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.


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 

News round-up Jan 2021 — SolarWinds hack, the need for robust external security assurance, and a community demand for privacy

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

While the far-reaching consequences of the SolarWinds-FireEye-US Government hack are only just starting to be understood, a few stand-out lessons are emerging. In this round-up, we also observe oversight bodies in Australia starting to demand external assurance that organisations’ cyber security is robust. The rising swell from consumers demanding improvements in privacy protection also continues, with responses in kind by Apple, Microsoft, and the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The five trends driving ransomware tactics

Ransomware attacks continued to increase in 2020, and 2021 looks set to follow the trend. Unfortunately, the past 12 months has seen substantial evolution in ransomware tactics, as attackers look to improve their results.

In this post we look at 5 key ways this critical cyber threat is evolving.

End of year wrap: What the Four Seasons Total Landscaping debacle taught us about privacy and security

It’s been a dumpster fire of a yearand so, for our end-of-year wrap, we looked to the most ridiculously hilarious moment of the year.

Here are five lessons we took from the infamous Four Seasons Total Landscaping debacle: