Patch me if you can: key challenges and considerations

In this third and final post of our series on vulnerability management, elevenM’s Theo Schreuder explores some of the common challenges faced by those running vulnerability management programs.

In our experience working with clients, there are some recurring questions that present themselves once vulnerability management programs are up and running. We outline the main ones here, and propose a way forward.

Challenge 1: Choosing between a centralised or decentralised model

Depending on the size of your organisation, a good vulnerability management program may be harder or easier to implement. In a smaller organisation it usually falls to a single security function within the IT team to provide management of vulnerabilities. This makes it easy to coordinate and prioritise remediation work and perform evaluation for exemptions.

However, in larger organisations, having individual systems teams all trying to manage and report on their vulnerabilities makes it difficult to manage vulnerabilities in a holistic way. In these scenarios, a dedicated and centralised vulnerability management team is necessary to provide governance over the entire end-to-end cycle. This team should be responsible for running scans and providing expertise on assessment of vulnerabilities as well as providing holistic reporting to management and executives.

The benefit of a dedicated vulnerability management team is that there is a single point of contact for information about all the vulnerabilities in the organisation.

Challenge 2: Ensuring risk ownership

To avoid cries of “not my responsibility” or “I have other things to do” it is important to establish who owns the risk relating to different assets and domains in the organisation, and therefore who is responsible for driving the remediation of vulnerabilities. Without a clear definition of responsibilities and procedures it is easy to get bogged down in debates over responsibilities for carrying out remediation work, rather than proceeding with the actual doing of the remediation work and securing of the network.

Furthermore, in our experience there are often different responsibilities with regards to who patches what in an organisation. As mentioned in our previous post, often there is a distinction between who is responsible for patching of below base (system level) vulnerabilities and for above base (application level) vulnerabilities. If these distinctions, and the ownership of risk across these distinctions, are not clearly defined then the patching of some vulnerabilities can fall through the cracks.

Challenge 3: Driving risk-based remediation

The importance of having an organisation-wide critical asset register cannot be overstated. From the point of view of individual asset owners, their own application is the most critical….to them. It is important to take an approach that measures the risk  of an asset being exploited or becoming unavailable in terms of the business as a whole, and not just in terms of the team that uses the device.

In the same way, security risks, mitigating controls and network exposure must be taken into account. From a risk perspective, an air gapped payroll system behind ten thousand firewalls would not be as critical as an internet-facing router that has no controls in place and a default password that allows a hacker access into your network. Hackers don’t care so much about the function of a device if it allows them access to everything else on your network.

To recap …
We hope you enjoyed the series on vulnerability management. For a refresher, you can find links to all the posts in the series at the bottom of the article. In the meantime, here are our 5 top steps for a good vulnerability management program:

  1. Get visibility quickly – scan everything and tailor reports to different audiences.
  2. Centralise your vulnerability management function – provides a holistic picture of risk to your entire network and supports prioritisation.
  3. Know your critical assets – understand their exposure and prioritise their remediation.
  4. Get your house in order – have well defined and understood asset inventories, processes and risk ownership.
  5. Automate as much as possible – leverage technology to reduce the costs of lowering risk and allow you to do do more with less resources.

Read all posts in the series:
Patch me if you can: the importance of vulnerability management
Patch me if you can: the six steps of vulnerability management
Patch me if you can: key challenges and considerations

News round-up March 2021 — That horrible Exchange compromise, IOT security threats made real and digital platforms’ latest privacy challenges

Helping your business stay abreast and make sense of the critical stories in digital risk, cyber security and privacy. Email news@elevenM.com.au to subscribe.

The round-up

“But has the horse has already bolted?” That’s the question senior US officials want companies who’ve applied patches for the highly publicised Microsoft Exchange security breach to ask themselves. The ugly Exchange Server compromise headlines our round-up, which also features an IoT breach that snared businesses across a range of industries, and the latest ransomware tactics.

Key articles

Thousands of Exchange servers breached prior to patching, CISA boss says

Summary: Four previously unidentified vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange Server have been exploited by state-sponsored actors operating out of China, with some reports citing as many as 60,000 organisations affected.

Key risk takeaway: Being patched against these vulnerabilities might be giving system administrators a false sense of confidence. Having observed numerous concerted attempts to exploit the flaws, US officials are urging companies to take aggressive action to investigate and remediate compromises that may already have occurred (before patching). Accordingly, in addition to moving fast to release patches, Microsoft has published detailed guidance on its website on how to investigate and remediate the vulnerabilities, and even developed a “one-click mitigation tool” for organisations with smaller or less-resourced security teams. To learn more about how to develop a comprehensive vulnerability management program to drive timely remediation of dangerous security flaws (noting once again that patching alone may be insufficient in Exchange incident), check out our recent blog series here.

#vulnerabilitymanagement #statesponsoredattack


Directors must face cyber risks

Summary: Directors of public firms are expected to soon face greater accountability from cyber risks under the Government’s cyber strategy.

Key risk takeaway: Lack of preparation for cyber risks by boards may soon be punishable, as the Government seeks to make changes to directors’ duties in the second half of 2021. The Government is light on details but has cited preventing customer credentials from ending up on the dark web as a potential example of these new obligations. The introduction of these obligations follows the imposition of director duties on directors of financial institutions by APRA’s Prudential Standard 234. The moves are also part of a broader push for the Defence Department to take more forceful steps to “step in and protect” critical infrastructure companies, even if they are in the private sector.

#cyber #APRA #regulations


Hackers say they’ve gained access to surveillance cameras in Australian childcare centres, schools and aged care

Summary: Hacktivists gained access to approximately 150,000 Verkada surveillance cameras around the world after finding the username and password for an administrator account publicly exposed on the internet.

Key risk takeaway: This incident is not only a concrete example of oft-described potential security risks of IOT (not to mention the implications of poor password management). It also highlights that risks and impacts from these devices may be felt differently across a variety of sectors. For example, uncomfortable regulatory conversations could arise for some of Verkada’s clients (which include childcare centres and aged-care facilities), given the cameras have built-in facial recognition technology and can be placed in sensitive locations. This incident also highlights ongoing challenges for organisations in achieving effective security assurance over their supply chains, especially cloud-based suppliers.

#cybersecurity #IOT #suppliersecurity


Universal Health Services reports $67 million in losses after apparent ransomware attack

Summary: Universal Health Services (UHS) has reported losing US$67 million from the September ransomware attack that affected a large range of systems.

Key risk summary: The serious financial implications of ransomware continue to be apparent, with UHS’ heavy losses comprising both lost revenue and increased labour costs. Meanwhile Finnish psychology service Vastaamo, whose ransomware challenges we described in October, has now filed for bankruptcy. In a mark of how lucrative ransomware has become,  ransomware operators reportedly pulled in $370 million in profits last year. Still, techniques continue to evolve. Researchers recently observed attackers breaching ‘hypervisor servers’ (which organisations use to manage virtual machines). Doing this allows attackers to encrypt all virtual machines on a system, increasing pressure on victim organisations to pay a ransom. In the face of the continued evolution of ransomware, Australia’s Federal Labor Opposition has now called for a national ransomware strategy comprising a variety of measures including regulations, law enforcement, sanctions, diplomacy, and offensive cyber operations. Some of the thinking in the strategy – e.g. around enforcement and sanctions – also aligns with recent expert calls for a global effort to create a new international collaboration model to tackle ransomware.

#ransomware #cybersecurity #costofdatabreach


WhatsApp tries again to explain what data it shares with Facebook and why

Summary: WhatsApp deferred the introduction of new privacy terms in order to buy time to better explain the change.

Key risk takeaway: This is one of many recent examples that show us it is no longer sufficient for online services to have a “take it or leave it” attitude in their privacy terms. Having first taken such an approach with its revised privacy terms, WhatsApp had to scramble to explain the changes after “tens of millions of WhatsApp users started exploring alternatives, such as Signal and Telegram”. More broadly, a recent New York Times editorial also argued that current consent models and the default practice requiring consumers to opt-out of data collection practices undermines privacy and must change. In our recent blog post we explore in detail the adequacy of current approaches to consent, which is being examined under the current review of the Australian Privacy Act.

#privacy #consent


TikTok reaches $92 million settlement over nationwide privacy lawsuit

Summary: TikTok agreed to settle 21 combined class-action lawsuits over invasion of privacy for US $92million.

Key risk takeaway: Disregarding appropriate privacy measures will have financial consequences – whether that’s through regulatory fines, legal settlements (as is the case here) or the long-term erosion of user trust. Complaints from the lawsuits against TikTok alleged a range of issues, from using facial analysis to determine users’ ethnicity, gender, and age to illegal transmissions of private data. And just as TikTok said it didn’t want to take the time to litigate the complaints, it was also rated one of the least trusted digital platforms. Privacy responsiveness and social responsibility from digital platforms are fast becoming market differentiators, with 62% of Americans saying search and social media companies need more regulation.

#privacy #transparency #trust

Patch me if you can: the six steps of vulnerability management

This is the second post in a three-part series on vulnerability management. In this post, elevenM’s Theo Schreuder describes the six steps of a vulnerability management program.

In the first post of this series, we explored why vulnerability management is important and looked at key considerations for setting up a vulnerability management program for success. In this post, we’ll step you through the six steps of vulnerability management.


The six steps of vulnerability management

The six steps of vulnerability management [Source: CDC]

Let’s explore each step in more detail.

  1. Discover vulnerabilities

The most efficient way to discover vulnerabilities is to use a centralised and dedicated tool (for example, Rapid7 InsightVM, Tenable, Qualys) that regularly scans assets (devices, servers, internet connected things) for published vulnerabilities. Information about published vulnerabilities can be obtained from official sources such as the US-based National Vulnerability Database (NVD), via alerts from your Security Operations Centre (SOC) or from external advisories.

Running scans on a regular basis ensures you have continuous visibility of vulnerabilities in your network.

 

2. Prioritise assets

Prioritising assets allows you to determine which remediation actions to focus on first to reduce the greatest amount of risk within the shortest time and with least budget.

Prioritisation of assets relies on having a well-maintained asset inventory (e.g. a Central Management Database or CMDB) and a list of the critical “crown jewel” assets and applications from a business point of view (for example, payroll systems are typically considered critical assets). Another factor to consider in determining prioritisation is the exposure of an asset to the perimeter of the network, and how many “hops” the asset is from an internet-facing device.

 

3. Assess vulnerability severity

After devices are scanned, discovered vulnerabilities are usually be assigned a severity score based on industry standards such as the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) as well as custom calculations that — depending on the scanning tool — take into account factors including the ease of exploitability and the number of known exploit kits and plug-and-play malware kits available to exploit that vulnerability. This step can also involve verifying that the discovered vulnerability is not a false positive, and does in fact exist on the asset.

 

4. Reporting

When creating reports on vulnerability risk, it’s important to consider different levels of reporting to suit the needs of different audiences. Your reporting levels could include:

  1. Executive level reporting
    This level of reporting focuses on grand totals of discovered vulnerabilities and vulnerable assets, total critical vulnerabilities, and historical trends over time. The aim is to provide senior executives with a straightforward view of vulnerabilities in the network and trends.
  2. Management level reporting
    For individual managers and teams to manage their remediation work, it helps to provide them with a lower-level summary of only the assets they are responsible for. This report will have more detail than an executive level report, and should provide the ability to drill down and identify the most vulnerable assets and critical vulnerabilities where remediation work should begin.
  3. Support team level reporting
    This is the highest resolution report, providing detail for each vulnerability finding on each asset that a support team is responsible for. Depending on the organisation and the way patching responsibilities are divided, splitting out reporting between operating systems (below base) and application level (above base) can also be advantageous as remediation processes for these levels can differ.
A sample management-level vulnerability report generated using Tableau

 

5. Remediate vulnerabilities

“The easiest way to get rid of all of your vulnerabilities is to simply turn off all of your devices!”

– origin unknown

Remediation can take a variety of forms including but not limited to changing configuration files, applying a suggested patch from the scanning tool or even uninstalling the vulnerable program entirely.

There may be also be legitimate cases where a vulnerability may be exempted from remediation. Factors could include:

  • Is the asset soon to be decommissioned or nearing end-of-life?
  • Is it prohibitively expensive to upgrade to the newest secure version of the software?
  • Are there other mitigating controls in place (e.g. air-gapping, firewall rules)
  • Will the required work impact revenue by reducing service availability?

 

6. Verify remediation

Are we done yet? Not quite.

It doesn’t help if — after your support teams have done all this wonderful work — your vulnerability scanning tool is still reporting that the asset is vulnerable. Therefore, it is very important that once remediation work is complete you verify that the vulnerability is no longer being detected.

Stay tuned for the third and final post in the series, in which we discuss common challenges and considerations for a well-functioning vulnerability management program.


Read all posts in the series:
Patch me if you can: the importance of vulnerability management
Patch me if you can: the six steps of vulnerability management
Patch me if you can: key challenges and considerations

 

Patch me if you can: the importance of vulnerability management

This is the first post in a three-part series on vulnerability management. In this post, elevenM’s Theo Schreuder explains why vulnerability management is so important and outlines some key considerations when establishing a vulnerability management program.

In 2017 the American credit bureau Equifax suffered a breach of its corporate servers leading to customer data being leaked from its credit monitoring databases. The fallout from the breach included the exposure of the personal information of almost 150 million Americans, resignation of the company CEO and a reputation battering that included a scathing report by the US Senate.

The breach occurred due to attackers exploiting a vulnerability in the Apache Struts website framework — a vulnerability that was unpatched for over two months despite a fix being known and available.

With a proper vulnerability management program in place Equifax could have prioritised remediation of the Apache Struts security patch and prevented huge impact on consumers, to its reputation, and saved US$575 million in eventual legal settlement costs.

It’s little wonder that vulnerability management features heavily in well-respected cyber security frameworks and strategies, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and the Australian Government’s Essential Eight. Equifax has also come to the party, putting a program in place: “Since then, Equifax said that it’s implemented a new management system to handle vulnerability updates and to verify that the patch has been issued.”

So what is “vulnerability management”?

Vulnerability management is the end-to-to end process from the identification of vulnerabilities in your network to the verification that they have been remediated.

The first priority in vulnerability management is to scan the network. And by the network we mean everything. Servers, routers, laptops, even that weird voice-controlled air-conditioning system you have in your offices. Having visibility of unpatched vulnerabilities in your network allows you to prioritise patching and prevent potential breaches.

In subsequent posts in this series, we’ll step through the key elements that comprise the vulnerability management process and discuss some key challenges and considerations for a well-functioning program.

For now, here are two key consideration when starting to think about establishing a vulnerability management program:

Firstly, it is important to be clear and transparent about the true state of risk in your environment as nothing will get done if the risk is not pointed out. Even if a vulnerability is “risk accepted”, it needs to be continuously logged and monitored so that if a breach occurs you know where to look. Visibility of where the greatest vulnerabilities lie encourages action. It’s easy to fall into an “out of sight, out of mind” approach when you are not getting clear and regular reporting.

Secondly, In order to get this regular reporting, it is advantageous to automate as much as possible. This reduces the effort required to create reports on a regular basis, freeing up resources to actually investigate and analyse vulnerability data.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series.


Read all posts in the series:
Patch me if you can: the importance of vulnerability management
Patch me if you can: the six steps of vulnerability management
Patch me if you can: key challenges and considerations

News round-up February 2021 — Downplaying data breaches, escalating ransomware tactics and “there’s something in the water”

Helping your business stay abreast and make sense of the critical stories in digital risk, cyber security and privacy. Email news@elevenM.com.au to subscribe.

The round-up

We start this edition round-up with a stern warning from the privacy regulator, telling organisations to stop downplaying data breaches. We saw a general trend of regulators and law enforcement stepping up this month, with historic decisions by the OAIC, the FTC and the Norwegian Data Protection Agency, and a crackdown on the notorious Emotet botnet.   

Key articles

OAIC finds ‘multiple’ Australian companies downplaying data breaches 

Summary: The Office of the Australian Privacy Commissioner (OAIC) isn’t happy about delays in the assessment of and notification of data breaches by a growing number of organisations. 

Key risk takeaway: This stands as something of a warning from the Australian privacy regulator that it expects to see more timely assessment and notification of data breaches. Perhaps the regulator is sensing some complacency  as we prepare this month to mark the 3rd birthday of the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme, the attention and activity that characterised the scheme’s first year has arguably died off. In issuing its warning, the OAIC acknowledges “some data breaches are complex”, meaning organisations can find it challenging to quickly identify affected individuals. With complexity increasing as all entities increase their data holdings, wanticipate privacy automation and data mapping technologies will play a key role in helping organisations bridge the gap between current manual privacy processes and their desire to more promptly and efficiently manage privacy impacts. 

Meanwhile, for the first time, the OAIC has ordered that compensation be paid for non-economic loss suffered by participants of representative complaint against the Department of Home AffairsHome Affairs must pay almost 1,300 asylum seekers for wrongfully publishing their personal information in 2014. Compensation will range from $500 to $20,000 per applicant, meaning Home Affairs could potentially be up for nearly $26 million.  This ground-breaking decision could herald the dawn of a new cost for failing to secure personal information.  

Tags: #privacy #ndb #compliance #privacyops #regulation 

 

Grindr faces fine of nearly $12 million in Norway for alleged privacy violations 

Summary: Norway’s data protection agency is proposing a fine of US $11.7 million against Grindr for the alleged improper sharing of users’ data to third-party companies for marketing purposes. 

Key risk takeaway: This would be the biggest fine of its kind to date and indicates how seriously the GDPR takes the handling of sensitive personal information. The Norwegian Data Protection Authority said that Grindr had shared, without full consent, users’ GPS locations, profile data and other information with other companies. It also contends that the fact that a user is on Grindr is in itself information about sexual orientation, which is a specific class of sensitive information. Grindr may argue against the decision, but GDPR regulators are not pulling any punches in this area.  

This fine comes as the Muslim Prayer app Salaat First, also an app that by default collects sensitive information, is exposed as selling granular location data of its android users in the UK, Germany, France and Italy. The app, which doesn’t provide an in-app link to the privacy policy, sells a range of device and operation data including the user’s unique advertising ID, which allowed the media company to whom the data was leaked to filter the cache to specific users and then follow that person’s movements through time. As the data was of EU citizens, the GDPR may also kick in on this one.  

#privacy #datasharing #sensitiveinformation #privacypolicy #regulation #GDPR 

 

Privacy pilfering project punished by FTC purge penalty: AI upstart told to delete data and algorithms  

Summary: Everalbum, a California-based facial recognition business, has been directed by the US Federal Trade Commission to delete the AI models and algorithms that it developed by harvesting people’s photos and videos without permission. 

Key risk takeaway: This ruling is a significant disruptor of the old ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission’, and indicates that regulators may now be looking beyond just fines and penalties. Apparently, Everalbum told people that it would not employ facial recognition on users’ content without consent, but in fact automatically activated the feature for people outside the EU and certain US states, and then used the data collected to build facial detection software. Facial detection software and algorithms are a hotly contested topic in the privacy world, and this ruling provides some indication that regulators are aware of the risks and are willing to take action to ensure violators aren’t allowed to profit from misuse 

#privacy #datahandling #regulation  

 

Some ransomware gangs are going after top execs to pressure companies into paying 

Summary: Ransomware gangs are reportedly prioritising stealing sensitive data from executives that can be used to extort businesses into approving large ransom payouts. 

Key risk takeaway: The slow-but-steady evolution of ransomware tactics continues in 2021, further ramping up pressure on businesses and their leaders. Despite the clear “never pay ransom” edicts from governments, this canny and increasingly aggressive targeting of a business’ reputation will only increase agitation levels among boards and senior execs who are unsure what to do when their turn comes. This reality is made clear by another recent story, which reveals even those organisations who have been able to restore their systems from backups after a ransomware attack are still paying ransoms to ward off reputational damage. Simulation exercises remain a valuable way to practice how your organisation would handle a ransomware attack and how leaders might contemplate ransom demands. In brighter news, US authorities have charged an attacker reportedly responsible for the ransomware attacks on Toll Group and Law In Order. 

Tags: #ransomware 

 

Intel drops 9% after a reported hack forced the chipmaker to release its 4th-quarter earnings early 

Summary: Shares fell after hacker gained unauthorised access to financially-sensitive information from Intel’s website. 

Key risk takeaway: We could barely imagine a neater demonstration of the adverse financial impacts of a data breach. After a positive quarterly earnings result drove up Intel’s share price, the gains were wiped out just as quickly after an infographic of those very same positive results was released earlier than intended because of a hack. Little has been revealed about the hack, other than that the graphic was accessed by an unauthorised party from Intel’s public relations news website. If it’s of any comfort to Intel, even hackers don’t always take steps to protect sensitive data. Having stolen more than a thousand credentials, a group of hackers reportedly accidently exposed them on the internet, making them freely accessible on Google (undercutting the typical goal of selling the data on the dark web).  

Tags: #databreaches #cyberattack 

 

US, European police say they’ve disrupted the notorious Emotet botnet 

Summary: U.S. and European law enforcement agencies said Wednesday they had seized control of the computing infrastructure used by Emotet, a botnet of infected machines that has been one of the most pervasive cybercrime threats over the last six years. 

Key risk takeaway: This is a significant law enforcement action against a serious and pervasive cyber threat that has been used to run everything from political phishing to ransomware to banking trojans. While authorities are cautiously optimistic about the impact of the takedown, it’s nonetheless a big achievement and, at worst, one that will take cyber criminals some time to recover from.  

#cybersecurity 

 

The Scammer Who Wanted to Save His Country 

Summary: A massive political corruption story in Brazil, involving the President and senior members of the legislature, was broken due to troves of hacked data. But what was initially thought to be a complicated hack, possibly by the Russians, turned out to be a simple exploit of poor security in the Telegram app, executed many times by a scammer.  

Key risk takeaway: While the key risk takeaway from this story could be ‘don’t be a corrupt politician’, the reminder not to overlook ‘the simple’ in security processes is certainly not far behind. In this case, the vulnerability came about due to a combination of the Brazilian VoIP system allowing people to spoof any phone number onto their account (thus allowing the hacker to access voicemail systems), and the Telegram app sending verification codes for adding a new device to a voicemail, without also sending a notification to the app. This then gave the hacker access to download the targets’ entire chat history from the cloud. 

While the outcome of this particular hack was the exposure of serious corruption, it nonetheless highlights how quickly the exploitation of a small hole in security protocols can snowball. Especially when security protocols fail to take into account the kind of innovative and imaginative thinking that only humans can apply. 

#privacy #cybersecurity #hack #government 

 

Remote hacker tries to poison water supply, exposing holes in OT security  

Summary: Hackers have accessed a water plant in Florida via remote access tools, altering the chemical levels in the water supply.   

Key risk takeaway: This is another timely reminder that not all hacks use sophisticated technology or approaches, and failing to consider all points of entry can leave essential systems vulnerable. In this instance, there is suggestion that the utilities industry is using outdated or not fit-for-purpose security systems, which significantly increases their risk profile when third party software or services are being used. The impact of cyber on critical infrastructure is a growing issue, with Governments and regulators concerned about both hacking and ransomware, as seen recently, with a US regulator asking energy companies to report their exposure to SolarWinds. The relationship between infrastructure and cyber security is further highlighted when operational technology is linked to other internet-enabled systems. Finding a vulnerable point of entry and then hopping across internal systems to gain access to critical functions is a hack methodology that organisations can’t afford to ignore 

#cybersecurity #hack #supplierrisk #cyberattack