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1/3/2014
11:30 AM
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7 InfoSec Predictions For 2014: Good, Bad & Ugly

First, the bad news: Windows XP doomsday, escalating ransomware, botnet-driven attacks, emerging SDN threats. The good news: Threat intelligence goes mainstream.

Predicting the future, of course, is impossible. But based on the dynamic events I've witnessed in information security this past year -- new adversaries, attack techniques, and increased adoption of such emerging technologies as software-defined networking -- here are seven security trends I’ll be watching closely in 2014.

1. Doomsday for Windows XP
Come April 2014, Microsoft will stop releasing new patches for Windows XP. But from the attackers' standpoint, the real fun will start in May, when Microsoft patches all versions of Windows since Windows XP. When that happens, security experts predict a hack-attack field day, since -- just like Java -- attackers can reverse-engineer the new fixes to find exploitable XP vulnerabilities. Cue difficulties for the millions of consumers and businesses that continue to rely on the unsupported operating system.

"One of the biggest challenges ahead for 2014 is clearly coming with Windows XP, and that obviously has a massive impact not only for the systems that are out there, but the systems that are out there that no one knows about," said Gerhard Eschelbeck, chief technology officer of Sophos, speaking by phone. "Who owns fixing those systems or upgrading those systems or ensuring those systems are still secure, in a world where patches are no longer being provided?"

Given the potential harm facing people who still rely on XP, there still might be an end-of-life reprieve. "Microsoft ought to reevaluate and reassess their decision early next year," Eschelbeck speculated, “if it's the right thing to do to 'end of life' support for an operating system that's been as successful as Windows XP has been."

2. Malware: Follow the Money
One no-brainer for 2014 is that malware will continue to target an expanded range of institutions that handle money -- and especially virtual currencies. In late November, for example, a new variant of the Gameover malware was spotted that targeted the log-in credentials for users of BTC China Exchange. That China-based exchange handles 40 percent of the world's trades in the cryptographic currency known as Bitcoins.

Going forward, we can also expect improvements that make latest-generation malware tougher to detect or block. For example, increased use of automated generation of domains for call-backs. According to Sophos' Eschelbeck, these techniques are used by malware writers to ensure that infected nodes can connect to command-and-control (C&C) infrastructure and serve as bots in a botnet. For years, security firms have battled botnets by blacklisting these malicious domains. But as attackers have improved their domain-name-generation algorithms, the tedious, largely manual exercise of blocking malicious domains has grown more difficult.

In addition, attackers have begun using "multiple layers of indirection," Eschelbeck said, which makes it more difficult for researchers to pinpoint exactly how C&C communications are flowing. "The first layer that the malware is going to may not be a bad domain at all," he said, but rather an intermediate but otherwise legitimate waypoint compromised by attackers. The more time and effort it takes security researchers to separate good domains from bad domains, the farther ahead attackers can stay from would-be botnet busters.

3. Ransomware shakedown escalates
The above example wasn't the first foray into new attack territory by the authors of the Gameover malware, which is based on the Zeus financial Trojan. "Gameover has also been involved [with] the dropping of CryptoLocker onto victims," said Sean Sullivan, security advisor at F-Secure Labs, referring to the CryptoLocker ransomware, which encrypts an infected PC, then demands users pay a ransom -- sometimes in bitcoins -- to receive a decryption code.

"Ransomware is pretty fascinating stuff. It's showing how cartel-like this problem has become, how it's really been able to extort money, and how it's been really powerful, from a software perspective, simply by locking down a PC until you pay up," said Carl Herberger, VP of security solutions at Radware, speaking by phone. Furthermore, the attacks continue because victims -- reportedly even including one Massachusetts police department -- continue to pay up.

The same must be true for at least some victims of scareware -- which is malware with all bark and no bite -- as well as other extortion schemes, which in 2013 included criminals threatening to launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against business sites, again, unless they paid up.

Expect the scope and combination of these shakedown campaigns to keep expanding in 2014. "If I can take someone down, that's one thing, but if I can extort them for restoring the services when they're down, then they probably have more of a propensity to pay," Herberger said. "I see that being a very big idea that evolves in 2014."

 

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jnewell9
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jnewell9,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 10:13:22 AM
Re: 2014 prediction (and a little bit of a soap box)
I hear you loud and clear. The end result is the same - anything beyond the most primitive security initiatives will go at best severely underfunded. Of course, there will be exceptions but these success stories will remain obscured since it is very hard to quantify the value of something that didn't happen.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2014 | 10:13:19 AM
Re: 2014 prediction (and a little bit of a soap box) -- Sharing threat intelligence
How about it. Does anyone believe that 2014 will be the year that sharing threat intelligience goes mainstream? What info about attackers are you willing to share and -- even if you are -- would your exec management be willing to publically disclose that the company has been compromised for the good of the industry? IMO it's not going to happen this year, if ever. 
gmtrmt
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gmtrmt,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 10:08:39 AM
Ransomware knock on effect
I recently was affected by ransonware (cryptolocker anyone) and have seen a massive increase in demand for in both physical and online backup services. It seems everyone these days is keen to dump data onto some 3rd party media... the question is how long will this habbit last as just like new years resolutions, persistance is key.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 9:59:32 AM
Re: 2014 prediction (and a little bit of a soap box)
The problem isn't the IT justification process.  I've worked numbers until I'm blue in the face with risk assessment information providing justification beyond any doubt.  It is the bean counting CEO and CFO that choose to ignore these tentant until something happens after which the finger gets pointed at IT.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 9:48:49 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
You my friend are a tragedy waiting to happen.  Take it from someone with more experience in OS than I care to admit.   You must plan for inside attacks not just outside ones. By your tack, I can only assume your Robolinux VM technology is not used for business purposes otherwise you would not pass a risk assessment audit done by an outside agent. 
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2014 | 9:32:23 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Whoa, it looks like someone needs to call in the referee here. I have to admit that I have never seen Robolinux in action, but I have been in IT long enough to know that ANY system, no matter how secure you think it is, can be compromised. All it takes is a dedicated hacker or a random fluke.
jnewell9
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jnewell9,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 9:10:09 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
And I'd guess you are some 22 year old talented and full of hubris technical guy who hasn't had the experience yet to know that there is no upside to digging your heels in.  My point (attempted with a little levity that clearly was lost on you - I own that) is that your portrayal of a virus and malware free windows environment likely doesn't exist.  Sandboxing is not new and obviously Linux is more secure that Windows.  Robolinux looks cool and may even be a good approach but the danger I'm speaking to here is any overconfidence that somehow it makes everything perfectly safe.  If you care, I think that is the pushback you are getting - at least it is from me.
IT-security-gladiator
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IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
1/7/2014 | 2:02:52 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Pride? Sting? No just reality. You see I actually have experience about what I am posting about versus you who I can gurarantee have never even seen Robolinux running on a PC or laptop.
IT-security-gladiator
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IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
1/7/2014 | 2:00:33 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Once again you do not understand the Robolinux VM technology. First of all you use Linux on top of the VM for surfing and downloading then you cannot get a virus anyway. However if you do get a virus then you are literally one minute away from restoring not only a fully patched version of Windows but all of its updates and software. Your data does not need to be restored because it is always safely inside the Linux parititon which you have full read and write access to from Windows. 
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
1/6/2014 | 4:20:04 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Get malware and you'll find out how mute it is.  I always have backups of any intance I run whether Lunix, VMware, Windows, or Hypervision but who wants to go through a restore process if they don't have too particularly while the business waits for you to fix it.
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