Click here to close now.

Welcome!

.NET Authors: Greg O'Connor, Aria Blog, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Hovhannes Avoyan

Related Topics: Security, Java, XML, SOA & WOA, .NET, AJAX & REA

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
Cloud data governance was previously an avoided function when cloud deployments were relatively small. With the rapid adoption in public cloud – both rogue and sanctioned, it’s not uncommon to find regulated data dumped into public cloud and unprotected. This is why enterprises and cloud providers alike need to embrace a cloud data governance function and map policies, processes and technology controls accordingly. In her session at 15th Cloud Expo, Evelyn de Souza, Data Privacy and Compliance Strategy Leader at Cisco Systems, will focus on how to set up a cloud data governance program and s...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
HP and Aruba Networks on Monday announced a definitive agreement for HP to acquire Aruba, a provider of next-generation network access solutions for the mobile enterprise, for $24.67 per share in cash. The equity value of the transaction is approximately $3.0 billion, and net of cash and debt approximately $2.7 billion. Both companies' boards of directors have approved the deal. "Enterprises are facing a mobile-first world and are looking for solutions that help them transition legacy investments to the new style of IT," said Meg Whitman, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of HP...
Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, had reached 30,000 page views on his home page - http://RobertoMedrano.SYS-CON.com/ - on the SYS-CON family of online magazines, which includes Cloud Computing Journal, Internet of Things Journal, Big Data Journal, and SOA World Magazine. He is a recognized executive in the information technology fields of SOA, internet security, governance, and compliance. He has extensive experience with both start-ups and large companies, having been involved at the beginning of four IT industries: EDA, Open Systems, Computer Security and now SOA.
The industrial software market has treated data with the mentality of “collect everything now, worry about how to use it later.” We now find ourselves buried in data, with the pervasive connectivity of the (Industrial) Internet of Things only piling on more numbers. There’s too much data and not enough information. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Bob Gates, Global Marketing Director, GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, to discuss how realizing the power of IoT, software developers are now focused on understanding how industrial data can create intelligence for industrial operations. Imagine ...
Operational Hadoop and the Lambda Architecture for Streaming Data Apache Hadoop is emerging as a distributed platform for handling large and fast incoming streams of data. Predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, and Internet-of-Things analysis are examples where Hadoop provides the scalable storage, processing, and analytics platform to gain meaningful insights from granular data that is typically only valuable from a large-scale, aggregate view. One architecture useful for capturing and analyzing streaming data is the Lambda Architecture, representing a model of how to analyze rea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vitria Technology, Inc. will exhibit at SYS-CON’s @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Vitria will showcase the company’s new IoT Analytics Platform through live demonstrations at booth #330. Vitria’s IoT Analytics Platform, fully integrated and powered by an operational intelligence engine, enables customers to rapidly build and operationalize advanced analytics to deliver timely business outcomes for use cases across the industrial, enterprise, and consumer segments.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Open Data Centers (ODC), a carrier-neutral colocation provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Open Data Centers is a carrier-neutral data center operator in New Jersey and New York City offering alternative connectivity options for carriers, service providers and enterprise customers.
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
PubNub on Monday has announced that it is partnering with IBM to bring its sophisticated real-time data streaming and messaging capabilities to Bluemix, IBM’s cloud development platform. “Today’s app and connected devices require an always-on connection, but building a secure, scalable solution from the ground up is time consuming, resource intensive, and error-prone,” said Todd Greene, CEO of PubNub. “PubNub enables web, mobile and IoT developers building apps on IBM Bluemix to quickly add scalable realtime functionality with minimal effort and cost.”
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
With several hundred implementations of IoT-enabled solutions in the past 12 months alone, this session will focus on experience over the art of the possible. Many can only imagine the most advanced telematics platform ever deployed, supporting millions of customers, producing tens of thousands events or GBs per trip, and hundreds of TBs per month. With the ability to support a billion sensor events per second, over 30PB of warm data for analytics, and hundreds of PBs for an data analytics archive, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Kaskade, Vice President and General Manager, Big Data & Ana...
In the consumer IoT, everything is new, and the IT world of bits and bytes holds sway. But industrial and commercial realms encompass operational technology (OT) that has been around for 25 or 50 years. This grittier, pre-IP, more hands-on world has much to gain from Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications and principles. But adding sensors and wireless connectivity won’t work in environments that demand unwavering reliability and performance. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ron Sege, CEO of Echelon, will discuss how as enterprise IT embraces other IoT-related technology trends, enterprises with i...
When it comes to the Internet of Things, hooking up will get you only so far. If you want customers to commit, you need to go beyond simply connecting products. You need to use the devices themselves to transform how you engage with every customer and how you manage the entire product lifecycle. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, will show how “product relationship management” can help you leverage your connected devices and the data they generate about customer usage and product performance to deliver extremely compelling and reliabl...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is causing data centers to become radically decentralized and atomized within a new paradigm known as “fog computing.” To support IoT applications, such as connected cars and smart grids, data centers' core functions will be decentralized out to the network's edges and endpoints (aka “fogs”). As this trend takes hold, Big Data analytics platforms will focus on high-volume log analysis (aka “logs”) and rely heavily on cognitive-computing algorithms (aka “cogs”) to make sense of it all.
One of the biggest impacts of the Internet of Things is and will continue to be on data; specifically data volume, management and usage. Companies are scrambling to adapt to this new and unpredictable data reality with legacy infrastructure that cannot handle the speed and volume of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, will discuss how companies need to rethink their data infrastructure to participate in the IoT, including: Data storage: Understanding the kinds of data: structured, unstructured, big/small? Analytics: What kinds and how responsiv...
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.