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Batten Down The Hatches! IBM’s X-Force 2012 Trend And Risk Report

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It’s been a busy year for IT security incidents. Yesterday, John Markoff and Nicole Perlroth with The New York Times told us about yet another incident, this time a cyberattack involving antispam group Spamhaus and an anonymous group unhappy with their efforts.

Based on disclosed incident details such as the vulnerability used and attack type, IBM X-Force was able to determine that the majority of the security incidents disclosedin 2012 were carried out by the top left quadrant above, with attackers going after a broad target base while using off-the-shelf tools and techniques. This can be attributed to the wide public availability of toolkits, and to the large number of vulnerable web applications that exist on the Internet.

Click to enlarge. Based on disclosed incident details such as the vulnerability used and attack type, IBM X-Force was able to determine that the majority of the security incidents disclosed in 2012 were carried out by the top left quadrant above, with attackers going after a broad target base while using off-the-shelf tools and techniques. This can be attributed to the wide public availability of toolkits, and to the large number of vulnerable web applications that exist on the Internet.

But the list goes on and on. From the discovery of sophisticated toolkits with ominous names like Flame to cross-platform zero-day vulnerabilities, both consumers and corporations have been inundated with advisories and alerts regarding emerging threats. The frequency of data breaches and incidents—which had already hit a new high in 2011—continued their upward trajectory.

At the mid-year of 2012, IBM’s X-Force team predicted that the explosive nature of attacks and security breaches seen in the first half would continue. Indeed this was the case. While talk of sophisticated attacks and widespread distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attempts made the year’s headlines, a large percentage of breaches relied on tried and true techniques such as SQL injection.

What continues to be clear is that attackers, regardless of operational sophistication, will pursue a path-of-least-resistance approach to reach their objectives. Integration of mobile devices into the enterprise continues to be a challenge. In the previous report, X-Force looked at some of the pitfalls and perils of implementing BYOD programs without strict formulations of policy and governance to support the use of these devices.

That said, recent developments have indicated that while these dangers still exist, and X-Force believes mobile devices should be more secure than traditional user computing devices by 2014. While this prediction may seem far fetched on the surface, it is based on security control trends and requirements that are being driven into the market by knowledgeable security executives.

In its latest report, X-Force explores how security executives are advocating the separation of personas or roles on employee-owned devices. It also addresses some secure software mobile application development initiatives that are taking place today. The distribution and installation of malware on end-user systems has been greatly enabled by the use of Web browser exploit kits built specifically for this purpose.

The intense proliferation of social networking across the Internet poses new challenges to companies that need to control the sharing of confidential information. Any employee that has access to the Internet is going to be exposed to social networking sites and because they are so frequently accessed,they have become a favorite target of scam and phishing.

Click to enlarge. The intense proliferation of social networking across the Internet poses new challenges to companies that need to control the sharing of confidential information. Any employee that has access to the Internet is going to be exposed to social networking sites and because they are so frequently accessed,
they have become a favorite target of scam and phishing.

Exploit kits first began to appear in 2006 and are provided or sold by their authors to attackers that want to install malware on a large number of systems.  They continue to be popular because they provide attackers a turnkey solution for installing malware on end-user systems.

Java vulnerabilities have become a key target for exploit kits as attackers take advantage of three key elements: reliable exploitation, unsandboxed code execution, and cross-platform availability across multiple operating systems. Java exploits have become key targets in 2012 and IBM X-Force predicts this attack activity to continue into 2013.

As X-Force also reported in the mid-year, spam volume remained nearly flat in 2012, with India claiming the top country of origin for spam distribution, but the nature of spam is changing. Broadly targeted phishing scams, as well as more personalized spear-phishing efforts continue to fool end users with crafty social-engineering email messages that look like legitimate businesses. Also, fake banking alerts and package delivery service emails have been effective as attackers refine their messages to look like the authentic messages that customers might normally receive.

Whether the target is individuals or the enterprise, once again, X-Force reminds organizations that many breaches were a result of poorly applied security fundamentals and policies and could have been mitigated by putting some basic security hygiene into practice.

Web applications are still topping the chart of most disclosed vulnerabilities, rising 14% in 2012 over the 2011 end of year numbers. As reported earlier in the mid-year report, cross-site scripting (XSS) dominated the web vulnerability disclosures at 53% of all publicly released vulnerabilities. Although SQL injection attack methods remain as a top attack technique, the actual disclosures of new SQL injection vulnerabilities remain lower than the 2010 peak X-Force recorded.

Social media has dramatically changed our lives with new ways to connect, personally and professionally. From this constant availability of information about individuals, attackers can readily access data to use in their activities.

Now, more than ever, individual employees who share personal details in their social profiles can be targeted for attacks.

The values for the evaluated threat and residualthreat can be determined by comparing thelikelihood or frequency of a threat occurring (high,medium, low) against the damage impact that couldhappen if the threat occurred (catastrophic, high,medium, low). The goal is to implement mitigationprocesses that either reduce the frequency of thethreat occurring or reduce the impact if the threatdoes occur. A requirement for this to be successful is to have aspecific, designated monitoring mechanism to monitorthe implementation of the treatment processes andfor the appearance of the threats. This monitoringmechanism should be monitored and alerts should beresponded to. It does no good to have network-basedanti-virus consoles gathering information about virusalerts across the network, if nobody is assigned tomonitor the console and respond to those alerts.Monitoring and responding is part of the mitigationprocess. (An example threat assessment and riskmitigation process chart is provided below, thoughthe IR team may identify a greater list.)

Click to enlarge. The values for the evaluated threat and residual threat can be determined by comparing the likelihood or frequency of a threat occurring (high, medium, low) against the damage impact that could happen if the threat occurred (catastrophic, high, medium, low). The goal is to implement mitigation processes that either reduce the frequency of the threat occurring or reduce the impact if the threat does occur. A requirement for this to be successful is to have a specific, designated monitoring mechanism to monitor the implementation of the treatment processes and for the appearance of the threats.

2012 X-Force Trend And Risk Report Highlight

Malware and the malicious web

  • In 2012, near daily leaks of private information about victims were announced like game scoreboards through tweets and other social media. Personal details, such as email addresses, passwords (both encrypted and clear text), and even national ID numbers were put on public display.
  • Based on data for 2012, it is not surprising that the bulk of the security incidents disclosed were carried out with the majority of attackers going after a broad target base while using off-the-shelf tools and techniques. X-Force attributes this to the wide public availability of toolkits and to the large number of vulnerable web applications that exist on the Internet.
  • The year began and ended with a series of politically motivated, high-profile DDoS attacks against the banking industry. An interesting twist to the banking DDoS attacks was the implementation of botnets on compromised web servers residing in high bandwidth data centers. This technique assisted in much higher connected uptime as well as having more bandwidth than home PC’s to carry out the attacks. In the sampling of security incidents from 2012, the United States had the most breaches, at 46%. The United Kingdom was second at 8% of total incidents, with Australia and India tied for third at 3%.
  • IBM Managed Security Services (MSS) security incident trends are markers that represent the state of security across the globe. The relative volume of the various alerts can help to describe how attacks are established and launched. They also frequently provide hints about how methods have evolved. Based on this, the main focus in 2012 may have been the subversion of systems, with larger coordinated attacks being executed across fairly broad swaths of the Internet.
  • IBM MSS has noted a dramatic and sustained rise in SQL injection-based traffic due, in large part, to a consistent effort from the Asia Pacific region. The alerts came from all industry sectors, with a bias toward banking and finance targets.
  • Web browser exploit kits (also known as exploit packs) are built for one particular purpose: to install malware on end-user systems. In 2012 X-Force observed an upsurge in web browser exploit kit development and activity—the primary target of which are Java vulnerabilities—and X-Force supplies some strategies and tips to help protect against future attacks (see end of post to download full report).
  • Java continues to be a key target for attackers. It has the advantage of being both cross-browser and cross-platform—a rare combination that affords attackers a lot of value for their investment. Web content trends, spam, and phishing Web content trends Top used websites are readily deployed as IPv6- ready, although attackers do not yet seem to be targeting IPv6 on a large scale.
  • One third of all web access is done on websites which allow users to submit content such as web applications and social media.
  • Nearly 50% of the relevant websites now link to a social network platform, and this intense proliferation poses new challenges to companies that need to control the sharing of confidential information.

Spam and phishing

  • Spam volume remained nearly flat in 2012.
  • India remains the top country for distributing spam, sending out more than 20% of all spam in the autumn of 2012. Following India was the United States where more than 8% of all spam was generated in the second half of the year. Rounding out the top five spam sending countries of origin were Vietnam, Peru, and Spain.
  • At the end of 2012, IBM reports that traditional spam is on the retreat, while scam and spam containing malicious attachments is on the rise. In addition, attackers are demonstrating more resiliency to botnet take downs which results in an uninterrupted flow of spam volume.

Operational Security Practices

Vulnerabilities and exploitation

  • In 2012, there were over 8,168 publicly disclosed vulnerabilities. While not the record amount X-Force expected to see after reviewing its mid-year data, it still represents an increase of over 14% over 2011.
  • Web application vulnerabilities surged 14% from 2,921 vulnerabilities in 2011 to 3,551 vulnerabilities in 2012.
  • Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities accounted for over half of the total web application vulnerabilities disclosed in 2012. Cross-site scripting dominated the web vulnerability disclosures. Fifty-three percent of all publicly released web application vulnerabilities were cross-site scripting related. This is the highest rate X-Force has ever seen. This dramatic increase occurred while SQL injection vulnerabilities enjoyed a higher rate than 2011 but were still down significantly since 2010.
  • There were 3,436 public exploits in 2012. This is 42% of the total number of vulnerabilities, up 4% from 2011 levels.
  • Web browser vulnerabilities declined slightly for 2012, but not at as high a rate as document format issues. While the overall number of web browser vulnerabilities dropped by a nominal 6% from 2011, the number of high- and critical severity web browser vulnerabilities saw an increase of 59% for the year.
  • Few innovations have impacted the way the world communicates quite as much as social media. However, with the mass interconnection and constant availability of individuals, new vulnerabilities and a fundamental shift in intelligence-gathering capabilities has provided attackers and security professionals alike with information useful for enhancing their activities.
  • Rather than seeing a particular enterprise as an individual entity, attackers can view enterprises as a collection of personalities. This gives attackers the opportunity to target specific people rather than enterprise infrastructures or applications. Furthermore, targeted people may also be targeted as individuals and not just as employees. In other words, the personal activities and lives of employees can be leveraged to target an enterprise.

Emerging Trends In Security

Mobile

  • Prediction: Mobile computing devices should be more secure than traditional user computing devices by 2014. This is a bold prediction that IBM recently made as part of its look ahead in technology trends. While this prediction may seem far-fetched on the surface, it is based on security control trends and requirements that are being driven into the market by knowledgeable security executives.
  • Separation of personas or roles: While a small percentage of enterprises have dealt with BYOD by using virtualized desktop solutions to separate and control enterprise applications and data from the rest of the personally owned device, a greater number of enterprises have wanted or required some form of separation or dual persona on mobile devices. This difference in use or adoption could be the result of greater numbers of devices driving greater risk in the percentage of personally owned mobile devices versus personally owned PCs in a BYOD program.
  • In many cases, enterprises have made significant investments into implementing Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SSDLC) processes. Today’s mobile application development benefits from this. Tools exist to support secure development as part of the process instead of being conducted in qualification or production. As a result, it should be more common for enterprises to have more securely developed mobile applications than their existing legacy applications. Closure of vulnerabilities in some traditional computing applications may only conclude as existing versions are sunset and replaced with newer, more securely developed replacements.
  • Over 2012, it is safe to conclude that more enterprises are supporting BYOD or the use of personally owned devices than previously. In the last two years, IBM Security has spoken to hundreds of global 2000 customers and out of those interviewed, only three said they had no plans to implement any kind of BYOD program.

To learn more on how your organization can work to address these types of vulnerabilities, download the full IBM X-Force 2012 Trend And Risk Report here.

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