Shadow IT

What is shadow IT and how do you manage shadow IT risks associated with remote work?

With cyber threats on the rise, and the recent implementation of remote work across businesses and organizations, in-house IT teams are struggling to preserve their security posture. Furthermore, an increasing number of employees are using applications, hardware, software, and web services that their IT departments are not aware of. A Forbes Insights survey found that more than 1 in 5 organizations have experienced a security incident due to shadow IT resources. 

Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, with entire workforces confined to their homes, the use of personal networks and devices is growing rapidly. This allows employees to install or work with external applications and infrastructure that complements their skills and/ or requirements. While this may improve employee productivity, it exposes employees and their organizations to a wide range of cyber threats. 

 

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT refers to the use of diverse Information Technology (IT) systems, devices, software, applications, and services, without the authorization of IT departments. Although shadow IT enhances efficiency, it also subjects users and their organizations to heightened risks of data breaches, noncompliance issues, unforeseen costs, etc. 

Microsoft 365, work management apps such as Slack, Asana, Jira, etc., messaging apps like Whatsapp, cloud storage, sharing, and synchronisation apps such as OneDrive and DropBox are the most common examples of shadow IT. Obviously, these applications are not inherently threatening, and are usually installed with the best intentions, but they tend to endanger the overall security of the organization, in the event of misuse or negligence.

 

What are the different forms of shadow IT and which is the most popular one?

Users employ various forms of shadow IT applications and services. Broadly, they can be classified as:

  • Hardware: Personal devices, systems, servers and other assets.
  • Ready-to-use software: Adobe Photoshop, MS Office, etc.
  • Cloud services: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) services.

While users subscribe to various IT services that are not administered by their IT departments, the most common form of shadow IT are SaaS-based cloud services. SaaS based applications are gaining popularity across workforces, regardless of the industry or sector. This is because, such publicly available applications, often outperform on-premise applications and infrastructure. 

 

Why do employees prefer shadow IT?

A research by the Everest Group found that shadow IT accounted for 50% or more of the IT spending in large organizations. So, dismantling shadow IT means, organizations have to devote more funds to build and maintain approved applications and infrastructure. However, employees prefer external applications even with the availability of in-house applications, simply because they are comparatively sophisticated. 

Here are some common reasons for employees opting for shadow IT solutions:

  • Efficiency and agility

This is probably the most common reason behind the increasing use of shadow IT. Users employ external IT resources to produce better results. Also, because it makes work pretty easy. Latest research by Entrust Datacard reported that 77% of the surveyed IT employees believed that organizations could be frontrunners if they were successful in meeting the shadow IT needs of their employees. 

  • Inadequate coordination

Poor communication and coordination between various teams and the IT department is not conducive for productivity. Therefore, it could cause employees to choose shadow IT over onsite software and applications.

  • Inconsistency

If customers’ programs cannot be integrated with the organization’s systems/ software, employees may resort to using external services for better results. 

  • Readily available tools

Clearance from the IT department could be time-consuming. So, when the necessary software, service, or hardware is readily available, and is compatible on any device, naturally employees would choose to use them. 

 

What are the potential risks associated with shadow IT?

 

Security

On the subject of employees using shadow IT, security is definitely the principal concern. As IT departments are not aware of certain applications that employees use, it would be impossible for them to provide security updates and patches, or test the newly adopted applications. Unpatched vulnerabilities can cost organizations a fortune, such as in the case of Maersk in 2017, when hackers exploited their computers because it lacked the latest Microsoft security patches. This incident cost Maersk over $200 million in lost revenue. 

 

Data breaches, leaks

Shadow IT applications that support file sharing, storage, and collaboration are prevalent among employees of every organization. As effective as they are, they can cause data breaches and leaks. Since IT departments are not familiar with these additional software deployed on its network, they eventually lose control over the organization’s data. In 2018, Gartner predicted that in 2020, one-third of successful attacks that target organizations will be through their data located in shadow IT resources and shadow IoTs. 

 

Non-compliance and violation of regulations

If and when organizations fail to conduct risk assessments and take preventive measures with regard to unauthorized applications, it could burden them with severe sanctions for non-compliance. These actions also risk violating regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, etc. On becoming aware of such shadow IT applications that are in use within the organization, they are forced to conduct a separate security audit which results in unforeseen costs. 

 

What can organizations do to avoid these risks?

 

  • Regular monitoring of networks and vulnerability scanning

Monitor your organization’s network continuously for any shadow IT applications. And scan such applications along with other in-house assets for vulnerabilities that could expose your organization to cyberthreats. Ensure to install the latest updates. 

 

  • SaaS Management

The IT department could set up a system of SaaS Management or simply Software Asset Management, to keep track of all the applications used within the organization. 

 

  • Internal monitoring tools

We would also encourage organizations to leverage digital risk monitoring tools such as CloudSEK’s XVigil. XVigil helps to detect data leaks, pertinent to the organization, caused by shadow IT, early on. Giving you sufficient time to address these issues, before it affects your security posture.

 

  • Train employees

Security/ IT teams should create awareness among employees. This could also give you an idea of the various shadow IT devices, or applications that your employees use. While security/ IT teams are on it, they may also want to educate employees on the different types of data that they deal with and the responsibilities that come along with it.

 

  • Address employees’ technology needs

Organizations should address employees’ technology requirements, to eliminate the need for external applications. Employees often cite long approval processes and delays in acquiring sanctioned applications, as reasons for adopting external solutions to meet their immediate needs. 

 

  • Prepare a list of usable applications or devices

Keeping in mind that not all applications or devices pose a threat, organizations could prepare a list of approved applications/ devices and encourage employees to use them.

web-application-testing

6 major quality metrics that will optimize your web app

 

As more businesses migrate to cloud environments, making it easier for customers to access their services/ products, we have witnessed a sharp rise in the number of online businesses employing web applications. Also known as web apps, they have assumed great significance in this digital era, allowing businesses to develop and achieve their objectives, expeditiously.

Well designed web apps allow organizations to gain competitive advantage and appeal to more customers. Hence, it is essential to have measurable or quantifiable metrics to gauge the quality of a web app.

 

What is a web application?

Web apps are software programs that require a web browser for interaction. And unlike other applications, users need not install the software to run web applications; all they require is a web browser. Web applications include everything from small-scale online games to video streaming applications like Netflix.

 

 What are Software Quality Metrics?

Software quality metrics gauge the quality of the software, its development and maintenance, and the execution of the project itself. In essence, software quality metrics record not only the number of defects or security flaws in the software, but also the entire process of development of the project, as well as the product.  

 

Classification of Quality Metrics

Based on the components and features, software quality metrics can be classified into:

  • Product quality metrics
  • In-process quality metrics
  • Project quality metrics

A user grades the quality of an application based on their experience with its features/functionalities, the value it provides, and after-sales services such as maintenance, upgrades, etc. However, the quality of the software is also measured based on the project, the teams involved, project cost, etc.  

 

Six major quality metrics to consider for better web applications

 

  1. Usability of the web application:

Usability testing assesses the ease with which end-users consume the application. It ensures effective interaction between the user and the app. Web applications that have a complicated design or interface, are least prefered by users.

In order to test the usability of web apps, its navigation, content, and other user-facing features should be tested.

For example:

  • Images and other non-text content should be placed appropriately, so as to avoid distractions.
  • The options “Search” and “Contact us” should be easy to find. 

 

  1. Performance of the web application:

Performance testing determines the behaviour of the application under different settings and configurations. For example: Performance during high usage vs normal usage. Performance of a web app contributes to its adoption, continued usage, and overall success.  

Types of performance testing

  • Load testing
  • Web stress testing

In load testing, we evaluate the performance of the web app when multiple users access it concurrently. This helps to ascertain if the app can sustain peak hours, handle large user requests or simultaneous database access requests, etc.

In web stress testing, the system is tested beyond the limits of standard conditions.  The objective of web stress testing is to assess the behaviour of the app during volatile conditions such as when web pages time out or a delay between requests and responses, and how it recovers from crashes.

 

  1. Compatibility on different platforms and browsers:

The quality of the software also depends on whether the application is compatible with different browsers, hardware, operating systems, applications, network environments, and devices.

For instance,

  • If developers intend to have a mobile version of a web application, they ought to address and resolve any issues that may arise in that scenario.
  • While performing various actions such as printing or downloading, from a web application, the elements on the page, including text, images, etc., should be fixed in place, and properly aligned to fit on the page. 

 

  1. Requirements Traceability:

This parameter traces and maps user requirements throughout its life (from its source, through stages of its development and deployment), using test cases. It checks whether every user requirement is met and defines the purpose of each requirement and the factors they depend on.

 

Modes of requirement traceability

Based on the direction of tracing, requirement traceability can be classified into:

  • Forward traceability: Tracing the requirement sources to the resulting requirement, to ensure coherence.
  • Backward traceability: Tracing the various components of design or implementation back to its source, to verify that requirements are updated.
  • Bidirectional traceability: Tracing both backward and forward.

 

  1. Reliability:

A web application is not reliable if it does not produce consistent results. In an ideal situation, the application must operate failure-free, for a specified period of time, in a particular environment.

For example, a medical thermometer is only reliable if it measures the accurate temperature every time it is used.

 

  1. Security testing for the web application:

The security implementations of a web application is another factor that determines its success.  As a study shows, hackers can attack users in 9 out of 10 web applications. These attacks include redirecting users to a malicious site, stealing credentials, and spreading malware. So, ignoring this factor could cause serious damage to users and their businesses.

For example,

  • To test the security of web applications, we test URLs that a user can and cannot access. If an online document has an ID/ identifier such as ID=”456″ or identifier=”zm9vdC0xNl8yMDE5…” at the end of its URL, the user should only be able to access that document. In the event that the user tries to change the ID/ identifier, they should receive an appropriate error message upon altering the URL.
  • Automatic traffic can be prevented by using CAPTCHA.

Types of security testing

  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): It detects indicators of security vulnerabilities in applications that are running.
  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST): It analyzes the application source code, and/ or compiled versions of code that are indicative of security vulnerabilities.
  • Application Penetration Testing: It assesses how applications defend against possible attacks.

 

Additional components to be considered

To ensure that the web application is fully functional in all aspects, the following components should be inspected:

Links

  • Internal links
  •  Outgoing links
  •  Links that direct users to another section on the same page
  • Orphan pages in web applications
  • Broken links

Forms or other input fields

  • Verify all validations
  • Check default values
  • Wrong input
  • Links to update forms, edit forms, delete forms, etc. (if any)

Database 

  • Review data integrity while editing, deleting, and updating forms
  • Check if data is being retrieved and updated correctly

Cookies 

  • Check whether the cookies are encrypted or not
  • Evaluate application behavior after deleting cookies

Avoid costly breaches by upgrading your third-party vendor risk management 

According to a Ponemon study, 59% of the surveyed companies had experienced a data breach due to their third-party vendors. While data breaches can be caused by several sources, those that involve a third-party have been found to increase the total cost of a data breach by approximately $370,000. And considering that data breaches affect an organization’s reputation, revenue, and compliance, third-party vendor risk management can no longer be an afterthought. 

Given the level of access most vendors have to an organization’s network, traditional risk management frameworks fall short. Traditional strategies focus on vetting vendors, having a robust onboarding process, and periodic assessments. However, a rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape renders these assessments and findings obsolete, within a few days or weeks.  

The failure of traditional vendor risk management is evident in the several high-profile breaches. Starting with the Target breach in 2013, to the recent Facebook and Airbus breaches, they were all traced back their respective third-party vendors. So, this calls for a more dynamic vendor risk management approach, which covers a wide range of vendor related risks. 

In this article, we explore:

  • Risks associated with third-party vendors
  • Common pitfalls in traditional vendor risk management strategies
  • Ways to upgrade your vendor risk management, and effectively reduce associated risks

 

Risks associated with third-party vendors

Outsourcing is an integral part of most businesses because they provide:  

  • Flexibility: Offering a dynamic workforce and adaptable operations.
  • Scalability: Reaching new markets and serving more customers.
  • Expertise: Catering to different sectors and industries.
  • Cost cutting: Saving on infrastructure and operational costs.  

For these reasons, outsourcing is here to stay. However, as vendors and organizations become more interconnected, the cybersecurity risks also multiply. Vendors serve as an entry point for threat actors to make their way into a company’s networks by:

 

  • Exploiting vulnerabilities in a vendor’s systems

While a business has control over patching and updating their assets, they cannot monitor a vendor’s systems, and ensure they do the same. 

Ticketmaster’s data breach was due to a vulnerability in their vendor’s system:

A data breach at Ticketmaster, an American ticket sales and distribution company, was traced back to Inbenta, a third-party, which powers Ticketmaster’s customer support agent. Inbenta was one of the 800 victims targeted by Magecart’s digital credit card skimming campaign. An attacker targeted Inbenta’s front-end servers, where they stored code libraries used by Ticketmaster. Then, by exploiting a number of vulnerabilities, the attacker modified the code to steal customer data. 

 

  • Using network/ system credentials exposed by vendors

Vendors usually need remote access to a company’s systems in order to access data and applications, or to carry out maintenance activities. And vendors could leave your network credentials exposed, or threat actors could compromise a vendor’s network to steal the credentials. This is especially damaging, if there is no proper network segmentation, giving the threat actor unbridled access to the company. 

Threat actors used stolen vendor credentials to access Target’s PoS network 

In one of the first major breaches, threats actors uploaded BlackPOS to Target’s point-of-sale (PoS) network, allowing them to steal credit card information and other personal details. It was later found that threat actors were able to compromise Target servers using credentials stolen from Fazio Mechanical Services. Fazio, Target’s HVAC vendor, had access to Target servers. And due to improper network segmentation, threat actors were able to compromise Target’s PoS network. 

 

  • Using source code leaked by vendors

Most companies keep their source code confidential. So, unlike open-source software, the public cannot view or modify their source code. Leaked source code usually finds its way to dark web sites, where the code will be available to hackers even after it has been taken down from the original location. Hackers then use the source code to find vulnerabilities that can be exploited to launch cyber-attacks on the company and its customers.  

Partners leaked the source code of Team Fortress 2 and CS:GO source codes 

Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) source codes were found online and then uploaded to torrent sites. CS:GO confirmed that the code was originally shared with their partners in 2017, and was subsequently leaked. And despite reassurances that the leak doesn’t affect current players, several screenshots and videos made the rounds, purporting to be Remote Code Execution (RCE) exploits based on the leaked code. Thus, impacting the games’ reputations.   

 

  • Sensitive information exposed by vendors

In the recent past, there have been several cases of vendors exposing Amazon storage buckets and databases that can be accessed over the internet. This gives threat actors easy access to sensitive information, which they then sell on the dark web, to the highest bidder. 

Vendors exposed 540 million Facebook users’ records 

Mexico based digital media company Cultura Colectiva exposed 146 GB of Facebook user data, including comments, likes, account names, reactions, and Facebook IDs, on an unsecured Amazon S3 bucket. Another S3 bucket, belonging to Facebook integrated app At The Pool, exposed 22,000 Facebook users’ friend lists, interests, photos, group memberships, and check-ins.

 

Common pitfalls in traditional vendor risk management strategies

While traditional vendor risk management frameworks are a good starting point, there are a few areas they need to address to be effective in a hyper-connected world. Dynamic third-party risk management should: 

 

  • Address fourth/ nth party vendors

A 2019 survey found that only 2% of organizations identify and monitor all their subcontractors. And 8% of organizations monitor subcontractors only for critical infrastructure and IT. The remaining 90% said they lacked the required skills to monitor fourth/ nth parties. 

  • Adapt to a constantly evolving cyberthreat landscape

Organizations generally perform vendor risk assessments, at the time of onboarding, and at regular intervals thereafter. During the intervals between assessments, new vulnerabilities, exploits and, malware and ransomware strains show up. Ans assessment don’t account for these unknowns.

  • Leverage automation and technology 

Standard vendor risk management frameworks don’t offer a common, integrated platform that tracks the end to end process from risk identification and prioritization to issue tracking and mitigation. It also doesn’t provide actionable intelligence, which organizations can leverage, to make better cybersecurity decisions.  

 

Ways to upgrade your vendor risk management, and effectively reduce associated risks

Companies need to upgrade their standard vendor risk management process, to ensure their vendors are not putting their data and network at risk. Organizations can do this by incorporating a few effective tools and processes such as:

  • Updating contractual standards

Update contracts to account for new regulatory and data privacy requirements. And ensure your vendor is obligated to disclose risks and data breaches in a timely manner. It would also help to have defined processes to mitigate risks and to respond to data breaches.    

  • Focusing on nth party risk management

Ensure you have complete visibility of your vendor’s vendors. Determine if the products and services are provided directly by the vendor or by a subcontractor. And have contractual agreements with vendors that mandate such disclosures. 

  • Continuous vendor risk monitoring

Incorporate processes and tools that ensure vendor related risks are monitored even between regular assessments. This includes real-time monitoring of the surface web, deep web, and dark web, for source code, sensitive information, and credentials. An IBM study found that the Mean-time-to-identify (MTTI) a breach is 197 days. It is during this interval that a comprehensive SaaS platform such as CloudSEK’s XVigil, will help. XVigil’s AI-driven engine scours the internet for threats related to your organization, prioritizes it by severity, and provides real time alerts. Thus, giving you enough time to mitigate the threats, before it can have adverse impacts on your business. 

Threat actors’ next big target: VIPs, Executives, and Board members

A recently uncovered spear phishing campaign, orchestrated by the PerSwaysion group, targeting 150+ executives across the globe, is a prime example of the growing trend of concerted cyber attacks on CXOs and VIPs. This process of targeted attacks on VIPs is commonly known as Whaling. Whaling tactics are similar to general spear-phishing. But they differ in the fact that it specifically targets high-level and important individuals within an organization. 

Threat actors are slowly moving from large-scale, low-value attacks, which target a general population, to small-scale, high-value attacks, which target the key personnel of an organization. Furthermore, the Verizon 2019 Data Breach Report found that senior executives are 12 times more likely to be targets of social incidents, and 9 times more likely to be targets of social breaches. This is because high-profile personnel have exclusive clearances, privileges, and access to:

  • Confidential and sensitive information including financials, trade secrets etc. 
  • Authorize or order other employees in the organization to carry out certain tasks.
  • Valuable assets including networks, devices, and facilities. 

How do threat actors target C-level executives?

Research and reconnaissance

  • To orchestrate a typical attack, threat actors perform extensive reconnaissance and research, to understand an organization’s structure and functions.
  • Using this information, they narrow down the list of potential targets and their associates.
  • They then collect personal information about the shortlisted VIPs. Most companies publish their executives’ details on social media, news media, and their own websites. Thus, a simple Google search will give the threat actor access to this information. Moreover, the executives themselves have personal accounts on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. And often, the privacy settings on these accounts are lax. 
  • They further search for exposed account credentials from previous data leaks. Given that most of us, executives being no exception, use the same password for multiple accounts, the exposed credentials can be used to gain access to the executive’s official email account.

Data theft attacks

  • Once hackers have obtained access to C-suite executives accounts, through brute-force attacks or other means, they steal valuable information. This may include client lists, customer data, financial data, internal processes, business strategy and plan, and more. 

Impersonation attacks

  • Threat actors could hijack executives’ social media accounts and post harmful messages. And, this could tarnish the reputation of the executive and their organization.  
  • Using the email access, threat actors decipher the communication frequencies and styles within the organization. For example: If there is a trail of audit related emails, threat actors can send requests for audit related details in continuation to the ongoing communication. 
  • If threats actors cannot get access to an executives’ credentials, they create fake email IDs. These email IDs closely resemble one of the executives’ email IDs or that of the HR department or Accounting department. From the fake ID they send an urgent, actionable, and believable email to a C-level executive. 

Extended attacks

  • Threat actors bank on executives having limited time, or relying on assistants, to read and respond to emails. They also ensure the emails are believable. For this, they add references to the executive’s interests and hobbies, which are gleaned from their social media profiles. The emails usually request the email recipient, who is also an executive or VIP, for sensitive information, wire transfers, or to download an attachment. 
  • If the recipient falls for the trap, they will end up revealing sensitive information or authorizing someone else to do so. They could also authorize transfers to the fake account details shared by the threat actor. A malicious attachment could drop a malware or ransomware payload in their systems. The recent PerSwaysion campaign used a fake Microsoft Outlook login page, from where they were able to collect 150+ executives’ login credentials. The credentials can be used to orchestrate other attacks or could be sold on the Dark Web, to the highest bidder.  

How to protect C-level executives from these attacks?

Given the heightened risk to VIPs, here are a few measures to combat and mitigate threats:

Continuous monitoring

Deploy a real-time monitoring tool that will scour the internet – surface web, deep web, and dark web – for potential threats.  A comprehensive SaaS platform such as CloudSEK’s XVigil tracks VIP’s personal email IDs for their presence in past security breaches. Organizations are alerted to such threats immediately, along with other significant details pertaining to the risk.

Review social media presence

Ensure the executives’ social media accounts have the highest level of privacy. Report duplicate accounts and delete dormant accounts on a regular basis. 

Multi-layered protection

Enable Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) for all their accounts, including email, company assets and network. 

Regular cybersecurity refreshers

Since threat actors are constantly changing and upgrading their whaling tactics and ruses, periodic training will help executives spot and avoid such traps. 

 

An attack on a VIP doesn’t just affect them personally, it also affects their organizations revenue and brand image. Threat actors could gain access to the company’s central database, and steal employee and customer details, and leak them or even sell them. It takes years of painstaking effort to build a company’s brand image, and any damage to this intangible asset can have very serious and far-reaching consequences. Hence it is important to enable processes, and tools such as XVigil, to continuously monitor and protect VIPs and their organizations. 

Combating data breaches caused by misconfigured apps

From the outset of the pandemic, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cyber attacks and data breaches. And with much success, threat actors are abusing the fear and panic these adverse conditions are causing. As a result, there has been a precipitous rise in the number of COVID-themed trojans, ransomware attacks, as well as scams and phishing attacks across organisations and verticals. As more organizations shift to remote work, with inadequate policies and strategies in place, they gamble on their own employee and business data security, and privileged controls. And this has served as a catalyst, for an increased number of data breaches, across the globe. 

This article delves into the various ways in which data breaches can occur, and safety practices to ensure that you organization is not impacted by:

  • Cloud misconfigurations
  • Elasticsearch exposures
  • Exposed Internal API/ portals 
  • Phishing attacks and credential disclosure
  • Insecure WiFi/ no VPN

Cloud Misconfigurations

Cloud misconfigurations have led to massive data breaches. For example, The “Capital One” and “Imperva” data breaches were caused by the disclosure of AWS API keys. 

Fugue’s survey shows that 84% of the 300 IT professionals surveyed believe that they are already victims of undiscovered cloud breaches.

 

Data Breach: Fugue Survey
Fugue Survey

As pointed out by the survey, the most common causes of cloud misconfigurations are: 

  • Lack of awareness of cloud security and related policies, 
  • Insufficient controls and lapse in supervision, 
  • Too many cloud APIs to adequately govern, and 
  • Negligent internal activities

Although Cloud operations take a considerable load off of developers, and facilitate the smooth management and monitoring of multiple services, enforcing proper access control policies, user management, access key management, API access control becomes essential.

How to prevent cloud misconfiguration 

  • Understand and utilise the ‘shared responsibility’ security model.
  • Ensure multiple checks while shifting operations to the cloud giving careful consideration to IAM roles, user account permissions, key rotations, test accounts, and storage bucket permissions.
  • Review inbound and outbound traffic rules carefully for the VPC. Security groups are also susceptible to misconfigurations. Therefore, enforce a zero trust policy, and enable VPC logs and monitoring. 
  • Set up behavioural analysis and activity monitoring in addition to strict access policies.

 

Elasticsearch Exposures

Elasticsearch is a search engine that indexes data in the form of documents. Typically, the size of data that this engine indexes is quite large and the indexed result comprises metadata, personal user information, emails or application logs, and more. The service, by default, runs on TCP port 9200. Moreover, most Elasticsearch instances are self-hosted free versions of the software. 

CloudSEK XVigil’s Infrastructure Monitor has detected a significant increase in Elasticsearch instances running on the default port. But it is not rare these days. Recently a UK-based security firm accidentally exposed an Elasticsearch cluster, leaking more than 5 billion documents of breached data between 2012 and 2019.

How to secure Elasticsearch

  • Prevent access to Elasticsearch clusters from the internet. This is the best approach for most databases.
  • Practice ‘security by obscurity,’ whereby, the installed services are not run on the default port. This measure does not merely fix the problem, but drastically reduces the chances of exploitation even via unfocused attacks. 
  • Perform periodic assessments of vendors’/ partners’ networks and ensure that their security controls are set properly. The misconfiguration of privately-owned infrastructure, as well as that of partners and vendors in possession of critical data, adversely impact businesses.
  • Analyse and test every potential entry point to any critical data source/ functionality. This includes supplementary tools, used to expand an application’s capabilities. Most users instal Kibana along with Elasticsearch, which helps to visualise the data Elasticsearch indexes. Kibana dashboards are usually left unauthenticated, inadvertently granting anyone access to the indexed data. 
  • Encrypt the stored data, to render the data useless to the attacker, even if it is accessible. 
  • Employ Elasticsearch’s security methods for authentication, including:
    • Active Directory user authentication
    • File-based user authentication
    • LDAP
    • SAML
    • PKI
    • Kerberos
  • Enforce role-based access control policy, for users who access the cluster.
  • Update Elasticsearch versions regularly, to safeguard the cluster from frequent exploits that affect the older versions. 
  • Back up the data stored in the production cluster.  This is as important as the security measures adopted. A recent attack campaign accessed as many as 15,000 Elasticsearch clusters, and their contents were wiped using an automated script. 

 

Exposed Internal APIs/ Portals

Organizations deploy various applications for internal use. This includes HR management tools, attendance registration applications, file sharing portals, etc. In the event that the entire workforce shifts to remote work, such as times like now, it becomes difficult to track the access and usage of these applications. To top it off, applications are increasingly allowed traffic from the internet, instead of local office networks. As a result, applications and APIs, which lack authentication or use default credentials, are increasingly surfacing on the internet. 

In the past couple of weeks, a number of HR Portals, payroll applications, lead management dashboards, internal REST APIs, and shared FTP servers have surfaced on the internet. Most of the applications are self-hosted, and their default passwords can be used to access them. XVigil has detected multiple instances of directories that contain transaction reports, employee information documents, etc. being served without any authentication. 

How to prevent data disclosure through APIs/ portals

  • Security teams must test these applications thoroughly. 
  • Continuously monitor all internet facing servers. 

 

Phishing attacks and credential disclosures

With a remote workforce communicating primarily via text-based channels such as emails, chats and SMS, it has been much easier for phishing campaigns to take advantage of the distributed workforce. Consequently, the number of spear phishing attacks have surged. Barracuda researchers have observed 3 main types of phishing attacks in the last couple of months: 

  • Scamming
  • Brand impersonation
  • Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Individuals fall prey to phishing attacks, especially during the pandemic, due to:

  • Lack of direct communication
  • Absence of processes and strategies for situations such as this
  • Lack of awareness 

Since emails that use the word COVID have higher click-rates now, scammers are increasingly using them as lures to spread malicious attachments. Once the attachment is downloaded and the malware payload is dropped, threat actors can access keystrokes, files, webcam, or install other malware or ransomware. (Access CloudSEK’s threat intel on COVID-themed scams and attacks)

 

Data breach: Phishing mail
Phishing mail (https://blog.f-secure.com/coronavirus-spam-update-watch-out-for-these-emails/)

How to prepare for phishing attacks

  • Be extremely cautious about any mail you receive.
  • Verify the source of the email, before clicking on any links or attachments. 
  • Even if the links look legitimate, double-check for malicious files. For example: hovering over the attachment will show its actual URL. 

 

Insecure WiFi/ No VPN

Today, every remote workforce is connected to their personal devices and networks. So, the connectivity of such devices should be secured. 

How to prevent attacks via WiFi

  • To avoid brute force attacks, set complex passwords for the router. If the router is an old model, it may use weak encryption for connections, which can be cracked in no time. 
  • Employees working from shared spaces such as hostels, may be connected to shared wifi networks as well. So, to ensure that the data is not tampered within such insecure channels, set up a VPN. In case your organization does not provide a Business VPN, do not download free VPNs which might log your traffic data.

Top open source resources to stay vigilant against COVID-themed cyber attacks

 

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads rapidly across the globe, a panic-stricken populace already confined to their homes, faces the emerging threat of COVID-themed cyber attacks. The trend of recent cyber crimes indicates a spike in the number of COVID-related malicious domains, malware attacks, as well as phishing campaigns. As a result, organizations are left with the daunting prospect of securing their assets, and that of their clients, against adversaries profiting from the pandemic. Without an effective strategy, or the right intelligence, it will be impossible to ward off such attacks.

In this article, we have consolidated popular open source threat intel resources that can help you combat COVID-themed cyber attacks. These open source resources provide the latest intelligence and observations on cyber threats to alleviate the impact such attacks could have on the global community.

COVID-19 Cyber Threat Coalition

Cyber Threat Coalition (CTC)  is the result of combined efforts of around 3,000 security professionals who gather, analyse, and share intelligence pertaining to new COVID-themed threats. At present, the largest contribution of COVID-themed datasets are produced by CTC.  Moreover, they prioritize and defend essential services and the front-line medical sector, against threats. The telecommunication sector is also a part of essential services, as more people shift to remote work.

How does CTC alert organizations?

  • Typically, they examine millions of data points contributed by organizations or individuals, and run the indicators through several security products. 
  • If at least 10 of these security products identify the data point as a threat, CTC volunteers manually verify such findings and add malicious feeds to its Blocklist. If only 5-9 security product vendors identify the data point as malicious, they will be manually verified as malicious feeds before adding them to the Blocklist.
  • This Blocklist helps organizations and individuals, across the globe, block malicious traffic arising from fraudulent activities.
  • Additionally, they have a Beta MISP feed that details the various threat indicators (accessible to those who have set up MISP).

How can you contribute?

  • CTC maintains a Slack workspace, the invitation for which is available on their official website. This workspace is for researchers who may have information regarding COVID-themed cyber attacks. In addition, they also have a slack room to announce updates, and new developments: #ctc-official-announcements 
  • Their Alienvault open threat exchange (OTX) also gathers data feeds from researchers. CTC considers Alienvault OTX as their primary source of raw data feeds. They are encouraging anyone with high quality threat intel, to join this platform.  

Here is the CTC Blocklist for vetted malicious domains and IP addresses:

COVID-themed cyber attacks: Alienvault OTX group
Alienvault OTX group

COVID-19 CTI League

(https://cti-league.com/)

This is a collective of experts and Incident Responders, from across 40 countries, which gathers COVID-related threat intelligence. Senior Microsoft and Amazon officials are also part of this team. CTI League is geared towards neutralizing cyber threats against the front-line medical sector and critical infrastructure. 

How is the medical sector benefiting from the CTI League?

  • CTI accepts IR (Incident Response) requests from organizations, to detect security incidents and keep them in check. To achieve this, the CTI League connects with researchers and analysts from 22 different time zones. Volunteers help the community find the most appropriate individuals who can secure medical institutions and resources in their location.
  • They assist in taking down websites, web pages, or files from the internet, and escalate cyber attacks, malicious activities, or critical vulnerabilities, to law enforcement agencies and national CERTs.
  • They provide reliable databases, of high-priority indicators of compromise, that help the medical sector investigate and block malicious activities. 

Cyber Threat Alliance

(https://www.cyberthreatalliance.org/)

This is a not-for-profit membership organization that focuses on phishing lures and malware attacks. They help thwart attempts to harm the medical sector, in the time of this unprecedented crisis.

What are they offering?

PhishLabs

(https://www.phishlabs.com/covid-19-threat-intelligence)

Phishing is the most common cyber threat. And even as the world tries to make sense of the coronavirus epidemic, scammers are busy cashing in on the fear and anxiety.  PhishLabs, a team of cybersecurity experts, combines their efforts to provide free resources of Coronavirus-related threat intelligence, with their primary focus on phishing attacks.

What have they got to offer?

Their database is updated with the latest on COVID-themed phishing email, malicious URLs, and domains. They present and share the data in a zip file containing phishing lures (as image files), and phishing URLs (in .xlsx format).

PhishLabs image files
PhishLabs image files

Checkphish: Coronavirus Scam Tracker 

(https://checkphish.ai/coronavirus-scams-tracker)

Checkphish maintains a global dashboard that tracks the latest Coronavirus-themed phishing scams. The results are classified into scams and suspicious sites. Moreover, for each website, it provides scam feeds in the .tsv format.

Sample: https://checkphish.ai/data/covid_feed.tsv

Checkphish scam tracker feed
Checkphish scam tracker feed

The dashboard also allows you to run free URL scans to identify malicious websites. For each queried domain and the domains which are already in the list the dashboard also incorporates website screenshots, Passive DNS (of hosts and domains hosted on given IP), details of similar domains, and their WHOIS information.

COVID-themed cyber attacks: Checkphish dashboard
Checkphish dashboard

MISP 

(https://covid-19.iglocska.eu)

Malware Information Sharing Platform (MISP) is an open source threat intelligence platform. They provide IDS signatures for COVID-19 cyber intrusions in various formats such as: STIX, STIX2, Text, csv, etc., They also allow users to automate the process of collecting information. Researchers and interested parties are only required to send a direct message to the team to access https://covid-19.iglocska.eu/.

Events on MISP
Events on MISP
Post that directs users to a frequently updated dataset
Post that directs users to a frequently updated dataset

RiskIQ

RisqIQ PassiveTotal offers access to RisqIQ datasets such as passive DNS, extensive DNS data, WHOIS registration details, and SSL certificate details. And, as a response to the rising number of COVID-themed cyber attacks, they also share lists of Coronavirus-related domain names that contain ‘covid’, ‘coronav’,  ‘vaccine’, ‘pandemic’, or ‘virus.’ These may or may not be malicious. To facilitate an investigation into these domains, interested analysts are allowed 30-days access to use PassiveTotal, RiskIQ’s threat research platform. 

Links to the lists of COVID-themed domain names:

https://covid-public-domains.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/list.txt (consolidated list)

https://covid-public-domains.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/covid-YYYYMMDD

https://covid-public-domains.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/covid-20200420

Covid-19 Medical Supply Scams from RisqIQ dashboard.
Covid-19 Medical Supply Scams from RisqIQ dashboard.

RisqIQ Dashboard: https://community.riskiq.com/

Github CTI league Repo

(https://github.com/COVID-19-CTI-LEAGUE/PUBLIC_RELEASE)

A GitHub repository, dubbed as COVID-19-CTI-League, also shares vetted, approved IOCs of COVID-themed cyber attacks. Even though the name of the repository resembles the community CTI League (discussed earlier), they aren’t related. 

COVID-themed cyber attacks: CTI League Slack discussion  
CTI League Slack discussion

Independent Researchers And Feeds

Although we have listed out the big names in cyber security, it is important to know that there are individual researchers and cyber security bloggers committed to resolve and neutralize the attacks surfacing during the epidemic. They share their analysis and findings on social media platforms such as Twitter. Here are some of them:

@dustyfresh

Twitter user DustyFresh has set up a feed, updated every 30 seconds, which scans for new COVID-related hostnames discovered in certificate transparency logs. He uses keywords coronavirus, covid19, covid-19, covid, pandemic, etc. 

Although most of the domains in this list are considered malicious, it is upto researchers to figure this out.

@sshell_

Another researcher who goes by the Twitter handle @sshell_ created a real-time dashboard of malicious websites. This dashboard leverages RiskIQ’s feed (mentioned earlier) and lists COVID-themed malicious domains in real-time.

@sshell feed
@sshell feed

@LukasStefanko 

Independent researcher and ESET mobile malware analyst, Lukas Stefanko, tracks COVID-related malware attacks that target Android users, on a daily basis. 

Threatfeeds.io

(https://threatfeeds.io/)

This is another open source threat intelligence platform that gathers Indicators of Compromise from various sources. It allows users to download data for free.

MalwareBazaar

(https://abuse.ch/blog/introducing-malwarebazaar/)

Abuse.ch provides free malware samples that are easily downloadable. MalwareBazaar hopes to help researchers understand malware samples and use the intelligence for further analysis. 

Advisories

The official Twitter accounts of government agencies are also provide regular updates on the latest scams and scamming tactics: 

@CyberDost

Indian Ministry of Home Affairs offers tips and advises the public on safe internet practices, through its Twitter handle @CyberDost and its official website National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. These platforms can also be used to report any malicious cyber activity that you come across. 

@Europol

This is the Twitter handle of European Union’s Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation. Europol shares recent trends in cyber attacks and scams themed after the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

Pen-testing IoT Devices for Vulnerabilities

 

The ‘S’ in IoT

Urban dictionary defines IoT as: an acronym for “Internet of Things”, e.g. everyday objects (such as light bulbs or refrigerators) that can be accessed and possibly controlled via the Internet. The letter ‘s’ in the acronym stands for data and communication security.

 

Still wondering where the ‘s’ is?

Although the security of IoT devices demands immediate attention, the abundance of these devices has resulted in the lack thereof. There are more than 40 Billion connected devices at present, and every day a significant number of IoT devices are deployed. 

Internet routers, smart TVs, watches, refrigerators, speakers, and security systems such as cameras and home automation devices, are the most common IoT devices. Some of the lesser-known examples are smart vending machine services like BigBasket’s BBInsta, smart electricity meters, bluetooth-activated rental scooters such as Vogo and Bounce, and smart RO water purifiers like DrinkPrime. And most of these devices have already become indispensable parts of our lives. 

 

Why is it important to secure IoT devices?

The growing demand for smart devices makes it essential to prioritize its security. However, the following reasons are also notable:

 

1. Prolonged use:

Unlike other technological devices, connected devices are used for a longer period of time – ADSL Broadband routers released in the late 2000s with software components from early 2000s are still alive and online. However, most of these devices  no longer receive security updates.

https://xkcd.com/1966/
Credits:https://xkcd.com/1966/

2. Low attack protection: 

Most connected devices run on low power and low memory, making it impossible to leverage modern defense techniques, especially against memory corruption vulnerabilities such as buffer overflow. Also, users usually find stack protection, ASLR, etc. disabled.

3. Uncharted terrains: 

The security industry’s primary focus is on web/ desktop applications. Thus neglecting the security of a large number of IoT devices. 
 

How to detect vulnerabilities in IoT devices?

There are multiple ways to detect the vulnerabilities in IoT devices. We will explore:

  • Firmware Analysis
  • Service Exploitation 
  • Hardware Engagement

 

1. Firmware Analysis

The advantage of this approach is that it does not require the physical presence of the target device. When we discuss the various ways to detect vulnerabilities in connected devices, I will explain how I discovered a remotely exploitable remote code execution vulnerability in a highly distributed internet router.

Firstly, download the latest firmware from the device manufacturer’s website, often found in the support page related to that device. Manufacturers usually provide user guides with instructions for manual software update or in the case of bricked hardware.

The preferred tool for this approach is binwalk. It is an easy-to-use tool to analyze, for reverse engineering, and to extract firmware images. Moreover, it would work on any unknown binary file. It scans for known file-type signatures within the file, and detects filesystems and known compressed stream types.

Here is a demo of running binwalk on TP-Link Archer C5’s firmware, the default router issued by ACT, Bangalore.

demo

It, then, detects three things within the file:

  1. U-Boot – A bootloader often used in embedded devices,
  2. Some compressed data, and 
  3. A Squash FS file system – These are the root filesystem image and data that are mounted on the device. It will contain all the binaries, scripts, and configuration.

This firmware uses squashFS, but there are other file systems used in embedded devices that one could use: [https://elinux.org/File_Systems#Embedded_Filesystems]

To extract SquashFS and other files one can use binwalk itself: `binwalk -e firmware_file` or `unsquashfs`. However, based on the filesystem, one might need to download additional tools to extract the image.

Sample output of the tree command on the extracted directory
Sample output of the tree command on the extracted directory

If binwalk fails to identify the filesystem or identifies false positives instead, we can also try manual analysis. We will discuss this, later in the article. Now that we have the code and the binaries that run on the device, we can start testing.

pen-testing

Upon running binwalk on the firmware for JioFI 2, it detects a lot of files directly in plain text, that are not enclosed in a filesystem. Further, open the firmware file in a hex editor and search the first few bytes (also called magic bytes). The file will be identified as an FBF (Flash Binary File).

In the event that this doesn’t work, we shall assess whether the file is encrypted using entropy analysis with `binwalk -E`.

Left: Entropy analysis of JioFi Firmware which contains plaintext files Right: Entropy analysis of a Sony Audio system firmware. Notice the low entropy in the beginning and then very high entropy for the rest of the file, which indicates an unencrypted header part, followed by encrypted contents
Left: Entropy analysis of JioFi Firmware which contains plaintext files
Right: Entropy analysis of a Sony Audio system firmware. Notice the low entropy in the beginning and then very high entropy for the rest of the file, which indicates an unencrypted header part, followed by encrypted contents

The presence of encrypted firmware usually means that proceeding further is difficult. In that case, one could try reverse engineering the header to see if the decryption metadata (key algorithm) is in the header. This is highly unlikely. 

If the required firmware is not available, or it is impossible to extract anything, there are other ways to proceed.

 

2. Service Exploitation

An IoT device will have a network interface. So, we can fire up nmap and scan the host for open services.

Routers, for example, have an http server with a web interface for configuration, status information, etc. which is an easy target for bugs. 

Sample output of a scan on my previous isp router; what did I say about outdated software being used
Sample output of a scan on my previous isp router; outdated software being used

The most important vulnerability to look for during such black box testing in web ui is command injection. A lot of the Web UI functionality is just a wrapper for internal linux utilities like iptables, ping, traceroute, etc. 

The actions on the web interface are passed to these utilities as normal parameterized shell commands which can lead to command injection if the input is not sanitized. Apart from this, we should also look for unauthenticated action execution or if any of the pages failed to implement auth checks.

 

Step-by-step illustration

Here is one such injection I found in a large ISP issued router: 

A normal ping request. Notice how the output is the same as a linux ping command output
A normal ping request. Notice how the output is the same as a linux ping command output

 

Ping request with the ip `127.0.0.1 && uname -a`. Command injection!
Ping request with the ip `127.0.0.1 && uname -a`. Command injection!

Once a command injection is executed, we shall escalate that into a full shell access. Usually we will be able to find a telnet binary. If we fail to find the binary in the system, we can download one. Subsequently, start a telnet listener such as this: `127.0.0.1 && /usr/sbin/utelnetd -l bin/sh -p 2512`.

userbin

Then, we explore the processes that are running.

We can find a lot of interesting data here, such as the boa http server, the TR69 server which is used by ISP to remotely configure the routers to perform updates/ customer care, the SIP client for voice calls, PPPd Point-to-point protocol client between the device, and the isp
We can find a lot of interesting data here, such as the boa http server, the TR69 server which is used by ISP to remotely configure the routers to perform updates/ customer care, the SIP client for voice calls, PPPd Point-to-point protocol client between the device, and the isp

All these files and data expand the attack surface. These binaries and their configuration files determine whether they are custom or off-the-shelf tools. We can leverage reverse engineering toolkits like Ghidra to analyse these binaries and ascertain their susceptibility to memory corruption issues such as buffer overflow or logic bugs.

At this point, we can also explore the filesystem for configuration files or conduct a static source code analysis of the web UI backend. The most prized bugs to seek are remotely exploitable pre-auth RCEs. Also, try to find services that listen on the WAN interface and use that to find a bug.

One of the bugs I found, during this process, was a telnet binary listening on the WAN which used a custom executable/ bin/ login which only worked if supplied with a hardcoded password.

hard coded shodanSuch low-hanging vulnerabilities are not very rare. Developers often leave hard-coded backdoor passwords exposed. These are a couple of instances that prove the same:

https://securityledger.com/2015/08/hardcoded-firmware-password-sinks-home-routers/

https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2013/10/15/d-link-router-flaw-lets-anyone-login-using-joels-backdoor/

https://jalalsela.com/hacking-tp-link-tl-wr740n-backdoor/

 

Command injection bugs are also very common: 

https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/spiderlabs-blog/under-the-hood-linksys-remote-command-injection-vulnerabilities/

https://www.cybersecurity-help.cz/vdb/SB2019040101

https://packetstormsecurity.com/files/145823/TP-Link-Remote-Command-Injection.html

 

When Developers leave default passwords enabled on the devices, hackers don’t even need vulnerabilities to exploit them. Here is a list of cameras left exposed with default passwords set:

https://www.shodan.io/explore/tag/camera

Similarly, we can find routers, printers, security systems, etc. with default passwords enabled.

 

3. Hardware Engagement

Anticipating a failure, to find vulnerabilities in the firmware or any other running services with black box testing, there are other ways to detect vulnerabilities:

3.1 Serial Interface

Most IoT devices run a full linux kernel on an MIPS or ARM powered box. A serial interface is not uncommon on these types of devices. 

Typically, one can find a UART over RS-232 or TTL interface on the chip of the IoT device. An RS-232 interface will have a 9-pin connector, and a TTL interface will have 3-5 pins. The chip, within the outer case, will have instructions regarding the connectors. Use a USB-TTL converter, soldering the connection between the chip and the converter.

A USB-TTL converter. At least three pins RX, TX, VCC should be connected
A USB-TTL converter. At least three pins RX, TX, VCC should be connected

Then, connect to the serial console and use device admin credentials to log in.

Connecting to the serial console
Connecting to the serial console

These interfaces are usually provided by manufacturers to de-brick the device. At the time of booting the device, we have access to additional functionality such as loading firmware over the network.

Once a shell prompt is initiated, we can use techniques discussed previously, for further testing.

3.2 JTAG

In any case, if the device doesn’t run a full fledged OS or the hardware doesn’t provide a serial connection, there is an even lower level approach we could try.

JTAG is another common hardware interface that enables direct communication with the microcontroller on a board. Even though JTAG was initially used by manufacturers to test all the connections on the board, now they are used for low level debugging.

JTAG connection directions are marked on the chip. Otherwise, the spec sheet of the microcontroller/ processor will have details of the same. Solder directly to the JTAG pins on the microcontroller, to access the debugging interface. 

Additional device to connect to the JTAG Interface such as this Exploit-Nano hacker tool
Additional device to connect to the JTAG Interface such as this Exploit-Nano hacker tool
3.3 What can you do with JTAG ?
  • Pause and step through an operation
  • Inspect memory
  • Write bytes directly into memory, 
  • Set break-points
  • Inject code into the process or process memory
  • Dump the contents of the bootloader
  • Bypass logins, and so on

 

What can hackers do after finding bugs in these devices ?

 

The Mirai Botnet attack

In 2016, security vulnerabilities in brands of security cameras almost toppled the internet. The Mirai botnet launched 623 Gbps distributed denial-of-service attacks on multiple targets. The traffic originated from thousands of such security cameras. The next year its variant, Mirai Okiru, was launched, targeting Huawei routers.

The proliferation of IoT devices has made it almost impossible to handle the increasing number of attacks they encounter.

Invading privacy

Most smart devices are frequently exploited to encroach on the privacy of its users:

  • Smart speakers are exploited to listen to interactions.
  • Security devices such as CCTV cameras are abused to gain access to sensitive visuals.
  • Vulnerabilities in routers can lead to internet traffic being compromised. Hackers can see the sites visited through plaintext DNS queries. Further, they can perform MiTM attacks and steal credentials or sessions. These vulnerabilities also expose internal devices to the attacker, bypassing the NAT firewall and causing severe damage.

 

Weaponizing AI to orchestrate cyber attacks

Introduction

Since the coinage of the term in 1956, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved considerably. From its metaphorical reference in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, to its most popular recent application in autonomous cars, AI has made a progressive shift, over the years. It influences all the major industries such as transportation, communication, banking, education, healthcare, media, etc. 

When it comes to cybersecurity, AI is changing how we detect and respond to threats. However, with the benefits, comes the risk of the potential misuse of AI capabilities. Is the primary catalyst for cybersecurity, also a threat to it?  

How do we use AI in our daily life?

Social media users encounter AI on a daily basis and probably don’t recognize it at all. Online shopping recommendations, image recognition, personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and smart email replies, are the most popular examples.

For instance, Facebook identifies individual faces in a photo, and helps users “tag” and notify them. Businesses often embed chatbots in their websites and applications. These AI-driven chatbots detect words in the questions entered by customers, to predict and deliver prompt responses. 

How do malicious actors abuse and weaponize AI?

To orchestrate attacks, cyber criminals often tinker with existing AI systems, instead of developing new AI programs and tools. Some common attacks that exploit Artificial Intelligence include: 

  • Misusing the nature of AI algorithms/ systems: AI capabilities such as efficiency, speed and accuracy can be used to devise precise and undetectable attacks like targeted phishing attacks, delivering fake news, etc.
  • Input attacks/ adversarial attacks: Attackers can feed altered inputs into AI systems, to trigger unexpected/incorrect results. 
  • Data Poisoning: Malicious actors corrupt AI training data sets by poisoning them with bad data, affecting the system’s accuracy. 

Examples of how AI can be weaponized

GPT-2 text generator/ language models 

In November 2019, OpenAI released the latest and largest version of GPT-2 (Generative Pretrained Transformer 2). This language model has the training to generate unique textual content, based on a given input. It even tailors the output style and subject based on the input. So, if you input a specific topic or theme, GPT-2 will yield a few lines of text. GPT-2 is exceptional in that it doesn’t produce pre-existing strings, but singular content that didn’t exist before the model created it. 

Drawbacks of GPT-2

The language model is built with 1.5 billion parameters and has a “credibility score” of 6.9 out of 10. The model received a training with the help of 8 million text documents. As a result, OpenAI claims that “GPT-2 outperforms other language models.” The text generated by GPT-2 is as good as text composed by a human. Since detecting this synthetic text is challenging, creating spam emails and messages, fake news, or performing targeted phishing attacks, among other things, becomes easier.

Image recognition software

Image recognition is the process of identifying pixels and patterns to detect objects in digital images. The latest smartphones (for biometric authentication), social networking platforms, Google reverse image search, etc. use facial recognition. AI-based face recognition softwares detect faces in the camera’s field of vision. Given its multiple uses across industries and domains, researchers expect the image recognition software market to make a whopping USD 39 billion, by 2021. 

Drawbacks of image recognition softwares 

Major smartphone brands are now using facial recognition instead of fingerprint recognition, in their biometric authentication systems. Since this cutting-edge technology is popular among consumers, cyber criminals have found ways to exploit it. 

  • Tricking facial recognition: It has been demonstrated that Apple’s Face ID can be duped using 3D masks. There are also other instances of deceiving facial recognition with infrared lights, glasses, etc. Identical twins, such as myself, can swap our smartphones to trick even the most efficient algorithms, currently available. 
  • Blocking automated facial recognition: As facial recognition depends on key features of the face, an alteration made to the features can block automated facial recognition. Similarly, researchers are exploring various ways by which automated facial recognition can be blocked.
Altering facial features (by CVDazzle)
Altering facial features (by CVDazzle)

For example: Researchers found that minor modifications to a stop sign confuses autonomous cars. If implemented in real life, these technologies could have severe consequences.

Subtle alterations to the sign comes at a cost
Subtle alterations to the sign comes at a cost (by securityintelligence)

Poisoned training sets

Machine learning algorithms that power Artificial Intelligence, learn from data sets (training sets) or by extracting patterns from data sets. 

Poisoning Machine Learning models
Poisoning Machine Learning models

Drawbacks of Machine Learning algorithms

Attackers can poison training sets with bad data, to alter a system’s accuracy. They can even “teach” the model to behave differently, through a backdoor or otherwise. As a result, the model fails to work in the intended way, and will remain corrupted.

In the most unusual of ways, Microsoft’ AI chatbot, Tay, was corrupted through Twitter trolls. Releasing the smart chatbot was on an experimental basis, to engage people in “playful conversations.” However, Twitter users deluged the chatbot with racist, misogynistic, and anti-semitic tweets, turning Tay into a mouthpiece for a terrifying ideology in under a day. 

What next?

AI is here to stay. So, as we build Artificial Intelligence systems that can efficiently detect and respond to cyber threats, we should take small steps to ensure they are not exploited:

  1. Focus on basic cybersecurity hygiene including network security and anti-malware systems.
  2. Ensure there is some human monitoring/ intervention even for the most advanced AI systems. 
  3. Teach AI systems to detect foreign data based on timestamps, data quality etc.

RBI guidelines for banks to combat escalating cyber attacks

To meet the growing needs of customers, banks are increasingly adopting Information Technology (IT) solutions, to carry out daily operations. Thus making them attractive targets for escalating cyber attacks. To ensure that Indian banks function in a cyber-resilient environment, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issues regular guidelines. Hence, in one of its recent circulars, in addition to distinguishing cybersecurity from information security, the RBI advises banks to establish mechanisms for:

  • Continuous surveillance to protect personal data
  • A focused approach towards cybersecurity
  • Board/ Top Management to be aware of the bank’s threat quotient
  • Board/ Top Management to proactively monitor, share, and mitigate threats

 

The RBI guidelines advocate the following measures to help banks improve their overall security posture:

1. Provision for continuous surveillance

Cyber attacks are not preceded by warnings or timelines.  Hence, the RBI recommends that banks set up continuous surveillance to stay abreast of emerging cyber threats.

XVigil helps you anticipate and mitigate threats

XVigil, CloudSEK’s digital risk monitoring platform, offers continuous monitoring across the surface and the dark web. Specifically focusing on: mentions of the bank, its brand, and its infrastructure.

 

2. Ensure protection of customer data

Financial institutions depend on technology to function smoothly. It also helps them deliver cutting-edge digital products to address their customers’ needs. However, in the process, banks collect customers’ personal and sensitive information.

Banks should take appropriate steps to ensure uncompromised confidentiality, integrity, and availability of this data. Moreover, as custodians of such information, it is incumbent on banks to preserve data, in transit and in storage, within their environment or that of third party vendors. To this end, banks should establish suitable systems and processes, across the data/ information lifecycle.

XVigil detects data leaks

XVigil proactively monitors the web for data leaks. Subsequently, it alerts banks to leaks involving their customers’ information, credit card details, or debit card details. The platform also reports 3rd party data leaks that could affect banks and their customers.

 

3. Report cybersecurity incidents to RBI

Banks also need to notify the RBI of all unusual cybersecurity activities and incidents, irrespective of the success or failure of the attempts.

XVigil generates reports to notify the RBI

XVigil prepares reports, listing major incidents that may be submitted to the RBI, adhering to compliance standards.

 

4. Manage inventory of IT assets

Banks need to maintain an up-to-date inventory of assets including their infrastructure and business applications.

XVigil scans your assets every day

XVigil performs daily asset scans, to track all internet-facing assets, including domains, sub-domains, IPs, WebApps, etc.

 

5. Prevent execution of unauthorized software

Banks should maintain an updated, and preferably centralized, inventory of authorized/ unauthorized software.

XVigil monitors for Shadow IT threats 

XVigil runs infrastructure scans every day and alerts banks to any threats. As a result, it keeps Shadow IT threats in check.

 

6. Secure configuration

Banks must document and apply baseline security requirements/ configurations to all categories of devices.

XVigil detects misconfigured assets

XVigil detects and reports misconfiguration of internet-facing assets, in addition to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) top 10 vulnerabilities.

 

7. Vendor risk management

Banks are accountable for appropriate management of security risks pertaining to outsourced and partner arrangements.

XVigil detects third-party leaks 

XVigil monitors and reports on any third-party sources that leak sensitive information, thus fulfilling the RBI’s requirement to manage vendor risk.

 

8. Advanced real-time threat defence and management

The RBI advocates for banks to:

  • Build a robust defence system against the installation, spread, and execution of malicious code, at multiple points in the enterprise
  • Consider whitelisting of internet websites/ systems
  • Consider implementing secure web gateways with capabilities to deep scan network packets. Hence securing (HTTPS, etc.) traffic passing through the web/ internet gateway.
XVigil provides real-time alerts 

XVigil monitors and provides real-time alerts, on threats that impact banks’ brand or infrastructure, from various sources across the surface web and the dark web. In addition, the platform scans open ports, misconfigured SSLs, leaky S3 buckets, and  XSS vulnerabilities.

 

9. Anti-Phishing

Banks have been advised to subscribe to anti-phishing/ anti-rogue apps or services from external service providers. Since, this will help them identify and take down phishing websites/ rogue applications.

XVigil detects and initiates takedowns

XVigil detects phishing/ rogue apps, fake domains, and fake social media accounts. CloudSEK also offers takedown of such phishing websites/rouge applications.

 

10. Data leak prevention strategy

Banks should develop a comprehensive data loss/ leakage prevention strategy to safeguard sensitive, proprietary, and confidential business and customer data.

XVigil monitors data leaks

XVigil scans for data leaks, including third-party leaks, and additionally gives banks timely and actionable threat intelligence.

 

11. Vulnerability Assessment, Penetration Test, and Red Team Exercises

Banks should conduct periodic vulnerability assessment and pen-testing exercises on all the critical systems, particularly the internet-facing ones.

XVigil runs periodic tests

XVigil runs basic level vulnerability assessments, as well as pen-testing exercises, every day. And subsequently alerts banks to open ports, misconfigured SSLs, leaky S3 buckets, and  XSS vulnerabilities.

 

12. Forensics

Banks must make arrangements for forensic investigation unless they have support.

CloudSEK offers forensic services and support

CloudSEK offers forensic services, together with unlimited support.

 

13. External Integration

While delivering services to customers, several stakeholders are involved directly or otherwise. Their experience is indispensable. Besides, their integration with multiple tools would give organizations a view of the entire security landscape. Thus, encouraging better decision making.

XVigil can be integrated with ease

XVigil can be easily integrated with multiple SIEMS, SOAR and other platforms. Thus giving banks a single view of their entire security landscape.

 

Fake Image - CloudSEK

Menace of Fake Banking Services

We have all received calls from fake bank representatives, offering us complimentary credit card upgrades, free Insurance, and assistance to complete KYC (Know your customer) formalities. And to provide these services, they would have requested us for credit card or debit card details.

However, in the last few years, the general public has smartened up to this scam. And most of us don’t indulge these calls anymore. And in response to this, scammers have repackaged their scams, that are delivered to us, via other channels. The new schemes are so convincing that we reach out to them.

Let’s explore these sophisticated approaches and the various resources that allow scammers to continue defrauding us.

What makes us vulnerable?

Most people unequivocally rely on Google search for everything ranging from bank locations to restaurant reviews. So, it is only natural that scammers have started targeting Google services, to index bogus web pages that contain fake bank branches and customer care numbers. Also, it is simple to list a business on Google, because there is no detailed verification process. In 2018, police busted a scammer who was running a fake branch of Karnataka Bank in UP’s Ballia.

How are fake banking services provided?

  • The scammer buys a domain name that closely mimics the targeted bank. They replicate the bank’s trademarks, logos, and website design, to give it an air of authenticity.
  • They set up telephone numbers which are advertised on the fake website. The scammer goes the extra mile, to convince skeptical users, by mimicking original caller tunes, hold tunes, and following standard operating procedures.
  • Sometimes, scammers even set up interim branches and kiosks, employing people at different levels, so that it appears to be a legitimate operation.
  • They then list themselves on Google services with seemingly genuine location details.
  • When a customer searches for a bank branch or customer care number, these sites appear as top Google search results.
  • When the customer calls the fake number or visits a fake branch, scammers slip questions about CVVs (Card Verification Value) or ask for OTPs (One Time Password) in the middle of the conversation.
  • They may even advise users to download and install certain remote desktop sharing apps or open links that give them the control of the customer’s mobile device.
  • Scammers especially favour UPI (Unified Payment Interface) and other similar apps. They will ask for a victim’s UPI ID, and convince them to accept 1 rupee on the app. Wherein, instead of accepting money, unaware and inexperienced users, will in fact be remitting a large amount from their account.

Are there precautions we can take?

  • Stay abreast of scammers and the different types of online scams.
  • Proactively monitor the surface web and alert authorities of any scams you have identified.
  • Inform targeted banks about such scams. It will also help them to initiate the takedown of such sites and apps and ensure others don’t fall prey to these scams. 

If you have concerns about your organization’s security posture, contact us: Request a Demo now.