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Cyber Security

Cyber-Readiness in the Face of an Escalated Gray Zone Conflict

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Organizations worldwide should remain on high alert for cyberattacks as the risk of major cyber-spillover from the crisis in Ukraine continues to loom large, writes Andrew Lee, Director of Government Affairs at ESET

Contests between states in the so-called gray zone between war and peace have been increasing for some time in cyberspace. In Ukraine, cyberattacks have been recorded more frequently over the past few years, with high-profile attacks against its electrical power infrastructure in 2015 by BlackEnergy and in 2016 by Industroyer.

In 2017, the notorious NotPetya faux ransomware attack also struck Ukraine, which started by planting a backdoor on the update server of a popular Ukrainian accounting software provider that then sent a malicious update to customers and wiped out computers in Ukraine, even ripping through the systems of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Many foreign companies with business relationships in Ukraine, and hence connected to Ukrainian networks, were also affected. The global impact of NotPetya was estimated to be more than US$10 billion. This is a useful reminder that even though attacks might start off as targeted, there is a significant risk of collateral damage.

Asymmetric warfare
With the recent escalation of the gray zone conflict in Ukraine, cyberattacks have escalated in tandem, firmly becoming part of 21st-century asymmetric warfare in which unequally matched adversaries adopt unconventional strategies and tactics to secure their objectives.

Since it is likely that geopolitical tensions will remain high for some time, countries whose governments are actively supporting either Ukraine or Russia will likely also be targeted with cyberattacks intended to disrupt, cause damage, and steal information. We already see hacker groups choosing sides and entering the cyber-battlefield guided by their sympathies. Complexity is further mounting given that a large tranche of sanctions has been introduced, presenting the specter of retaliatory cyberattacks on high value targets such as critical infrastructure, public sector bodies, and leading businesses, for instance, financial institutions.

Another rich target for cyberattacks is the supply chain, both physical and digital. In the digital realm, a number of recent vulnerabilities demonstrated the impact that a compromise along the supply chain can have on organizations downstream. Many of the risks seen with NotPetya in 2017 could manifest in a far worse form today.

We’ve already seen massive damage done to businesses and institutions via the abuse of IT management tools like SolarWinds Orion, Kaseya Virtual System Administrator, and Centreon, and email services like Microsoft Exchange. With an aim to avoid impacts at these scales, several national cybersecurity teams, such as the National Cyber Security Centre in the UK, have issued warnings and advice on actions to take when facing heightened cyber threats. Such advice transcends borders and should be considered essential to protect against cyberattacks and mitigate risks and impacts. Even companies that seem far from the geopolitical game are at risk, apparently less interesting enterprises might just be the ideal training camp for future larger-scale attacks.

Preparing for cyberattacks
Suffering a cyberattack can be highly stressful and confusing, so preparation is paramount. It is important to avoid panic, and this is best achieved by training staff and conducting regular reviews of security policies and measures. Building business continuity and disaster recovery plans based on a concrete understanding of what needs to be done and in what order is key to success.

Remember, threats will continue to evolve in volume and sophistication – remain vigilant. Be honest about your organization’s risk exposure. Does your organization’s mission, product, or service support critical infrastructure or key governmental processes? Is it part of a supply chain supporting key services? If the answer is no, it is still a good idea to develop a plan. If the answer is yes, evaluate your needs with a professional body.

Security partnerships
Businesses and institutions with concerns should consider private sector and government partnerships to address the growing cyber threats. This requires a sustained team effort but is well worth it. Security teams at your organization should consider charting a course with a reputable security vendor that ensures systems are properly configured and that IT admins and staff is all addressing the security of their digital processes and tools.

As one of Europe’s leading digital security companies, ESET will continue to protect customers during this period of heightened geopolitical tension and share information on the latest threats observed in Ukraine with the wider infosec community.

Cyber Security

New Hacktivism Model Trends Worldwide

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Check Point Research (CPR) outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. Five characteristics mark today’s form of hacktivism, according to researchers: political ideology, leadership hierarchy, formal recruiting, advanced tools, and public relations. CPR gives the hacktivist group Killnet an example of the latest model, detailing its attacks by country and attack timeline. CPR warns that hacktivism that originates in conflict-related geographies has the potential to scale worldwide.

  • Before, hacktivism was mostly focused on a few individuals carrying small-scale DDoS and defacement attacks
  • Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured, and sophisticated
  • CPR believes the new model of hacktivism began in conflict areas in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and proliferated to other areas during 2022

Check Point Research outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. The hacktivism of the new model is better organized, structured and sophisticated, compared to the past. Hacktivist groups no longer consist of a few random individuals who carry out small DDoS or defacement attacks on low-tier websites. These are coordinated organizations with distinct characteristics previously unseen.

Key Characteristics:

  • Consistent political ideology (manifestos and/or sets of rules)
  • Hierarchy of leadership (Smaller groups relay attack orders to “commanders)
  • Formal recruitment process (Based on minimum requirements)
  • Tools that the groups provide to their members (Advanced tools for notoriety)
  • Robust public relations functions (Presences on major websites)

Why now?
CPR suspects the shift in the hacktivism model began roughly two years ago, with several hacktivist groups like Hackers of Savior, Black Shadow, and Moses Staff that focused exclusively on attacking Israel. CPR believes the Russian-Ukrainian war has proliferated the new model of hacktivism significantly. For example, The IT Army of Ukraine was publicly mobilized by the Ukrainian government to attack Russia. The new hacktivism also saw groups that supported the Russian geopolitical narrative, with groups like Killnet, Xaknet, From Russia with Love (FRwL), NoName057(16), and more.


Case Study: Killnet, from East to West
In April of this year, the group completely shifted its focus to support Russian geopolitical interests all over the world. The group claimed to have executed more than 550 attacks, between late February and September. Only 45 of them were against Ukraine, less than 10% of the total number of attacks.

  1. March: the group executed a DDoS attack on Bradley International Airport in Connecticut (US)
  2. April: websites belonging to the Romanian Government, such as the Ministry of Defense, Border Police, National Railway Transport Company and a commercial bank, were rendered unreachable for several hours.
  3. May: massive DDOS attacks were executed against two major EU countries, Germany and Italy
  4. June: Two very significant waves of attacks were executed against Lithuania and Norway in response to severe geopolitical developments between those countries and Russia
  5. July: Killnet focused their efforts on Poland and caused several government websites to be unavailable.
  6. August: Cyber-attacks were deployed on Latvia, Estonia and USA institutions
  7. September: the group targeted Asia for the first time and focused its efforts on Japan, due to Japan’s support for Ukraine

Sergey Shykevich, Threat Intelligence Group Manager at Check Point Software, said, “Hacktivism now has a whole new meaning. Before, the term meant a few random folks launching small DDoS attacks. Hacktivism is no longer just about social groups with fluid agendas. Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured and more sophisticated. I believe everything changed within the past year, especially with the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.”

“There are some key characteristics that mark the new model of hacktivism, including a consistent political ideology, a clear hierarchy of leadership, formal recruiting processes, sophisticated tool set, and robust PR capabilities. Though the change began in specific conflict-related geographical regions, it has now spread west and even further. Major corporations and governments in Europe and the US are being heavily targeted by this emerging type of hacktivism. All this allows the new hacktivism groups to be mobilized to governmental narratives and achieve strategic and broad-based goals with higher success levels – and much wider public impact – than ever before,” he said.

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Cyber Security

Kaspersky Industrial Cybersecurity Now Delivers EDR

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With new EDR functionality in Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity, customers can now gain instant visibility on operational technology (OT) security incidents and run response actions. The solution also helps reveal hidden weaknesses in networks, be it vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, or incompliance with policies and regulations. With the new features of active polling and a physical topology map, organizations can see even more of the assets in their OT network and how they interconnect. These new capabilities and the deeper integration of Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes and Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Networks greatly enhance the OT visibility and control, compliance, and threat protection.

IT and OT convergence bring a growing number of connections, equipment, and services to industrial organizations. Maintaining control, availability, security, and compliance will require a new generation of dedicated cybersecurity solutions. According to IDC Worldwide IT/OT Convergence 2022 Predictions, by 2024, 30% of industrial enterprises will incorporate centralized security management tools to bridge the IT/OT gap. The renewed Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity platform comes alongside this trend.

With EDR in Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes, a cybersecurity team can track malicious activity, analyze the root cause through attack spread path visualization, and run response actions on SCADA computers and operator workstations. The product provides a wide range of response actions that do not impact the industrial process unless there is explicit operator intervention, including quarantining or removing a malicious object, prohibition running a malicious process in the future, and so on. To ensure the threat does not spread to other machines, security specialists can create indicators of compromise (IoCs) or artifacts to indicate a system has been breached and run a cross-endpoint response based on these IoCs.

The EDR functionality is delivered as part of KICS for Nodes without the need to install additional hardware. It works on any operating system, including Windows XP, and is optimal for industrial networks as it doesn’t overload them with traffic and has no impact on ICS hosts. On top of this, it doesn’t require any specific skills from IT or OT security administrators.

With Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Networks, customers can implement a risk-oriented approach to cybersecurity. The product can now detect weaknesses that can potentially put OT integrity at risk or cause technology process disruption. The areas covered include vulnerable network architecture (access to external networks, lack of segmentation, multi-homed devices); weak host security settings (open ports, lack of authorization, disabled firewalls); obsolete, vulnerable, unwanted, unencrypted protocols, and anomalies in network protocols; outdated OS; unauthorized devices; and vulnerabilities in the PLCs. All risks are scored for severity in the management console, so security teams can focus on the most critical ones first.

The updated Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes is able to automatically audit OT hosts or a group of hosts for vulnerabilities in the software, misconfigurations, and compliance with local or international regulations and corporate policies. The product uses open vulnerability and assessment language (OVAL) content to assess hosts. By default, the product provides a SCADA vulnerability database from Kaspersky ICS-CERT in OVAL format. Any OVAL database can be used, be it the NIST, CIS, or other regulations or custom samples.

Network and device visibility is enhanced thanks to active polling and the industrial network physical topology map in Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Networks. Active polling helps to identify assets in OT systems and their configuration, while a topology map visualizes the network architecture: how assets are physically connected and communicate with each other. With this data, OT operators or security teams can quickly understand elements such as where in the network a problem occurs and to what physical object in the production area it refers, allowing them to fix it faster.

Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity for Nodes also gives OT security experts a portable USB scanner to use on machines for which policies restrict the installation of any software, including cybersecurity products. These can be old endpoints with outdated software or those that are too critical to install something on them. Another use case is subcontractors’ equipment, which they may use inside the customer’s OT network. OT security specialists can use a simple USB flash drive to download the scanner from KICS for Nodes and then use it to scan the isolated machine. The scanner doesn’t install anything on the machine but provides information about any threats found on it, so security teams can plan the necessary actions.

As a platform, Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity also ensures native integration of all its components, including KICS for Nodes for Windows and Linux, KICS for Networks, and orchestration through a single management platform. Deeper integration of KICS for Nodes and KICS for Networks enables network alerts enriched with data about a host, its processes, and under which user it was launched. IT/OT security teams, SOC analysts, and SCADA operators now have more visibility over suspicious actions as a result and can make informed decisions about response actions.

“With this update, we are empowering our customers with a risk-oriented and compliance-oriented OT security management platform. Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity shines the light on incidents and hidden vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and other weaknesses to minimize the risk of disruption to critical industrial processes. Along with corporate cybersecurity products, Kaspersky Industrial Cybersecurity is a crucial element of the ecosystem for industrial organizations to protect their assets from any threat vector, whether it exploits IT or OT. And through the native integration of all components in the ecosystem, and with a single management platform, we are gradually implementing the extended detection and response (XDR) concept for industrial cybersecurity in our portfolio,” commented Andrey Strelkov, Senior Product Manager at Kaspersky.

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Cyber Security

Global Cyber Security Revenue to Reach $334 Billion in 2026: GlobalData

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Cyber security has emerged as a top priority for organizations and consumers alike, especially following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to new ways of living and working with a huge reliance on digital infrastructure that remains vulnerable to cyberattacks. Against this backdrop, the global cyber security revenue is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.7% from $220 billion in 2021 to $334 billion in 2026, forecasts GlobalData, a leading data, and analytics company.

The surge in the volume and sophistication of cyber-attacks across organizations is expected to favor the enterprise cyber security market revenue growth over the forecast period. Madhumita Chaudhary, Practice Head at GlobalData, comments: “Despite the continued investments and growth in the cyber security space, the frequency of attacks and breaches have shown no signs of abatement. More than billions of records containing critical information were compromised since the pandemic. As such, enterprise cyber security will continue to dominate the overall cyber security demand in terms of market share, capturing a sizeable revenue share exceeding 90% in 2021.”

GlobalData’s latest report, “Cyber Security Market Size, Share and Trends Analysis Report by Type (Enterprise, Consumer), Product (Security Consulting, Managed Service Providers, Identity and Access Management), Vertical, Enterprise Size, Region, and Segment Forecasts, 2021-2026,” reveals that the consumer cyber security market too will register a healthy CAGR, exceeding 10% during 2021-2026. Chaudhary explains: “The rapid emergence of connected devices and associated security risks with no baseline security upgrades will favor the segment growth over the forecast period.”

In addition to the rising frequency of attacks, ransomware is also gaining prominence, and has been used in several high-profile attacks. It is the most concerning type of cyberattack for business leaders. Chaudhary continues: “Cyber security should be at the forefront of all digital transformation strategies. A lapse in focus could mean hefty repercussions in form of accelerated ransomware attacks.”

Asia-Pacific (APAC) is more vulnerable to cyber threats owing to the critical infrastructure and growing financial sector in the region. Furthermore, an increase in digital transformation initiatives, penetration of internet connectivity, and susceptibility stemming from IoT connectivity is likely to increase the adoption of cyber security solutions.

Chaudhary concludes: “Emerging countries in the APAC region like India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Taiwan are facing increasing cyber-crimes in terms of ransomware, phishing, and network attacks, and are projected to witness strong demand for cyber security products & services.”

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