Click here to close now.


IoT User Interface Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Gary Kaiser, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Industrial IoT, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud, IoT User Interface

Cloud Security: Blog Post

Addressing the Root Cause – A Proactive Approach to Securing Desktops

The trouble with reactionary behavior

The computers on your network are protected from malware right? If you are operating an environment based largely on Windows based PCs you likely have some kind of anti-virus installed and centrally managed. If you have purchased a more complete desktop protection suite, you probably even have a Host Based IDS/IPS protecting your machine from incoming malicious TCP scans, or possible outbound connections to known malicious sites (like occasionally). Operating system firewall activated? Yep! AV signatures current? Check! Global Threat Intelligence updated? Uh, yeah....sure. Then you should be covered against threats targeting your organization, right? Most likely not, and at times these tools actually mask intrusions as they provide a false sense of security and protection.

The Trouble with Reactionary Behavior
The problem with these tools, all of them, is that they are purely reactionary in nature. Reactionary protection tools on every level, is something that basically states that an event has already occurred on your host computer, and those protection mechanisms will now activate. That means when you get an antivirus alert on your computer, the malware ALREADY present on the system. Yes, it may have stopped it, deleted it or possibly quarantined it (all of which are good). It has only done so because the AV software either has an existing signature in its database or the malware has attempted to operate in a suspicious manner, flagging the heuristics detection of the AV. What about when brand new malware, 0-day exploits, or sophisticated targeted malware executes on your host?

Do you imagine your AV will detect and mitigate it? I would suggest that your AV will be none the wiser to the presence of this yet to be detected threat, and only once it has been submitted to an AV vendor for analysis will you be provided with an updated signature. Well certainly if my AV missed it, one of the other layers of protection should stop it, right? It is possible, if the malware uses outbound connections that aren't considered "normal" by your OS's firewall or HIDS/HIPS software, then the malware could potentially be detected. If the malware uses standard outbound connections, port 80 or more than likely port 443, this appears as "normal" to the other layers of your systems host based defenses in place.

These tools all require some kind of known characteristics of a particular threat in order to detect its presence and mitigate it. These characteristics are obtained through analysis of reported and discovered threats of a similar nature, of which are used to develop signatures or heuristic models to detect the presence of malware on a host. If that threat has not yet been submitted for analysis and the callback domains not reported as malicious, it may be a while for it to be "discovered" and signatures made available. Until that time, your computer, its files, all of your activities as well as other computers on your network are at the mercy of an attacker unabated.

Being Proactive Is Essentially Free
This is the part that is really frustrating for me as an analyst, and also as an advocate for root cause solutions. Reactionary defenses cost an unreal amount of money for consumers, businesses, governments (both state and local), federal and military. You would think with all of this time and money spent on the various products billed as "protecting" you from cyber threats & intrusions, your environment would be better protected whether it is an enterprise or a single computer. This is not the case.  In fact, many studies show computer related intrusions are on the rise. Nation state threats, advanced persistent threats (APT) and even less skilled hackers continue to improve their sophistication as tools get cheaper and information is freely exchanged. Why is it then that I say, Proactive defenses are essentially free? And if that is in fact the case, why is this not being used more frequently? Proactive defense measures are essentially free, minus the time and effort in securing the root problems within your network. For this particular blog post, I am focused on host based proactive defensive measures.

Denying Execution at the Directory Level
The "how" is actually quite simple to explain, and in fact it is not a new protection technique at all, its just not as widely used outside of *nix based systems. All that an operating system provides is a platform for applications to run on, sometimes graphical based, sometimes a simple command line. The applications are typically stored in a common location within the operating system, allowing for dynamic linking as well as simplifying the directory structure. Not all applications require the need for linking to a dynamic library as they contain all of the requirements to run on their own, so they can easily be placed anywhere within the OS and they will execute.

This is extremely convenient when a developer wants to provide software that doesn't need to officially "install", and can be easily moved around. Therein lies the issue with the execution of these "self contained" applications, they can execute from anywhere on the host, without restriction. For a demonstration of this, copy "calc.exe" from the "system32" folder on your Windows PC to your "desktop". The program "calc.exe" will execute just the same as if it were under "system32" as it is a completely self contained binary. Almost all malware is designed the same way, and typically executes from a "temp" location or the root of your currently logged in user directory. The execution of malware needs to be stopped from occurring in the first place. This way, regardless of your current AV signatures or HIDS/HIPS capabilities, the malware cannot run. If the malware is unable to run, the threat is effectively mitigated before it can gain any foothold.

So how on earth do you stop the malware from executing from within these locations, and do I need some kind of "agent" based solution to monitor those particular directories to stop them? The approach is simple: deny ALL execution of programs outside of a particular directory (e.g., "Program Files" and "System32"). Require all necessary applications on the host, putty for instance, to be placed within one of the approved directories. If you are running a Windows based environment, locking down execution outside of approved directories can be implemented through both Group Policy (GPO) and Local Policy.

By expanding on an existing Windows policy called "Microsoft Windows Software Restriction" (which has been around since 2002 BTW) you can define directories that allow for execution of applications. This exact same technique can be employed on OSX systems as well.  Simply remove the execute privilege from locations within the OS that you would like to protect. In fact, I would venture to say it is easiest to implement on any *nix based system (if it's not already, as is the case on most unix/linux flavors).

No Silver Bullet
No solution is 100% effective, and this is no exception, as there are a number of ways to get past this protection.  Having said that, it adds a layer to your defense and will stop the majority of execution-based attacks.  If your software is properly patched (0-days not included), you have user privileges locked down with separate dedicated accounts, directory protection just steps up the difficulty your attackers have in gaining a presence on your network. No single solution will solve all of your problems, no matter how much a vendor sales engineer tries to sell you. Holistic, full spectrum defenses are the future, not "plug & play" protection hardware or software that requires updates, patching, signatures and "threat intelligence". The other side extremely important level of protection is in your Infosec professionals you have supporting you. Spend the money on good, talented and well rounded security professionals that understand the cyber threat landscape and the ways in which they can help better protect your organization.

To research further into how your network and its assets can be better protected please check out CyberSquared for solutions to root cause issues.

More Stories By Cory Marchand

Cory Marchand is a trusted subject matter expert on topics of Cyber Security Threats, Network and Host based Assessment and Computer Forensics. Mr. Marchand has supported several customers over his 10+ years within the field of Computer Security including State, Federal and Military Government as well as the Private sector. Mr. Marchand holds several industry related certificates including CISSP, EnCE, GSEC, GCIA, GCIH, GREM, GSNA and CEH.

@CloudExpo Stories
For almost two decades, businesses have discovered great opportunities to engage with customers and even expand revenue through digital systems, including web and mobile applications. Yet, even now, the conversation between the business and the technologists that deliver these systems is strained, in large part due to misaligned objectives. In his session at DevOps Summit, James Urquhart, Senior Vice President of Performance Analytics at SOASTA, Inc., will discuss how measuring user outcomes –...
As-a-service models offer huge opportunities, but also complicate security. It may seem that the easiest way to migrate to a new architectural model is to let others, experts in their field, do the work. This has given rise to many as-a-service models throughout the industry and across the entire technology stack, from software to infrastructure. While this has unlocked huge opportunities to accelerate the deployment of new capabilities or increase economic efficiencies within an organization, i...
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, will explore the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends an...
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi's VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driv...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
As the world moves towards more DevOps and microservices, application deployment to the cloud ought to become a lot simpler. The microservices architecture, which is the basis of many new age distributed systems such as OpenStack, NetFlix and so on, is at the heart of Cloud Foundry - a complete developer-oriented Platform as a Service (PaaS) that is IaaS agnostic and supports vCloud, OpenStack and AWS. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Raghavan "Rags" Srinivas, an Architect/Developer Evangeli...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data...
Overgrown applications have given way to modular applications, driven by the need to break larger problems into smaller problems. Similarly large monolithic development processes have been forced to be broken into smaller agile development cycles. Looking at trends in software development, microservices architectures meet the same demands. Additional benefits of microservices architectures are compartmentalization and a limited impact of service failure versus a complete software malfunction....
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of at least three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the backend big-data service, and the mobile application for the end user's controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/...
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
The last decade was about virtual machines, but the next one is about containers. Containers enable a service to run on any host at any time. Traditional tools are starting to show cracks because they were not designed for this level of application portability. Now is the time to look at new ways to deploy and manage applications at scale. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, Brian “Redbeard” Harrington, a principal architect at CoreOS, will examine how CoreOS helps teams run in production. Attende...
Redis is not only the fastest database, but it has become the most popular among the new wave of applications running in containers. Redis speeds up just about every data interaction between your users or operational systems. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Dave Nielsen, Developer Relations at Redis Labs, will share the functions and data structures used to solve everyday use cases that are driving Redis' popularity
SYS-CON Events announced today that Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, will keynote at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The IoT is upon us, but today’s databases, built on 30-year-old math, require multiple platforms to create a single solution. Data demands of the IoT require Big Data systems that can handle ingest, transactions and analytics concurrently adapting to varied situations as they occur, with speed at scale. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chad Jones, chief strategy officer at Deep Information Sciences, will look differently at IoT data so enterprises can fully leverage their IoT potential. He’ll sha...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DataClear Inc. will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The DataClear ‘BlackBox’ is the only solution that moves your PC, browsing and data out of the United States and away from prying (and spying) eyes. Its solution automatically builds you a clean, on-demand, virus free, new virtual cloud based PC outside of the United States, and wipes it clean...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Machkey International Company will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Machkey provides advanced connectivity solutions for just about everyone. Businesses or individuals, Machkey is dedicated to provide high-quality and cost-effective products to meet all your needs.
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
As a CIO, are your direct reports IT managers or are they IT leaders? The hard truth is that many IT managers have risen through the ranks based on their technical skills, not their leadership ability. Many are unable to effectively engage and inspire, creating forward momentum in the direction of desired change. Renowned for its approach to leadership and emphasis on their people, organizations increasingly look to our military for insight into these challenges.
The enterprise is being consumerized, and the consumer is being enterprised. Moore's Law does not matter anymore, the future belongs to business virtualization powered by invisible service architecture, powered by hyperscale and hyperconvergence, and facilitated by vertical streaming and horizontal scaling and consolidation. Both buyers and sellers want instant results, and from paperwork to paperless to mindless is the ultimate goal for any seamless transaction. The sweetest sweet spot in innov...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Key Information Systems, Inc. (KeyInfo), a leading cloud and infrastructure provider offering integrated solutions to enterprises, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Key Information Systems is a leading regional systems integrator with world-class compute, storage and networking solutions and professional services for the most advanced softwa...