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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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Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
1/3/2014 | 11:56:39 AM
XP And Security
Mat is right to bring up the XP issue first. MS has given no indication it will back down on the timing. Does anyone think MS will change its mind at this point?
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
1/3/2014 | 12:16:13 PM
Re: XP And Security
I don't think Microsoft will back down. The company will want to drive their reluctant enterprise customers to migrate to a new operating system. Big question for me is where customers will go...Windows 7, 8, or Surface.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/3/2014 | 12:44:45 PM
Re: XP And Security
I don't think Micorosft will back down from the April 2014 date either. The may have to readjust if all hell breaks loose in May. But that April '14 date has been set in stone since as far back as I can remember. I think most companies that are still on XP (and shame on them really) will upgrade to Windows 7 unless employees are clamoring for Windows 8, which is unlikely given the divisive reaction to the OS.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/3/2014 | 1:21:14 PM
Ransomware
I'm fascinated by the concept that you'd pay a ransomware demand. What's the likelihood that will be the end of it? You're now known as person/company willing to deal with extorionists. There's a reason governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
1/3/2014 | 5:22:07 PM
Re: XP And Security
They will stay on XP and see what happens. If they switch it will not be to systems running a Microsoft OS. If there was no value in switching for all this time then the value is still not there. And honestly, I agree, for the most tasks Win7 or Win8 do not provide anything that XP could not do.
IT-security-gladiator
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IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
1/4/2014 | 9:39:54 AM
An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
I downloaded a revolutionary Linux OS called Robolinux which sandboxes Windows XP or 7 inside it, making Windows totally immune to viruses and malware. My pc's and laptops are not that old so it saved me hundreds of dollars. My machines run much faster too.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2014 | 9:30:29 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Gladiator, a great idea, but the only problem is that if you are using some third party software and something doesn't work right, you can be sure that their customer service will blame it on your not-quit-windows operating system.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2014 | 9:33:44 PM
Re: XP And Security
When my XP machine's motherboard died late last year, I knew I'd have to spend more money to get machine that would run an operating system that would be supported after 04/14. Then I learned I'd have to spend even more to get Windows 7 instead of Windows 8, because shops were full of 8 machines that nobody wanted. I wonder if it would be legal for a 3rd party to come along to support the XP operating system, with or without Microsoft's permission? I like both XP and 7, but I have not seen one solitary thing that 7 does that XP can't, and I'm seriously looking at a chromebook.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
1/6/2014 | 10:19:10 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Virus free?  Sorry but running Windows in a Lunix "shell" does not make Windows immune to malware.  Keep thinking so and you're in for trouble.
IT-security-gladiator
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50%
IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
1/6/2014 | 1:16:05 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Apparently you are not aware of how the Robolinux VM operates. If you actually research it you will see that all the Windows data resides safely inside the Linux partition plus they have an instantaneous VM backup and restore so any malware infection in the Windows VM is moot.
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