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Why Context is Everything When it Comes to Cybersecurity?

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Written by Hadi Jaafarawi, managing director – Middle East, Qualys

The cybersecurity threat landscape has never been more challenging, sophisticated, and severe. Research suggests that in the UAE alone, around $746 million is lost every year to cybercrime, and the country faced a 79% increase in the problem from 2019 to 2020. For firms and IT departments across the region, it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the bad actors.

Add in the fact that several security teams are either stretched or under-skilled, not to mention, that many face pressure to keep budgets in check and it really is a perfect storm. In an effort to level the playing field, security teams are turning to technology. But that comes with challenges of its own.

A lack of clarity
There’s no shortage of security tools offering what professes to be the solution. And it’s no surprise that security teams reach for them in the hope of coping with the issue and reducing their risks. More and more, companies are adopting an increasing number of tools to add further layers of security and protect against risk. Today an organisation’s security infrastructure will include everything from Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) and Security Orchestration Automation and Response (SOAR) to Network Detection & Response (NDR) and Extended Detection and Response (XDR)

Admittedly, the tools each have value, so that’s not the problem. The challenge is that each new tool adds another data silo. Each separately reports its own specific data based on its own particular use and area of the network. And it’s then down to the analysts, who are faced with multiple alerts from multiple systems and solutions, to make sense of it all.

When there are too many alerts, issues can be notified to lots of different teams, or worse missed altogether. Alert fatigue — where the team is exposed to constant alerts and consequently fails to act when it really matters — is a real problem. This is why XDR tools are designed as a holistic, top-layer solution that collects data from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive picture, enabling real-time incident detection and response. But again, it’s not that simple, as XDRs vary in quality, effectiveness, and even function.

Some SIEM and XDR tools simply deliver raw data to analysts, who then have to interpret the data and make endless decisions about any actions that are needed. They collect disparate, unrelated data, and it’s up to the analyst to deal with the notifications, analyse, prioritise and then act, or not. Busy security analysts are likely to be faced with multiple alerts in any given day, many of which are actually false alarms. It’s little wonder that it’s easy to miss or ignore that one really vital alert.

Context is key
Enter the value of contextual insight. Rather than simply churning out data and leaving it to the over-worked analyst to handle, some XDR tools can go a step further by providing that all-important context. All alerts may look basically the same in one tool. But, when brought together with external threat intelligence and other security data, that harmless-looking alert will suddenly have more meaning and jump up the priority list. XDR is designed to break down data silos and provide the context required to help analysts get better insight, by creating a consolidated view of the entire enterprise technology stack and any threats. It pulls together all security solutions and functions into one place, giving analysts a single, comprehensive view of threats across the entire network.

By correlating data from asset inventory and vulnerability information, high-quality threat intelligence, network endpoint telemetry, and third-party log data, analysts get more context on what’s happening — leading to a far more effective and quicker response to threats. Without this context, too much time is wasted on manual tasks and important alerts can easily be missed. This context allows the rapid, focused investigation to be carried out where it’s actually needed.

Providing context using XDR gives security professionals the visibility and insights they need to reduce risks and improve their security approach. It empowers busy teams with the clarity and context to enable them to make the right decisions and deal with potential issues — and quickly.

Cyber Security

FortiGuard Labs Contributes to INTERPOL Multinational Cybercrime Suppression Operation in Africa

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Sharing threat intelligence and working with other threat intelligence organizations improves protections for customers and enhances the effectiveness of the entire cybersecurity industry.

Recently, FortiGuard Labs provided evidentiary support to INTERPOL and African Member countries as part of the Africa Cyber Surge Operation (ASCO) to help detect, investigate, and disrupt cybercrime through coordinated law enforcement activities, utilizing INTERPOL platforms, tools, and channels in close cooperation with AFRIPOL.

The ACSO is a multinational cybercrime suppression operation focused on identifying cybercriminals and compromised infrastructure in the African region. The INTERPOL Cybercrime Directorate and INTERPOL Support Program for the African Union (ISPA) collaborated with AFRIPOL and 27 INTERPOL member countries to leverage this intelligence and combat the growing threat of cybercrime across the continent.

The successful Cyber Surge operation and transfer of knowledge to multiple law enforcement agencies in the African region is the result of continued threat information sharing and trusted cooperation between INTERPOL, FortiGuard Labs, and other INTERPOL private partners.

FortiGuard Labs provided actionable threat intelligence over a six-month period, which consisted of botnet, command, and control (C2), and malware infrastructure research, including C2 and malware and botnet victims located within the African continent.

“The Africa Cyber Surge Operation, launched in July 2022, has brought together law enforcement officials from 27 countries, working together for almost four months on actionable intelligence provided by INTERPOL private partners,” Craig Jones, Director of the Cybercrime Directorate with INTERPOL comments. “This intelligence focused on opportunities to prevent, detect, investigate and disrupt cybercrime through coordinated LE activities utilizing INTERPOL platforms, tools, and channels. This operation focused both on cybercriminals and compromised network infrastructure in Africa, allowing member countries to identify more than 1,000 malicious IP addresses, dark web markets, and individual threat actors, enhancing cooperation between INTERPOL, AFRIPOL, and the member countries, and contributing to connecting policing for a safer world.”

“The Africa Cyber Surge Operation is a shining example of how shared threat intelligence on threat actors and joint operations across trusted partners can increase the cyber resilience of an entire region,” highlights Derek Manky, Chief Security Strategist & VP Global Threat Intelligence, FortiGuard Labs. “It also shows how valuable cybersecurity training and education is to help close the cyber skills gap and effectively disrupt cybercrime at scale. We will continue to work with our private and public sector partners such as INTERPOL around the world to help make our digital world a safer place.”

For more than a decade, FortiGuard Labs has helped inform and protect customers, partners, and governments around the world. As a leader in the threat intelligence community, its mission is to provide the best threat intelligence designed to protect customers from malicious activity and sophisticated cyberattacks. The team is composed of some of the most knowledgeable threat hunters, researchers, analysts, engineers, and data scientists in the industry, working in dedicated threat research labs all around the world.

Fortinet has been an active member of the Global Cybercrime Expert Group and trusted partner to INTERPOL dating back to 2015 and became an INTERPOL Gateway partner in 2018. This ongoing collaboration has resulted in greater threat intelligence standards and protocols across the industry as well as impactful global cybercriminal takedowns.

In addition to INTERPOL, FortiGuard Labs is committed to partnership and cooperation with global law enforcement, government organizations, and industry organizations. Some of the global partnerships include being a founding member and regular contributor of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for Cybersecurity as part of its Partnership Against Cybercrime (PAC), serving as a long-standing member of the NATO Industry Cyber Partnership (NICP), contributing to the development of STIX/TAXII protocols with MITRE & OASIS​, being an official Research Partner with MITRE Engenuity’s Center for Threat-Informed Defense (Center), co-founding the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA), working in partnership with the computer incident response organization FIRST, and more.

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Cyber Security

Lookout Threat Lab Discovers Predatory Loan Apps on Google Play and Apple App Store

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Lookout, Inc. has announced the discovery of nearly 300 loan apps that exhibit predatory behavior such as exfiltrating excessive user data from mobile devices and harassing borrowers for repayment. These apps, which were found in Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as India, Colombia, and Mexico, purportedly offer quick, fully-digital loan approvals with reasonable loan terms. In reality, they exploit victims’ desire for quick cash in an attempt to ensnare borrowers into predatory loan contracts and require them to grant access to sensitive information on their devices such as contacts, phone history, and SMS messages — information that would not be required in a valid loan application process.

In addition to predatory requests for excessive permissions, many of the loan operators display scam-like actions. Victims have reported that their loans came with hidden fees, high-interest rates, and repayment terms that were much less favorable than what was posted on the app stores. Lookout Threat Lab also found evidence that the data exfiltrated from devices were sometimes used to pressure the customer for repayment – a common threat tactic to disclose a borrower’s debt or other personal information to their network of contacts.

In total, Lookout researchers uncovered 251 Android apps on the Google Play Store with more than 15 million collective downloads. The team also identified 35 apps on the Apple App Store that were in the top 100 finance apps in their regional stores. Lookout has been in contact with Google and Apple about these apps and, at the time of publishing, none of them are available for download.

“Mobile apps have made managing our lives a lot easier and are a convenient way to interact with businesses such as financial institutions. However, when entrusting any app with sensitive personal information, it is extremely important to stop and ask yourself if the information being requested makes sense and if the business behind the app is a trusted entity,” said Ruohan Xiong, senior security intelligence researcher, Lookout. “As these predatory loan apps have demonstrated, app permissions could easily be abused if users are not careful. While there are likely dozens of independent operators involved, all of these loan apps have a very similar business model – to trick victims into unfair loan terms and then extort payment.”

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Cyber Security

Dragos Participates in Global Security Forum in Riyadh

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Dragos, Inc. announced that it participated in the Global Cybersecurity Forum, held in Riyadh recently. The two-day event attracted cybersecurity experts and leaders from all over the world. Ben Miller, who represented Dragos as its Vice President of Services, spoke on the concluding day of the forum, about the threat of supply chain and third-party attacks. In his session, titled, “Pervasive and Insecure,” he discussed supply chain risk in critical infrastructure, examining the complex reality of third-party and supply chain attacks and sharing perspectives on the unseen vulnerabilities and how to address them.

Miller highlighted the complex nature of supply chain attacks, which potentially contain widespread vulnerabilities in the OT and industrial control systems (ICS). He outlined Dragos’ specific focus on the Kingdom’s supply chain risk in critical infrastructure including refineries and water treatment plants, as “Energy and water are specific focuses of ours in the region as they are critical not just to the economy but also to every person who lives here,” he said.

Giving an outline of the Dragos plan to help organizations detect and respond to the threat challenges posed to critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, he said, “We need to focus on educating the workforce, building a new understanding of how OT is different from IT, and gaining visibility and insights into what is happening in our critical infrastructure.” OT cybersecurity is in many ways a new field, he said.

“We need to communicate the needs of OT security as right now the concern exists but the specific needs aren’t well understood by asset owners. They do understand that digital transformation is happening and they need to secure it. I would focus on this business case and speak to the need for OT-specific monitoring, defensible architectures, and OT-specific incident response plans,” the Dragos official said.

Miller said supply chain attacks in critical infrastructure are complex with many suppliers, vendors, integrators, and long lifecycles that measure in decades. Commenting on the need to build industrial cyber resilience to keep such threats in check, he said: “The first challenge in the OT space is gaining visibility into what assets one has. You can’t defend something if you don’t know it exists.”

When it comes to safeguarding cyberspace, he had a few words of advice for Saudi Arabia, “The Kingdom should realize the potential challenges as early as possible. Commending the country’s efforts in cybersecurity. Over the last few years, Saudi Arabia has focused heavily on cybersecurity by investing in key programs and events such as the Global Cybersecurity Forum. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has impressed many by taking one of the world’s leading positions in developing and maintaining a cyber ecosystem. Therefore, the Kingdom now has a vantage point to bridge global cyber divides and ensure that cybersecurity benefits all societies in the region.”

A global expert in industrial cybersecurity himself, Miller joined other renowned thought leaders in the field, including Dr. Albert Antwi-Boasiako, Directory-General of the Cyber Security Authority, Ghana; Mary O’Brien, General Manager, IBM Security; Lothar Renner from Cisco Security; and Dr. Victoria Coates, Former Senior Advisor to the US Secretary of Energy.

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