Digital Transformation and Workplace Evolution Driving Demand for PKI and Digital Certificates
Driven by organizational changes, enterprise use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and digital certificates has never been higher, while the related skills to manage PKI are in historically short supply, according to research from Ponemon Institute, sponsored by Entrust, a global leader in trusted identity, payments and data protection. The 2021 Global PKI and IoT Trends Study also revealed that IT professionals continue to see a lack of clear ownership, resources, and skills as the top challenges in deploying and managing PKI.
PKI is at the core of nearly every IT infrastructure, enabling security for critical digital initiatives such as cloud, mobile device deployment, identities, and the internet of things (IoT). As such, PKI holds the key to enabling the digital transformation that these technologies underpin, something that has been thrown into sharp focus over the course of the global pandemic and its impact on working practices.
Drivers and challenges of PKI adoption
When it comes to the most important trends driving the deployment of applications using PKI in the Middle East market, the Internet of Things (IoT) remains the fastest-growing trend at 46%, with consumer mobile applications being the second-highest driver, cited by 44% of respondents, and Cloud-Based services coming in third at 37%. The top challenge that impedes the deployment and management of PKI is a lack of clear ownership – cited by 84% of respondents in the Middle East. Globally, respondents have raised this issue as a top challenge for the past 5 years, indicating a key area of concern for many enterprises.
Insufficient resources and insufficient skills were rated as the second and third challenges in the Middle East at 57% and 53% respectively. Similarly, on a global level, the top challenges to enabling applications to utilize PKI were the existing PKI being incapable of supporting new applications (55%) and insufficient skills (46%). The areas expected to experience the most change and uncertainty according to respondents in the Middle East were external mandates and standards, which took the top spot for 30% of those surveyed, while newer applications, such the Internet of Things (IoT) came second (28%).
“PKI has never been in such high demand in the Middle East region – whether from the pressure of securing a remote or hybrid workforce this past year, or the continued growth of IoT and cloud-based services,” said Hamid Qureshi, Regional Sales Director, Middle East, Africa, and South Asia at Entrust. “At the same time, the skills and resources required to deploy and manage PKI continue to be in short supply – an issue exacerbated by lack of clear organizational ownership over PKI deployments. To deal with this complexity, organizations need a strategy first and products second to support this transformation. This means that they need a partner like Entrust who not only has the technological capabilities, but the heritage and expertise to help succeed in this environment.”
“Over the years we have been doing this study, it is clear that that the gap between the rising demand for PKI adoption and the challenges hindering it appear to be growing,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. “This has the potential to exacerbate the headaches organizations already feel and create gaps in their security postures. When you factor in that environments are more distributed with remote working, cloud and IoT, it’s clear that there’s an immediate need for many organizations to gain additional visibility, automation and centralized control.”
The Rise of Machine Identities
TLS/SSL certificates for public-facing websites and services are the most often cited use case for PKI credentials (81% of respondents globally). Private networks and VPN applications came in second (67%, up from 60% in 2020) and email security was third (55%, up from 51% in 2020), overtaking last year’s second and third positions of public cloud applications and enterprise user authentication. This change highlights the shifting focus on ensuring remote workers and distributed IT workloads can be kept secure.
The research also revealed that the average number of certificates organizations issue or acquire is still on the rise, up 4.3% from 56,192 in 2020 to 58,639 this year (and up 50% since 2019). While the number of human identities being secured has been relatively flat over the past few years, there are now more machine identities (devices and workflows) than human ones. This growth in machine identities is primarily driven by the growing use of IoT, cloud services, and new applications.
Regardless of the reason for the growth, the more certificates an organization needs to manage, the more critical proper management becomes. With one in five (20%) of respondents stating they use a manual certificate revocation list and nearly a third (32%) admitting they have no certificate revocation technique, these organizations risk being vulnerable to attacks and facing outages to critical systems and the consequent business disruption and cost that comes with that.
A Total of 13 Organizations in 9 Countries Fall Victim to “Dark Pink”
Group-IB has today published a new update into the APT (advanced persistent threat) group codenamed Dark Pink, revealing that a total of 13 organizations in 9 countries have now fallen victim to this malicious actor. Dark Pink’s operations were detailed in depth by Group-IB’s Threat Intelligence unit in a January 2023 blog post, and at this time, researchers linked the group to attacks on 7 organizations in the Asia-Pacific region and 1 in Europe. Group-IB experts have since discovered 5 new Dark Pink victims, and the geographic scope of the group’s operations is wider than previously thought, as organizations in Brunei, Thailand, and Belgium were all hit by Dark Pink attacks.
Continued analysis has revealed that this group is still active, as Dark Pink attacked a government ministry in Brunei this past January and a government agency in Indonesia as recently as April 2023. Additionally, Group-IB researchers were able to attribute three other attacks from 2022 to this particular APT group. The initial access vector for Dark Pink attacks continues to be spear-phishing emails, and Group-IB researchers noted in their January 2023 blog that the group utilized an almost-entirely custom toolkit to exfiltrate files and messenger data from infected devices and networks.
Since then, Group-IB experts can reveal that Dark Pink APT has updated many of these custom tools, changing their functionalities in order to allow the group to slip undetected past defense mechanisms of cybersecurity systems. For example, the group’s custom KamiKakaBot module, designed to read and execute commands from the threat actors via Telegram, is still stored on the filesystem of infected devices, but it is now divided into two distinct parts — one that controls the device and the other that steals sensitive data. Dark Pink also continues to use an MSBuild utility to launch KamiKakaBot in the infection chain.
Group-IB’s Threat Intelligence unit has discovered Dark Pink’s new account on GitHub, which was created as soon as the first information about the APT group was published in the public domain this past January. The threat actors can issue commands to infected machines to download files from this GitHub account, and Group-IB researchers found 12 commits to the new account performed between January 9 and April 11, 2023.
Recent attacks have also seen the group exfiltrate stolen data over a HTTP protocol using Webhook service, and they have also leveraged functionalities of an MS Excel add-in to ensure the persistence of TelePowerBot (a simpler version of KamiKakaBot written in PowerShell). In line with Group-IB’s zero-tolerance policy to cybercrime, all confirmed and potential victims of Dark Pink attacks were issued with proactive warnings.
“Dark Pink APT shows no sign of slowing down,” Andrey Polovinkin, Malware Analyst at Group-IB, said. “APT groups are renowned for their responsiveness and ability to adapt their custom tools to continually avoid detection, and Dark Pink is no exception. The profile of the affected targets underscores the significant danger that Dark Pink poses for both public- and private-sector actors. Group-IB will continue to analyze all Dark Pink activity and ensure that confirmed and potential victims are informed.”
CISOs in the Middle East Have Dealt With Loss of Sensitive Data in the Past 12 Months, Says Proofpoint
Proofpoint, Inc., a leading cybersecurity and compliance company, today released its annual Voice of the CISO report, which explores key challenges, expectations, and priorities of chief information security officers (CISOs). The findings reveal that most CISOs have returned to the elevated concerns they experienced early in the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of CISOs in the UAE surveyed feel at risk of a material cyber attack, compared to 44% the year before, when they may have felt a brief sense of calm after adapting to the chaos of the pandemic.
This year’s data is a shift back to 2021 when 68% of CISOs in the UAE believed a material attack was imminent. Likewise, sentiments about preparedness levels have reversed: 57% feel unprepared to cope with a targeted cyber attack, showing a moderate increase over last year’s 47% and a decrease from 2021’s 72%.
While organizations have largely overcome the disruptions of the last two years, the effects of the Great Resignation and employee turnover continue to linger, exacerbated by the recent wave of mass layoffs—75% of CISOs in the UAE say that employees leaving the organization played a role in a data loss event. Even though 47% of security leaders had to deal with the loss of sensitive information in the past 12 months, only 61% believe they have adequate data protection in place.
The 2023 Voice of the CISO report examines global third-party survey responses from more than 1,600 CISOs at mid-to-large size organizations across different industries. Throughout the course of Q1 2023, 100 CISOs were interviewed in each market across 16 countries: UAE, KSA, the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Brazil.
The report discusses global trends and regional differences around three central themes: the threats and risks CISOs face daily; the impact of employees on organizations’ cyber preparedness; and the defenses CISOs are building, especially as the economic downturn puts pressure on security budgets. The survey also measures the changes in alignment between security leaders and their boards of directors, exploring how their relationship impacts security priorities.
“Years of sustained remote and hybrid working has resulted in an increased risk around insider threat incidents, with our research revealing that three-quarters of CISOs in the UAE agree that people leaving the organization contribute to data loss,” said Emile Abou Saleh, Regional Director, Middle East, and Africa at Proofpoint. “The rising challenges of protecting people and data, high expectations, burnout, and uncertainty about personal liability are testing CISOs in the UAE. The way forward is to implement layered defenses, including a dedicated insider threat management solution and strong security awareness training, so organizations are well protected against threats that focus on people as the main perimeter.”
Proofpoint’s Voice of the CISO report for 2023 includes the following findings about the UAE:
- CISOs in the UAE have returned to the elevated concerns they experienced early in the pandemic, while also feeling more unprepared than last year: 75% of CISOs in the UAE feel at risk of experiencing a material cyber attack in the next 12 months, compared to 44% last year and 68% in 2021. Further, 57% believe their organization is unprepared to cope with a targeted cyber attack, compared to 47% last year and 72% in 2021.
- The loss of sensitive data is exacerbated by employee turnover: 47% of security leaders in the UAE reported having to deal with a material loss of sensitive data in the past 12 months, and of those, 75% agreed that employees leaving the organization contributed to the loss. Despite those losses, 61% of CISOs in the UAE believe they have adequate controls to protect their data.
- Email fraud tops the list of the most significant threats: The top threats perceived by CISOs in the UAE are almost the same as last year. In both years email fraud (business email compromise) and cloud account compromise led the way, but this year they were followed by malware and smishing/vishing, whereas last year malware was joined by insider threats as the other top concern.
- Most organizations are likely to pay a ransom if impacted by ransomware: 59% of CISOs in the UAE believe their organization would pay to restore systems and prevent data release if attacked by ransomware in the next 12 months. And they are relying on insurance to shift the risk—56% said they would place a cyber insurance claim to recover losses incurred in various types of attacks.
- Supply chain risk is a recurring priority: 56% of CISOs in the UAE say they have adequate controls in place to mitigate supply chain risk, a modest increase from last year’s 49%. While these protections may feel adequate for now, going forward, CISOs may feel more strapped for resources—65% say their budgets have been impacted.
- People risk grows as a concern: There is an increase in the number of CISOs in the UAE who view human error as their organization’s biggest cyber vulnerability—59% in this year’s survey vs. 50% in 2022 and 70% in 2021. At the same time, 56% of CISOs believe that employees understand their role in protecting the organization, compared to 51% in 2022 and 69% in 2021; this illustrates a struggle to build a strong security culture.
- CISOs and boards are much more in tune: 63% of CISOs in the UAE agree their board members see eye-to-eye with them on cybersecurity issues. This is a substantial increase from the 47% of CISOs who shared this view last year and the same as the 63% who felt this way in 2021.
- Mounting CISO pressures are making the job increasingly unsustainable: 59% of CISOs in the UAE feel they face unreasonable job expectations, a significant increase from last year’s 38%. While the return to their new reality may be one reason behind this view, CISOs’ job-related angst is a likely contributor as well—60% are concerned about personal liability and 59% say they have experienced burnout in the past 12 months.
“Security leaders must remain steadfast in protecting their people and data, a task made increasingly difficult as insiders prove themselves as a significant contributor to sensitive data loss,” said Ryan Kalember, executive vice president of cybersecurity strategy for Proofpoint. “If recent devastating attacks are any indication, CISOs have an even tougher road ahead, especially given the precarious security budgets and new job pressures. Now that they have returned to elevated levels of concern, CISOs must ensure they focus on the right priorities to move their organizations toward cyber resilience.”
HTML Attachments Remain the Most Dangerous File, Says Barracuda
A new Barracuda Threat Spotlight shows how in March 2023 just under half (45.7%) of all HTML attachments scanned by the company were malicious. This follows a steady upward trend in the proportion of malicious HTML files since Barracuda’s last report on the threat in May 2022 when the proportion was less than half (21%) of the current value. In comparison, only 0.03% and 0.009% of the highly popular Microsoft Office and PDF file types were found to be malicious.
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, and it is used to create and structure content that is displayed online. It is also used in email communication – for example in automated newsletters, marketing materials, and more. In many cases, reports are attached to an email in HTML format (with the file extension .html, .htm, or .xhtml, for example). Attackers can successfully leverage HTML as an attack technique in phishing and credential theft or for the delivery of malware.
The data follows analysis by Barracuda researchers of many millions of messages and files scanned by the company’s security technologies. “The security industry has been highlighting the cybercriminal weaponizing HTML for years – and evidence suggests it remains a successful and popular attack tool,” said Fleming Shi, Chief Technology Officer, Barracuda.
Barracuda’s analysis further shows that not only is the overall volume of malicious HTML attachments increasing, nearly a year since the company’s last report, but HTML attachments also remain the file type most likely to be used for malicious purposes. “Getting the right security in place is as important now as it has ever been. This means having effective, AI-powered email protection in place that can evaluate the content and context of an email beyond scanning links and attachments. Other important elements include implementing robust multifactor authentication or – ideally – Zero Trust Access controls; having automated tools to respond to and remediate the impact of any attack; and training people to spot and report suspicious messages,” said Shi.