I made a call, the customer said no, but I loved it

 

We have been doing our cloud security blog now for a couple of weeks and decided to start to speak directly to some of the contacts who had been reading the blogs. I spoke to one contact from the legal sector (who shall remain nameless) who gave some very interesting feedback.

 

The bad news is that the call did not end up in a sale or a trial of the software, and they didn’t want to meet with us or try out any of our services so there is no fairy tale ending here.

 

What was more interesting was that the customer said about Umbrella cloud security and his current IT partner.

 

On the subject of Cisco Umbrella, he said they had been using it for over a year now and “it was absolutely brilliant”. The ability to automatically block bad domains and to investigate suspected threats was extremely good and he was very happy that they had decided to deploy the product.
Furthermore, he said it was introduced to him by their IT provider whom they have worked with for nearly 10 years now. He said it was a very strong partnership where they had offered an exceptional quality of service, they weren’t the cheapest but it would just be silly for them to look elsewhere at this stage because you get what you pay for and they certainly were getting very good value for money. He felt it would be silly of them to be looking to change under such circumstances. I said to him I hoped my customers felt the same way about the service we provide as we certainly strive to differentiate ourselves in this way. He thanked me for the call and we went t our separate ways.

 

Wow this is what I have been banging on about for what seems a lifetime, it’s not about being the cheapest or biggest, but rather about providing good value for money.

 

What was even more satisfying is the fact that he appreciated what we had been writing about in terms of cloud security and the importance of DNS security. He was totally happy with the Umbrella product and now couldn’t see them operating without it.

 

So I am really happy that though this customer said no to us, they endorsed what we believe and what we have been banging the drum about.

 

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Block 82% of cyber threats before they get you: How to secure the cloud

Cloud Security DNS

In our previous blogs, we looked at the changing IT landscape and how cyber security protection needs to change to meet the new challenges and cyber threats.

 

  • We know that cloud adoption in the form of SaaS is pervasive.
  • Remote working is the norm providing increased flexibility, costs savings, higher productivity and generally a happier workforce.
  • More power is being devolved to branch locations as they contribute more to an organisation’s success.
  • Branches need more speed and direct internet access to more efficiently support the adoption of cloud.
  • IoT connectivity is growing apace as is mobile device connectivity which is outpacing fixed devices.
  • Cyber threats are increasing in scale and sophistication and we have experienced a number of attacks on a global scale, this trend is likely to increase and accelerate.

 

The rapidly changing IT landscape characterizes a new era of digitisation where IT adoption and automation of business processes is happening at a scale rarely seen before. The changes are bringing about a paradigm shift in our approach to providing cyber security where we need to essentially provide continuous, pervasive protection for known and unknown threats. As we continue in this series we discuss some technological approaches to delivering pervasive cloud centric security.

 

Securing DNS

We are aware of the pivotal role of DNS in getting us connected to literally any service we need to access, whether via email, web or a bespoke application. DNS is a service we always make use of. So how can securing a simple background process like DNS have a dramatic effect on an organisation’s cyber security posture?

 

DNS security can act as a form of perimeter security where the perimeter is pushed back to the source of the cyber threat. So the threat is initially blocked at the source or its point of origin. How this works is that the DNS points to a secure DNS service with up to date threat domain intelligence and machine learning that discovers and protects against emerging threats. Remember that 100% of organisations interact with known malware domains. Securing DNS will instantly block these connections as they are requested, as well as blocking future domains that have been identified as malware hosts.

 

If a previously infected device connects to the network or service, secure DNS will block the command and control call back to the malware domain and notify the security team.

 

This level of security is highly scalable in that it can be provided for an individual roaming client, a branch site or the organisation’s principle location.

 

Another useful feature is the ability to track normal behaviour for your organisation in terms of the rate and volume of requests over time. Anomalous behaviour can then be detected by comparing significant changes in normal behaviour.

 

A secure DNS solution will also provide detailed information about the malware domain such as IP addresses, associated domains and attacks associated with these domains. A robust, secure DNS solution could also provide a data feed into other security components in the organisation, thus sharing security updates that can be actioned elsewhere in the security stack.

 

In our next blog, we will take a look at how SaaS applications can be used in conjunction with secure DNS.

 

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We are offering a 14 day trial of Cisco Umbrella, the industry’s first Secure Internet Gateway in the cloud.

Cisco Umbrella provides the first line of defence against threats on the internet. Because Umbrella is delivered from the cloud, it is the easiest way to protect all of your users in minutes.

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Want a Quick Win? Secure your DNS

 

Ransomware is currently the number one form of cyber attack due to its profitability and simplicity in execution. It is now evolving as a business model where any ‘Joe Bloggs’ can buy ransomware code for a monthly fee – ransomware as a service. Ransomware thrives partly because of bitcoin and the associated anonymity of attackers who get paid via an untraceable cryptocurrency transaction. The stages of a typical ransomware attack include;

 

  • Stage 1 – Infection

Ransomware always starts with some host infection of malware via phishing attacks, or a website hosting malware

 

  • Stage 2 – Command and control setup stage

This handles the key exchange process to encrypt the files on the infected host

 

  • Stage 3 – Extortion stage

Payment of the ransom and then ‘hopefully’ getting the key to decrypt the encrypted files.

 

Ransomware is constantly evolving and not being breached yet is no guarantee that it won’t happen in the future.

 

Many organisations are using hope and anonymity as a risk mitigation strategy against ransomware – assuming they are small and have not been attacked yet. The fact is that the supply chain is now an increasing focus of malware attacks as a means of accessing valuable data through the back door of larger enterprises.

 

 

Anti-Ransomware Best Practices

 

As with every effective security approach you need a policy and a risk assessment of the threats so this is a given before we get into the type of approach and solutions that need to be in place. Please see some of our previous blogs or check out the NCSC website for some invaluable resource.

 

Phishing can be very sophisticated making it hard to tell if a link is bad or not. Effective protection cannot rely solely on end users, it must be engineered into the system with the right protection mechanisms correctly configured.

 

To start off with you need good anti-spam, anti-phishing and web controls to control the Internet traffic, this could be incorporated into a good endpoint protection solution. Use an email and malware analysis gateway to inspect executables for malware. The gateway should be configured to block files if there is any doubt about it’s authenticity. It is better to stop/delay web downloads so that they can be inspected and properly classified than to run the risk of infection.

 

78% of attacks exploit phishing so it is a good thing to correlate known exploits to the vulnerabilities in your organisation and prioritise patching based on known exploits.

Use network analysis and visibility tools to analyse traffic on the network so you can see what is changing and be alerted to abnormal behaviour.

 

If you do get infected, have effective Backup and DR policies and processes, and ensure that the recovery procedure has been tested and works.

 

DNS Security is the Quick Win

 

92% of cyber attacks make use of DNS at some stage or another through the execution of the attack. DNS is therefore the greatest opportunity to secure your network while having an immediate impact.

 

What if your systems know that a website url a client is trying to access via DNS resolution is a bad site, hosting malware. You could just block it and prevent any interaction with the malware in the first place. This form of protection can be immediate with no impact on client or application performance.

 

A web based infection is usually a 2 step process –  which redirects your web browser to another domain created using an exploit kit which finds a vulnerability in say Flash or Silverlight. The malware will then do a command and control (CnC) call back using DNS resolution to get an encryption key. Until the CnC connection happens there is no damage created.

 

Analysis has shown that most ransomware does a DNS call back, ransomware payment notification also uses DNS. The ability therefore to block a malware connection via DNS security at one or another step of the malware execution process can therefore prove to be the most effective way to implement malware protection.

 

An effective DNS security protection control can have the ability to identify the endpoints attempting the malware connection and therefore feed into the clean-up and mitigation plan.

 

An important service in addition to the above is the ability to query domains and file hashes from a central intelligence platform that has up to the  minute data on the bad domains so that your security incident response team has the ability to conduct intelligent investigations independently of any infections. For instance if you keep doing a DNS query for a site in Russia and you don’t have any business relationship in Russia, that’s something that you should query.

 

Another challenge is the decentralised nature of organisations due to remote working and the increasing importance of branch offices. Mobile devices such as laptops are the primary devices where user changes could compromise security. Around 80% of remote workers disable their VPNs when they browse the web. A DNS based security mechanism can help to maintain the security posture where these remote workers able to still make use of this form of protection even when they disable their VPNs. DNS security can protect any device including IoT, guest devices and roaming clients.

 

Correct implementation of DNS security could make it the first line of defence even before a connection is established by checking the DNS request and blocking bad sites. This will help the IT teams by freeing them up from a large number of alerts that would be generated if the malware had been downloaded.

DNS Security – The Forgotten Lynchpin

 

So it’s all happening in the cloud. Wholesale adoption of cloud services is now a business imperative as the opportunities and benefits of SaaS become ever clearer.

Here are some numbers though that tell us not only what’s happening but also some concerns that we need to have at the forefront of our minds.

  • 82% of mobile workers admit they always turn off their VPN
  • 15% of command and control threats evades web security
  • 60% of attackers penetrate an organisation in minutes and steal data in hours
  • 100 days is the average detection time for an attack
  • 100% of networks interact with malware sites
  • 92% of attacks make use of DNS

Clearly, there is a wide range of threats that organisations need to address in crafting and implementing an effective approach to cyber security. One area that has and is receiving very little attention is the area of DNS.

DNS is the most ubiquitous protocol on the Internet and is deployed in literally every connection that takes place whether surfing a website, watching youtube videos or accessing corporate cloud applications. This ubiquitous use of DNS means that it is also involved in some very undesirable connections to sites like malware sites, known bad sites, command and control centres etc. Other attacks have involved data exfiltration in packets disguised as DNS.

The fact that DNS is involved in around 92% of web attacks strongly suggests that it is an area that is worthy of further efforts in the fight against cyber attacks. DNS is one of those protocols that just works in the background like a utility and as long as resolution is working then no one pays attention to it. DNS is a lynch pin, if it doesn’t work then most applications will stop working and the IT services will grind to a halt. It is vital therefore that DNS gets more prominence and is monitored and secured to ensure continued running of services.

 

Tackling DNS Security 

DNS should be elevated from a connectivity item to a network security component vital to the operation of the organisations IT. DNS monitoring and the implementation of an active security policy that cannot be circumvented by staff can have untold security benefits. Such an approach could be used to block malware and phishing attacks in real time as opposed to after the event. Also, the use of DNS to resolve requests for known malware sites could also prevent attacks before they happen. The DNS controls could hold a regularly updated list of known malware sites and block devices from accessing these sites. Active monitoring could also provide valuable information about whose machine has been compromised and where they are connecting from.

DNS monitoring can also provide a baseline of what normal behaviour looks like for your organisation. Anomalous behaviour is, therefore, easier to detect and acted on. A number of high profiles sites such as Tesla, that have been hacked could have been prevented if the DNS records were being monitored and these organisations were then able to detect and block changes to their DNS records.

Visibility of who is connecting to what site is also a great benefit of DNS monitoring. The explosive growth of IoT devices poses significant threats if they are not properly secured. DNS security could play a vital role by enforcing policy e.g. if the CCTV network should be blocked from Internet access, DNS security controls could prevent these devices being used as a backdoor that could be used for malware propagation or data exfiltration.

Failing to monitor and control DNS is a lost opportunity not only to secure your organisation’s network but also to gain visibility into who is doing what.