Cyberattacks Are Here: Security Lessons from Jon Snow, White Walkers & Others from Game of Thrones

July 19, 2017 | Leave a Comment

An analysis of Game of Thrones characters as cyber threats to your enterprise.

By Virginia Satrom, Senior Public Relations Specialist, Forcepoint

As most of you have probably seen, we recently announced our new human point brand campaign. Put simply, we are leading the way in making security not just a technology issue, but a human-centric one. In light of this, I thought it would be fun to personify threats to the enterprise with one of my favorite shows – Game of Thrones. Surprisingly, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from GoT in the context of security.

Before we start, I’d like to provide a few disclaimers:

  • This is meant to be tongue in cheek, not literal, so take off your troll hat for the sake of some interesting analogies.
  • This is not comprehensive. Honestly, I could have written another 5,000 words around ALL the characters that could be related to threats.
  • This is based off of the Game of Thrones television series, not the books.
  • And finally, spoilers people. There are spoilers if you are not fully caught up through Season 6. You’ve been warned 🙂

Now, let’s dive in, lords and ladies…

What makes this Game of Thrones analysis so interesting is that these characters, depending on external forces, can change drastically from season to season. Therefore, our favorite character could represent a myriad of threats during a given season or the series overall. This concept relates to what we call ‘The Cyber Continuum of Intent’ which places insiders in your organization on a continuum which can move fluidly from accidental to malicious given their intent and motivations. There are also many instances where a character is a personification of a cyber threat or attack method.

Let’s start with one of the most devious characters – Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger. Littlefinger is a good example of an advanced evasion technique (AET) that maneuvers throughout your network delivering an exploit or malicious content into a vulnerable target so that the traffic looks normal and security devices will pass it through. As Master of Coin and a wealthy business owner, he operates in the innermost circle of King’s Landing, while secretly undermining those close to him to raise his standing within Westeros. He succeeds, in fact, by marrying Lady Tulley to ultimately become the Protector of the Vale with great influence over its heir – Robyn Arryn of the Vale. Looking at his character from another angle, Littlefinger could also be considered a privileged user within a global government organization or enterprise. He is trusted by Ned Stark with Ned’s plans to expose the Lannister’s lineage and other misdoings, but he ultimately uses that information and knowledge for personal gain – causing Ned’s demise. And let’s not forget that Littlefinger also betrays Sansa Stark’s confidence and trust, marrying her to Ramsay Snow.

Varys and his ‘little birds’ equate to bots, and collectively, a botnet. Botnets are connected devices in a given network that can be controlled via an owner with command and control software. Of course, Varys (aptly also known as the Spider) commands and controls his little birds through his power, influence and also money. When it comes to security, botnets are used to penetrate a given organization’s systems – often through DDoS attacks, sending spam, and so forth. This example is similar to Turkish hackers who actually gamified DDoS attacks, offering money and rewards to carry out cybercrime.

Theon Greyjoy begins the series as a loyal ward to Eddard Stark and friend to Robb and Jon, but through his own greed and hunger for power becomes a true malicious insider. He also is motivated by loyalty to his family and home that he has so long been away from. He overtook The North with his fellow Ironborns, fundamentally betraying the Starks.

Theon Greyjoy and Ramsay Bolton (formerly Snow) are no strangers to one another, and play out a horrific captor/captive scenario through Seasons 4 and 5. Ramsay is similar to Ransomware as it usually coerces its victims to pay a ransom through fear. In the enterprise, this means a ransom is demanded in Bitcoin for the return of business critical data or IP. Additionally, Ramsay Snow holds RIckon Stark as a hostage in Season 6. He agrees to return Rickon to Jon Snow and Sansa Stark, but has his men kill Rickon right as the siblings reunite. This is often the case in Ransomware that infiltrates the enterprise – often, even if Ransom is paid, data is not returned.

Gregor Clegane, also known as The Mountain, uses sheer brute force to cause mayhem within Westeros, which would be similar to brute force cracking. This is a trial and error method used to decode encrypted data, through exhaustive effort. The Mountain is used for his strength and training as a combat warrior, defeating a knight in a duel in Season 1, and in Season 4 defeating Prince Oberyn Martell in trial by combat – in a most brutal way. He could also be compared to a nation state hacker, with fierce loyalty to the crown — particularly the Lannister family. He is also a reminder that physical security can be as important as virtual for enterprises.

Depending on the season or the episode, this can fluctuate, but 99% of the time I think we can agree that Cersei Lannister is a good example of a malicious insider and more specifically a rogue insider. She is keen to keep her family in power and will do whatever it takes to maintain control over their destiny. My favorite part about Cersei is though she is extremely easy to loathe, throughout the entire series it is clear she loves her children and would do anything for them. After the last of her children dies, she quickly evolves from grief to rage. As the adage says, sad people harm themselves but mad people harm others. Cersei can be related to a disgruntled employee who intends to steal critical data with malicious intent that is facing challenges from within or outside of the workplace.

If we take a look at Seasons 4 and 5, and the fall of Jon Snow, many of the Night’s Watch members are good examples of insiders. Olly, for example, starts out as a loyal brother among the Night’s Watch. If he happened to leak any intel that could harm Jon Snow’s leadership or well-being, it would have been accidental. This could be compared to an employee within an organization who is doing their best, but accidentally clicks on a malicious link. However, as Snow builds his relationships with the wildlings, Olly cannot help but foster disdain and distrust toward Snow for allying with the people that harmed his family. Conversely, Alliser Thorne was always on the malicious side of the continuum, having it out for Snow especially after losing the election to be the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Ultimately, Thorne’s rallying of the Night’s Watch to his side led to Snow’s demise (even if it was only temporary).

Sons of the Harpy mirror a hacktivist group fighting the rule of Daenerys Targaryen over Meereen. They wreak havoc on Daenerys’s Unsullied elite soldiers and are backed by the leaders who Daenerys overthrew – the ‘Masters’ of Meereen – in the name of restoring the ‘tradition’ of slavery in their city. They seek to overthrow Daenerys and use any means necessary to ensure there is turmoil and anarchy. Hacktivists are often politically motivated. If the hacktivist group is successful, it can take the form of a compromised user on the Continuum – through impersonation. After all, the most pervasive malware acts much like a human being.

Let’s not forget about the adversaries that live beyond The Wall – The White Walkers. The White Walkers represent a group of malicious actors seeking to cause harm in the Seven Kingdoms, or for this analogy, your network. What is interesting about these White Walkers is that they are a threat that has been viewed as a legend or folklore except for those that have actually seen them. However, we know that this season they become very real. Secondly, what makes the White Walkers so remarkable is that we do not know their intentions or motivations, they cannot be understood like most of these characters seeking power or revenge. I argue that this makes them the most dangerous and hardest threat to predict. And lastly, if we think about how the White Walkers came to be, we know that they were initially created to help defend the Children of the Forest against the First Men. But, we now know that they have grown exponentially in number and begun to take on a life (pun intended) of their own. This is equated to the use of AI in the technology space which some fear will overtake us humans.

In my mind The Wall itself could be considered a character, and therefore a firewall of sorts. Its purpose is to keep infiltration out; however, as we learned at the end of Season 6, this wall is penetrable. This leads me to the main takeaway – enterprises and agencies face a myriad of threats and should not rely on traditional perimeter defenses, but have multi-layered security solutions in place.

With all of these parallels, it becomes clear that people are the true constant complexity in security. It is known that enterprises must have people-centric, intelligent solutions to combat the greatest threats like those faced in Westeros.

CSA Industry Blog Listed Among 100 Top Information Security Blogs for Data Security

July 10, 2017 | Leave a Comment

Our blog was recently ranked 35th among 100 top information security blogs for data security professionals by Feedspot. Among the other blogs named to the list were The Hacker News, Krebs on Security and Dark Reading. Needless to say, we’re honored to be in such good company.

To be listed, Feedspot’s editorial team and expert reviews, assessed each blog on the following criteria:

• Google reputation and Google search ranking;
• Influence and popularity on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites; and
• Quality and consistency of posts.

We strive to offer our readers broad range of informative content that provides not only varying points of view but information you can use as a jumping off point to enhance your organization’s cloud security.

We’re glad to be in such great company and hope that you’ll take the time to visit our blog. We invite you to sign up to receive it and other CSA announcements. We think you’ll like what you see.

Locking-in the Cloud: Seven Best Practices for AWS

July 6, 2017 | Leave a Comment

By Sekhar Sarukkai, Co-founder and Chief Scientist, Skyhigh Networks

With the voter information of 198 million Americans exposed to the public, the Deep Root Analytics leak brought cloud security to the forefront. The voter data was stored in an AWS S3 bucket with minimal protection. In fact, the only level of security that separated the data from being outright published online was a simple six-character Amazon sub-domain. Simply put, Deep Root Analytics wasn’t following some of the most basic AWS security best practices.

More importantly, this leak demonstrated how essential cloud security has become to preventing data leaks. Even though AWS is the most popular IaaS system, its security, especially on the customer end, is frequently neglected. This leaves sensitive data vulnerable to both internal and external threats. External threats are regularly covered in the news, from malware to DDoS hacking. Yet the Deep Root Analytics leak proves that insider threats can be dangerous, even if they are based on negligence rather than malicious intent.

Amazon already addressed the issue of outside threats through its numerous security investments and innovations, such as the AWS shield for DDoS attacks. Despite extensive safety precautions, well-organized and persistent hackers could still break Amazon’s defenses. However, Amazon cannot be blamed for the AWS security breaches, as it is estimated that 95 percent of cloud security breaches by 2020 will be the customer’s fault.

This is because AWS is based on a system of cooperation between Amazon and its customers. This system, known as the shared responsibility model, operates on the assumption that Amazon is responsible for safeguarding and monitoring the AWS infrastructure and responding to fraud and abuse. On the other hand, customers are responsible for the security “in” the cloud. Specifically, they are in charge of configuring and managing the services themselves, as well as installing updates and security patches.

AWS Best Practices

The following best practices serve as a background to securing configuring AWS.

  1. Activate CloudTrail log file validation:

CloudTrail log validation ensures that any changes made to a log file can be identified after they have been delivered to the S3 bucket. This is an important step towards securing AWS because it provides an additional layer of security for S3, something that could have prevented the Deep Root Analytics leak.

  1. Turn on access logging for CloudTrail S3 buckets:

Log data captured by CloudTrail is stored in the CloudTrail S3 buckets, which can be useful for activity monitoring and forensic investigations. With access logging turned on, customers can identify unauthorized or unwarranted access attempts, as well as track these access requests, improving the security of AWS.

  1. Use multifactor authentication:

Multifactor authentication (MFA) should be activated when logging into both root and Identity and Access Management (IAM) user accounts. For the root user, the MFA should be tied to a dedicated device and not any one user’s personal device. This would ensure that the root account is accessible even if the user’s personal device is lost or if that user leaves the company. Lastly, MFA needs to be required for deleting CloudTrail logs, as hackers are able to avoid detection for longer by deleting S3 buckets containing CloudTrail logs.

  1. Rotate IAM access keys regularly:

When sending requests between the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) and the AWS APIs, an access key is needed. Rotating this access key after a standardized and selected number of days decreases the risk of both external and internal threats. This additional level of security ensures that data cannot be accessed with a lost or stolen key if it has been sufficiently rotated.

  1. Minimize number of discrete security groups:

Account compromise can come from a variety of sources, one of which is misconfiguration of a security group. By minimizing the number of discrete security groups, enterprises can reduce the risk of misconfiguring an account.

  1. Terminate unused access keys:

AWS users must terminate unused access keys, as access keys can be an effective method for compromising an account. For example, if someone leaves the company and still has access to a key, that person would be able to use it until its termination. Similarly, if old access keys are deleted, external threats only have a brief window of opportunity. It is recommended that access keys left unused for 30 days be terminated.

  1. Restrict access to CloudTrail bucket:

No user or administrator account should have unrestricted access to CloudTrail logs, as they are susceptible to phishing attacks. Even if users have no malicious intent, they are still susceptible. As a result, access to the CloudTrail logs needs to be restricted to limit the risk of unauthorized access.

These best practices for the AWS infrastructure could go a long way in securing your sensitive information. By applying even a few of them to your AWS configuration, sensitive information could remain secure, and another Deep Root Analytics leak could be prevented in the future.

Clouding Within the Lines: Keeping User Data Where It Belongs in the Age of GDPR

July 3, 2017 | Leave a Comment

By Nathan Narayanan, Director of Product Management, Netskope

Importance around data residency hygiene has been around for a long time, but cloud services that often show up tend to focus more on user productivity and less on user data privacy. The highly-productive nature of these services increases their adoption resulting in a higher risk to the privacy of data.

According to Gartner, by May 25, 2018 (the day that GDPR takes effect) less than 50 percent of all organizations will be fully compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It’s time to take steps to keep up.

Here are some things to consider.

Identify important data. Enforcing a very broad policy on all types of content can be too restrictive and may hinder productivity. Enterprises will need to identify critical data that will needs to be controlled within the geo-boundaries. This may be data relating to regulatory mandates such as health records, personally identifiable information and even company confidential data. All other content that do not fall under these constraints need not be controlled within the geo-boundaries.

Determine your geo-boundary and monitor movement of your data. According to the Netskope Cloud Report 40.7 percent of cloud services replicate data in geographically dispersed data centers. With this in mind, you need to keep your important data where it belongs, you also need to determine the boundaries where the data should reside. In some cases, PII may be required to stay with a region such as EU and in other cases it may be required to stay within the narrow bounds of a country such as Germany. A CASB can perform content inspection to identify important data as well as report on the movement of such data. To control data traveling beyond the geo-boundaries will require the CASB solution to map IP address into graphical locations and proactively apply policies to keep the data where it should reside.

Ensure cloud services enforce geo-control. Get visibility into the cloud services used by your organization and understand how ready these applications are for enterprise use. A CASB can also allow you to rate cloud services from a GDPR readiness standpoint. This rating is usually based on research on the cloud service and considers factors such as SLAs around data residency, level of encryption of the content processed, and terms in the agreement between the enterprise and the cloud service. For example, applications that take ownership of the user data will be rated poorly for GDPR readiness. Since 66.9 percent of cloud services do not specify if you or they own your data in their terms of service, finding out this information might take longer than you think.

Build policies to ensure data is within its geo-boundaries. No matter how ready the cloud services are, there may be a legitimate need to move data outside the region for business reasons. Also, sometimes employees may inadvertently move data outside its geo-boundaries. There are several steps you can take to proactively enforce geo-control in these situations. A CASB solution can help with enforcing a policy so that data is encrypted if moved outside the geo-boundaries for legitimate reasons. In all other cases, enforce policies to simply stop data from leaving the geo-boundary.

Remember employees will often travel outside the region and will need access to sensitive data so that they can continue to be productive. Ensure policies for such employees continue to respect data residency. It may be easier to simply block traffic to or from certain countries based on how your business is conducted.

Build a process for tighter geo-control. Employees play a big part in the data residency hygiene. Reduce risk by educating users on a periodic basis. A CASB solution can be setup to coach the employee at the time the risky data transfer if conducted. Coaching can also be used to discourage applications that are not ready for geo-control. It is also important to continually monitor and sharpen the policies as you learn how your sensitive data travels.

Want to learn more about GDPR and the cloud? Download Managing the Challenges of the Cloud Under the New EU General Data Protection Regulation white paper.