Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Security Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Adrian Bridgwater, Jacob Olcott

Related Topics: Security, Java, XML, Microservices Journal, .NET, AJAX & REA

Security: Blog Post

Addressing the Root Cause – A Proactive Approach to Securing Desktops

The trouble with reactionary behavior

The computers on your network are protected from malware right? If you are operating an environment based largely on Windows based PCs you likely have some kind of anti-virus installed and centrally managed. If you have purchased a more complete desktop protection suite, you probably even have a Host Based IDS/IPS protecting your machine from incoming malicious TCP scans, or possible outbound connections to known malicious sites (like google.com occasionally). Operating system firewall activated? Yep! AV signatures current? Check! Global Threat Intelligence updated? Uh, yeah....sure. Then you should be covered against threats targeting your organization, right? Most likely not, and at times these tools actually mask intrusions as they provide a false sense of security and protection.

The Trouble with Reactionary Behavior
The problem with these tools, all of them, is that they are purely reactionary in nature. Reactionary protection tools on every level, is something that basically states that an event has already occurred on your host computer, and those protection mechanisms will now activate. That means when you get an antivirus alert on your computer, the malware ALREADY present on the system. Yes, it may have stopped it, deleted it or possibly quarantined it (all of which are good). It has only done so because the AV software either has an existing signature in its database or the malware has attempted to operate in a suspicious manner, flagging the heuristics detection of the AV. What about when brand new malware, 0-day exploits, or sophisticated targeted malware executes on your host?

Do you imagine your AV will detect and mitigate it? I would suggest that your AV will be none the wiser to the presence of this yet to be detected threat, and only once it has been submitted to an AV vendor for analysis will you be provided with an updated signature. Well certainly if my AV missed it, one of the other layers of protection should stop it, right? It is possible, if the malware uses outbound connections that aren't considered "normal" by your OS's firewall or HIDS/HIPS software, then the malware could potentially be detected. If the malware uses standard outbound connections, port 80 or more than likely port 443, this appears as "normal" to the other layers of your systems host based defenses in place.

These tools all require some kind of known characteristics of a particular threat in order to detect its presence and mitigate it. These characteristics are obtained through analysis of reported and discovered threats of a similar nature, of which are used to develop signatures or heuristic models to detect the presence of malware on a host. If that threat has not yet been submitted for analysis and the callback domains not reported as malicious, it may be a while for it to be "discovered" and signatures made available. Until that time, your computer, its files, all of your activities as well as other computers on your network are at the mercy of an attacker unabated.

Being Proactive Is Essentially Free
This is the part that is really frustrating for me as an analyst, and also as an advocate for root cause solutions. Reactionary defenses cost an unreal amount of money for consumers, businesses, governments (both state and local), federal and military. You would think with all of this time and money spent on the various products billed as "protecting" you from cyber threats & intrusions, your environment would be better protected whether it is an enterprise or a single computer. This is not the case.  In fact, many studies show computer related intrusions are on the rise. Nation state threats, advanced persistent threats (APT) and even less skilled hackers continue to improve their sophistication as tools get cheaper and information is freely exchanged. Why is it then that I say, Proactive defenses are essentially free? And if that is in fact the case, why is this not being used more frequently? Proactive defense measures are essentially free, minus the time and effort in securing the root problems within your network. For this particular blog post, I am focused on host based proactive defensive measures.

Denying Execution at the Directory Level
The "how" is actually quite simple to explain, and in fact it is not a new protection technique at all, its just not as widely used outside of *nix based systems. All that an operating system provides is a platform for applications to run on, sometimes graphical based, sometimes a simple command line. The applications are typically stored in a common location within the operating system, allowing for dynamic linking as well as simplifying the directory structure. Not all applications require the need for linking to a dynamic library as they contain all of the requirements to run on their own, so they can easily be placed anywhere within the OS and they will execute.

This is extremely convenient when a developer wants to provide software that doesn't need to officially "install", and can be easily moved around. Therein lies the issue with the execution of these "self contained" applications, they can execute from anywhere on the host, without restriction. For a demonstration of this, copy "calc.exe" from the "system32" folder on your Windows PC to your "desktop". The program "calc.exe" will execute just the same as if it were under "system32" as it is a completely self contained binary. Almost all malware is designed the same way, and typically executes from a "temp" location or the root of your currently logged in user directory. The execution of malware needs to be stopped from occurring in the first place. This way, regardless of your current AV signatures or HIDS/HIPS capabilities, the malware cannot run. If the malware is unable to run, the threat is effectively mitigated before it can gain any foothold.

So how on earth do you stop the malware from executing from within these locations, and do I need some kind of "agent" based solution to monitor those particular directories to stop them? The approach is simple: deny ALL execution of programs outside of a particular directory (e.g., "Program Files" and "System32"). Require all necessary applications on the host, putty for instance, to be placed within one of the approved directories. If you are running a Windows based environment, locking down execution outside of approved directories can be implemented through both Group Policy (GPO) and Local Policy.

By expanding on an existing Windows policy called "Microsoft Windows Software Restriction" (which has been around since 2002 BTW) you can define directories that allow for execution of applications. This exact same technique can be employed on OSX systems as well.  Simply remove the execute privilege from locations within the OS that you would like to protect. In fact, I would venture to say it is easiest to implement on any *nix based system (if it's not already, as is the case on most unix/linux flavors).

No Silver Bullet
No solution is 100% effective, and this is no exception, as there are a number of ways to get past this protection.  Having said that, it adds a layer to your defense and will stop the majority of execution-based attacks.  If your software is properly patched (0-days not included), you have user privileges locked down with separate dedicated accounts, directory protection just steps up the difficulty your attackers have in gaining a presence on your network. No single solution will solve all of your problems, no matter how much a vendor sales engineer tries to sell you. Holistic, full spectrum defenses are the future, not "plug & play" protection hardware or software that requires updates, patching, signatures and "threat intelligence". The other side extremely important level of protection is in your Infosec professionals you have supporting you. Spend the money on good, talented and well rounded security professionals that understand the cyber threat landscape and the ways in which they can help better protect your organization.

To research further into how your network and its assets can be better protected please check out CyberSquared for solutions to root cause issues.

More Stories By Cory Marchand

Cory Marchand is a trusted subject matter expert on topics of Cyber Security Threats, Network and Host based Assessment and Computer Forensics. Mr. Marchand has supported several customers over his 10+ years within the field of Computer Security including State, Federal and Military Government as well as the Private sector. Mr. Marchand holds several industry related certificates including CISSP, EnCE, GSEC, GCIA, GCIH, GREM, GSNA and CEH.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures traffic gets delivered faster, safer, and more reliably than ever.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Open Data Centers (ODC), a carrier-neutral colocation provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Open Data Centers is a carrier-neutral data center operator in New Jersey and New York City offering alternative connectivity options for carriers, service providers and enterprise customers.
SYS-CON Events announced today that On the Avenue Marketing Group, a sales and marketing firm that utilizes events to market and sell products to consumers, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. On the Avenue Marketing Group (OTA) is a sales and marketing firm that utilizes events to market and sell products to consumers. On behalf of our clients, we attend thousands of fairs, festivals, expos, concerts, conferences, and sporting events annually, helping them reach millions of individuals ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ActiveState, the leading independent Cloud Foundry and Docker-based PaaS provider, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's DevOps Summit New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. ActiveState believes that enterprises gain a competitive advantage when they are able to quickly create, deploy and efficiently manage software solutions that immediately create business value, but they face many challenges that prevent them from doing so. The Company is uniquely positioned to help address these challenges thro...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vitria Technology, Inc. will exhibit at SYS-CON’s @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Vitria will showcase the company’s new IoT Analytics Platform through live demonstrations at booth #330. Vitria’s IoT Analytics Platform, fully integrated and powered by an operational intelligence engine, enables customers to rapidly build and operationalize advanced analytics to deliver timely business outcomes for use cases across the industrial, enterprise, and consumer segments.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® and DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo® and DevOps Summit 2015 Silicon Valley, which will take place November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that kintone has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. kintone promotes cloud-based workgroup productivity, transparency and profitability with a seamless collaboration space, build your own business application (BYOA) platform, and workflow automation system.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Akana, formerly SOA Software, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Akana’s comprehensive suite of API Management, API Security, Integrated SOA Governance, and Cloud Integration solutions helps businesses accelerate digital transformation by securely extending their reach across multiple channels – mobile, cloud and Internet of Things. Akana enables enterprises to share data as APIs, connect and integrate applications, drive part...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and sim...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SafeLogic has been named “Bag Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. SafeLogic provides security products for applications in mobile and server/appliance environments. SafeLogic’s flagship product CryptoComply is a FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic engine designed to secure data on servers, workstations, appliances, mobile devices, and in the Cloud.
SYS-CON Events announced today that StorPool Storage will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. StorPool is distributed storage software that allows service providers, enterprises and other cloud builders to run data storage on standard x86 servers, instead of using expensive and inefficient storage arrays (SAN).
SYS-CON Events announced today that Site24x7, the cloud infrastructure monitoring service, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Site24x7 is a cloud infrastructure monitoring service that helps monitor the uptime and performance of websites, online applications, servers, mobile websites and custom APIs. The monitoring is done from 50+ locations across the world and from various wireless carriers, thus providing a global perspective of the end-user experience. Site24x7 supports monitoring H...
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
SYS-CON Events announced today that Intelligent Systems Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Established in 1994, Intelligent Systems Services Inc. is located near Washington, DC, with representatives and partners nationwide. ISS’s well-established track record is based on the continuous pursuit of excellence in designing, implementing and supporting nationwide clients’ mission-critical systems. ISS has completed many successful projects in Healthcare, Commercial, Manufacturing, ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vicom Computer Services, Inc., a provider of technology and service solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. They are located at booth #427. Vicom Computer Services, Inc. is a progressive leader in the technology industry for over 30 years. Headquartered in the NY Metropolitan area. Vicom provides products and services based on today’s requirements around Unified Networks, Cloud Computing strategies, Virtualization around Software defined Data Ce...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Tufin, the market-leading provider of Security Policy Orchestration Solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As the market leader of Security Policy Orchestration, Tufin automates and accelerates network configuration changes while maintaining security and compliance. Tufin's award-winning Orchestration Suite™ gives IT organizations the power and agility to enforce security policy across complex, multi-vendor enterprise networks. With more than 1...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Optimal Design, an Internet of Things solution provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Optimal Design is an award winning product development firm offering industrial design and engineering services to the consumer, medical, and defense markets.
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides private all-in-one social intranets allowing workers to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and from any device. Social, mobile, and easy to use. MangoApps has been named a "Market Leader" by Ovum Research and a "Cool Vendor" by Gartner...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudian, Inc., the leading provider of hybrid cloud storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudian, Inc., is a Foster City, California - based software company specializing in cloud storage software. The main product is Cloudian, an Amazon S3-compliant cloud object storage platform, the bedrock of cloud computing systems, that enables cloud service providers and enterprises to build reliable, affordable and scalable cloud storage solu...