Welcome!

Microsoft Cloud Authors: Stackify Blog, Liz McMillan, David H Deans, Automic Blog, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Industrial IoT, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud, Machine Learning

Cloud Security: Blog Post

Addressing the Root Cause – A Proactive Approach to Securing Desktops

The trouble with reactionary behavior

The computers on your network are protected from malware right? If you are operating an environment based largely on Windows based PCs you likely have some kind of anti-virus installed and centrally managed. If you have purchased a more complete desktop protection suite, you probably even have a Host Based IDS/IPS protecting your machine from incoming malicious TCP scans, or possible outbound connections to known malicious sites (like google.com occasionally). Operating system firewall activated? Yep! AV signatures current? Check! Global Threat Intelligence updated? Uh, yeah....sure. Then you should be covered against threats targeting your organization, right? Most likely not, and at times these tools actually mask intrusions as they provide a false sense of security and protection.

The Trouble with Reactionary Behavior
The problem with these tools, all of them, is that they are purely reactionary in nature. Reactionary protection tools on every level, is something that basically states that an event has already occurred on your host computer, and those protection mechanisms will now activate. That means when you get an antivirus alert on your computer, the malware ALREADY present on the system. Yes, it may have stopped it, deleted it or possibly quarantined it (all of which are good). It has only done so because the AV software either has an existing signature in its database or the malware has attempted to operate in a suspicious manner, flagging the heuristics detection of the AV. What about when brand new malware, 0-day exploits, or sophisticated targeted malware executes on your host?

Do you imagine your AV will detect and mitigate it? I would suggest that your AV will be none the wiser to the presence of this yet to be detected threat, and only once it has been submitted to an AV vendor for analysis will you be provided with an updated signature. Well certainly if my AV missed it, one of the other layers of protection should stop it, right? It is possible, if the malware uses outbound connections that aren't considered "normal" by your OS's firewall or HIDS/HIPS software, then the malware could potentially be detected. If the malware uses standard outbound connections, port 80 or more than likely port 443, this appears as "normal" to the other layers of your systems host based defenses in place.

These tools all require some kind of known characteristics of a particular threat in order to detect its presence and mitigate it. These characteristics are obtained through analysis of reported and discovered threats of a similar nature, of which are used to develop signatures or heuristic models to detect the presence of malware on a host. If that threat has not yet been submitted for analysis and the callback domains not reported as malicious, it may be a while for it to be "discovered" and signatures made available. Until that time, your computer, its files, all of your activities as well as other computers on your network are at the mercy of an attacker unabated.

Being Proactive Is Essentially Free
This is the part that is really frustrating for me as an analyst, and also as an advocate for root cause solutions. Reactionary defenses cost an unreal amount of money for consumers, businesses, governments (both state and local), federal and military. You would think with all of this time and money spent on the various products billed as "protecting" you from cyber threats & intrusions, your environment would be better protected whether it is an enterprise or a single computer. This is not the case.  In fact, many studies show computer related intrusions are on the rise. Nation state threats, advanced persistent threats (APT) and even less skilled hackers continue to improve their sophistication as tools get cheaper and information is freely exchanged. Why is it then that I say, Proactive defenses are essentially free? And if that is in fact the case, why is this not being used more frequently? Proactive defense measures are essentially free, minus the time and effort in securing the root problems within your network. For this particular blog post, I am focused on host based proactive defensive measures.

Denying Execution at the Directory Level
The "how" is actually quite simple to explain, and in fact it is not a new protection technique at all, its just not as widely used outside of *nix based systems. All that an operating system provides is a platform for applications to run on, sometimes graphical based, sometimes a simple command line. The applications are typically stored in a common location within the operating system, allowing for dynamic linking as well as simplifying the directory structure. Not all applications require the need for linking to a dynamic library as they contain all of the requirements to run on their own, so they can easily be placed anywhere within the OS and they will execute.

This is extremely convenient when a developer wants to provide software that doesn't need to officially "install", and can be easily moved around. Therein lies the issue with the execution of these "self contained" applications, they can execute from anywhere on the host, without restriction. For a demonstration of this, copy "calc.exe" from the "system32" folder on your Windows PC to your "desktop". The program "calc.exe" will execute just the same as if it were under "system32" as it is a completely self contained binary. Almost all malware is designed the same way, and typically executes from a "temp" location or the root of your currently logged in user directory. The execution of malware needs to be stopped from occurring in the first place. This way, regardless of your current AV signatures or HIDS/HIPS capabilities, the malware cannot run. If the malware is unable to run, the threat is effectively mitigated before it can gain any foothold.

So how on earth do you stop the malware from executing from within these locations, and do I need some kind of "agent" based solution to monitor those particular directories to stop them? The approach is simple: deny ALL execution of programs outside of a particular directory (e.g., "Program Files" and "System32"). Require all necessary applications on the host, putty for instance, to be placed within one of the approved directories. If you are running a Windows based environment, locking down execution outside of approved directories can be implemented through both Group Policy (GPO) and Local Policy.

By expanding on an existing Windows policy called "Microsoft Windows Software Restriction" (which has been around since 2002 BTW) you can define directories that allow for execution of applications. This exact same technique can be employed on OSX systems as well.  Simply remove the execute privilege from locations within the OS that you would like to protect. In fact, I would venture to say it is easiest to implement on any *nix based system (if it's not already, as is the case on most unix/linux flavors).

No Silver Bullet
No solution is 100% effective, and this is no exception, as there are a number of ways to get past this protection.  Having said that, it adds a layer to your defense and will stop the majority of execution-based attacks.  If your software is properly patched (0-days not included), you have user privileges locked down with separate dedicated accounts, directory protection just steps up the difficulty your attackers have in gaining a presence on your network. No single solution will solve all of your problems, no matter how much a vendor sales engineer tries to sell you. Holistic, full spectrum defenses are the future, not "plug & play" protection hardware or software that requires updates, patching, signatures and "threat intelligence". The other side extremely important level of protection is in your Infosec professionals you have supporting you. Spend the money on good, talented and well rounded security professionals that understand the cyber threat landscape and the ways in which they can help better protect your organization.

To research further into how your network and its assets can be better protected please check out CyberSquared for solutions to root cause issues.

More Stories By Cory Marchand

Cory Marchand is a trusted subject matter expert on topics of Cyber Security Threats, Network and Host based Assessment and Computer Forensics. Mr. Marchand has supported several customers over his 10+ years within the field of Computer Security including State, Federal and Military Government as well as the Private sector. Mr. Marchand holds several industry related certificates including CISSP, EnCE, GSEC, GCIA, GCIH, GREM, GSNA and CEH.

@ThingsExpo Stories
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists will examine how DevOps helps to meet th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deli...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Juniper Networks challenges the status quo with products, solutions and services that transform the economics of networking. The company co-innovates with customers and partners to deliver automated, scalable and secure network...
@GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Analytic. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new da...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at Dell EMC, introduced a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organization...
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...