As a new generation of cyber threats emerges, a new breed of cyber security defenders is emerging. They don’t wait for enemies to strike, but go looking for them, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Meet Alex and Andy. They are young, clean-cut and casually dressed men who may not draw a second glance if you bump into them in public. Behind closed doors, however, they are the information age’s equivalent of fearsome warriors. They are called threat hunters.
No, they are not super-heroes. Although they are heroes to some organisations.
Five years ago, the job description didn’t even exist. Back then, security experts waited for the hackers to strike, then rushed around repairing the damage, fixing the holes and, just maybe, chasing down the bad guys.
But that’s not good enough today. As hackers become more sophisticated in both their methods and their tools, and the stakes get higher in lost data and massive financial fraud, the security industry also has to evolve.
Alex and Andy represent the cutting edge of this evolution. In an age of heavy reliance on algorithms and artificial intelligence to predict and block standard threats, it turns out that human intuition is far more powerful in spotting unusual and new kinds of attack.
They work in Johannesburg for a global cyber security consultancy called MWR InfoSecurity, which develops tailored security solutiosn for clients that range from governments to corporations.
Their boss, Jacques Louw, MWR director and head of Cyber Defence, describes threat hunting as a technique that “focuses on the human elements in attack detection”. In this environment, he says, “one cannot have automated threat hunting”.
He uses the evolution of physical home security as an analogy for the growing need for a new kind of approach.
“We’ve seen in the last decade or so that, ultimately, you cannot prevent attackers from climbing over your walls no matter how high you build them; they always seem to find a higher ladder. So the focus has really been towards detection and response for when they do manage to get over. In this regard, detection is critical – if you don’t see the intruder, then the armed response never arrives, whereas if you have too many false alarms, the armed response will stop showing up.”
Add the fact that organised crime syndicates are now targeting major corporations, and state sponsored teams are going after national governments, the challenge becomes even more complex. Enter a new kind of detection.
“Detecting attacks is not a new idea,” says Louw. “In fact it’s been around for many years, comprising automated systems like anti-virus and intrusion detection or prevention systems. Think of them as anti-virus for a network traffic.
“Such systems were originally built to deal with viruses or malicious software or malware that was self-propagating – which means it spreads on its own in an automated way. After the malware is created, it acts automatically, executing the tasks it was initially programmed to do.
“Traditional anti-virus works by analysing a piece of malware, creating a signature for it and adding it to a database – similar to that of a book of criminal records. The anti-virus then checks each new program on a system against these records, and alerts you when it finds one with features similar to that of one of the records.
“Unfortunately, the first problem here is that you need to discover a piece of malware before you can create a signature for it, so it has to succeed in attacking someone first before a signature can exist. Moreover, it is quite easy for a programmer to change what the malware looks like – while still having the malware do the same thing. So changing features, but not behaviour.”
A key reason traditional security is no longer enough is that the threat has evolved from the equivalent of a property invasion to something far more elaborate.
Louw compares a modern corporate network to a large city, with multiple roads in and out and many thousands of everyday people performing many different activities across the city.
“In this analogy, a signature-based system is similar to a simplistic robot that walks around the city, trying to match faces of people he sees to a photo in the mugshot book. In contrast, threat hunting is like a human policeman that can actually spot bad behaviour, not because each bad activity has been strictly defined and given to him on a long list, but rather because he can use his experience, knowledge of the law and judgement to make a call on some behaviour that has never been seen before.”
An example is a form of malware that operates not like a virus spreading through the system, but like a hole in the system. Appropriately called RATS, for Remote Access Trojans, these are “exploits” that can easily be altered slightly to bypass anti-virus every time they are used.
“The attacker only needs to find a single entry-point to compromise an organisation, so the defender must defend all systems perfectly all the time to be secure,” says Louw. This concept is known in security as “the defender’s dilemma”
“In threat hunting, one of the ways we are responding to this dilemma is by using a judo-like technique called the anomaly analysis, where we can turn the attackers greatest advantage into a disadvantage. Instead of looking for something bad on a large network of systems, we look for something that is different and investigate it accordingly.
“If the attacker attacks a system on the network, that system will appear different to all of the other systems in some way – allowing the attack to be detected even if we don’t have a signature for exactly what the attacker is doing. This may sound simple, but you can easily recognise that certain differences are more interesting than others and that is where human skill comes into play.
“You can have automated systems gathering data from all systems, collecting network traffic and pulling in logs from systems. Ultimately, however, you need a human to drive the analysis.”
Now download a bank account
Absa has introduced an end-to-end account opening for new customers, through the Absa Banking App, which can be downloaded from the Android and Apple app stores. This follows the launch of the world first ChatBanking on WhatsApp service.
This “download your account” feature enables new customers to Absa, to open a Cheque account, order their card and start transacting on the Absa Banking App, all within minutes, from anywhere and at any time, by downloading it from the App stores.
“Overall, this new capability is not only expected to enhance the customer’s digital experience, but we expect to leverage this in our branches, bringing digital experiences to the branch environment and making it easier for our customers to join and bank with us regardless of where they may be,” says Aupa Monyatsi, Managing Executive for Virtual Channels at Absa Retail & Business Banking.
“With this innovation comes the need to ensure that the security of our customers is at the heart of our digital experience, this is why the digital onboarding experience for this feature includes a high-quality facial matching check with the Department of Home Affairs to verify the customer’s identity, ensuring that we have the most up to date information of our clients. Security is supremely important for us.”
The new version of the Absa Banking App is now available in the Apple and Android App stores, and anyone with a South African ID can become an Absa customer, by following these simple steps:
- Download the Absa App
- Choose the account you would like to open
- Tell us who you are
- To keep you safe, we will verify your cell phone number
- Take a selfie, and we will do facial matching with the Department of Home Affairs to confirm you are who you say you are
- Tell us where you live
- Let us know what you do for a living and your income
- Click Apply.
How we use phones to avoid human contact
A recent study by Kaspersky Lab has found that 75% of people pick up their connected device to avoid conversing with another human being.
Connected devices are becoming essential to keeping people in contact with each other, but for many they are also a much-needed comfort blanket in a variety of social situations when they do not want to interact with others. A recent survey from Kaspersky Lab has confirmed this trend in behaviour after three-quarters of people (75%) admitted they use a device to pretend to be busy when they don’t want to talk to someone else, showing the importance of keeping connected devices protected under all circumstances.
Imagine you’ve arrived at a bar and you’re waiting for your date. The bar is busy, and people are chatting all around you. What do you do now? Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know? Grab your phone from your pocket or handbag until your date arrives to keep yourself busy? Why talk to humans or even make eye-contact with someone else when you can stare at your connected device instead?
The truth is, our use of devices is making it much easier to avoid small talk or even be polite to those around us, and new Kaspersky Lab research has found that 72% of people use one when they do not know what to do in a social situation. They are also the ‘go-to’ distraction for people even when they aren’t trying to look busy or avoid someone’s eye. 46% of people admit to using a device just to kill time every day and 44% use it as a daily distraction.
In addition to just being a distraction, devices are also a lifeline to those who would rather not talk directly to another person in day-to-day situations, to complete essential tasks. In fact, nearly a third (31%) of people would prefer to carry out tasks such as ordering a taxi or finding directions to where they need to go via a website and an app, because they find it an easier experience than speaking with another person.
Whether they are helping us avoid direct contact or filling a void in our daily lives, our constant reliance on devices has become a cause for panic when they become unusable. A third (34%) of people worry that they will not be able to entertain themselves if they cannot access a connected device. 12% are even concerned that they won’t be able to pretend to be busy if their device is out of action.
Dmitry Aleshin, VP for Product Marketing, Kaspersky Lab said, “The reliance on connected devices is impacting us in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is no doubt that being connected gives us the freedom to make modern life easier, but devices are also vital to help people get through different and difficult social situations. No matter what your ‘connection crutch’ is, it is essential to make sure your device is online and available when you need it most.”
To ensure your device lifeline is always there and in top health – no matter what the reason or situation – Kaspersky Security Cloud keeps your connection safe and secure:
· I want to use my device while waiting for a friend – is it secure to access the bar’s Wi-Fi?
With Kaspersky Security Cloud, devices are protected against network threats, even if the user needs to use insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is done through transferring data via an encrypted channel to ensure personal data safety, so users’ devices are protected on any connection.
· Oh no! I’m bored but my phone’s battery is getting low – what am I going to do?
Users can track their battery level thanks to a countdown of how many minutes are left until their device shuts down in the Kaspersky Security Cloud interface. There is also a wide-range of portable power supplies available to keep device batteries charged while on-the-go.
· I’ve lost my phone! How will I keep myself entertained now?
Should the unthinkable happen and you lose or have your phone stolen, Kaspersky Security Cloud can track and protect your device from data breaches, for complete peace of mind. Remote lock and locate features ensure your device remains secure until you are reunited.