CISO

Pen testing: seeing both the wood and the trees

If recent well-documented breaches tell us anything it is that even organisations with large budgets and skilled cyber security teams can miss something. In spite of their best efforts, data breaches have occurred in some very high-profile organisations in recent months; damaging their system security, exposing their customers’ data and with it their reputations. This is not because they are not doing their level best to safeguard data. Far from it. It is likely that every ounce of available resource was put into developing and maintaining their online security, knowing how precious it is to the future of their business. So how is it that hackers continue to outsmart these highly resourced teams?

The problem is not with the teams’ experience or depth of knowledge but often with their level of familiarity. The phrase ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ applies here: sometimes those who are deeply involved in the detail of a project can’t step back and see the bigger picture.

Resident teams may have developed the website from scratch and know every detail of its functionality. They may have been working diligently for some time on safeguarding data and developing defences in line with regulations and reported attack trends. As soon as attacks are reported, patches are brought out and defensive strategies are employed. But what happens when a hacker or blogger devotes some specific attention to the site?  Will they find the one flaw in the emergency change; the one time that input validation was not addressed; the one coding flaw that the designers, too familiar with the code, overlooked?

A fresh pair of eyes, on the other hand, is not hampered by familiarity. An experienced and highly skilled penetration tester will not think like a defender, but rather thinks like an attacker. They don’t focus on where the forest fires have already started but on how and where they could be ignited. They use a synergy of automated tools and manual testing to identify potential vulnerabilities and investigate, explore and develop these in such a way that a high proportion of vulnerabilities can be anticipated and patched before a hacker discovers them. This is because our consultants can put themselves into the mind-set of a motivated hacker by identifying, investigating, exploring and exploiting potentially vulnerable areas so that defences can be put in place before a breach occurs.

A qualified and experienced pen tester also has the advantage of not only seeing your system in its entirety, but of seeing many other systems and many other vulnerabilities. To continue the metaphor: their view extends beyond one specific forest, taking in a bird’s eye view of the many miles of trees and forests belonging to other organisations. From this vantage point they not only see the attack trends as they develop but can anticipate the location of future forest fires.

If a breach does occur, however, evidence of a robust testing programme will mitigate the level of fines imposed by regulatory authorities under GDPR. Furthermore, engaging a Retained Forensics service (working as part of the test and exercise team) provides an organisation with effective and swift mitigation strategies, thereby minimising the potential impact of a suspected or actual attack.

To find out more about SRM’s Test and Exercise team visit our website.

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Or read more from our blog:

Cyber insurance may be null and void with ‘due care’

Retained Forensic & Incident Response Service: how planning for the worst can add value to your business

Three stages to building a robust defence against external threats

What is Red Team engagement?

Cyber insurance may be null and void without ‘due care’

There is a worrying trend in the world of cyber safety. Many companies believe that cyber insurance will protect against any damage associated with a breach. It is vital that senior board members are aware, however, that if they fail to take reasonable precautions their insurance investment could well be null and void.

Leading business insurer Allianz estimates that the cyber insurance market in Europe alone is on track to be worth nearly $1 billion by the end of 2018, mirroring the rapid expansion of the US cyber insurance market. Although the global insurance industry sees it as a valuable new market full of opportunity they are, predictably, measuring their response with caution.

Cyber insurance has, in the past, been considered a safety net in the event of a breach. But as the incidence of cyber breaches continues to rise so has the level of caution demonstrated by both the government and the insurance industry. In fact, while governments are promoting the cyber insurance market, especially in the US and the UK, they are also using the insurance market as a lever to drive much needed cyber security improvements in the business sector.

According to Phil Huggins, Vice President of Security Science at Stroz Friedberg: ‘Their [the government’s] expectation is that this will align risk assessments with good practice, while incentivising good risk management, thereby reducing the need for direct government involvement and regulation. The recent launch by the UK Government of the ‘UK cyber security: the role of insurance in managing and mitigating the risk’ report is just the latest manifestation of this strategy.’

The strategy is working. Insurers are incentivising behaviours that reduce the potential for harm, including the term ‘due care’. This refers to the precautions ‘a person of ordinary prudence’ would take to safeguard their systems. Demonstrable cyber resilience has become a requirement for cyber insurance and this in turn is driving an increased demand for Retained Forensics.

The essence of Retained Forensics is to develop cyber resilience through the engagement of a small team of industry professionals who are fully briefed about the scope of an organisation’s network and infrastructure. This enables them to:

  • establish, direct and manage a full test and exercise programme;
  • ensure high level management of cyber defences across all network and infrastructure;
  • be on hand and ready to assist in putting the agreed action plan in place in the event of a breach. In this way, the 72 hour reporting element of GDPR will be achievable and the mitigation process will be well in hand before the deadline.

SRM has an international reputation for providing the full range of Retained Forensics services including automated and manual penetration testing, Red Teaming, Incident Management, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Management. Through Retained Forensics, ‘due care’ can be demonstrated making an organisation not only less likely to suffer a breach, but able to demonstrate best practice in the event of an insurance claim.

To receive regular updates on issues relating to cyber security follow us on Linkedin.

See our website.

View our recent live webinar Incident Response & Forensic Expertise – would your business survive a cyber-attack or security breach?

Or check out our recent blogs:

The GDPR compliance fallacy

The A to E of cyber maturity

How PCI compliance puts you on course for GDPR

 

 

Retained Forensic & Incident Response Service: how planning for the worst can add value to your business

By Paul Brennecker, Principal Security Consultant and Lead QSA

Paul Brennecker gave a presentation at PCI London on 5th July 2018 and this article first appeared in that event’s publication. 

All too often the engagement of a Forensic Investigator is a distress purchase, made at a time of crisis when a breach has already occurred. Yet, waiting until there is a full blown emergency means organisations are missing out on the added value that specialist Retained Forensics professionals can bring.

Forensic Investigators don’t just operate in a crisis. When engaged to provide a Retained service, they can also help to develop a resilient defence strategy. This combines developing and delivering a full strategic cyber defence plan with Incident Response management. Their strategic guidance and practical knowledge enables them to help organisations reduce the level of impact while also meeting legal and regulatory responsibilities in the event of a breach.

In the event of a breach being reported, the Information Commissioner’s Office has made clear that it will look at the level of security in place, as well as the Incident Response strategy when considering the fines it will impose.

With forward planning it is possible to ensure that you get the maximum return for your investment and also secure the service that is best for your business. In business terms, a distress purchase is defined as a purchase made at some critical point, usually during a failure of other unplanned event. This is like buying a plastic cape when caught out in heavy rain: it is unlikely to be the best waterproof nor the best value for money but the purchase was forced by extreme circumstances. Similarly, that present bought in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve may turn out to be the most expensive gift ever purchased.

In today’s cyber security landscape such critical points come, not surprisingly, when least expected. No one can know when a breach or a security incident will take place. One day you are blissfully unaware of its existence; the next you are in a state of crisis with much to do in a very short period of time. This is particularly the case under the terms of GDPR which requires data breaches to be reported within 72 hours. GDPR also requires that you implement robust breach detection, investigation and internal reporting procedures.

One of the first tasks is to secure and contain the breach – a specialist job which can be time consuming and confusing – and for this an industry specialist must be appointed. There are not a vast number of suppliers to speak to. For example, when it comes to a PCI data breach, there are only eight companies in the UK which hold the necessary certifications required by the acquiring banks.

A cyber mature organisation knows that it is not enough to simply be reactive, however. Their aim is to anticipate the critical point and to scope, develop and implement a company-wide cyber security strategy which is constantly challenged and re-enforced. This type of strategic plan will help to ensure effective business continuity and protect from loss of income and reputation.

Working with a Retained Forensics specialist facilitates this strategic approach; from analysing potential weaknesses, to making detailed plans in the event of a breach. This is done in a number of ways, including through the process of Test and Exercise, starting with automated penetration testing to identify potential vulnerabilities. Manual testing is then employed to exploit and develop these weaknesses so the gaps can be plugged. The synergy of these tests provides valuable intelligence about where existing vulnerabilities lie and helps a business to build a robust defence around them.

The world of cybercrime does not stand still, however, and so defences must be continually reviewed and challenged to ensure they are as up to date as possible. So, although PCI compliance for example, is a vital annual check, it does not claim to guarantee that adequate defences are in place all year round. A more resilient strategy therefore uses a regular Test and Exercise programme to keep the process agile and responsive.

Where it is advisable to go a level deeper, organisations can also consider Red Team engagement. Red Teaming is where highly skilled and trained ethical hackers get into the mind-set of a potential adversary, using a range of tools and strategies. This enables organisations not only to identify where a potential attack might take place but also builds in a level of resilience by identifying where potential future vulnerabilities may lie.

The mature organisation works with Retained Forensics to scope the requirements of their business, making it possible to manage the whole process in a timely and cost-effective manner. While building a robust defence is a priority, making detailed plans for how to handle a crisis is equally important. It is perhaps counter-intuitive to plan for a successful attack, but the maxim ‘expect the best but plan for the worst’ is sound advice. Knowing how to react in the unfortunate event of a data breach is a crucial business benefit. An experienced Retained Forensics company will be able to assist you with your plans and help to stage an event, to get everyone into the right mind-set. If the worst does happen, then staff will have a framework to refer to, ensuring that vital steps are taken and time is not lost.

A Retained Forensics team will also undertake the preparation and testing of Incident Response, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans to ensure they are up to date and ready to swing into play at the first sign of an incident. Not only will they have a detailed knowledge of an organisation’s systems and networks, they will have helped to set up breach notification protocols and mitigation strategies; all of which will already be in line with the requirements of GDPR. In this way any damage and disruption will be swiftly minimised and mediated.

Given the benefits of engaging a Retained Forensics service, it is perhaps surprising that some still overlook it, simply engaging a Forensic Investigator when compelled to in the event of a breach. The reason for this is perhaps that the challenge of managing third parties to achieve and maintain the various data standards and compliance is ever increasing, meaning that the procurement of services to assist in the event of a data breach is often overlooked.

Those who plan for the worst while hoping for the best, however, reap significant benefits and have the time to engage with a professional Retained Forensics service before a crisis occurs. By planning ahead, they ensure that they get the maximum return for their outlay and also secure the service that is the best for their business.

Wondering where DPA and GDPR overlap? The Yahoo! ruling by ICO can provide some clarity

A recent investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) highlights an interesting aspect of the current system. Although the ruling against Yahoo! was announced on 12th June 2018, three weeks after the enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the incident was considered under the Data Protection Act 1998. This is because the breach actually occurred in November 2014, although it was not publicly disclosed until September 2016, almost two years after the attack compromising 515,121 accounts had taken place. Investigated under the DPA, the fine was a modest £250,000. Naturally this would have been significantly larger had it been judged under GDPR.

However, this does mean that today’s organisations can take their foot off the gas. At the time of the investigation taking place, although it was considered under the DPA, the ICO still expects to see adherence to GDPR going forward.

This isn’t ‘new’ news to the SRM team. We had anticipated the issue and had submitted this question to the ICO months ago:

If a breach occurred before 25th May but is not discovered until after GDPR becomes effective, will the breach be considered under the DPA 1998 (when it occurred) or under GDPR (when it was discovered)?

We received this reply from the ICO:

It is likely in this instance that the breach would be assessed under the DPA, the legislation in force at the time of the breach. However, we would expect the processing of information at the time the breach was discovered to be GDPR compliant. Therefore any lessons learned or actions taken as a result of the breach would need to be in line with the GDPR. 

So what does this mean in simpler terms? It means that from 25th May 2018 every aspect of an organisation’s networks and infrastructure is required to be managed in line with the requirements of GDPR. This applies even if the actual breach is judged under the rules of the old Data Protection Act (1998).

The most important point is that a notifiable breach must be reported to the ICO without undue delay, but no later than 72 hours after becoming aware of it. So even if a breach actually occurred prior to 25th May, as soon as the breach is discovered, the new 3 day reporting timescale must be adhered to. The organisation’s systems will then be scrutinised through the prism of GDPR.

Should it not be possible to obtain all of the necessary information within 72 hours, the required information can be provided in phases, as long as the investigation is conducted as a priority. The breach still needs to be reported to the ICO when the organisation becomes aware of it, and they must submit any further information at their earliest convenience.

Having a Retained Forensics engagement in place makes the whole process significantly more efficient. Not only will they have a detailed knowledge of an organisation’s systems and networks, they will have helped to set up breach notification protocols and mitigation strategies; all of which will already be in line with the requirements of GDPR.

For more information on GDPR see our website.

To find out more about Retained Forensics, register for SRM’s free webinar: Incident Response & Forensic Expertise: would your business survive a cyber-attack or security breach?

Or read our blog:

The GDPR compliance fallacy

The key to GDPR is common sense

 

The A to E of cyber maturity

In a recent report, the Philippine government’s Department of Information and Communications Technology (created in 2016) outlined a scale of cyber resilience based on an A to E grading system. With ‘A’ being the most robust in terms of cyber security maturity and ‘E’ being the weakest, it put the Philippines in class D. The reasoning behind this grade stems from the fact that they are reactive to attack using only the available tools and technologies. They do not proactively seek out vulnerabilities and exploit them to ascertain the extent of a weakness. Nor do they deploy cutting edge strategies or prepare for the process of remediation to address the issues ahead of time.

This reactive approach is not limited to the Philippines. Far from it. In fact, these same principles can be applied to a frightening number of organisations across the globe. Those who simply react are always behind the curve, attempting to patch and mediate the impact of attacks on an ad hoc basis. An immature organisation focuses simply on prevention and regulatory compliance but with limited co-ordination, using basic technology and simple configurations.

In contrast, those with cyber maturity demonstrate their vigilance by employing a proactive strategy rather than simply waiting for a breach to occur. So what are the characteristics of cyber maturity?

  • To begin with, in a mature organisation, cyber security is not seen as something that should be done, but is already embedded within the fabric and culture.
  • Information and cyber security is not the responsibility of an overstretched CISO, who reports only to the head of the IT department. It is in the hands of a CISO who is well resourced, supported and who exerts confident influence at board level.
  • Information security policy and testing is documented and has a formal structure, using automated tools, regularly scanning systems and web applications to identify any vulnerabilities in a proactive way.
  • A mature organisation has built-in enterprise security technology architecture and strict focus on incident prevention, detection and response; regularly undertaking advanced and manual penetration testing to uncover weaknesses in the ever-changing scope.
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning are integral to a mature organisation, together with the associated training across all staff, not just those within an IT or infosec department.

Our recent blog post on the topic of the NHS’ response to WannaCry highlights a ‘work in progress’ but certainly an admirable move towards cyber security maturity. Their plans centre around Test and Exercise methods, and are inclusive of annual Red Team Engagements to push their plans to the limits and ensure complete peace of mind.

SRM’s Test and Exercise (T & E) team works with all sizes and types of organisation to achieve cyber maturity. With wide experience in other areas of information security consultancy the T & E programme is not conducted in isolation but within the wider context of a client’s business activity. Every project is bespoke and our team includes consultants who are CREST ethical security testers as well as those with the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) qualification. Additionally, we often work with CISOs and organisations to develop and implement proactive robust and innovative T & E plans.

For more information on our T & E team, visit our website.

See a recording of our webinar: Incident Response & Forensic Expertise – would your business survive a cyber attack or security breach?

Or see our blog:

What we can all learn from the NHS response to WannaCry

Three stages to building a robust defence against external threats

Cyber resilience: it’s a board level issue

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