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Employees invite cyber threats

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Cyber criminals are are turning more to connections inadvertently opened up by unsuspecting employees, making it more difficult for IT departments to control security, says ANDREW WILSON, CEO at LucidView.

In today’s always-connected world, companies face a new wave of threats as cybercrime continues to escalate. Cyber security is becoming more challenging as businesses are having a tough time trying to address growing threats while maintaining focus on their core business.  These evolving threats are more and more frequently external cyber criminals using connections inadvertently created  from within the organisation by unsuspecting users.  These criminals then piggy back off the connection to gain remote access into the organisation, circumventing the organisation’s Firewall Policy, thereby placing the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the organisation’s data  at extreme risk.

Most cyber breaches occur as a result of employee behaviour and all it takes to compromise an organisation’s network security is one employee.  One accidental malware download from playing an online game or clicking a phishing link and all of the organisation’s databases containing sensitive customer data could be at risk of encryption by external ransomware attackers. These criminals more often than not, are in locations where there are no consequences to their activity aside from their own profit and causing embarrassment to the organisation.

Visibility as a key threat intelligence tool

Without the ability to have a meaningful view of your organisations network traffic it is impossible to identify suspect connections into and out of an organisation’s network.  Employees frequently and unintentionally open the organisation to external risks by misusing and often abusing the Internet resources, going as far as to use these resources to download their favourite series and movies from torrenting sites.

The lack of meaningful visibility leads to huge potential security risks, impacts the performance of this key resource and results in  a loss of productivity to the organisation. The Internet is a shared resource and its misuse and abuse negatively impacts the performance of business-critical applications increasing risk to the overall functioning of the organisation. Yet, how can this be identified and managed without massive expense and skilled technical resources?

It’s time for businesses to take charge of their shared resources by gaining visibility and insight into its usage in order to manage resource performance, enhance employee productivity and maintain security integrity by reducing external threats brought into the organisation using internal sources, thus rendering firewall policies ineffective. To combat both external and internal risks requires a holistic approach to security, as well as the right technological tools to help businesses to manage both intentional and unintentional threats within the organisation itself.

The risky business of connectivity

Most cyber-attacks happen in order to steal confidential information through the use of malware like worms, Trojan horse viruses and phishing. Businesses are targets for cyber intruders for the simple reason that they hold valuable customer information. This personal information has a price tag, and stealing data (or even holding it ransom) is the perfect crime without consequence. In addition, we are seeing more and more cases reported in the media which means the number of companies being hit by this type of threat is likely significant and growing daily. These type of threats including Malware and Phishing are most frequently brought into the network inadvertently by users or employees accessing software through the web, allowing malicious attackers access to the internal network without their knowledge.

Because the employee acted in such a way that sensitive data was compromised and whether or not this was accidental, the effect is the same – your organisation’s security is now compromised. The organisation is now at risk of contravening laws such as piracy, business critical applications become unavailable due to slow response times and performance issues are brought about by users abusing the Internet. Worse still, your organisation’s sensitive data is now threatened by malicious cybercriminals who can hold it to ransom, costing you money and compromising your reputation.

It’s time for meaningful visibility

With so many threats businesses are faced with today, it’s tempting to panic and feel the need to block employees from using the Internet to access anything that isn’t work-related. However, that is not the solution. Business is highly dependent on the Internet, email and Wide Area Networks (WAN). Instead, companies should leverage the advantage of companies specialising in Big Data analysis  and Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions where emphasis is placed on visibility.  This is particularly relevant when it comes to identifying connection types, rather than those solutions that focus only on blocking types of content or certain activities based on known signatures and standard lists. Companies should look towards solutions that provide threat intelligence through visibility at a network router level on unsecure or unwanted connections, in order to monitor and provide reporting on network resources and their usage.

Simple solutions to complex problems

Fortunately, businesses don’t have to go it alone as there are already technology providers out there that can proactively identify threats and block them – before they have a chance to do damage. Such services are subscription-based and deliver easy-to-understand reporting functionality. Inexpensive and uncomplicated, all that is required to make use of such services is basic easy to access and easy to use hardware that is compatible with certain analytics software. This analytics software makes use of an analysis engine to crunch big data numbers and sift through network activity and connectivity logs for anomalies, identifying all the cyber threats that businesses would want to avoid: from malware, ransomware,  phishing attempts and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks to engagement with explicit, illegal and pirated content. Once these threats have been identified, they can be neutralised and removed.

Such technology is a total game changer, as it empowers the Chief Information Officer (CIO) with all the tools needed to monitor network traffic and establish whether employees are abusing network resources and ascertain the impact of such abuse on productivity. It also allows CIOs to maintain an open Internet policy, as well as accommodate employee demands to bring their own devices, without having to compromise on security, network resource and application performance or employee productivity. It’s clear that it’s time for businesses to stop over-complicating the issue of cyber security and gain proper visibility of their risks. When businesses have a meaningful view of their Internet gateways and the right technology in place, they’re able to see the threats before they materialise and that can make all the difference.

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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