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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


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.


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About the Author
  • Andrew is a Juniper Distinguished Engineer responsible for the architecture of Juniper's network management user interfaces.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • François Prowse is a Senior Systems Engineer for Juniper Networks, based in Brisbane Australia. Francois joined Juniper in 2006 as part of the New Zealand SE team, subsequently relocating to Australia. Prior to Juniper, Francois worked for four years at Alcatel in both operational and architectural roles, being jointly responsible for the construction of New Zealands' largest MPLS core network. Prior to Alcatel, Francois worked at UUnet, focusing on core network expansion in Europe. In all previous roles JUNOS has been the driving factor behind day to day operations, providing him with over 8 years of operational experience. Francois is a Juniper Networks Certified Internet Expert (JNCIE #144) which he obtained prior to joining Juniper Networks.
  • Greg Sidebottom is a Senior Engineering Manager in the Identity and Policy Management business unit at Juniper Networks. Greg has spent the last decade plus conceptualizing, architecting, designing, and leading the implementation of Juniper's SDX and SRC families of policy based service management applications. Previous to this, Greg held positions in the software and networking industries at Siemens, Cognos, Nortel, GTE labs subsidiary MPR Teltech, and the Alberta Research Council. Greg is an author of eight invention disclosures resulting in two patents issued and three pending. Greg holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science for the University of Calgary and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Computing Science from Simon Fraser University.
  • Jennifer Blatnik is vice president of cloud, security and enterprise portfolio marketing at Juniper Networks with focus on enterprise deployments of security, routing, switching, and SDN products, as well as cloud solutions. She has more than 20 years of experience helping enterprises solve network security challenges. Before joining Juniper, Jennifer served multiple roles at Cisco Systems, Inc., including directing product management for security technologies aimed at small to medium enterprises, as well as supporting managed services, cloud service architectures and go-to-market strategies. She holds a B.A. in Computer Science from University of California, Berkeley.
  • Jim Kelly, Senior Product Line Manager – CTP Products Juniper Networks. Jim Kelly is the senior product line manager for the CTP products where he is responsible for the CTP product direction, marketing and circuit emulation applications within Juniper Networks. Mr. Kelly has more than 28 years of experience in the networking industry in technical roles, sales, marketing, and product management positions. He started his career in the United States Air Force. He has worked for Wang, Digital Telecom Systems, American Airlines, Network Equipment Technologies, Carrier Access, and Nortel Networks. He started Juniper Networks federal DoD sales in July 2000 and joined Juniper Networks again in October 2005 through the acquisition of Acorn Packet Solutions where he was the director of sales and marketing.
  • 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:
  • 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 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.
  • Security Life timer, who has been described as a true IT security ‘guru’. It is certainly apt: his knowledge and expertise developed over the course of more than 20 years in IT have helped many customers implement a security strategy that not only safeguards their business and information, but enables Digital Transformation. A noted public speaker on security issues, Lee’s passion and style stand out in the sometimes staid world of network security. Prior to joining Juniper Networks, Lee held a number of business and technical roles at Dr Solomon’s, McAfee, Hewlett Packard, Nokia Siemens Networks and Citrix. Lee leads the Juniper Networks security business across Europe, Middle East and Africa. In this role, Lee is responsible for the company’s commercial development in the field.
  • 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.
  • 30 Years in Book Publishing, 20 years in Technical Book Publishing, including Apple Developer Press, Adobe Press, Nokia Developer Books, Palm Books, and since 2001, almost 10 years as consulting editor/editor in chief for Juniper Networks Book. Joined the company and started the Day One book line and in 2011, the new This Week book line.
  • Paul Obsitnik is Vice President of Service Provider Marketing for Juniper Networks Platform Systems Division (PSD), responsible for the marketing of Juniper’s portfolio of high performance routing, switching, and data center fabric products to Service Providers globally. Paul's team is responsible for marketing strategy, product marketing, go-to-market planning, and competitive analysis worldwide for the Service Provider segment. Obsitnik has extensive experience in marketing, sales and business development positions with a proven track record in creating technology markets. He has served in senior marketing and sales management positions at several companies including BridgeWave Communications, ONI Systems, NorthPoint Communications and 3Com. Paul holds a Bachelor of Science with Honors in Electrical Engineering from the United States Naval Academy and a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. Obsitnik is based in Sunnyvale, California.
  • Solutions Marketing Sr Manager
  • Michel Tepper is a Juniper consultant and instructor working for Westcon Security in the Netherlands. He started working in ICT in 1987. Michel is also is a Juniper Ambassador. Currently he holds three Junos Professional certifications and a number of specialist and associate certifications on non-Junos tracks. Michel is an active member of J-Net and, where he uses the nickname screenie referring to the ScreenOS with which he started his Juniper Journey.
  • Scott is the Director of Product Marketing for Mobile Security at Juniper Networks. In his 20+ years in high tech, Scott has worked on Mobile and Endpoint Security, Network Security, IPS, Managed Services, Network Infrastructure, Co-location, Microprocessor Architecture, Unix Servers and Network Adapters. He has held leadership roles at Check Point, McAfee, Symantec, Exodus Communications, Cable & Wireless, Savvis, and HP.
  • Sherry Ryan is IT Vice President and CISO of Juniper Networks. Previously, Sherry held similar positions at Blue Shield of California, Hewlett-Packard, Safeway and Levi Strauss where she established and led their information security programs. Sherry holds the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification from ISACA and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification from ISC2. She is a member of the High Tech Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA) and the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA). Sherry has a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Redlands, and earned her MBA from the College of Notre Dame.
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