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Cyber Security

Global Political Events and Accessibility of new Tech will Breed Innovative Threat Actors



Written by Manoj Reddy, Rhonda Leopold & Max Kersten, researchers at Trellix Advanced Research Center

When protecting digital estate, companies search high and low for the right talent. In recent years, as cybersecurity has increased in importance in the Gulf region, we have often discussed the scarcity of that talent. Now we fear that our digital adversaries may be recruiting it for the same reason that regional SOCs have: to enhance a skills base and become more innovative.

More and more teen cybercriminals are getting involved with what can now only be described as professional criminal enterprises. As a result, cyber gangs are now firms with reputations and products. They are part of a wider ecosystem that is innovating much as legitimate enterprises do. Frontline operators use soft skills, backed by predesigned malware kits that are often offered in aaS-style subscriptions. Remember that Lapsu$, a group that made trouble for some big names, appeared to do so without ever dropping any malware. Attackers are changing and we must allow for this. Here are some major developments that CISOs should note.

Hacktivism moves to the center stage
For many years the headlines have been dominated by state-sponsored and financially motivated cyber threats. Hacktivism — politically or socially motivated hacking by activists — has remained in the background in recent years. Given current global tensions, we are already seeing the re-emergence of Hacktivism and expect this to play a larger part in 2023. As groups of loosely organized individuals, fueled by propaganda align for a common cause, they may continue to ramp up their use of cyber tools to voice their anger and cause disruption.

Patriotic hacktivism has increased in 2022 as war and other conflicts continue, and it breaks down into broad streams of actions like DDoS attacks, defacements, doxxing, intrusions, and leaking of personally identifiable information (PII). Hacktivists are targeting a wide range of industries and sectors that don’t align with their ideological and political views, including the telecommunication, energy, aviation, technology, media, and government sectors.

As tensions in 2023 are expected to rise, we expect hacktivism to continue to scale as it suits the political agenda of opposing parties and offers perfect plausible deniability for actions since they are initiated and undertaken by activists.

Increasing activity by teen cybercriminals at every scale
We are seeing technically talented young people being recruited by bad actors and organizations. Beginning in late 2021 a 16-year-old allegedly led successful hacks of international organizations like Microsoft, NVIDIA, Okta, and Samsung under the guise of the Lapsus$ gang. These cybercriminal organizations are today the talent competition of Fortune 500 companies and security companies who all work to protect society online.

In 2023, we expect to see increased activity from teens and young adults — everything from large-scale attacks on leading organizations to low-level crime targeting family, friends, peers, and strangers to make a quick buck, cause embarrassment, test new skills, and gain social capital. This problem may grow, budget increases will follow, and costs will continue to be handed back down to us as consumers. Teaching children what a crime is on the keyboard is essential.

There are some global initiatives to help prevent our youngsters from sliding off into a world of cybercrime. To educate the young on the dangers of cybercrime, there are some new initiatives like Hackshield that teach kids about the dangers of gaming. But the generational gap needs to be addressed and parents need to be educated to ensure they are leading their children away from petty cybercrime or even more nefarious crimes.

Declining accuracy of code-based attribution
With regard to cybersecurity, attribution is often heavily based upon dissected malware samples. It has been proven time and again that coding styles can be linked to actors, much like someone’s handwriting.

Attribution purely based on code alone can, however, pose a problem. Whereas advanced espionage groups are often known to create their own tooling for their campaigns to preserve their secrecy, some other malware types do not require such secrecy per se. Prime examples of such malware are wipers.

Once a wiper is used, it isn’t novel anymore, and the detection and prevention of malware are bound to be implemented. The creation of malware is often thought to be done by coders, who then sell the malware-as-a-service, or work with affiliates. Creation can also be outsourced to legitimate contractors, thus obscuring the code base attribution immensely, as the contracted authors have different coding styles.

The decrease in accuracy of code-based attribution, albeit seemingly insignificant on its own, is likely to become more problematic in the future, especially when taking the re-use of (leaked) malware source code and the collaboration between actors in the segmented underground into account. We, therefore, urge analysts to include their confidence level when making claims that aren’t (fully) supported by facts. This provides a clear indication to the reader with regards to the way the report should be perceived, allowing the appropriate actions to be taken from the get-go.

Skill up or get out-skilled
The cybercrime industry is fishing for talent just as the cybersecurity industry is. Facing competition, one must compete. We must look to the employee experience when attracting security talent, being mindful of the allure of shadowy worlds. We must make the SOC more attractive than the digital back alleys that beckon our young talent. We must equip them with tools that allow them to innovate and add value.

Meanwhile, we must look inward. For those employees that show interest and skill in cybersecurity, we must find the budget and invest in them. This is a war. We will not win it by conscription. We must equal the bad actors for their capacity to incentivise innovation. If we do not, they will outmatch us at every turn.

Cyber Security

Databases Are the Black Boxes for Most Organisations



Nik Koutsoukos, the Vice President of SolarWinds, says databases represent the most difficult ecosystems to observe, tune, manage, and scale

Tell us about the SolarWinds database observability platform.
Nearly everything a modern business does from a digital perspective requires data. Thus, databases are among the enterprise’s most valuable IT assets. This makes it critical for organisations to ensure their databases are optimised for performance and cost.

That said, databases represent the most difficult ecosystems to observe, tune, manage, and scale. Not only are there different types of databases that serve different purposes, but they are also populated by different types of data, adding to their complexity. The implications of not having visibility into your databases can be anywhere from a costly annoyance to a significant issue that causes business service disruption. For example, most application performance issues, between 70% and 88%, are rooted in the database.

For this reason, databases have largely been seen as a black box for most organisations. You know what goes into it. And you know what comes out and how long that took. However, the complexities that occur within the black box of the database are harder to discern.

This is where the SolarWinds Database Observability comes in. This offering is built for the needs of the modern enterprise environment and helps ensure optimal performance by providing full, unified visibility and query-level workload monitoring across centralised, distributed, cloud-based, and on-premises databases. Organisations armed with SolarWinds Database Observability enhance their ability to understand database implications as new code is deployed, utilise real-time troubleshooting of database performance issues, and isolate unusual behaviour and potential issues within the database.

How does database observability help IT teams track and manage infrastructure, applications, and possible threats?
Database observability collects data about the performance, stability, and overall health of an organisation’s monitored databases to address and prevent issues, and provides deep database performance monitoring to drive speed, efficiency, and savings. With SolarWinds Observability — which supports MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQL Server database instances — database performance, responsiveness, and error rate are conveniently displayed in dashboards.

Moreover, alerts can be configured to notify admins by email or other methods when user-defined thresholds are crossed. This allows them to identify and remedy issues before they can develop. By gaining insight into the activities taking place inside their database instances, teams can understand user experience as well as ensure systems can scale to meet demand.

What sort of enhancements has your observability platform received recently?
Just this November, we announced major enhancements in the Database Observability capability within our cloud-based SolarWinds Observability platform. SolarWinds Database Observability provides full visibility into open-source, cloud-enabled, and NoSQL databases to identify and address costly and critical threats to their systems and business. It is now possible to navigate across all of the samples collected globally, giving IT teams an empirical distribution of random samples, which resembles the main workload.

What factors according to you will drive the adoption of observability tools in the MEA region?
The Middle East, Türkiye, and Africa (META) are riding a wave of rampant digital transformation as organisations seek to remain competitive. According to IDC, digital transformation spending in the Middle East will accelerate at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% over the five-year period, topping US$74 billion in 2026 and accounting for 43.2% of all ICT investments made that year. As organisations continue to shift workloads to multi- and hybrid-cloud environments, the complexity of their IT environments still continues to increase. This raises the potential for visibility and monitoring gaps which ultimately translate to underwhelming or outright frustrating experiences for end users.

Tell us about the top three trends you foresee for 2024.
There are clear signs of the continued adoption of cloud technologies to allow enterprises to become more agile, giving engineering teams the ability to focus on their core competencies and expand and contract on demand.

The adoption of Kubernetes is also increasing as the refocusing introduced by the cloud enables the move to microservices-based architectures which require sophisticated orchestration management.

Finally, we are starting to see an uptick in Vector databases, as applications demand better handling of relationships between data points.

What is going to be your top priority in terms of strategies for 2024?
We will continue to deliver on our vision of making observability easy. OpenTelemetry is driving observability, but data collection is nothing if it can’t provide insights. So, we aim to ensure the data is both collected and curated such that users find it easy to consume and extract valuable insight.

Regionally, through 2024, we will continue to focus on our key markets of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the ongoing enhancement of our product portfolio, and the strengthening of our channel ecosystem to create more markets for our business and for our partners.

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Cyber Security

ManageEngine Intros Enhanced SIEM with Dual-Layered System for Better Precision in Threat Detection



ManageEngine, the enterprise IT management division of Zoho Corporation, today unveiled the industry’s first dual-layered threat detection system in its security information and event management (SIEM) solution, Log360. The new feature, available in Log360’s threat detection, investigation and response (TDIR) component, Vigil IQ, empowers security operations centre (SOC) teams in organizations with improved accuracy and enhanced precision in threat detection.

A quality SOC ensures people, processes, and cutting-edge technology function well. However, enterprise security is made difficult by staffing shortages and solution orchestration complexities. Following recent upgrades to the security analytics module of Log360 designed to facilitate SOC optimization through key performance metric monitoring, the company has focused on addressing pressing challenges in security operations.

“In a recent ManageEngine study, a majority of respondents revealed that their SOCs are understaffed. These resource-constrained SOCs grapple with significant obstacles, such as process silos and manual investigation of alerts, which are often non-threats, low-priority issues or false positives. These lead to extended detection and response times for actual threats. To overcome these challenges, we recognize the imperative adoption of AI & ML for contextual event enrichment and rewiring threat detection logic,” said Manikandan Thangaraj, vice president at ManageEngine.

“We pioneered a dual-layered, ML approach to heighten the precision and consistency of threat detection. First, Vigil IQ ensures genuine threats are discerned from false positives. Second, the system facilitates targeted threat identification and response. This advanced system significantly improves the accuracy of identifying threats, streamlining the detection process and allowing SOC analysts to focus their valuable time on investigating real threats.”

Key Features of the Dual-Layered Threat Detection System of Vigil IQ in Log360:
Smart Alerts: Vigil IQ, the TDIR module of Log360, now combines the power of both accuracy and precision in threat detection. With its dynamic learning capability, Vigil IQ adapts to the changing nature of network behaviour to cover more threat instances accurately. It will spot threats that get overlooked due to manual threshold settings, thereby improving the detection system’s reliability.

Proactive Predictive Analytics: Leveraging predictive analytics based on historical data patterns, Vigil IQ predicts potential security threats, facilitating the implementation of proactive measures before incidents occur. This predictive intelligence drastically reduces the mean time to detect (MTTD) threats.

Contextual Intelligence: Vigil IQ enriches alerts with deep contextual information, providing security analysts with comprehensive threat insights. This enrichment of alerts with non-event context accelerates the mean time to respond (MTTR) by delivering pertinent, precise information.

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Cyber Security

Cybersecurity on a Budget: Affordable Cybersecurity Strategies for Small Businesses



According to a survey by Statista, typically, global enterprises dedicate a minimum of 12% of their IT expenditure to information security measures. While larger companies can afford to spend a lot on building a robust cybersecurity strategy, smaller businesses cannot. So, let’s explore some affordable cybersecurity strategies for small businesses that may cost less but have a greater impact.

Train your employees
An article from Forbes found that, annually, 34% of businesses worldwide encounter incidents involving insider attacks. Whether intentional or unintentional, employees tend to be the reason for most data breaches. Per the same article, phishing emails account for 67% of accidental insider attacks.

Phishing attacks mostly instil a sense of urgency in the victim, making it harder for them to think clearly before making a decision. For example, employees may click an email announcement about a bonus that actually came from a malicious outsider impersonating your company’s CEO.

To avoid such mistakes, it’s imperative to train employees on the types of phishing attacks and the ways to identify them. Even going as far as sending a mock phishing email occasionally to test their instincts and educate them can go a long way.

Assess your vulnerabilities
One of the most important cybersecurity strategies is to assess all your risk points by periodically reviewing all your business processes. Pay more attention to teams that deal with a lot of customer data. For instance, sales and marketing teams may handle customer data on a day-to-day basis, so they are at high risk of leaking or mishandling data. Assess their daily activities, create a record of all the risk points, and find ways to mitigate them.

Encrypt your data
Encrypting your data can be an effective method to protect it in case of data leaks. Let’s say a hacker gets hold of your company’s data, but it’s encrypted. Unless the hacker gets the encryption key from you, they cannot access your company’s data. This adds another layer of protection in addition to the everyday cybersecurity best practices that you should be following in your company. So make it a point to encrypt all your data, especially sensitive and critical data.

Limit access to critical data
Not everyone requires access to all data. Try to limit access to critical and sensitive data to fewer employees by basing access on work duties or requiring approval for access, making it a multi-step process to access it. Additionally, periodically review who has access to what data to ensure there aren’t any misallocations of access.

Secure your Wi-Fi
A secure network will reduce the chances of a hack or unauthorized access to your sensitive data. So switch your Wi-Fi to WPA2 or later, as it offers more security. Your business might already be using it, but it’s best to be sure. Additionally, change the name of your SSID and have a strong pre-shared key to keep your Wi-Fi safe from hackers.

Prevent physical theft
Through April 2023, there were 3,785 robberies in London, and 1,765 were of mobile phones. This highlights how important it is to secure your physical assets, as they might contain critical and sensitive information about your organization.

Here are some ways to protect your physical assets, such as PCs, laptops, scanners, and printers:

  1. Restrict unauthorized access to assets.
  2. Install a physical tracker on all devices to track down lost items.
  3. Enable remote wiping of data to erase information if a device is lost.

Cybersecurity strategies are seldom drafted with affordability in mind. However, it is crucial to consider them from a financial perspective, as small businesses are also increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks. These tips can help you take the first step toward creating a secure IT environment. Learn more about cybersecurity solutions for your business.

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