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Why a Dedicated Hybrid DNS Solution is Vital?

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Written by Ali Mehaidly, Solutions Architect, Middle East & Africa at Infoblox

According to Gartner, over 45 percent of IT spending will have shifted to the cloud by 2024 (up from 33 percent in 2020). Broader use of cloud and SaaS applications is driving greater investment in technologies that improve productivity, data security, and continuous business operations. The demands of a modern, distributed workforce require IT to prioritize agility, velocity, and scale. As a consequence, networks are shifting from a traditional architecture focused on headquarters and the data center to a distributed, edge-to-cloud architecture. To support the hybrid workplace, organizations need to be able to easily secure networks and unify management across cloud, HQ, and branch locations.

The hybrid workplace – where employees are mobile across on-site, home, and work-from-anywhere locations – is here to stay. In addition, organizations are undertaking other business imperatives like SaaS, cloud adoption, and IoT at a fast pace. To meet the requirements of workplace transformation, organizations must also transform their network’s capabilities.

But these transitions are not without challenges. As companies transform, infrastructure becomes more fragmented. IT teams struggle with the loss of control over core network services such as DNS, DHCP, and IP Address Management (IPAM), as remote users and cloud workloads rely on disparate DHCP, DNS systems. Limited visibility, difficulty in effectively managing devices in remote offices, and lack of security “everywhere” cause further concerns.

Why Dedicated DNS Security
Numerous organizations trust DNS, and the traffic is usually free to pass through company network firewalls. However, cybercriminals know this and abuse and attack DNS, making the protection of this critical service a high priority for organizations.

There is no perfect security tool that will fix all problems, but it is important to have tools that fill in the gaps left open by other tools. DNS, for example, can be used as a security control point to stop malicious attacks and to catch threats that would otherwise be missed by other security tools such as DNS tunneling/ data exfiltration, domain generation algorithms (DGAs), and lookalike domain attacks.

Threat investigators also rely on DNS because it detects malicious activity earlier in the kill chain than other security tools, reducing the burden on their perimeter defenses. It gives much-needed visibility into which devices are making requests to connect to malicious destinations – visibility that allows organizations to sever those connections and protect their entire infrastructure.

In fact, DNS and malware analysis are both regarded as the top tools used in identifying what data and systems the attacker got access to. DNS is also helpful to investigators when determining how much information the attacker got access to.

DNS should therefore be a key part of any organization’s security strategy as it protects firms from threats that other security tools might have missed and allows investigators to know which devices have requested connections to malicious destinations. DNS also helps accelerate incident response times, which makes threat resolution faster.

The internet is encrypted now; network analytics and visibility vendors informally reported to Forrester that between 72% and 95% of the traffic they’re seeing in corporate networks is encrypted. For many organizations, only metadata like DNS requests remain as visible cues available for real-time analysis. Security and risk professions will continue to embrace the tried-and-tested DNS firewalling and filtering techniques as a first line of defense against malware, phishing, and ransomware. Attackers know this and have been developing algorithms to generate pseudo-random domain names for the C2 operations, leading to an arms race that only AI will be able to fight in real-time.

Signature-based products like NGFW are critical to blocking or containing phishing attacks. But organizations might be missing a crucial element at a different layer of their security defenses: DNS. NGFWs allows administrators to apply policies to traffic, based not just on port and protocol, but also on applications and users accessing the network. However, the DNS protocol is typically not “inspected” by NGFW for malware, leaving the service vulnerable to malware. An NGFW is not a DNS server, and therefore, cannot interpret DNS queries and responses to detect malware that uses the DNS protocol. While some NFGWs may claim to have DNS security-related features, they are typically “bolted on” and lack the sophisticated visibility that DNS servers have into all the DNS requests and devices.

While a DNS firewall can stop malicious Internet connections before they occur at the DNS control plane, an NGFW must scan each of these connections individually, which is resource intensive and can drain its performance. NGFWs also do not offer protection to off-network devices or users, such as those working remotely, without a VPN, which adds latency. A DNS firewall can, making it much faster, more responsive, and effective at protecting end-users working both inside and outside of the organizational perimeter.

Because it’s based on DNS, a DNS firewall can be an ideal enforcement point for detecting any device that tries to call up a malicious domain. Moreover, since a DNS server is a default service in the network that is already protected by an NGFW, a DNS firewall can secure DNS connections quickly, easily, and at scale, without burdening the already busy NGFW.

Using a layered approach to security is critical as network perimeters continue to erode and confidential information is increasingly accessed through cloud services on public Wi-Fi networks. The best way to maintain a strong security posture is by integrating a DNS firewall with an NGFW. DNS firewalls can be installed as part of the standard DNS service, either on-premises or offered as a service via the cloud to complement and fill the gaps missed by NFGWs and other security tools.

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Cyber Security

Telecom Sector: Cyber Attack Target Number One for Nation-State Actors

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Written by Roland Daccache, Systems Engineer Manager MEA, CrowdStrike

Telecommunications providers play a unique and crucial role in modern societies. Businesses, governments, and individuals rely on the smooth functioning of communications. However, it is precisely this centrality and ubiquitous presence of telecommunications systems that also make them valuable targets for governments and criminals worldwide.

Targeting the telecommunications sector is becoming more and more popular
The latest Overwatch Report from CrowdStrike shows that attacks on the telecommunications industry have more than doubled in the last 12 months. Overall, 40 percent of all targeted attack attempts detected by OverWatch experts were directed at this industry. Especially for nation-state actors, this target industry is very attractive, because targeted attacks can be used to realise their own surveillance, intelligence, and counterintelligence missions. It comes as no surprise that the telecommunications industry tops the list of the top 5 industry targets among nation-state actors.

Most attacks on telecom companies come from groups close to China. However, actors with an Iranian background have also been spotted attacking the telecom sector. The operations against telecommunication providers illustrate that the protection of sensitive data and critical infrastructure is becoming increasingly important. One more reason to take a close look at the constantly changing threat landscape and its actors is to find effective methods against their tools, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

Attacks on the telecommunications industry – The typical TTPs
To gain initial access to their victim networks, communications sector attackers use a variety of techniques. Among the most common is spear phishing, exploiting vulnerabilities, compromising the supply chain, and misusing legitimate credentials.

Once the first step is taken, the attackers use native tools such as Windows Management Instrumentation or even various command and script interpreters such as Powershell to carry out their mission. To avoid detection and be able to carry out the attack without interference, the perpetrators keep looking for new hosts that offer the possibility to collect credentials to continue moving laterally through the target environment unnoticed.

To grab the desired credentials in Microsoft environments, attackers often use Mimikatz, read LSASS memory (often via comsvcs.dll or using ProcDump), or modify the WDigest registry key to store passwords in plain text.

In Linux environments, attackers often look at the contents of sensitive files, such as .bash_history, passwd, shadow, and other configuration files and administrative scripts when trying to discover credentials. OverWatch has also observed attackers using newer techniques. For example, in one case, an attacker deployed SSH daemons via a backdoor that was capable of logging credentials.

Cyber attackers also often use web-based login pages. They are modified in such a way that the login information can also be stored for later retrieval. Thus, hackers are no longer under time pressure for their initial access. So-called web shells also make it possible to manage multiple victim networks via a single interface. This leads to the very real danger of multiple attacks being launched simultaneously by one hacker group.

This is because the effort required to carry out operations is thus considerably reduced for the attackers. In addition, web shells can be used because of their simplicity and cross-platform compatibility or in different web server environments. With all these tools, actors manage to know when, how, and where call details and SMS messages are forwarded and recorded in order to strike.

Collateral damage from hacker attacks
To disguise their true goals and intentions, attackers often carry out very large-scale data exfiltrations. In reality, however, they are often only interested in specific information from very few people. The damage caused is therefore often immense. It is therefore all the more important to identify and stop the attackers. However, this undertaking is often more difficult than expected, because criminals often have extensive knowledge of a target network and are therefore difficult to distinguish from legitimate administrators.

A comprehensive cyber defence that also detects and successfully defends against these activities is therefore indispensable, especially for critical infrastructures. To successfully counter the tactics and techniques of modern attackers, it is advisable to rely not only on the latest technologies but also on human know-how and active threat hunting.  These specialists tirelessly search for novel and anomalous tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) of attackers that remain undetected by technical detection measures and stop them as soon as they are identified.

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Expert Speak

Security Flaws in Smartphone Chip Could Have Led Hackers to Eavesdrop on Android Users

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Check Point Research (CPR) identified security flaws in the smartphone chip made by Taiwanese manufacturer MediaTek. Found in 37% of the world’s smartphones, MediaTek’s chip serves as the main processor for nearly every notable Android device, including Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, Vivo, and more. The security flaws were found inside the chip’s audio processer. Left unpatched, the vulnerabilities could have enabled a hacker to eavesdrop on an Android user and/or hide malicious code.

Background 
MediaTek chips contain a special AI processing unit (APU) and audio Digital signal processor (DSP) to improve media performance and reduce CPU usage. Both the APU and the audio DSP have custom microprocessor architectures, making MediaTek DSP a unique and challenging target for security research. CPR grew curious around the degree to which MediaTek DSP could be used as an attack vector for threat actors. For the first time, CPR was able to reverse engineer the MediaTek audio processor, revealing several security flaws.

Attack Methodology
To exploit the security vulnerabilities, a threat actor’s order of operations, in theory, would be:

  • A user installs a malicious app from the Play Store and launches it
  • The app uses the MediaTek API to attack a library that has permissions to talk with the audio driver
  • The app with system privilege sends crafted messages to the audio driver to execute code in the firmware of the audio processor
  • The app steals the audio flow

Responsible Disclosure
CPR responsibly disclosed its findings to MediaTek, creating the following: CVE-2021-0661, CVE-2021-0662, CVE-2021-0663. These three vulnerabilities were subsequently fixed and published in the October 2021 MediaTek Security Bulletin. The security issue in the MediaTek audio HAL (CVE-2021-0673) was fixed in October and will be published in the December 2021 MediaTek Security Bulletin. CPR also informed Xiaomi of its findings.

Slava Makkaveev, Security Researcher at Check Point Software, said, “MediaTek is known to be the most popular chip for mobile devices. Given its ubiquity in the world, we began to suspect that it could be used as an attack vector by potential hackers. We embarked on research into the technology, which led to the discovery of a chain of vulnerabilities that potentially could be used to reach and attack the audio processor of the chip from an Android application. Left unpatched, a hacker potentially could have exploited the vulnerabilities to listen in on conversations of Android users. Furthermore, the security flaws could have been misused by the device manufacturers themselves to create a massive eavesdrop campaign. Although we do not see any specific evidence of such misuse, we moved quickly to disclose our findings to MediaTek and Xiaomi. In summary, we proved out a completely new attack vector that could have abused the Android API. Our message to the Android community is to update their devices to the latest security patch in order to be protected. MediaTek worked diligently with us to ensure these security issues were fixed in a timely manner, and we are grateful for their cooperation and spirit for a more secure world.”

Tiger Hsu, Product Security Officer at MediaTek said “Device security is a critical component and priority of all MediaTek platforms. Regarding the Audio DSP vulnerability disclosed by Check Point Software, we worked diligently to validate the issue and make appropriate mitigations available to all OEMs. We have no evidence it is currently being exploited. We encourage end-users to update their devices as patches become available and to only install applications from trusted locations such as the Google Play Store. We appreciate the collaboration with the Check Point research team to make the MediaTek product ecosystem more secure.”

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Cyber Security

Mandiant Shares Cybersecurity Predictions for 2022

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Mandiant has released its predictions report – 14 Cyber Security Predictions for 2022 and Beyond.
“The only constant in our industry is the uncertainty in the cyber realm. Attackers keep evolving – getting more sophisticated and changing their tactics, techniques and procedures to try get one up on the defenders,” said Gordon Love, VP MEA at Mandiant. “This report provides security leaders with an overview of what to expect in 2022 and beyond, based on the trends we see now. Organisations have a lot to keep in mind for next year, but remaining vigilant will enable them to defend against upcoming threats—and respond to those that inevitably get through.”

The top cyber security threats identified in the report include:

No end in sight for Ransomware
The ransomware threat has grown significantly throughout the past decade, and it will continue its upward trend. The business of ransomware is simply too lucrative unless international governments and technology innovations can fundamentally alter the attacker cost-benefit calculation.

Threat actors engaged in multifaceted extortion will continue to find more ways to extort payments from their victims. In 2022 Mandiant expects to see actors ramp up new tactics, such as trying to recruit insiders within their victims or targets. More cybercriminals are expected to evolve as threat actors become more business savvy and learn what kind of situations their victims most want to avoid.

Focus on Operation Technology (OT)
Throughout 2021, Mandiant observed low sophistication threat actors learn that they could create big impacts in the OT space—perhaps even bigger than intended. Actors will continue to explore the OT space in 2022 and increasingly use ransomware in their attacks.

Attacks against critical OT environments can cause severe disruption and even threaten human lives, thereby increasing the pressure for organizations to pay a ransom. To compound the issue, many of these OT devices are not built with security at the forefront of the design, and there is a massive uptick in the number of vulnerabilities being identified in OT environments.

Iran to continue their aggressive stance
Iran will use its cyber tools in a much more aggressive manner to promote regional interests. Iran will also continue to target Israel and others in the Middle East. They’ve shown their capability and willingness to use destructive malware, so they are expected to take advantage of any presented opportunities. Ultimately, Iran will try to create more of a power balance shifted to its own interests. Mandiant has seen them targeting abroad, but their targeting will most likely be regional throughout 2022.

Afghanistan events may trigger espionage
With the assertion of Taliban control and departure of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, one can expect further cyber espionage and information operations. The usual information operations actors—Iran, China, Russia—are expected to push narratives to support their interests through the end of 2021 and into 2022. They’ll also play up negative perceptions around the events, notably the perception that the U.S. failed to live up to its commitments to organizations and countries.

Cloud and third parties introduce new chokepoints
Organizations will continue to increasingly rely on the cloud and cloud-hosted third-party providers for primary business tasks, putting more pressure on those third parties to maintain both availability and security. The proportion of Mandiant incident response investigations involving cloud resources has grown over the past several years, and they anticipate that cloud compromise and abuse will continue to grow in tandem with enterprise cloud adoption throughout 2022.

More internet of things (IoT) devices, more vulnerabilities, more attack surface
As the number of IoT devices grow, so will the number of vulnerabilities for bug hunters to track. These devices are connected, and the general attack surface expands with the potential for profound impact. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough emphasis on security in fundamental IoT device design to fix these issues, so the situation will only get worse in the years to come.

As we move into 2022, CISOs have a lot on their mind and remaining vigilant will enable them to defend against upcoming threats—and respond to those that inevitably get through.

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