MSS is dead; Long live MSS!

MSS is dead; Long live MSS!

Automated detection will fail. This is not a FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) statement designed to strike fear into the hearts of CISO’s, it’s a fundamental problem that’s unlikely to be solved in my lifetime. This problem is not limited to technology alone, sometimes it’s a failure related to process or people, and sometimes it’s a murky mixture. Add any sort of complexity to the mix and the odds become greatly stacked against us.

Regardless of the reason, these factors can result in a failure to notice something bad happening in our environment and puts us in an awkward position. The investment we made to protect ourselves works as intended, but only most of the time.

As security professionals, is it time to admit that we can’t spend our way out of being vulnerable to a breach; as security vendors and service providers, is it time to admit that we can’t actually stop every breach?

IFTTT (If This Then That) or what?

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have great technology, people, and processes helping us to make decisions about the activity going on around us. Air disasters have dramatically and steadily declined over the past couple of decades. This is mostly due to advances in pilot training, the design of the planes themselves and fly-by-wire automation technology that most come equipped with today. However, accidents still happen; airspeed indicators freeze over sending instruments into chaos prompting pilots to chase down problems and react in ways that aren’t necessary to resolve the actual problem thereby making the overall situation worse.

We are in a similar situation, great technology that keeps us safe, well-trained operators following a solid process, and automatic detection of most threats.

At this point our conversation can go in many directions, perhaps we’d talk about Risk Mitigation, Security Control Frameworks, the future of AI and Machine Learning, blockchain, next-gen, virtual reality, etc. but you already hear enough about those. I want to talk about this problem from a Managed Security Services Provider perspective.

Does MSS drive value to its clients and are consumers of Managed Security Services expecting enough of their MSSP?

MSSP’s, in general, are not delivering on their promises. “We are an extension of your team”: hardly, as nearly every time you talk with your MSSP it involves explaining something you’ve already explained many times in the past. “You can take advantage of our wide visibility into a large client base to realize improvements in our detection capabilities for you”: doubtful, most MSSPs don’t have the infrastructure or process in place to ensure this actually happens. “We don’t just throw alerts over the fence to our clients”: no comment necessary here, I imagine.

Truth is that MSSPs struggle to provide value. The majority of MSSPs were created when a client opportunity came up to manage and monitor a technology, and due to this, most are only built to monitor security technology and the alerts it generates. This continues throughout the life of the provider. Got a new technology you need managed? MSS will take it on!

On the other hand, consumers of MSSP services have been conditioned to expect that the value of these services is in the expansion of their security device management and monitoring to 24×7 by a larger set of eyes. This is a great expectation, but what some may not realize is that an MSSP will have the same struggle to contain technology sprawl as any enterprise. The more technology an MSS manages and monitors the harder it is to be effective and efficient at doing so. The complexity of it all becomes overwhelming and service delivery suffers as economies of scale disappear. MSSP’s compete in the same job market as everyone else, so this complexity leads to stress and job dissatisfaction which inevitably leads to analyst turnover, only exacerbating the problem. It might be interesting to note that clients tend to overlook blips in service during the duration of the contract because the value is in the coverage, not the actual outcome of the service. At renewal time, however, the realization that little value was delivered is exposed and many organizations look elsewhere (or internally) for a SOC.

Lessons learned.

These are just some of the problems with legacy MSSPs (yes, there’s more) and with over a decade of experience working for some of the biggest and best, I consider them lessons learned. When we came to Kudelski Security in 2016 we asked for and were granted the opportunity to stop selling our MSS and take a hard look at our service model and at the MSSP vertical in general. With the lessons learned in mind, we went about the process of rebuilding everything on top of our Cyber Fusion strategy. Sitting together in many (many!) meetings a fundamental and critical objective bubbled up. We need to deliver value to our clients, not just the perceived value based on extending coverage of internal teams but real value based on business outcomes that reduce overall risk. To do this we needed to understand how to contextualize the modern threat, detect a breach quickly, and limit the impact.

Assume Breach.

Automated detection will fail and we should assume breach, this is the genesis of our strategy to tackle delivering those business outcomes. When we started to work on our infrastructure, our goal was to have the top Threat Monitoring Service in the world. We built in the capability to ingest business context just as easily as we could ingest curated threat intelligence. Luckily Kudelski Security provided us with a team of 30 DevOps engineers dedicated to MSS.

If an organization is monitoring junk, sending that junk to an MSSP doesn’t make it better so we created a set of standard Use Cases which we could deploy regardless of technology as well as the capability to customize Use Cases as needed so our clients could consume alerting with consistency across their environment. We see the network perimeter as deteriorated, so we placed extra focus on the endpoint by developing Managed EDR and Attacker Deception Services, which landed us in the 2017 Gartner MDR Market Guide. By the way, we do have a select set of great technologies we manage as well. This list is kept intentionally small for the reasons we covered above.

If we had stopped there, Kudelski Security would be a great MSSP; we wanted to be greater.

Challenge the MSSP vertical to change.

Fundamentally I want to see all MSSP’s better protect their clients. To induce this market change we provide Threat Hunting as part of our Threat Monitoring Service at no extra cost.

We believe this is what every MSS, every SOC, and every security team should do regularly because automated detection will fail and we must assume breach.

Threat Hunting is an integral part of Threat Monitoring and as such should not be separated on a pricing sheet.

Our hunting is not just marketing lip service either, it comes in 3 flavors and they are all included with our Threat Monitoring.

  • Structured
    • We have a set of Threat Hunting use cases which we monitor for anomalies 24/7/365
  • Targeted
    • We meet Monday – Friday every week to identify noteworthy threats to hunt. It could be based on input from our clients, from what we’ve seen in the intel community, or what we’re seeing with fast-breaking threat events such as notpetya, wannacry, etc.
  • Creative
    • We enable every analyst regardless of level to hunt, at any time, based on their hunches and intuition. If you see something interesting, hunt for it.

Our threat hunting is performed by our own MSS Analysts and not a separate professional services team who mostly do point in time projects. We are always hunting, searching for that clue, that breadcrumb, that something is amiss. We’ve found hidden threats otherwise missed by monitoring. Hunting also allows us to continually improve as many of our hunts have resulted in new monitoring techniques. Allowing everyone to hunt has also increased the job satisfaction of our analysts, virtually eliminating turnover.

If it works for us, it can work for everyone and it should be a normal part of your threat monitoring program.

Francisco Donoso, our lead MSS Architect is writing a follow up to this post titled “SIEM is dead, long live SIEM”. He’s got some great content that emphasizes the work we’ve put into the some of the technical ideas behind what we are all about as an MSSP.

Wrapping up.

Automated detection will still fail, and breaches will still occur, but with our approach, we can contextualize the threat, reduce the time it takes to detect a breach and limit its impact.

MSSPs out in the marketplace, consider this a challenge. We hope you will accept?

GDPR: A Brief Overview

GDPR: A Brief Overview

Over a year ago the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation of April 27th 2016) was approved and will become mandatory to the European Union members starting May 25, 2018.

That leaves a little less than a year to become compliant with the regulation, so I wanted to take the opportunity to write an overview about what this regulation is and what its main objectives are.

Let’s start by having a look at how this regulation defines personal data. “Personal data is any information relating to an individual, whether it relates to his or her private, professional or public life. It can be anything from a name, a home address, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer’s IP address,” according to the European Commission.

Here are the main principles the regulation lays out, for collecting data:

  • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject
  • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed
  • Accurate and kept up to date
  • Kept in a form that permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary
  • Processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security including protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage

Let’s have a look at the scope of the regulation, which organizations are obliged to adhere to. The regulation defines two figures around the data protection:

  1. The data controller (the organization that is collecting data from EU residents)
  2. The processor (the organization that processes data on behalf of data controller).

The regulation applies if either the controller or the processor are based in the EU or if they collect or process personal data of EU residents.

Let’s review now some of the main changes that the GDPR will effect:

  • It expands the notice requirements to include the retention time and the contact information for the data protection officer
  • Valid consent must be explicit for the data collected and the purposes of said data. Data controllers must be able to prove “consent” (opt-in) and consent may be withdrawn
  • People will have the right to question and fight decisions affecting them that have been made automatically by using algorithms
  • Implementing measures must be designed into the development of business processes for product and services which meet the principles of data protection by design and data protection by default
  • Will be the responsibility of the data controller to implement and demonstrate the compliance even when the processing is carried out by a third party

The new regulation also obliges organizations to appoint a Data Protection Officer for all public authorities or when the core activities of the data controller or processor consist of operations that require regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale, as well as when they need to process personal data on a large scale.

Another significant aspect of the new regulation is the notification of a personal data breach to the data subject when the breach is likely to result in a high risk to their rights and freedoms. The notification will need to describe in clear and plain language the nature of the breach and the likely consequences of the breach as well as the measures taken or proposed to address it.

This notification can be avoided if the controller has implemented appropriate technical and organizational protection measures, in particular those that render the personal data unintelligible to any person who is not authorized to access it, such as encryption.

Finally, let’s have a look at administrative fines, since it’s also a major change. It’s important to know that infringements of the regulation can be subject to administrative fines up to 20 million Euros or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher. In order to determine the quantity, the nature, gravity and duration of the infringement will be taken into account. Regulators will also take into account the nature, scope and purpose of the situations as well as the number of data subjects affected and the level of damage suffered by them.

Also, the intentional or negligent character of the infringement, the technical and organizational measures implemented, as well as any action taken by the controller or processor to mitigate the damage suffered by data subjects is considered. Also considered are previous infringements, the degree of cooperation in order to remedy it and mitigate the possible adverse effects. These instances will become known to the supervisory authority.

In any case, 20 million Euros or up to 4% of the total turnover is a really respectable amount that I’m sure will be good motivation for those companies that manage sensitive personal data to invest on being compliant with the GDPR and implement the needed technical and organizational controls to decrease the risk of having a personal data breach.

What about your company? Is it already working on implementing those controls and moving forward to get compliant with the GDPR?

Link to the law:

The Cyber Pressure Model

The Cyber Pressure Model

Nearly every organization and government entity around the world has a media arm to promote its activities. Today’s terrorist organizations are no exception. Top targets such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Al-shabaab all have elaborate media mechanisms to promote and recruit for their organizations.

In my role as an Army Officer at US Central Command, I was privileged to support the fight against radical terror and particularly the effort to stop ISIS from creating and publishing videos of their gruesome acts. We also fought to put a stop to magazines that promoted radicalism and the spread of information on how to create IEDs and counter coalition tactics.

Our efforts centered on identifying the Islamic terrorist media apparatus from  producers, disseminators and leaders and putting ‘pressure’ to all the places that would impact their operations.

This same pressure model can be used to fight cyber terrorists and criminals. By adopting an end-to-end look across the kill chain or lifecycle of a cyber attack, actions  can be taken at specific stages to have the greatest impact in degrading the attacker’s ability to be successful in their objectives or get to the next phase of the kill chain. Organizations must build a “’pressure’ model based on their infrastructure, their tools, their goals and business requirements.

To build this pressure model, you have to  look at what can be done to identify attacker recon efforts and degrade or deter the attackers recon operations as well as what can be done to keep them from moving further along the kill chain. Even if the ‘pressure’ placed during recon is not enough, then the organization must move to put pressure on the attacker’s ability to build tools against your specific infrastructure.

This may require purpose placed defense, active hunting, active intelligence collection identifying and stopping delivery of  tools or malware and so on for every step of the attackers kill chain, from reconnaissance, design and build, delivery, installation, exploitation, command and control, all the way to combatting their final intended actions of theft, denial of service or ransom. Place enough “pressure” along each step, and attackers will lose interest or at least move on to weaker and less resource intensive targets.

Kudelski Security built its Cyber Fusion Center around the concept of putting pressure at each stage of the kill chain. We take a nonlinear approach to the traditional phases of the kill chain which enables us to identify patterns and disrupt adversary movements throughout the stages of an attack. This results in reduced time to detection, contextualization of the threat and minimizing of the overall impact when an attacker does penetrate border defense.

It starts with information gathering. We collect, enrich and analyze threat data within the context of the environment. This gives our analysts insight on threats and the tactics, techniques, and procedures of adversaries.

Armed with this intelligence, we can help configure and managed defenses to thwart attackers’ advances throughout the kill chain.   Should an attacker reach their intended target, virtual tripwires and decoys can stop them from achieving their objectives.

You can read more about the services provided by our Cyber Fusion Center here.