I recently read an excellent examination of the OPM Cyberattack in Wired. It was the first time that I’d seen reference to opmsecurity.org, the nefarious domain created to capture undetected outbound OPM traffic. The registered owner of the domain was “Steve Rogers”, or the eventual Captain America. So our malicious actors were brazen and had an ironic sense of humor. These hackers were patient and calculating. They stole architectural documentation, researched contractors to find a weak link, hacked one organization to gain access to another, created fake domains. It reads just like a cheap spy novel. Except that this was real and the information stolen was deeply personal, impacting thousands of our nation’s public servants and their families. We are still waiting to see what these criminals will do with the data stolen. A few other things caught my attention.
Privilege Access Once Again at the Core
The utilization of a genuine credential provided these attackers the keys to the kingdom. They used a weak link at a contractor site, and then cloaked their malicious behaviors as legitimate. This is a scenario we see over and over again in breaches. We know that while the OPM attack scenario is highly evolved, it is sadly not unusual in its pattern. External attacks on systems tend to follow a fairly predictable path, all aimed moving laterally through a system to capture that valuable credential. To mitigate the success of malicious actors, agencies must employ a layered security approach, built around a least privilege strategy, utilize solutions that detect abnormal credential usage patterns, and address vulnerabilities. Check out this on-demand webinar, Enemy from Within: Managing and Controlling Access for an in-depth view of this phenomenon and how to mitigate the risk for your agency.
Outdated Federal Legacy Systems
In testimony, an OMB official referenced the difficulty of securing legacy systems as a factor in the breach. Federal legacy IT systems have been part of the conversation for years. While it is a mission and technology challenge, it is also a leadership issue. Tough choices and strategic investments must be made to modernize our federal technology infrastructure and thus secure the data of our nation. We spend nearly $90B annually on IT. Reports consistently show that over 80% of that is spent on maintaining outdated systems. There is simply nothing left to innovate and modernize. Federal CIO Tony Scott has issued a memo to set into motion mandate for modernization. It establishes structure and timeline for this daunting task. While on the path to modernization, part of evaluating an agency’s IT systems should include inspection of managing privilege accounts and application vulnerabilities. Automation of these tasks improves efficiencies, cuts costs and creates a more secure environment. The concept is not new. Privileged access management and vulnerability management are found in directives from NIST SP800-53 to NISPOM. Yet we still see reports that indicate agencies are falling short in these areas. Steps can be taken now to minimize the complexity of these tasks and make them an achievable part of your agency’s cyber security strategy.
When agency is exploring options to mitigate risks in your information environments, contact us for a strategy session. We have the expertise to help.
Scott Lang, Sr. Director, Product Marketing at BeyondTrust
Scott Lang has nearly 20 years of experience in technology product marketing, currently guiding the product marketing strategy for BeyondTrust’s privileged account management solutions and vulnerability management solutions. Prior to joining BeyondTrust, Scott was director of security solution marketing at Dell, formerly Quest Software, where he was responsible for global security campaigns, product marketing for identity and access management and Windows server management.