  • Always keep Incident Management Team documentation up to date (at least a quarterly review of documentation)
Step 2: Incident Identification
Upon initially identifying a cyber security incident, the very first question to answer is; what is the actual or potential business impact of the incident? On the face of it this can be a difficult question to answer, as the facts tend to be rather scant upon initial incident identification. However, the worse case scenario, the potential business impact, must be regarded as the actual business impact until facts are presented, through incident investigation, to prove otherwise. For example, take an online database holding 10,000 user accounts, in the space of a few hours, 20 users report via the company helpdesk that their accounts have been hacked into. Without further facts it should be assumed the entire database, all 10,000 user accounts, are compromised. This should remain the case until further facts are established to disprove which accounts have been and not been compromised. Cyber security incident investigations can take weeks to complete, and may never reach a conclusive finding on the scope of IT system or data compromise, in which case the worst case scenario must remain adopted.

Step 3: Incident Containment
Once the actual or potential business impact is understood, the next thought should be to contain the incident. The objective of containment is to limit the business impact of an incident. This is where the preparation work and the identification stage in knowing the business impact comes into play, if the potential cost and reputational damage caused by an incident, is greater than taking down business services over a period of time, then the correct business decision is to pull the plug on the service. So incident recovery may have to take a back seat for a while in order to protect the business’s overall interests. If this means pulling a plug on a busy ecommerce website, or downing an entire company network, if this course of action is the lesser of the two evils in terms of business impact, it is always the correct decision to take. Judging the business impact in knowing how long business systems need to remain down depends on Step 4.

Step 4: Incident Investigation and Forensics
As most cyber security incidents involve law breaking, whether external hackers or internal disgruntled staff, your servers and infrastructure must to be regarded as a crime scene, and so processed accordingly. There is always forensic data to collect, which may hold vital clues to the incident cause and scope, often these data clues are volatile, and can be lost if not collected quickly and correctly. Therefore any investigation and forensics work must be performed by an appropriate qualified internal or third party, while ensuring there is a legal ‘chain of custody’, in case either criminal or civil action occurs down the line. The amount of time to engage and complete computer forensic investigations can be significantly reduced, if you plan for them as part of the incident management preparation (step 1). If you do not have any qualified resource within your organisation, I recommend arranging to have a third party provided external computer forensic investigator on a retainer; typically they will provide a 4 hour call out response time.

Aside from the potential court room battles, the other primary reason to perform a proper forensic investigation is to establish the facts of an incident occurred. Without knowing the detailed facts of just how the breach occurred, you cannot know whether restored systems (step 5) will be still vulnerable or not. For example if you intend to restore systems from a backup, how do you know which backup is compromised or still vulnerable? It is imperative you know exactly when and how a cyber security incident occurred before engaging a recovery process, as in repeating an incident. there can be significant business impact, especially reputationally.

Step 5: Incident Recovery
Only once the facts of the incident are fully known, can you ensure eradication of the incident vulnerabilities and/or malware, and confidently recover systems and business services.

Step 6: Learning the Lessons
The final stage of cyber security incident management, and arguably the second most important step after the incident management preparation, is ensuring the business learns lessons from incidents. This is a healthy way to improve the business security posture, and there is nothing worse than repeating an incident.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Yahoo Megabreach Industry Analysis

Today I received several interesting cyber security expert views on the Yahoo breach following my blog post yesterday - Yahoo, The Largest Data Breach in History...so far, 

Broken Security Model?
Paul German, VP EMEA at Certes, a specialist in cyber security and encryption, believes the Yahoo hackers were able to steal such vast amounts of account data due to a problem with the cyber security model of 'Protect, Detect and React'. Specifically the time in detecting the protection had been overcome. In Yahoo's case this time lag appears to be months and possibly even years, which allowed the hackers plenty of time to scout around the inside network undetected and extract such huge amounts of data out. To counter this lag, Paul suggests any potential hacker access to the data should be contained, I'm guessing by cranking down on data access control. Here's his full comments below.

“The problem lies in the face that once hackers cross a company’s carefully laid out cyber defences, the network, and the treasure trove of data within it, is their oyster. Moving laterally, they are able to siphon off huge swathes of valuable information difficulty until they are detected, often months after the initial breach.

“The problem lies in the current cyber security model which takes a, ‘protect’, ‘detect’, ‘react’ approach. There is a significant lag between the protection being sidestepped and the criminal being detected. Currently this leaves a hacker free rummage through a company’s most sensitive data, wreaking havoc. There is a fundamental step missing – at whatever point a hacker enters a network they must be contained, restricting the data they can access and the damage they can inflict before they are detected.  

“Most businesses now see a security breach as a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if’ situation, and it is vital that they take steps limit the damage and protect the data of thousands, if not millions of consumers.” Paul German, VP EMEA at Certes.

I think Paul raises a fair point on breach containment, but that is easier said than done in reality, as information is typically a lifeblood of business services, so needs flow and be accessible by the business systems and customers, so can be difficult to restrict within its trusted zone. I do agree Paul's view that a security breach should be regarded as a 'when' not an 'if', business should have a proven incident management plan which reflects that.

In better detecting security breaches, businesses should invest more in a combination of technology, business management processes (i.e. risk & cyber threat assessments) and staff awareness to improve breach detection capabilities. In addition investing in an external cyber threat intelligence service adds another string to the data breach detect bow, with such services able to spot when cyber criminals peddle stolen company data on the dark web. Remember it is believed Yahoo first learnt of their data breach following reports of a hacker trying to sell 200M Yahoo accounts on the dark web, which is said to have sparked their investigations.

Jamie Graves Ph.D, co- founder and CEO of Cyber Security company, ZoneFox.com, focused on the sophistication of the attack, given Yahoo's claim that it was compromised by a nation state.

A National State Attack?
“Yahoo claims that it was compromised be a nation state, which means that a hacking team with the resources of a government had penetrated their defences. This type of attack is often difficult to defend against, and a number of other well defended organisations have fallen victim to this type of attack."

“Although the size of the breach is staggering, what has stunned the industry most is the fact that it has taken Yahoo 2 years to disclose. In this time, a great deal of additional harm will have occurred to the comprised accounts ranging from account hijacking through to identity theft and fraud. 

“The Yahoo attack highlights the reason why good detection capabilities, aligned with laws that force this form of disclosure in a short period, such as the GDPR, are crucial to help protect personal information. Furthermore, organisations must not only have rigorous Cyber Security measures in place but also a disaster recovery plan to respond immediately to a breach if the, sometimes, inevitable occurs.” Jamie Graves Ph.D, co- founder and CEO of Cyber Security companyZoneFox.com.

I am yet to be convinced this data theft was conducted by a nation state, and here's why. Nation state email account attacks tend to be targetted to email accounts, not entire email accounts on mass, and the fact that a large chunk of the Yahoo stolen email account data was attempted to be sold on the dark web doesn't fit the nation state MO either, but hacker(s) trying to monetise from the attack. 

There have been countless occasions where companies blamed data breaches on highly cyber sophisticated attacks by teams of super hackers, for it to be later confirmed as being conducted by a schoolkid script kiddie taking advantage of 12 year SQL injection vulnerability. The TalkTalk breach PR comes to mind in this regard. I have no reason to think Yahoo's security posture is poor, but without them explaining the attack methodology and presenting evidence to back up their nation-state attack claim, and there should always be evidence if they are decent at security, I will remain highly sceptical of the nation state claim.