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How the Fast Evolution of Stealthy Malware Requires a Rethink of Security

by Juniper Employee ‎04-13-2017 03:39 AM - edited ‎04-13-2017 03:49 AM

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Stealth – the art of remaining hidden - has been a force of nature since before the dawn of mankind. Long before we were standing upright on the Savannah, nature had already figured out that one great way of staying alive was to remain silent, hidden out of sight and with the wind in your face as you watch your prey. As in nature, the art of remaining hidden continues to evolve for the cybercriminal, as well.

 

I am sure that a technical audience is familiar with Moore’s Law and its role in the evolution of technology. But perhaps for the world of security, we would do better drawing parallels from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – chiefly the lesson of ‘survival of the fittest.’

 

Hunters have known for many millennia that if you expose yourself to your prey, then you will probably go hungry. It is no different in the world of data and network security. Long gone (at least in terms of development) are the threats like the Lovebug, Melissa, CodeRed and SQL/Slammer worms of 1999-2003, where the malware was so detrimental to the networks they ran on that you could easily spot, identify, and then remove them. Once defences were in place, it became relatively easier to remove the next attack, and so on.

 

Security professionals everywhere learned these lessons and security was improved. But as in nature, the game of hunter versus hunted never ends, so it wasn’t long before the cybercriminal then learned how to keep quiet. Of course, at first that meant not trying to attack every IP address on the internet - or every email address and server. 

 

Soon malware became stealthy. Then it got really stealthy as we saw the adoption of obfuscation and moving code snippets around so that the standard defence models for finding malware (file based scanners, for the most part) wouldn’t identify the attack code; then came encryption, so the industry shifted to detecting those commonly used packers instead. Sexy new terms like steganography came along, disappeared, and then reappeared.

 

In addition to changing threats, the continuous and always changing model of ‘computing’ has equally played a part in how to become ‘stealthy’ too. Widely used system tools, common development frameworks, libraries and administrator applications and services, even the way the operating systems work, present a new opportunity for the cybercriminal to exploit.

 

Using these common tools, invoking them, asking them to perform a given task, scripting something to run a module, launching other functions, services or code, means system administrators can perform almost any task they want to get done, but without having to write an executable. Therefore, so can cybercriminals who don’t have to deploy anything, nor copy the code onto the local drive, or across the network, thus avoiding detection by the commonly deployed security solutions we see today.

 

So, without a threat to deploy, how on earth do you stop the cybercriminal using those same tools that we need to administer, maintain and, yes, even improve, security?

 

This isn’t the only approach; in 2014 threats started to break cover that were clearly using advanced, clever techniques to remain only in memory and not touch the drives, to leverage (and sometimes hide within) legitimate processes. Threats like Kovter, first seen using ‘fileless techniques’ in 2015, hinted at what was to come – threats that were almost undetectable by standard end-point protection.

 

Since then, we have seen further developments. Threats inside the BIOS, or threats even hidden in a rootkit, are designed to run as true ‘root’ on device and always remain hidden. We’ve seen malware exploiting useful tools, too, like Powershell and Microsoft MSHTA (again through a later Kovter variant), and even security administrator tools like Metasploit being used to create and use hidden malware.

 

Clearly, the days of the current security model are numbered - end-point technology has moved from the frontline of defence, to (at best) the final resort. Businesses will be forced to adapt to new techniques to identify threats – but if you are not looking for bad code, what are you going to look for?

 

It’s obvious really – we cannot tell by looking at, or even inspecting, everyone that they are, or will become, criminals – but, you know someone IS a criminal based on behaviour. Just as with the real, physical crime world, in data we need to start to look for the signs of crime, ensure that we can determine what is a crime, understand what actions were taken in the crime and then look at who and what caused the crime.

 

I tell customers to look at ransomware, for example – is it normal for a human to enumerate hundreds of shares across a network? Is it typical behaviour for you to over-write thousands of local, let alone remote, files across the network? Of course not. It’s pretty obvious that it isn’t a human doing this – and the same is true for many data breaches, too. Is it acceptable for the databases to have such a volume of traffic headed to that internal IP address, let alone out of the network? No. So don’t be a victim.

 

With advanced malware living inside hardware, or on the network, it’s only through a combination of behaviour analytics, gathered from potentially multiple and different technologies, that organisations will be able to use machine learning and predictive, advanced threat-detection technologies to detect and remediate before real damage occurs.

 

This is where the industry is heading and this is why I get excited about Juniper Networks’ security, because we have already started this journey. We are taking information from thousands of datapoints, correlating the activity from both Juniper and different third party solutions, adding context (based on previous experience) plus intelligence and knowledge from other organisations, and providing our customers with the wisdom they need to protect their business.

 

The survival of the fittest continues – At Juniper, that’s called SDSN – Software-Defined Secure Networks.

 

Are you attending InfoSec in London (6th – 8th June)? Visit us on stand C105 and meet our security specialists for more information.

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog and would like to read related security blogs please visit here.

 

 

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  • Amy James is Product Marketing lead for Security at Juniper Networks. She brings her knowledge of cyber security from companies like FireEye, Cisco and Cloudmark with deep roots in technology storytelling.
  • Andrew is a Juniper Distinguished Engineer responsible for the architecture of Juniper's network management user interfaces.
  • Asher Langton is a senior software engineer and malware researcher on Juniper's Sky ATP team.
  • Aviram Zrahia is a consulting engineer at Juniper Networks and an industry researcher of cyberspace. He holds a CISSP and GCIH certifications, as well as a bachelor's degree in computer science and MBA in management of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. He is also a research fellow in the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC) at Tel Aviv University, currently focusing on the domain of threat intelligence sharing.
  • Bill is the Director of Federal Certifications and Policy at Juniper Networks. In this role, Bill focuses on several areas unique to the needs of Federal Government customers, including product certifications, IPv6, and security. Bill came to Juniper Networks in January 2008 after more than 20 years in the IT community working with commercial enterprise customers, service providers, and the US Federal Government. Bill started his career as an engineering officer in the US Air Force after graduating with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Bill has an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Brad Minnis, CPP is the Senior Director of Corporate Environmental, Health, Safety & Security for Juniper Networks, Inc. based in Sunnyvale, CA, where he is responsible for strategic design, implementation and management of the company’s security, safety, environment, crisis management and business continuity functions. He also leads the company’s efforts in corporate citizenship and sustainability, and manages the Corporation’s government-related security programs. Mr. Minnis has over 30 years experience in the Silicon Valley and has managed EHSS operations for a number of high tech companies, including Juniper Networks, 3Com Corporation, and National Semiconductor Corporation. Mr. Minnis’ specialties include security management, supply chain and product integrity, anti-counterfeit, occupational health and safety and crisis management. In his role as Cyber Incident Response Team Leader for Juniper, Mr. Minnis has managed numerous high impact cyber-related incidents and cross-functional responses. Mr. Minnis served for ten years in the United States Navy and has served in leadership positions the International Security Management Association (ISMA) and ASIS International, serving as Chairman of the San Francisco Chapter in 2003. He has also co-written several publications on software integrity assurance and supply chain security with organizations such as SAFECode. Mr. Minnis is certified as a Protection Professional by the Professional Certification Board of ASIS International and attended the University of Connecticut, where he received two certificates in Environmental, Health and Safety
  • Craig Dods is the Chief Architect for Security within Juniper Networks' Strategic Verticals. He currently maintains multiple top-level industry certifications including his JNCIE-SEC, holds multiple networking and security-related patents, as well as having disclosed multiple critical-level CVE's in a responsible manner. Prior to joining Juniper, Craig served as IBM's Managed Security Services' Chief Security Architect, and held previous security roles at Check Point Software Technologies and Nokia.
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  • I have been in the networking industry for over 35 years: PBXs, SNA, Muxes, ATM, routers, switches, optical - I've seen it all. Twelve years in the US, over 25 in Europe, at companies like AT&T, IBM, Bay Networks, Nortel Networks and Dimension Data. Since 2007 I have been at Juniper, focusing on solutions and services: solving business problems via products and projects. Our market is characterized by amazing technological innovations, but technology is no use if you cannot get it to work and keep it working. That is why services are so exciting: this is where the technology moves out of the glossy brochures and into the real world! Follow me on Twitter: @JoeAtJuniper For more about me, go to my LinkedIn profile: http://fr.linkedin.com/pub/joe-robertson/0/4a/34a
  • Kevin Walker is the Security Chief Technology and Strategy Officer for Juniper’s Development and Innovation (JDI) organization. He is responsible for driving the security strategy both internally within Juniper, and externally with investors, partners, influencers, and customers. He provides the guidance required for JDI to conceive, develop and create momentum for industry-leading security solutions. Working closely with the Security Engineering team, Walker identifies the opportunities for improved security, growth, and innovation to deliver the scalable, reliable, and compliant security architecture needed in today’s security landscape. Before joining Juniper, Walker was VP and Assistant Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Walmart.com. He has served as a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Chief Security Strategist and Director of Information Security across a number of notable companies including Intuit, Cisco, Symantec and VERITAS Software. With over twenty-five years in various computer science and information technology disciplines, focusing on enterprise applications, network design, and information security, Walker possesses research and engineering expertise across of range of technologies including networking protocols, securing applications at the atomic level, cryptography, and speech biometrics.
  • Laurence is passionate about technology, particularly cyber security. His depth and breadth of knowledge of the dynamic security landscape is a result of over twenty years’ experience in cyber security. He understands the security concerns businesses face today and can bring insight to the challenges they will face tomorrow. Laurence joined Juniper Networks in 2016 and is our senior security specialist in EMEA. Security throughout the network is a key area where Juniper Networks can help as business moves to the cloud and undertakes the challenge of digital transformation.
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