Join us for a FREE Transcender webinar: Protecting your personal information online

July 14, 2017 at 8:22 am | Posted in Transcender news | Leave a comment
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Your private, personal information should be just that. Unfortunately, in today’s cyber world, your personal data has become an asset to be bought, sold, or stolen. Despite using complex passwords or securing your accounts, your data is always at risk from unscrupulous individuals or organizations. A new industry of cyber-middlemen don’t even want to hack your data themselves – they’ll just steal it and sell it to the people who do.

Industry expert George Monsalvatge will explain how your personal data is a monetary asset for both legal and illegal businesses. He’ll go over strategies to help protect your personal information from hackers, as well as explain the common and not-so-obvious tricks that scammers use to gain access to your information. He’ll discuss the ways that your “digital data profile” is inferred from your public and not-so-public online behaviors. Finally, he’ll mention the careers available today in the field of cyber security and how you can prepare for them.

Learn more about protecting yourself from data thieves by attending this FREE webinar, “Protecting Your Personal Information.” The webinar will be presented Wednesday, July 26th, from 12-1, EDT.

To register for the event please use this link: Webinar Registration Link

This is one presentation that you don’t want to miss!

Logical Operations’ CyberSec First Responder (CFR-210) Certification Is Now U.S. DoD-8570 Compliant

July 7, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Posted in cybersecurity, Knowledge, Logical Operations, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Logical Operations has announced that the CyberSec First Responder (CFR) certification is now approved by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) as DoD Directive 8570 compliant. CFR is now an approved Baseline Certification for the CSSP Analyst and CSSP Incident Responder categories, and verifies the skills necessary to perform these job functions.

The CyberSec First Responder certification exam (CFR-210) tests the cybersecurity practitioner’s ability to prevent, detect, analyze, and respond to security breaches in the organization.  Transcender is the authorized practice test provider for the CFR-210 and provides the CFR-210 practice exam, which includes 260 practice questions and over 300 flash cards covering the exam’s four main objectives:

  • Analyze Threats
  • Design Secure Computing and Network Environments
  • Proactively Defend Networks
  • Respond/Investigate Cybersecurity Incidents

According to Joe Mignano, VP of Channels for Logical Operations, the DoD approval “allows individuals fulfilling crucial information assurance functions for the United States government or their contractors to validate their Analyst and Incident Responder job skills with our certification program.”

The CFR certification already met the ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 standard and was accredited by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) in 2016.

Logical Operations also provides a CFR training course, developed to prepare IT professionals with the knowledge, ability, and skills necessary to provide for the defense of those information systems in a cybersecurity context – including protection, detection, analysis, investigation, and response processes.

U.S. Department of Defense Directive 8570 provides guidance and procedures for the training, certification, and management of all DoD employees involved with Information Assurance functions in their line of duty.  Other providers of certifications that meet DoD Directive 8570 are Cisco, Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), EC-Council, International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium (ISC)2, Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), and Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC).

 

Ransomware! What is it, and what can I do about it? (Part 2 of 2)

April 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Posted in cybersecurity, Knowledge | Leave a comment
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In my first post (Part 1), I went over the basics of how ransomware exploits your computer, and the #1 weird trick that computer experts use to avoid the pain of ransomware: namely, always have a current, offline backup of your files where the thieves can’t encrypt it in the first place.  Backups can save you from the pain, the agony, and the grief of ransomware. You may have to reimage your computer and copy a known set of good files from a backup set, so the more often you back up, the better off you’ll be.

However, if everyone always had a current backup, there’d be a lot less ransomware out there. The criminals who spread ransomware know that most people don’t back up their data. According to the FBI, attacks by ransomware accrued over $18 million by June 2015, and ransomware attacks are expected to boom in 2017. Crime pays, and pays well.

GGordonLiddy

Also, cybercriminals attack new and surprising venues every day (like Android screen lockers that demand payment in Amazon gift cards), so you may be the next victim. And while backups are good, you don’t want ransomware (or malware of any kind) on your computers in the first place.  And finally, if you’re in IT, you’re always going to field the eventual call from your mom, your brother, or your college roommate, saying “Help! There’s a message on my computer screen that says ransomware has infected my router and I have to pay $200!”

In this post, I’ll go over some general suggested practices to harden the various areas of your computer or network where malware might enter in the first place. I’ll also list the better resources to turn to for ransomware news and solutions that may help you extricate someone from a ransomware attack.

(Note: the first part is mostly Windows-based, but the second part applies to all computer users.)

Reveal it all

If you run a Windows machine, you should always show hidden file extensions using Windows Explorer. The average user – your college roommate, Joe Lunchbucket – has been warned a zillion times by the IT department never to open an executable file from email or a URL, and believe it or not, he won’t. But if he unzips an attachment, say an automated email from the local printer, and sees a file named BillJones_Resume.PDF, he’s going to think it’s really a PDF file. If file extensions are hidden (the default behavior) he won’t realize the file is actually BillJones_Resume.PDF.exe.

File extension viewing can be enabled by opening Windows Explorer, choosing the View, choose Options, and choosing Change folders and search options. On the View tab of the Folder Options window, uncheck Hide extensions for known file types. (The exact path may depend on which version of Windows you run.)

FolderOptions

Keep executables and known bad links out of email, and keep updates current

Ensure that your email service filters out EXE and script files. This may not protect you from someone hiding an EXE in a ZIP file, though. At work, your corporate infrastructure should have in-mail protection such as antivirus engines that check mail and attachments before the email is sent to the inbox, and checks web links to see if they are dangerous or spoofed.

If you’re operating in a Windows enterprise environment, you or your IT administrator can use Group Policy Objects (GPO) to prevent ransomware like Cryptolocker from executing its payload in the \USERS folder, AppData, Local App Data folders, or Temp directories.

Check if you have any Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) ports open and disable these ports to prevent access to your desktop remotely. (TrendMicro reported a sharp uptick in the number of brute-force RDP attacks in 2016.)

Patch or update your software and browsers regularly. Windows Update ensures that you have security patches and fixes for your operating system. Remember, if you have Windows 10, your free malware/anti-virus protection app is Windows Defender. To get updated malware and virus signatures, and to update Windows Firewall, you have to run Windows Update.

On a related note, make sure your device firmware (even routers, streaming devices and smart TVs, and refrigerators) are updated regularly.

Axe the non-essentials and known vulnerabilities

Remove Adobe Flash on computer. Do you need Adobe Flash? Lots of malware attacks come from fake pop-ups that tell the user to update their Adobe Flash or from malvertising that uses Flash. If you do keep Adobe Flash, make sure that your antivirus/ antimalware system actively checks for malware files. Other common browser hijacks will pop up a message saying you need to download an emergency update to Firefox or click to install free anti-virus software. Ensure that these kinds of applications update silently in the background so you won’t be fooled.

What to do if you think a ransomware attack is underway

If you suspect you’ve just landed on a site that’s infected with ransomware, disconnect your machine from the outside world. Unplug your Ethernet connection. Turn off your WiFi. If you move fast enough, you may protect network-attached drives from being affected. Get off the network and fire your anti-virus and anti-malware engines up immediately.

First – as I already stated – it’s a mistake to pay. (If you do decide to pay, it should always be a last resort.) Your first step should be to verify that it’s REALLY ransomware or malware, and not a browser hijack or a scareware popup that goes away when you close your browser and restart your computer.

It’s really ransomware: where to go for help (or to help others)

Ransomware can be divided roughly into two groups: sophisticated proware, and amateur hour. Even if it’s not just a scareware popup, some ransomware can be circumvented with built-in system tools. I know someone who was recently hit with Spora, a nasty and sophisticated cryptoware for which there’s no current fix. However, she managed to retrieve some of her files using Windows Previous Versions and volume shadow copies (VSS).

DON’T start with a random Google search. A huge number of search results from “how to fix ransomware XYZ” will be spurious or links infected with malware. (Criminals work the SEO to try to direct you back into their web.) Using another computer if you have to, go directly to the blog or forum maintained by your anti-virus or anti-malware solution provider and search for information there. In fact, major antivirus providers offer free ransomware discovery or decryption tools on their websites, and non-profit sites exist that will help you identify what’s infecting your system, so any of these links are also a good place to start:

Subscribing to security newsfeeds is a good way to keep your background knowledge high. If you want to read up on ransomware before you’re hit with an attack, Digital Guardian released its list of The Top 50 InfoSec Blogs You Should Be Reading (including authorities like Krebs On Security).

If you or someone you know is a victim of ransomware, it will tell you there’s a deadline of 48 to 96 hours to pay the ransom to get a private key. After the time has expired, the private key is gone and your data is forever encrypted. It’s possible to set the BIOS clock back in an attempt to delay the process and explore options. However, once the data is encrypted, you may not be able to access the files. If you can, make a new backup image of your files, even if they’re encrypted – you can always try decryption now, or at a later date once new solutions are released. (This is exactly what I told my friend who was a Spora victim to do with the rest of her hard drive that’s still encrypted.)

While this can’t be a comprehensive guide to fixing ransomware, I hope it was able to point you in the right direction. Before I leave, I want to share this amazing timeline of the varieties of ransomware released between May 2016 and today.

Until next time,

George Monsalvatge

 

Ransomware! What is it, and what can I do about it? (Part 1 of 2)

April 4, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Posted in cybersecurity, Knowledge, Technical Tips | 1 Comment
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Ransomware! What can I do about it?

We live in dangerous times. Your cranky grandfather was right: they are out to get you – but who are “they,” and what the heck are we talking about? Ransomware, of course. It’s out there, and its coming for you.

Mobsters extort money from people. You may be a fan of mobster movies or the Sopranos on HBO, but it’s only fun to watch mobsters at work when you’re not the one getting the shakedown. I don’t know Tony Soprano, and besides, I like Joe Pesci’s character in Lethal Weapon III better than his characters in Casino or Goodfellas. Extortion could be coming to a PC, Mac, or even Linux box near you in the form of ransomware.

Mobsters

It’s fun to watch these guys on TV. It’s not so fun to be a victim in your own home.

First I’ll go over the basics of how ransomware works.  I’ll explain the most common mistake you may be making – even if you’re an IT professional – that might leave you a victim of a drive-by drive-locking. And, of course, I’ll tell you the best ways to prepare to fight ransomware.

In my follow-up post I’ll go over some specific strategies to harden your e-mail and firewall against malware attacks and share a recommended reading list for infosec news.

How the shake-down starts

You can be extorted on the Internet without being infected with ransomware. Hijacking someone’s social media account (like Instagram), changing their login, and then demanding payment for the user credentials is extortion, but it isn’t ransomware.

Ransomware is a type of malware that infects your computer and encrypts your files or blocks access to your own data. The ransomware displays a message stating that the attacker will unlock your files for a price, and that payment should be rendered through a nominally untraceable electronic currency, such as BitCoin or MoneyPak. It usually gives you a time limit and threatens to permanently destroy your data if you don’t pay before the deadline.

For home users, that price is usually set between $150-300 USD or Euros. For business victims, the demand might start at $500 – or it could be $10,000 and escalate from there.

How did the ransomware get there?

The malware that carries the encrypting payload is loaded on your computer in a number of ways. The malware could have come from a downloaded file or from a browser hijack. The malware could be hidden in another program. Any web site that hosts third-party ads, like recipe blogs and your favorite vintage car forum, can be a huge vector for malware no matter how innocent the site itself is; just visiting the site or clicking an ad by accident can expose you to a silent malware download.

No operating system is immune (not even mobile phones or home appliances). Ransomware can affect PCs running any operating system and Macs. Yes, I said Macs. A ransomware called KeRanger was found in a BitTorrent software that was designed to install on the Apple OS X operating system. The KeRanger malware will encrypt files on your computer and try to encrypt Time Machine backup files to prevent you from recovering the data from a backup. The KeRanger malware attackers want $400 for the private key.

[Note: If you frequent Bittorrent sites, you know they have pirated files for download from shady servers. Don’t be surprised when you lie down with dogs and get up with fleas.]

What happens when the ransomware activates?

A majority of active ransomware uses a variation of Cryptolocker. Once the malware is loaded on your computer, it first contacts a central server on the Internet. That server creates a unique encryption key pair. A public key that is kept on the local computer and the private key used for decryption that is kept on the attacker’s central server. Once the public key and private key are created, the malware will begin encrypting files locally on your computer and any mapped drives.

The attacker has the private key and will sell it you to use to decrypt your files. If you have ransomware on your computer, you will get a pop-up that instructs you to pay money via BitCoin, MoneyPack, or something similar.

CryptoLocker

When ransomware is an offer you can’t refuse

Ransomware is common because it’s cheap to implement (for the attackers) and hugely effective. Steve Perry of Journey once sang the wheel in the sky keeps on rolling. Well, when it stops rolling, everybody raises hell. If your business has an outage, the data has to be restored. Money never sleeps; your network has to hum along 24 hours day. The Internet is like Waffle House: it never closes. (I can go on and on in this vein. Don’t try me.) In short, your customer expects that you will never be closed and that your (and their) data will always be there. Ransomware that locks your data up has kneecapped you right in the business income.

Many business victims would rather just pay the ransom and get access restored. The logic goes that it’s better to pay rather than to lose an unknown amount of revenue from the downtime they’ll incur while trying to root out the infection and restore systems.

Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY why ransomware continues to flourish, and exactly the wrong response to an attack.

Whatever you do, if at all possible: DON’T. PAY. THE. RANSOM. There are two very important reasons why this is a bad idea:

  1. You are dealing with criminals. There is no guarantee you’ll even get the private key to unlock your files.
  2. If you pay, you only encourage this crime to continue.

However, it’s easy for me to lecture you on this. I didn’t have my laptop full of all my kids’ photos, my graduate thesis, the last video of my late wife, or some other valuable data extorted from me. I can honestly say that if I was in that situation, I don’t know whether I would pay to get that data back.

The #1 mistake that leaves you vulnerable to ransomware

Pirating movies. Frequenting shady websites. Buying a “smart” refrigerator and letting it connect to your home wireless router without changing the default settings. Failing to keep your anti-virus programs updated. All of these are bad ideas, but they’re not the #1 mistake that makes you most likely to shell out the (bit)coin and retrieve your data.

Sure, our goal should be to never get infected with ransomware. But given the speed at which these attacks evolve, it’s not realistic to assume that our firewalls and anti-virus software will be 100% effective. The best offense is always a good defense; with ransomware, the best defense is a secure recent backup.

Threats only work if you’re afraid of the consequences. With a secure external backup, you can wipe your system and walk away from the demands.

After all, if you have a full image of your system and a secure external copy of your data, you can risk losing a few days’ worth of files while you wipe and reimage your system to remove the malware.  You could use a snapshot to restore your system, or clean your machine and restore your data.

Unfortunately, home users (and many small businesses) rely on cloud-connected file servers like OneDrive and Dropbox to back up the physical copies stored on our hard drive. Or we never keep a local copy of our files, assuming that our cloud providers have better intrusion security than we could provide for ourselves.

Rest assured: backing up to the cloud won’t protect your data. Malware like Cryptolocker can encrypt files on mapped drives and external drives. This definitely means your Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive or cloud service that is mapped to your machine can also be infected and your cloud-based files can be encrypted just like your local ones.

You should treat the personal data on your laptop or desktop, company data on your company’s laptop, or data on your company’s devices just like the data on corporate servers and schedule regular backups. Furthermore, you need to back up to external drives.

You should have your drives backed up to an external drive on a regular basis or use a backup service that does not use an assigned drive. Why does it have to be an external drive? Variations of Cryptolocker can check for shadow files on your computer and disable or delete them.

How often you perform backups will determine how much you lose.

In our next post…

In my next post I’ll share a few ways to harden your OS, firewall, email, and end users – even your grandma – against some common ransomware entry points. I’ll also suggest ways to handle the dreaded “friends and family support call.”

Until next time,

George Monsalvatge

 

FREE quarterly webinar: Investigating the Security Roadmap, 3/22 at 11 AM EST

March 21, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Transcender news | Leave a comment
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Internet Security is the hot business topic of the day. The fragile infrastructure of the forever expanding internet is a concern for every corporation, government entity, and non-profit agency. However, challenges always bring opportunities.

Our security testing expert, Robin Abernathy, will map out the security certification landscape and discuss the most logical choices for your career.  Kaplan IT Training’s quarterly webinar will discuss the certification and career options in the varied fields of cybersecurity, including exam costs, requirements, job roles, and skills measured. There may be a place in the world of securing information for you. Join us to find out on March 22nd, 11AM EST.

To register for the webinar, click this link.

PolitiHack, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Russians Influencing the US Election and Learned to Love Cybersecurity

December 23, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Posted in cybersecurity, Knowledge | 2 Comments
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Hackitivism and cyberespionage are certainly nothing new, especially emanating from Russia. But the 2016 US presidential election was a swift education for Americans and the watching world regarding the widespread consequences of a successful  APT (advanced persistent threat). A joint statement issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security stated that the “U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations” (emphasis ours).

Thanks to the detailed reporting from the New York Times, the fog of war is beginning to clear and the full extent of the cyberattack has become clear. And what is increasingly apparent is that at every stage, cybersecurity training could have significantly mitigated or (perhaps) even prevented portions of the attack altogether.

kaperskythreatmap

Real-time cyberthreat map from Kapersky Lab

Enter the low-rung MIS contractor hired by the DNC — Yared Tamene.  He claims no cybersecurity expertise, much less any cybersecurity-related certification like GSEC, CASPCISSP, CEH or CFR. So it’s hardly appropriate to assign him the brunt of the blame. Instead, we should use his example to learn how cybersecurity knowledge and skills could have better informed the fateful decisions that he, and many others, made along the way.

In the fall of 2015, the FBI noticed some unusual outgoing network traffic from the DNC network, suggesting that at least one computer was compromised. The early forensics linked the compromise to a known Russian cyberespionage group going by the moniker “the Dukes” (AKA “Cozy Bear” and “APT29”) , who had in just the last few years, penetrated the White House, State Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff email systems. A special agent picked up the phone, called Tamene, and told him what they knew.

Before we even get to Tamene’s response, any trained cybersecurity first responder knows why the FBI called via phone rather than emailing their dire message. Communication protocol during a security incident should be out-of-band, meaning outside of the primary communication channels (primarily network where the attacker could be listening). Ironically, Tamene was convinced that the FBI call was a hoax, and after repeated calls over the new few months, he ignored the urgency. In November, the FBI even confirmed with Tamene that known malware was routing data to servers located in Moscow.

Continue Reading PolitiHack, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Russians Influencing the US Election and Learned to Love Cybersecurity…

Now Offering CFR-210 Test Prep

December 1, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Logical Operations, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Who says there’s no news in December? In cybersecurity, it’s never a question of if, but a question of when a breach will occur. So rather than wait for the new year, we thought we’d get the jump on 2017 and together with Logical Operations, release the Cybersec First Responder (CFR-210) practice test today.

What exactly is the CFR certification all about? Well, CFR-210 showcases your ability to to quickly detect and respond to active cyber threats. It’s not just about detailed knowledge of the analysis techniques and tools, but how to identify and respond, in real time, to the broad array of security threats affecting organizations worldwide.

So, white hats, rejoice and black hats, you’re on notice. They’re some new sheriffs rolling into town with some serious skills — and they’re not afraid to use them!

Here’s the press release for your reading pleasure.

Somebody’s Watching Me

July 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Transcender news, Vendor news | 1 Comment
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I always feel that somebody’s watching me (and I have no privacy)

The news has been pretty scary lately. Renegade hackers have been attacking companies left and right. If, like me, you assumed these hackers were a bunch of very intelligent teenagers with a lot of time on their hands, then you, like me, would be wrong. Much more sinister forces were, and still are, at work.

Take Hyundai Capital Service, for example. The company faced being extorted by hackers who wanted money and threatened they would release confidential information. Luckily, the police made arrests. Since then, the CEO of Hyundai Capital Services, Ted Chung, has changed the way things work. He now sees the IT department as central to everything the company does. He learned about the  company’s network architecture, its security infrastructure, and the tradeoffs between data protection and customer satisfaction.

Over a decade ago, documentary film maker Michael Moore created a show named “TV Nation.”  On one episode he challenged the CEOs of various companies to use their own company’s product. It was shown that very few of the CEOs could actually use their own products.  It’s a rule that executives of large corporations are charged with creating value for their stockholders. But I wonder – how many CEOs take an interest in the security of their information like Ted Chung does? How many CEOs can and would “use their own products,” so to speak?

In your typical mob movie, business owners pay gangsters “protection” money so that employees can keep their jobs, and concerns about safety are addressed by locking your doors when the sun sets. In our corporations, we don’t have guys with oily hair and pin-striped suits pointing Thompson machine guns; we have hackers from any corner of the globe looking for quick cash.  Unlike paying off the mob, when the hackers are successful it may mean many people lose their jobs and locking your front door isn’t going to protect your personal information from getting into the wrong hands. Concerns like these are keeping us from widespread adoption of cloud-based services, for one.

Another frightening question: how often has a company been hacked and  information stolen when the customer is never informed of the breach? Have you ever gotten a letter from your credit card company telling you that “sometime last year” your account was hacked – but not to worry, because they’ve finally fixed the problem? Privacy is no longer a given in the information age, but I still expect my personal data to be safe. I trust companies with my personal information, my digital information, and my money.  I have a reasonable expectation that the harder you make it for me to access my own information (username, password, sitekey, security questions) the safer it should be from theft and hacking.

Recently, a company in Michigan who fell victim to an email message disguised as a legitimate bank notification sued Comerica Bank for the losses. Cyber-thieves took nearly $2 million from the company’s account, although they successfully wired only about half a million to offshore accounts. (Read more about it.) I am not a big fan of lawyers, but I hope that lawsuits like these will encourage the corporate world to be more proactive in protecting our data and our money.

Companies must invest in security. More importantly companies must train their employees in security. You may have watched a James Bond movie where the villain has all these high-tech tools to break in. In reality, bad guys still use the simplest ways to steal. Street criminals still prefer to use the classic “smash and grab” to steal property from cars because it’s effective. Cyber-criminals still use phishing schemes and social engineering to get at your data because it’s easy and effective.  And in most of these cases, individuals can do a better job or protecting ourselves. What does that software that we downloaded from that funny web site actually do? Is it malware? According to Panda Security, there are 63,000 new malicious programs released per day. My stomach is starting to turn and my palms are beginning to sweat.

However, there is some good news amid all this doom and gloom. Before I finished writing this post, I got an email that says a long lost relative of mine has left me $1 million dollars (U.S.). They misspelled the word “dollars,” but I’m sure it’s legit. Right?

Until next time,
–George Monsalvatge

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