Once again we are witnessing the aftermath of another major data breach. Although the name of the retailer has changed from Target to Home Depot, the rest of the story remains the same. A large scale exfiltration of customer card data that went undetected for several months.
So how did all this happen? Unpatched systems, shared credentials and over reliance on old technologies such as signature based AV software are prime targets for blame. AV software is great at stopping known reported threats, however a custom targeted attack or simple re-engineering of existing code means that malware will remain undetected. In fact the cybercrime gangs developing malware often proudly advertise that they are FUD (fully undetectable) by AV systems.
The costs of a data breach are incredibly high, Home Depot are reported to have exposed 56 million credit and debit cards which could potentially cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Fear of these huge costs is driving organizations to desperately seek the latest and greatest technologies to battle the new wave of malware. However often they are somewhat missing the point and failing to see the easy wins that are right in front of them.
At Avecto we often talk about the SANS critical controls, and for good reason. These are a well thought out set of controls that can greatly reduce your attack surface and secure your environment. Let's see how implementing just a couple of these controls can help deal with the latest threats.
Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges (CSC 2)
Removal of admin privileges is an essential step in building a secure endpoint however it's often not implemented. The reason for this is many legacy applications such as the core POS software require admin rights to work. This results in malware being able to run with admin rights and embed itself deep within the system making detection and removal very difficult. Malware such as BlackPOS exploits admin privileges to install itself as a system service.
We address this issue with Defendpoint by implementing a granular least privilege policy that allows individual applications to be elevated from within a standard user account. This removes the risks of running with an admin account and blocks malware from making system changes.
Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software (CSC 12)
Allow listing technologies have been around for long time and provide a way to list and trust the application you want to run on your endpoint. They are often impossible to implement because of the difficulties of listing all the possible files and updates that need to run.
However when you remove admin rights you can safely add system folders to the list, making allow listing much easier. Defendpoint also allows users to identify applications based on a wide range of filters such as publisher, filename and hash. This solution can block malware such as Backoff executing from the AppData folder whilst allowing all the legitimate software in Program Files to run.
The costs of implementing these two controls are a small fraction of the costs of a data breach. They also empower IT teams to be more productive by spending less time firefighting malware infections and focus on strengthening the security stance. Providing a proactive solution that blocks the malware from taking hold in the first place provides far greater business benefits than detection of the compromise later.
James Maude, Lead Cyber Security Researcher
James Maude is the Lead Cyber Security Researcher at BeyondTrust’s Manchester, U.K., office. James has broad experience in security research, conducting in-depth analysis of malware and cyber threats to identify attack vectors and trends in the evolving security landscape. His background in forensic computing and active involvement in the security research community makes him an expert voice on cybersecurity. He regularly presents at international events and hosts webinars to discuss threats and defense strategies.