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Combating Advanced Persistent Threat and other Targeted Attacks: An Iterative Approach

IBM X-Force Mission

The mission of the IBM X-Force research and development team is to:
Research and evaluate threat and protection issues Develop new technology for tomorrows security challenges Deliver security protection for todays security problems Educate the media and user communities

Advanced Persistent Threat in the news

Washington Post, October 2006: Computer Systems Under Attack BusinessWeek, April 2008: An Evolving Crisis BusinessWeek, July 2009: Under Cyberthreat: Defense Contractors A plethora of articles beginning in early 2010

Myths about Advanced Persistent Threat

APT is a new threat. APT is a botnet. APT isnt very sophisticated. All sophisticated attacks are APT. All APT style attacks have the same origin & motive. If you buy our product it will protect you from APT.

What is APT?
Advanced Using exploits for unreported vulnerabilities (zero day) Advanced, custom malware that isnt detected by antivirus products Coordinated attacks using a variety of vectors Persistent Attacks lasting for months or years Resistant to remediation attempts Attackers are dedicated to the target they WILL get in Threat Targeted at specific individuals and groups within an organization, aimed at compromising confidential information Not random attacks theyre actually out to get you

Sophisticated Targeted Attacks

Identification of a target and method of compromise Initial target is not always the true target

Social Engineering
Most commonly spear-phishing (email or IM that appears to come from a known trusted source) Message contains a malicious payload or a link to a web page that has malicious code

0-Day Tools
Attacks involve exploitation of never-before-seen vulnerabilities discovered by the attackers Not all malware in APT cases is undetectable but the majority of malware used during the initial compromise is custom

Spear Phishing Example of e-mail with malicious PDF

Sophisticated Targeted Attacks

Attacker will remain patient and will attempt to conceal activity by masquerading as a normal user Attacker will attempt to cover their actions by using legitimate accounts and protocols when possible

Privilege Escalation and Lateralization

Most often the attacker will attempt to utilize a current account and obtain any information they can with those privileges Some APT cases have involved the creation of new accounts with administrative privilege

Attacker will observe remedial actions and adjust accordingly Theyll use their least sophisticated attacks first

Attackers are patient and will watch targets for long periods of time Attackers install multiple backdoors to ensure continued access to the target network

Malware command and control (C&C) characteristics

Usually port 80 (HTTP) or 443 (HTTPS) Traffic is encrypted, obfuscated, or both No listening ports or incoming connections
Easy to detect incoming connections Firewalls prevent this anyways

Commands can be embedded in compromised web pages

Privilege escalation and lateralization



A key example: Stuxnet

Included exploits for 4 unpatched (0-day) vulnerabilities Included components signed with stolen digital certificates Spread through numerous network vectors and crossed air gaps with USB sticks Infected developer machines with a rootkit that hid the malware and the code changes it was making

Modified code on programmable logic controllers (PLCs) Code modifications only occurred in limited circumstances
Code that controls particular frequency converter drives from specific vendors Drives that operate in particular frequency ranges

Collateral Damage Worldwide infections


Responding to Targeted Attacks: An Iterative Approach


Your original security posture may need to be reconsidered. Email Security
Dont allow incoming e-mail spoofed from your organizations addresses Consider e-mail signing How well managed are your access policies? Do people only have access to what they need access to? How hardened is your access control system? Multifactor authentication can complicate the attack's task Review access policies frequently Frequently used by the DoD Can you afford separate systems for web browsing and for sensitive work? Some data never needs exposure to the Internet

Identity and Access Management

Physical Segmentation

"It has become clear that Internet access in itself is a vulnerability that we cannot mitigate. We have tried incremental steps and they have proven insufficient." - Mark Foulon, Bureau of Industry and Security, US Dept Of Commerce
Consider all forms of connectivity what is your policy on USB sticks? IPS and Firewalls and even Anti-Virus can actually help Each point solution is part of a complete breakfast

Keep up with traditional security measures


You cannot detect everything, but if you can detect something, you can pull on that thread and unravel complicated attacks. User
Educate targeted employees Make education personal, this is not a compliance activity Again, the goal isnt to stop all spear phishing, some people will still fall prey - the goal is to detect some of it

0 Day Attack Heuristics
Shell Code Obfuscation

Protocol anomalies Unexpected Encryption Known Command and Control protocols

Out of policy configuration changes Buffer Overflow detection Application whitelisting

Ahead of the threat

Operation Aurora


Analyze and Remediate

Captured attacks should be analyzed
Execute exploits in a controlled environment and monitor Determine command and control protocol and IP addresses Determine registry and other system changes Honeypot attackers and watch their activity Collect as much information as possible!

Determine if other hosts have communicated with C&C systems
Network evidence logging can help in this respect

Use system management tools to search for configuration changes associated with the malware

Integrate lessons about malware and attacks into network and end host defense systems used in the detection phase


Were here to help!

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