Tag Archives: Security

Peak‘Apex One’ – it’s difficult to think of a more confident, self-assured name for a new brand!

And it’s a brand on a mission, too – to take the burdensome management out of security. As the Apex One developers put it in their blog, this is about “detecting and blocking as many endpoint threats as possible, without manual intervention.”

This, in turn, translates into less pressure on security teams, lighter workload for security service providers, and less costly time and effort involved overall.

But is this a solution the channel will want to sell? Is it easy and profitable to deploy and manage? And what makes it different from (and better than) what went before?

You can read the full solution brief on our website, but meanwhile here’s our take on it.

Single agent: a game-changer?

Trend’s existing XGen technology already automates threat detection across security layers and endpoints, including PC, Mac and VDI.

But where even the most automated threat detection capability stumbles is the need to use multiple agents to deliver across different kinds of customer deployment – like cloud, on-premise, and hybrid.

Here, Apex One plays a blinder. It has a single agent that is consistent across all customer deployment types, significantly diminishing deployment and ongoing management overheads, and reducing the risk of automation being devalued by interruption.

Given the high proportion of enterprise clients who have complex hybrid environments, this has to be a winner!

Detection and remediation: all done for you!

But security channel partners and in-house security teams alike also need to be sure that what is being automated is the most effective way for dealing with the broadest possible range of threats. Inadequate protection delivered automatically is not a value-add!

Apex One appears to be well ahead of the curve here, however, because it focuses its automation not on preventing threats (an impossible aim), but instead on detecting and removing them.

Unknown or fileless threat? Machine learning and behavioural analysis will spot its threatening characteristics and take action.

Operating system vulnerability? Apex One creates its own virtual patches to prevent zero-day exploits from making it onto any endpoint.

And if you’re hearing echoes of EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) at this point, it’s true that Apex One offers upsell potential into both Trend’s full EDR and MDR (Managed Detection and Response) solutions - but it’s also important to understand that what Trend have built here is in fact something quite distinct.

Whereas EDR tends fundamentally be a noisy and manual process to manage (as we explained in this earlier post) automated detection and response - which is what Trend call it - neatly does much of it for you.

Manage, visualise, investigate – all in one place

The more you can understand about a threat, the more effective the measures you can take against it.

But the challenge is in corralling all the threat information – including user-based visibility, policy management, and log aggregation - into one place, in a way that makes sense of it.

Apex One has created a centralised console that enables exactly this, so although for some more detailed analysis a connection to an optional EDR dashboard is necessary, visualisation, investigation and reporting are already built into its standard configuration, adding an inbuilt layer of insight that other solutions don’t have.

Conclusions: is Apex One the peak of security for channel partners?

Everyone likes a great name and a strong story, and Apex One has got both in spades – not least because it is in fact essentially the new brand name for the existing Trend endpoint security solution within its Smart Protection Suites solutions family.

But this is not some kind of rebadging exercise to revive a flagging solution – because Trend’s endpoint solution isn’t flagging. Just the opposite, in fact: it has received high praise from industry analysts like Gartner year after year, including in 2018.

But coupling it with a single agent shows that there’s a strategic endgame in mind: to make Trend’s endpoint security solutions as effortless as possible to use across every client environment – and therefore very hard to displace.

For end-clients and channel partners alike – and particularly existing Trend Micro Office Scan users, who will receive Apex One as a regular update at no additional cost - that’s a rebrand that will deliver far more than just a new name and a shiny logo.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) has become a Gartner buzzword. We point you to the kind of solution that will enable you to deliver it – profitably!

EDR – Endpoint Detection and Response - is the acronym currently setting the security industry a-buzz.

Industry analyst Gartner - who came up with the first EDR-type concept back in 2013 - has recently concluded that a more proactive alternative to simply attempting to block attacks is now needed, providing early detection, but also minimising dwell time and damage if an attack does indeed find a foothold. This is what EDR delivers.

It can – in theory – help service providers, resellers and other IT companies to climb the value chain by adding a valuable new layer of protection to customers’ security infrastructure.

But this is only worthwhile if the EDR solution is rapid to deploy, easy to use and manage, and profitable.

EDR is certainly powerful – but is it viable?

EDR done better, made profitable

The challenge up until now has been that EDR solutions are, by their nature, typically very ‘noisy’, generating high volumes of superfluous alerts that then have to be manually sifted through. In practical terms, this can make them almost unusable.

There’s the ‘complexity cost’ to consider, too. Most EDR solutions tend to rely on multiple agents, which are a significant management overhead for your customers (and - if you’re delivering EDR as a managed service - for you.)

So, noisy, difficult to use, highly manual, costly to manage – does EDR really offer anything to move you up that customer value chain?

The short answer is yes – because we’re now seeing smarter EDR solutions emerge that have already comprehensively overcome these shortcomings, taking a far less noisy and less manual operational approach that adds significant value both to what EDR delivers and how it delivers it.

Bitdefender: blazing a brave new EDR trail

Take a solution like Bitdefender’s GravityZone EDR, for example.

It has made it easy to add EDR to customers’ existing security infrastructure (thus increasing your revenues per customer), but with far less IT resource necessary on your part, and with vastly reduced management overheads.

How does it do this? Through a combination of six critical features that most EDR solutions simply don’t offer:

  1. Rapid deployment – Cloud-based, up and running in hours, not days.
  2. Simplification – One agent to manage, not many.
  3. Ease of use - A single, unified management console to control everything.
  4. Automated response and repair – No need for manual intervention - identified threats are removed automatically.
  5. Compatibility – Works with all existing solutions from the same family
  6. Artificial intelligence and machine learning – Reduces the management overhead caused by unnecessary noise; learns to identify false alarms and trivial threats, enabling the EDR layer to focus on the real and dangerous.

Bitdefender calls this highly automated, intelligent approach to EDR ‘funnel-based’, and you can see immediately that it’s a clear departure from the existing noisy, manual EDR orthodoxy – and one that makes a much more attractive proposition to service providers, resellers and their customers alike.

EDR Funnel

But do customers even want EDR?

If we said customers’ demand for EDR is set to go stratospheric, we probably wouldn’t be exaggerating.

An EDR article in eSecurity Planet, for example, describes the growth in EDR as “explosive” and reports that Gartner's forecast “is for almost 50% annual growth for EDR at least through 2020, putting it way out in front of most areas of IT.”

This in turn points to a market value – again, according to Gartner’s EDR estimates - of some $1.5 billion (£1.14 billion) – extremely plausible when you consider that, according to eSecurity Planet, only 40 million EDR endpoints are currently installed, compared to the estimated 711 million desktop, laptop and other devices that can use the software!

And in this recent global EDR survey, 72% of respondents reported their teams already suffer ‘alert fatigue’ – strong evidence that the demand will ultimately be shaped by the availability of solutions like Bitdefender EDR that don’t fall into the ‘noisy and difficult to manage’ bracket.

The message from the market is clear: for service providers, resellers and other IT partners, EDR is a revenue boost waiting to happen.

Just make sure you choose to sell solutions that are actually usable!

PatchingPatching is critical in defending your customers against vulnerabilities in everyday applications. It can now be automated from within security software, making it easier than ever to manage.

Think of all those vulnerable third-party applications your customers’ businesses basically run on. Can you rely on your humans to keep their patches up to date?

According to those involved in the recent Equifax debacle, for example, no! Break the human protocol, and the whole patching process falls apart. That’s terrifying when it’s been estimated that, overall, software exploits that target unpatched vulnerabilities account for 85% of all attack angles!

So, automating the patching process seems like a great idea, taking the cost, effort, disjointedness and sheer human fallibility out of keeping users protected against one of the most insidious forms of cyber-attack.

And, indeed, system management software (like the RMM solutions explored in this post) have arguably been doing this for a long time.

But wouldn’t it be neater, easier - and even cheaper – if this automated patching capability were simply built into the security software itself, rather than relying on an extraneous monitoring system? After all, we’re constantly being told patching is security!

Well, two vendors have listened.

Patching done the hard way

But before we look at what Heimdal Security and Bitdefender are offering , (for they are the vendors in question), let’s contemplate just a few of the manual patching challenges faced by end-user businesses and their security partners every day:

  • Slowcoaching – As the Equifax issue shows, being slow off the mark to patch a vulnerability sharply increases the likelihood of falling victim to it, but timeliness is a difficult thing to sustain when workloads are heavy.
  • Proliferation – By definition, the applications requiring patching tend to be big-name office and productivity solutions, so they are not only highly ubiquitous but also available in many different versions (including legacy products). Managing these kind of complex patching scenarios manually can create a massive drain on resources or – worse – a helpdesk meltdown!
  • Patch provenance – Obtaining patches from third-party websites is widespread practice, but does anybody seriously check the hashing of the patch with the hashing on the vendor’s website to make sure they’re downloading exactly what they think they are? Hmmm.
  • System workloads – Downloading and installing patches across large user populations can negatively impact core system workloads, ultimately resulting in disruption and loss of productivity
  • Cost – Every manual process involved in managing or deploying a patch burns through expensive admin and management minutes. Manual patching, though critical, eats readily into margins.

Now let’s consider the alternative.

Automatic patching = business as usual

Between them, what Heimdal and Bitdefender have done is to turn pesky patching (reactive, unpredictable, requiring extraordinary resource) into everyday ‘business as usual’ practice.– simply by automating it.

At a stroke, they have shifted third-party application security into the security layer (where it rightfully belongs), but in a way that it is easy (dare we say profitable?) to manage.

Here’s a snapshot of what this delivers:

  • Automatic patching of apps including Microsoft, Acrobat, Java, Flash and many more, with zero setup - and scheduling also possible.
  • Constant, instant protection – Heimdal checks for patches and updates every two hours and applies them from the moment they’re available
  • Non-disruptive operation – The update process happens ‘silently’ in the background whilst users carry on their work; Bitdefender also makes clever use of cacheing to maximise bandwidth and optimise performance.
  • Trustworthy patches – Updates are guaranteed authentic by automatic checking of the hash patterns against the vendors’ sites
  • Flexible legacy deployments – Updates can be set up to apply to specific software versions, enabling full coverage or legacy-specific deployments

Needless to say, none of this requires the additional cost of an RMM solution, either, but the financial benefits don’t stop there. The Heimdal solution, for example, is available with monthly aggregated billing, so upfront costs are zero and average margin rises with every additional seat.

(Bitdefender are currently pursuing a reseller model with perpetual upfront licensing, but an MSP variant is expected… watch this space!)

Human error: a thing of the patching past?

It’s tempting to see a miracle cure-all in solutions of this kind, but it pays to be appropriately cautious about their market viability.

Security partners can rely on their own product testing, of course – and they certainly should invest time and effort in this.

But the reality is that a security distributor with extensive experience of evaluating hundreds of solutions for sale using their own in-house technical experts is probably a more reliable source for determining the next rising star or the next puff of vapourware.

We like what we see. You should take a look too.

Heimdal Security logoHow would your customers feel if they had a Norse warrior stopping malware from reaching their endpoints? Meet Denmark’s Heimdal Security.

In days of old, the sight of Vikings on the horizon was enough to turn decent peasants’ blood to ice.

But the marauding Danes are now playing poacher-turned-gamekeeper – at least in IT security terms.

Because instead of being the threat, they’re now stopping the threats before they make landfall. (Or, at least, before they reach your customers’ endpoints!)

This is what our newest vendor partner Heimdal Security sees as its killer battle cry when compared to traditional endpoint security. And here’s why malware needs to be very afraid of it.

From last-ditch to proactive: endpoint protection transformed

“Form square and stick out your spears” – that’s basically the traditional approach to endpoint protection. Once the problem has hit the machine, the security software rings the panic bell, musters the garrison, and mounts a defence.

We Brits tried that against the (real) Vikings. It didn’t work.

But if we could have spotted their boats as they cast off – or, even better, seen activity on the quayside that indicated an attack being prepared – we could have taken proactive action against them before they reached Blighty.

This is exactly what Heimdal does. Instead of looking at application code and signatures in files that have already entered the endpoint, to work out if there’s a threat, it looks at the undercurrents in the ‘sea’ of network and internet traffic entering and leaving your customers’ businesses, to detect danger before it surfaces.

Rather cleverly, though, this isn’t just about identifying when users are being taken to places they shouldn’t be sailing towards – e.g. malicious websites – and blocking the connection to them before it’s made (although this is certainly important, as we explore below).

It’s also about using advanced machine-learning, heuristics and network forensics to detect apparently harmless network file ‘plankton’ that is in fact fodder for a coming malware attack.

Traditional security protects an endpoint with a last-ditch defence. Heimdal protects it by turning the entire network into a shield wall.

Which one are you betting your krone on?

Multi Layered Security Graphic
Conventional endpoint security is typically missing the traffic-based anti-malware protection that Heimdal delivers.

“Probably the best malware protection in the world…”

The famous Danish beer ad is tongue in cheek. But there’s a serious point to be made here about the strains of malware that Heimdal can protect against that many other security solutions simply can’t.

Take ransomware, for example. Traditional endpoint security looks for malicious code within files, but a ransomware-triggering hyperlink, or instruction to connect to a website, is neither a file nor, in itself, an inherently malicious piece of code. So, the endpoint security software doesn’t spot it.

But Heimdal is looking at the network, not the endpoint. It detects and blocks the malicious connections (to malvertising, legitimate but compromised web banners, malicious iFrames and redirects, botnets etc.) that signal an intention to activate or propagate attack strains like APTs, ransomware, Trojans, polymorphic malware and others.

In short, Heimdal gets stuck into the melee long before the blunt old endpoint battle-axe can!

Automatic software updates: that’s 85% of web app attacks defeated!

Exploit kits and other threats that exploit programs’ existing security weaknesses are a huge worry for traditional endpoint security vendors, because these weaknesses often exist at a lower level than that at which the security solutions operate.

Consequently, exploits can slip underneath the endpoint radar (the bad guys must feel like they’ve died and gone to Valhalla!)

They’re a huge worry for your customers, too, given that some 85% of web app attacks (like the kind that typically trigger ransomware and steal personal financial data) take hold of endpoints through an existing unpatched security hole of this kind.

But here, Heimdal have put a real edge on their sword. They have coupled their network traffic analysis with an automatic software update tool, to ensure that your customers’ internet-facing and non-internet-facing apps  – from Acrobat to Audacity, Flash to Firefox, Java to Jitsi, and many others besides – are constantly and automatically updated with the latest security fixes and patches, thus denying exploit kits an entry point.

The most security-critical applications are often those that are not concerned with security at all – how’s that for a typically innovative Scandinavian way of looking at a problem?

Why Heimdal
“Proactive” is a word you’ll hear a lot from Heimdal – and the automatic patching capability that embodies it is a good third of the company’s overall value proposition. (Click to enlarge)

Heimdal: the new word in security

Bloodthirsty or not, the Vikings gave their name to some very beneficial concepts. The word ‘law’ comes into English from their language, for example – and from where we’re sitting it looks like they’ve done it again with ‘Heimdal’!

(Loosely translated, we think the name means: “Stop the thing that’s trying to attack the longboat before it reaches the longboat.” Genius.)

Time some of your customers learnt some Danish, perhaps?

BadRabbit

BadRabbit has munched through cyber-defences, sowing ransomware far and wide. So how does it work? And can you protect your customers against it?

“Run rabbit, run”, goes the song – and ransomware attack BadRabbit has certainly done some running over the past few days!

It has got its teeth into Russia, Ukraine and many other Eastern European countries besides, with some sources also reporting cases in Germany, Turkey, and the US. It seems only a matter of time before it spreads further afield.

So what is BadRabbit – and is there any defence that can protect your customers against it?

What’s up, Doc? What BadRabbit does and how

BadRabbit Screenshot
What users see when BadRabbit bounces into view

BadRabbit is cryptolocker ransomware – it encrypts Windows users’ files using a private key that is known only to the hackers’ own servers. The user must pay for access to this key, in order to decrypt and recover their files (a Bitcoin wallet appears on screen to enable this transaction to take place).

Technically, according to this specialist cyber-security website, BadRabbit is closely related to the recent NotPetya attack, using much of the same code.

However, it executes in a different way, using hacked websites to display a fake Adobe Flash update that, if clicked on, triggers the attack (it drives users to these sites using malicious links.)

Additionally, according to this threat alert website, BadRabbit can move laterally across a network and propagate or spread without user interaction!

Can security vendors stop the naughty bunny?

In short, it seems some of them can.

Bitdefender, for example, states on its website that if your customers are “running a Bitdefender antimalware product for either home or business, you don’t need to worry, as our solutions detect this threat…”

machine-learning
Bitdefender’s inbuilt machine-learning recognises the signs of ransomware and stops it before it can execute

Enabling machine-learning in Trend Micro’s solutions also appears to detect BadRabbit, according to the former’s website, whilst Malwarebytes states that “Users of Malwarebytes for Windows, Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection, and Malwarebytes Endpoint Security are protected from BadRabbit.”

An interesting take on keeping the cunning coney at bay, however, comes from Heimdal, who point out in this very comprehensive ransomware resource that some 85% of ransomware attacks target vulnerabilities in existing applications.

By this logic, updates to software (and not just security software) are, in themselves, a key anti-ransomware security layer.

Damage caused by Ransomware graphic
The consequences of ransomware. Source: Heimdal Security

What other steps can you take to protect customers against BadRabbit?

For systems admin and IT people, of course, quick technical fixes in the form of ‘kill switches’ or similar are indispensable, and it turns out that BadRabbit, like NotPetya and Goldeneye before it, can be tamed by changing the properties of certain files (scroll down to the bottom of this article to find them).

But fundamentally, ransomware works by holding your customers’ data hostage. If this data is backed up and easily accessible, as we discussed in this recent post, ransomware, by definition, loses pretty much all of its bite.

It’s important, therefore, that you advise your customers well on how to choose an appropriate data backup and recovery solution.

For a comprehensive list of all the other steps your customers need to take to protect themselves against ransomware, this recent article from the Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute offers some thorough advice.

BadRabbit is on the loose. So share what we’ve told you above with your customers and they’ll be all ears.

Failing to correctly configure your security solutions is one of the biggest risks to you and your customers. Security health checks can prevent it.

So, you’ve got your customers’ security covered from all angles, right?

Layered protection that shares security intelligence across applications. Endpoint security that spots malware traditional anti-virus solutions miss. Machine-learning that gets better and better at understanding threats. Belt and braces.

But then you fail to configure it all correctly and your customers get hit anyway!

Sceptical? Look at Amazon’s AWS solution, which has suffered a number of critical security and other misconfigurations, resulting in compromised user data.

Read Gartner, who say that in 2017 misconfiguration will be the most common source of breaches in mobile applications.

And take heed of the Infosec Institute, who place security misconfiguration right in the middle of the top ten cyber-risks in 2017.

Whichever way you slice it, the evidence shows that even the cleverest solutions can be useless if they’re not set up correctly – but how do you go about making sure the security solutions you deliver don’t fall into this trap?

Health checks: an MOT for your security solutions

The answer isn’t rocket science, but it is common sense.

You get your car checked out regularly to ensure it’s running as it should, and to inform you of any action you need to take to keep it fit for purpose. Essentially, it’s a health check for your motor – and you can do exactly the same for the security solutions and services you deliver.

But the even better news is that the security healthcheck is often far less disruptive and time-consuming than taking your car to the local garage.This is because the health check can often be performed by an engineer remotely, using the same web consoles you use to deliver and manage your security offerings every day.

As the engineer finds configuration faults or errors, they document these in a report that includes recommendations for the actions you need to take to fix them.

Who delivers security health checks, and what do they cover?

Where and how you get your security health checks often depends on the support and services arrangements you have with the vendors of the security solutions you sell – although this is not the only way to access them.

You could, for example, go through a specialist security software distributor who has vendor-accredited technical expertise in-house. This means you get vendor-quality product knowledge but through an organisation that is typically smaller, more agile and delivers a more personal service.

Typically, a product security health check delivered in this way will cover the full spectrum of security configuration points (it could be 60 or more) that can become an issue if not properly attended to, including (amongst others):

  • Unresolved malware
  • Patching and security updates
  • Licence status
  • Choice of deployed modules and scan engines
  • Policy and protection compliance
  • Impending end-of-life, end of support, and other OS-related issues
  • Settings (e.g. threat sensitivity); options enabled and disenabled
  • Identification and authentication

Security health checks; who fixes what’s not working?

If you have technically proficient people in your organisation, they can of course take the recommendations of the health check report and act on them.

But how does it work if you haven’t got the necessary technical resources?

Again, think of your car: you have no hesitation in handing over your keys to a trusted specialist to carry out work you couldn’t. Depending on who you get your security health check services from, the same model is potentially available – hands-on, on-site corrective work, billed according to an agreed estimate of the time it takes to complete the job.

(But no expensive mechanical components to cause the sucking in of air between the teeth, of course!)

Insights: safer than consequences

“Prevention is better than cure”, runs the old adage – but when there’s no cure available, the need for prevention becomes even more urgent.

Sadly, you can’t “cure” breach and theft of your customers’ data, for example – once the data’s been taken, it’s an irreversible action.

And if it occurs because a solution you provide wasn’t set up correctly or hadn’t been kept up to date, the legal, reputational and financial consequences for your organisation – particularly under the imminent GDPR regulations – would be severe.

But regular insight into the status of your security solutions and how they have (or haven’t) been applied can wrongfoot the risk before it trips you up.

A healthier situation all round.

 

 

 

XGen badge (HES) is the latest Trend Micro solution to wear the xGen badge. We take a brief look at the machine learning benefits behind the brand.

For both MSPs and resellers, Trend Micro’s Hosted Email Security (HES) has always been a compelling sell, delivering powerful, serverless email protection for customers with limited IT resources.

But whereas the rest of Trend’s Worry-Free Business Security Services solutions have already been plugged into the Predictive Machine Learning technology that is one of the features of the newly minted xGen brand, HES (perhaps because it’s also available as a standalone solution, outside of Worry-Free) hadn’t been – until now.

Here are some of the benefits that ‘xGenned’ HES now delivers to end-users.

Zero-day and unknown threats detected

With the threat landscape evolving at bewildering speed, checking chunks of code against databases of the known ‘usual suspects’ is only fractionally effective.

Instead, security solutions now need to detect hitherto unknown and unidentified threats, too, as we described in a previous post recently - and this is exactly what the Predictive Machine Learning in HES now enables it to do.

Predictive Machine Learning uses advanced file feature analysis to ascertain both the probability that a threat exists in a file, and the probable file type – and, of course, because it is learning from each example, it gets better as it goes.

Dangerous files and processes neutralised

Once the machine learning process has identified an unknown or zero-day threat, it can then take action to keep end-users protected.

If the threat is file-based, for example, the solution will quarantine the files in question, to stop the threat from spreading across users’ networks.

HES shares its newfound machine learning capabilities not only with Trend’s Worry-Free Business Security Services solutions but also with OfficeScan, so this more detailed explanation of the latter’s Predictive Machine Learning features, and how they work, is worth a read.

No more multiple login hell

Bringing HES into the xGen fold appears to have prompted some other helpful alignments with existing Trend solutions, too (although, in truth, these don’t have much to do with machine learning!)

There’s a lot less cumbersome clickery involved, for a start. For example, you can now jump directly from HES into the management console of the Cloud App Security solution, whereas before you’d have had to go from the Customer Licensing Portal (CLP) to HES, then back to CLP in order to reach Cloud App Security.

This is important for two reasons: firstly, to stop you losing the will to live. And secondly, because it’s a significant improvement to the overall email security workflow (Cloud App Security is needed to provide Exchange Online mail store scans as well as inspection of internal email traffic - so an easy hook-up to it is a must).

In short, HES is going through the same operator-friendly evolution as many other Trend solutions - getting rid of fiddly separate passwords for each service.

Ultimately, this helps partners work more efficiently and thus cut down on admin overheads, but also it makes for smoother service delivery.

HES: an xGen latecomer poised to deliver

It’s worth noting that HES has also recently benefited from an overhauled interface, improved data insights, enhanced Time-of-Click web protection, and other additional refinements, as explored in this post - so it certainly hasn’t been standing still.

But it has moved at a different speed to the rest of the xGen stable, and it’s good news for security resellers and MSPs alike that they can now tell their customers the gap is being closed!

Phishing:Despite being one of the oldest internet scams, phishing continues to unleash mayhem in businesses. How can security partners protect customers against it?

The oldest scam on the internet – phishing – is going from strength to strength.

Indeed, the Anti-Phishing Working Group report published in February 2017 tells us that the number of unique phishing sites detected in the second quarter of last year was at an all-time high.

The dreaded bogus links in incoming emails can trigger everything from banking fraud, to ransomware (the Locky attack was set off this way), to theft of Office 365 logins, as this phishing video shows.

So what advice should security partners be offering to their end-users to help them mount an effective defence against this menace?

1. No more phish and spam sandwiches

Poor spam management is a recipe for heightened exposure to phishing risk, since spam email is often the ‘bread’ around the phishy ‘filling’.

It sounds disgusting – but end-users are still swallowing it. In 2016, for example, 71% of ransomware was delivered via spam, making spam the most common attack vector. In fact, it’s even spawned a new term – malspam!

Strong anti-spam detection is therefore a critical ingredient in stopping phishing attacks before they reach the user, and for this a number of critical features are necessary in the security solutions end-users choose, including:

  • Antispam filters, so that detection thresholds can be adjusted in response to users’ experience of how effectively spam is being caught.
  • Connection to a global email and web reputation database, so that domains and identities associated with known malicious servers can be identified, and their IP addresses blocked.
  • IP address behaviour analysis, so that potentially suspicious behaviours like dynamic or masked IP addresses can be detected.
  • Document exploit detection to look beyond the email and into the attached files that malspam often makes use of to trigger an exploit.

At its least harmful, spam is a distraction that leaves a bad taste in the business’s mouth. At worst, it carries a truly toxic payload.

2. Beware the newly-borns…

But at the risk of sounding like King Herod, one of the biggest threats in the phishing sphere comes from ‘newly-borns’ – malicious servers that simply haven’t been around long enough to make it onto any web or email reputation database, and so might not be detected.

So it’s critical that businesses’ anti-phishing security goes beyond this, and attempts to analyse the characteristics of the phishing email itself, such as:

  • Who sent it
  • Where it’s gone to
  • What it contains
  • When it was sent
  • How it reached a user’s inbox

As this excellent summary explains, by mapping these factors automatically to known social engineering scenarios (i.e. the many ways in which users can be tricked into doing something they shouldn’t!) tell-tale signs of phishing intent can be detected, and the relevant IP addresses blocked.

Needless to say, this process involves some pretty hefty probability calculations, and social engineering scenarios are changing all the time, so the system needs to be able to constantly learn from what it absorbs and update its assessments accordingly.

Machine-learning is the key here, and if implemented effectively it can ensure that businesses’ anti-phishing protection doesn’t behave as if it were born yesterday!

3. Educate, educate, educate!

Security vendors are in this business to make money by selling software – but even they have been vocal about the need for businesses to educate their workforce to spot the signs of phishing, and take evasive action.

Content like these Tips for mitigating phishing attacks, for example, is certainly helpful - but there is a realisation that hints, tips and instructions alone won’t change security culture within organisations.

Instead, businesses must fuel constant internal security conversations using simple, accessible content, and they are looking to resellers and MSPs to deliver this to them, working through cyber-security awareness content partners.

Phishing protection will never be 100% effective. But shouldn’t every business be wishing that whatever slips through the net (or should that be Net?) could be stopped by the ‘human firewall’?

Read the latest helpful updates on ransomware and cloud security from our industry partners and contacts.

We like to put our partner and media contacts to good use in helping you and your customers to understand the security landscape.

This month, we bring you three helpful new updates – two guides to ransomware (and how to defeat it) and the other an interesting short article from Cloudworks on the benefits of cloud security for small and medium businesses.

Business guide to ransomware

New from AppRiver, this guide is subtitled ‘Understand, Analyze and Protect’, and is a very readable resource covering what ransomware is, how it works, how it spreads, and the best practices and employee training that can help defend against it.

Ransomware: Malwarebytes bytes back!

Another take on ransomware and how to combat it comes from security experts Malwarebytes, who major on the importance of endpoint security (keeping PCs and devices protected) in this informative and short PDF.

Five reasons why cloud security is important for SMEs

Big servers, large infrastructure, lots of IT staff – these are all security components that SMEs just can’t afford! This is why they must look cloudward – and this article from Cloudworks describes the benefits of cloud security neatly.

We’ll be back with more helpful advice soon!

WannaCrypt0r ransomwareThe WannaCrypt0r ransomware floored the NHS and many other organisations besides. These guys reckon they could have stopped it.

WannaCrypt0r, the global cyber-attack that paralysed 45 NHS trusts, plus businesses in over 100 countries, has woken the world up.

It’s woken a few security vendors up too, as the flurry of emails in my inbox over the weekend shows.

And, predictably, they’re all keen to tell us that customers running their security software were protected from WannaCrypt0r’s terrifying exploits.

Here’s a summary of the claims each of these wannabe ‘WannaCrypt0r-killers’ have made. It will be interesting reading for those who are contemplating where to go next with their anti-ransomware strategy!

Bitdefender

The mail from security software vendor Bitdefender states its case boldly: “Customers running Bitdefender are not affected by this attack wave.”

How so? Bitdefender has a ‘ransomware vaccine’ that users can switch on to immunise machines, and this uses the ransomware’s own programming against it.

But at a deeper level, it boils down to the ability to detect memory violations – in other words, to understand when a machine’s memory is being tampered with, which indicates that a cyber-exploit is afoot long before it can actually execute and cause any damage.

It’s this kind of device behaviour, Bitdefender implies, that, with their GravityZone products, would have shut WannaCrypt0r down before it even really got started.

Trend Micro

It’s machine-learning that’s writ large in the Trend Micro response to the WannaCrypt0r incident.

“Customers are already protected against this threat through Predictive Machine Learning and other relevant ransomware protection features found in Trend Micro XGen™ security,” the firm claims.

It’s a highly layered approach, involving email and web gateway solutions, behaviour monitoring and reputation analysis, file and website blocking, across physical and virtual machines, with the overall goal being to “prevent ransomware from ever reaching end users.”

Of course, if WannaCrypt0r has shown us one thing, it’s that ransomware is perfectly capable of activating before it reaches the end user!

However, a beacon of hope in Trend Micro’s communication that I did not see elsewhere is that it has a tool that can decrypt files affected by certain crypto-ransomware variants, meaning victims would not have to pay the ransom in exchange for a decryption key.

(How many IT guys would have killed for that last Friday evening?)

Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes’ communication slaps its cards down on the table thus:

“Malwarebytes is protecting your organization against this specific ransomware variant. Our anti-ransomware technology uses a dedicated real-time detection and blocking engine that continuously monitors for ransomware behaviors, like those seen in WannaCrypt0r.”

Like Bitdefender and Trend Micro, this is hinting at some sort of intelligent analysis of machine and network behaviours that might predict a ransomware attack, before it actually starts to execute.

Malwarebytes’ four-layered security approach – operating system, memory, application behaviour and application hardening – contributes to this detection capability, as it monitors at multiple system levels for ransomware and other exploits, simultaneously.

But Malwarebytes goes further than this in its claims. It says in this blog about WannaCrypt0r that itwill stop any future unknown ransomware variants.”

(The italics are mine – but I’m sure you’ll agree they’re worth emphasising!)

What next for WannaCrypt0r?

There are few certainties in cyber-security but what experts are predicting is that wave two of the WannaCrypt0r attack will come soon – and wearing a different guise.

Will the security solutions above recognise it rapidly enough to combat it?

Let’s see whether the communications live up to their word.