2015 had its fair share of incidents potentially carried out by the stereotypical “hacker in the basement.” However, the year also saw campaigns from state-enabled actors, including the groups responsible for gaining unauthorized access to health care organizations and stealing personal information on millions of customers and employees.
Many people point to companies victimized by cyber attacks, seeking to hold them accountable for not doing enough to protect intellectual property, consumer data, or other assets. And some people recognize that not enough attention is being spent on identifying and bringing risks and consequences to bear on the attackers – indeed recognizing that victim organizations have suffered a crime.
All nations are struggling to determine how good cyber defense needs to be within the wide range of industries in the private sector, Kevin Mandia, President of FireEye, says. As nations recognize that much of the private and public sectors are not prepared to prevent or detect sophisticated attacks, nations are exploring ways to establish and enforce behaviors.
However, Mandia is keenly aware that this path may raise privacy issues, which FireEye believes could become a part of the information sharing dialogue.
Shane McGee, chief privacy officer at FireEye, says the global role that threat intelligence and information sharing in cybersecurity now plays has created a rapidly changing environment that demands dedicated attention to privacy issues. The goal is to reduce attacks and breaches, and potentially even aid in attribution, but McGee says we need to establish and promote clear standards with policy makers, customers, partners, and the general public to ensure responsible business practices align with that goal across the industry.
To say that attribution is pivotal because it allows us to punish bad actors is the obvious answer. The ability to identify these actors with regularity should also bring forth an environment that will deter would-be cyber attackers. Deterrence is essential in today’s cyber world, and Mandia asserts that deterrence will simply not be effective without attribution – without finding those responsible.
“Nations are already expressing their determination to take these kinds of steps,” Mandia says. “If a country says it will respond proportionately to cyber attacks against its infrastructure, and that it would consider non-cyber means to deter cyber attacks, then a declaration has been made and it needs to be backed up. Therefore, attribution better be right.”
Getting attribution right is no simple task, Mandia admits. He says threat actors are particularly tough to identify because most attacks are coming from outside the country – or through countries with poorly regulated infrastructures – and in those instances it is up to the respective government to identify the cyber criminals.
This is where international cooperation becomes essential. Governments working together and sharing access to transaction logs can aid in identifying threat actors, and as the process develops, improved technical infrastructure will only expedite accurate attribution, Mandia says.
Another benefit to attribution is that it can have a huge impact on the circumstances a breached company will have to endure, Mandia says. FireEye knows there may be big difference between a state sponsored adversary and the stereotypical “hacker in a basement.” Threats nowadays have the potential to be exceptionally complicated and stealthy when conducted by the right type of actor.
Mandia says he knows that if an advanced attacker targets a company, a breach is inevitable. He says that most victim organizations should not be expected to withstand, for example, a military cyber attack, and that the government should stand behind the company in that instance.
“I am not comfortable deeming any organization irresponsible when it suffers from a military cyber attack,” Mandia says. “It does not seem reasonable to expect the majority of the private sector to defend itself from military cyber attacks. We do not expect a homeowner to prevent a military unit from breaking into their bedrooms, so why should we expect companies to prevent or detect similar attacks in cyberspace?”
There is more to expect in 2016.
From distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to company crippling campaigns, disruption is a valid concern in 2016. The losses associated with business disruption are considered some of the highest over the course of identifying an issue and on through remediation. Since 27 percent of all attacks are considered advanced and targeted, the potential for an attack to interrupt productivity is great.
In certain circumstances, disruption can be more than just the inability to perform regular work operations. Mandia says that due to certain high-profile incidents, chief information security officers (CISO) have had to change their risk profile. He says it used to be that there were five things we do not want to have become a reality, and now there is a sixth: someone could just hack in and delete everything. Add to that the lack of attribution, he says, and now we have to play goalie against the worst consequences because there is no risk or repercussions to the attackers.
Another valid concern in 2016 is the growth of infrastructure-based attacks. Grady Summers, senior vice president and chief technical officer (CTO) at FireEye, says that we will start to see more visible attacks against industrial control systems (ICS). He says the upswing will be due to the increasing connectivity of operational technology (OT) systems, more remote monitoring and diagnostics, legacy infrastructure, and more prevalent ICS malware.
Ryan Brichant, VP and CTO of Critical Infrastructure at FireEye, says that a lack of knowledge around ICS specific targeted attacks will call for more niche cyber security products fully catered to ICS environments, and that an increase in ICS specific Threat Intelligence will emerge as security firms become more aware of how different information technology (IT) is from OT.
Additionally, industrial control system environments shifting to Wi-Fi will broaden the attack surface, potentially opening the doors to increased cyber terrorism aimed at critical infrastructures, Brichant says.
To stay ahead of all threats, the C-level and boards will need to address ICS security in their risk reviews and begin allotting more budget to protecting their OT side of the organization as they have been for the enterprise IT side of the house.
Internet of Things
On a similar yet separate note, Summers advises that affordable and internet-connected home security and automation systems could enable attackers to spy on homeowners and disarm security systems, potentially making residential properties bigger targets in the coming year.
The notion of a connected home brings up the emerging idea of the Internet of Things, and those “things” will likely be heavily targeted in 2016, Bryce Boland, Asia Pacific CTO of FireEye, says. New internet-enabled devices are being released regularly these days, and many have weak security controls, allow for new ways of accessing data, and ultimately are not well protected from threats, Boland says. He adds that these “things” could also be held hostage by ransomware, which will subsequently lead to extortion.
If attackers are not successful using ransomware to make a quick buck in 2016, they may turn to targeting next generation payment methods, Lance Dubsky, Chief Security Strategist for the Americas at FireEye, says.
Dubsky says that the world of mobile wallets, magstripe readers and other similar payment systems is growing rapidly, but without the protections needed to secure the transactions. As a result, he says we will likely see an increase in malware targeting these systems throughout the coming year.
Also in 2016, Apple will be more heavily targeted. Apple’s market share in desktop and mobile continues to increase and this, consequently, makes the tech company’s products more valuable for criminals to attack, Boland says. Apple’s traditionally secure software and devices have experienced some interesting threats in recent years, some of which have remained persistent and have evolved over time.
In 2014, our mobile security researchers discovered Masque Attack, a threat that could allow an authentic app to be replaced with a malicious app. Then in 2015, our researchers identified three new Masque Attacks, which could enable attackers to demolish apps, break the app data container, and hijack VPN traffic.
Another development involves XcodeGhost, a previously identified iOS malware that managed to make its way past Apple’s security checks and into the App Store. Just recently, our researchers identified that the threat had entered into U.S. enterprises, that its botnet was still partially active, and that a more advanced variant called XcodeGhost S had been previously undetected.
Attackers are finding ways into Apple’s walled garden, and that will ramp up next year, Boland says.
Altogether, Summers urges organizations to focus on prevention in 2016. Sharing Mandia’s sentiment, Summers says that compromise is inevitable, and that companies would also do well to work on quick response. He recommends setting products to ‘block’ and ‘protect’ instead of ‘alert,’ as well as whitelisting apps on servers; but ultimately, he says that organizations must improve in rapidly detecting, responding to, and stopping attacks in 2016. In 2014, attackers remained on networks for an average of 205 days before being detected, which is far too long.
Boland notes that organizations will have to do their due diligence when it comes to future mergers and acquisitions. He says that acquiring a company in 2016 could also mean acquiring tainted networks and compromised intellectual property. In order to ensure a secure merger, groups will have to increasingly rely on compromise assessments.
Mandia’s additional 2016 predictions include more risk of destructive attacks, improved counter forensics, attacks aligned with geo-political conflicts, and a growing number of threat actors. Boland adds that more attackers will move to the cloud, hosting command-and-control servers on popped cloud virtual machines and using social media channels for communications.
In the constantly evolving world of cyber security, many of these predictions are already beginning to come true. Our experts at FireEye are able to very accurately predict the trends and ultimately stay ahead of the curve due to far-reaching visibility, as well as access to vast amounts of valuable intelligence. It is primarily for these reasons that we are able to bring you a very educated analysis of the security outlook for 2016.