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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.
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.
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
1/7/2014 | 10:22:10 AM
Re: XP And Security

Microsoft has become its own enemy.  Years ago IBM was the inflexible arrogant bureaucratic technology giant that pretty much didn't care what customers thought of its business tactics.  Now Microsoft has taken over that roll.  The only thing that makes a difference is the impact on the bottom line.  Microsoft believes forcing XP usage out of the market is to their bottom line advantage.  I'm betting nothing will change at MS until its too late.  I predict many XP users will migrate to non-windows products.  Its kind of like the days of when Ford and GM didn't care about their customer experience but expected Americans to continue buying from them which they didn't.  Now Ford an GM own less the 50% of the American auto market when they once owned 91%.  I see Apple and Google eating MS for lunch.

Brian45242
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Brian45242,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 10:31:12 AM
Re: XP And Security
So how long would you require Microsoft to continue supporting XP?  And when the cost of continuing to support and patch that OS impact their ability to release new products, what would you say then?

Certainly the impending "end of life" for XP is getting a lot of attention these days, but lets be honest here...every major software vendor release products, and then replaces them with new release, versions or entirely new products.  None of them that I can think of (IBM, Oracle, Adobe to name a few) continue to support the old versions forever.  So companies (and individuals) do what we always do: that is look at the options, the costs of the options and compare that to the risk of doing nothing.  In many cases doing nothing is an acceptible choice...at least in the short term, BUT there almost always comes a day to pay the price for that decision.  For those that have stayed with XP even as three subsequent (MS based) OS' have been released, that time is drawing near.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
1/8/2014 | 11:15:20 AM
Re: XP And Security
Brian, everything you say is true but I use XP machines everyday along with 600 million others.  They still do the job they were intended  with absolutely no advantage in migrating their tasks to Win7/Win8.  The infrastructure to support Win7/8 also supports XP.  The need to replace these boxes is when the hardware fails not becuase of the OS.  XP is kind of like a 55 Chevy, a classic that no one gets tired of seeing except Microsoft.
Brian45242
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Brian45242,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 11:47:07 AM
Re: XP And Security
DDurbin1...you raise a good point, although one that I think lumps two disparate items into one:hardware and software. 

If I focus just on PCs for a moment, ignoring at my own peril all of the devices that may have XP "imbedded" in them, I choose to view a PC as a hardware device that runs software, including an OS.  In that view, I expect to perform updates on the software to keep it current, as long as the hardware continues to work and meets my needs.  The challenge becomes when we have the occaisions where a key peice of software is no longer supported and unfortunatley since its the OS it's one that matters from a vulnerability perspestive.

If I chose to view my PC like I do my toaster or microwave, I would agree 100% that you use it until it no longer functions (or you remodel the kitchen and need matching appliances!).

I personally feel like this is a no win situation for MS...they either stayed with XP and any inherent limitations it included or they moved forward with new OS versions that offered new features and functions.  Since they chose the latter, at some point it's no longer cost effective to continue supporting the old standard.

Now regarding that 55 Chevy...that is indeed a classic.  :-)
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.
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.
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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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.
jnewell9
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jnewell9,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/6/2014 | 2:22:21 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
There is no nirvana.  

"You feel that sting?  That's pride, messing with you"  - Butch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
1/7/2014 | 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. 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/8/2014 | 1:58:52 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Dude, as these guys are trying to tell you, you are missing point completely. Linux itself is not above malware infection. And even though you can restore your Windows back to a checkpoint if infected, what good does that do if a keystroke logger already got your bank user id and password and sent back to a command and control server?

If you run Windows XP at a business to run software for your business, and it is not used for email or web browsing or directly connected to internet (sits behind proxy on a non routable network), you can run forever without a sandbox with almost zero risk of problem. I can't say zero because of network or USB based worms but you would have an extremely limited attack surface.

We are going to have to do that for some special machines that run things like tensile testing software for our lab. The update of testing software for Win 7 is in the $40K range, which is ridiculous to accomplish same business purpose. Things like that will be reason XP will be around for quite awhile, regardless of MS support plans.
IT-security-gladiator
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IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
1/9/2014 | 9:48:12 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Since 2002 I have installed thousands of Linux Desktops and not one person has ever gotten a virus.

You apparently don't have any experience with Linux because if you did, you would know why it is more secure than Windows. Which brings up a very important point. I use Robolinux to surf and download stuff and all of my Windows data is inside Robolinux so no keylogger Windows malware can infect it.

I use the Windows XP VM just for a few apps that do not run natively on Linux. None of those apps use the Internet so how are they going to get infected?

Lastly the Robolinux VM backup and restore is not a restore point it is the entire XP OS plus updates Further since the Windows data is on the Linux partition then it is indeed not a restore point.

You might want to learn a bit before you go off half cocked and pretend you know everything.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/9/2014 | 10:22:44 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
You just can't fix stupid. I've used Windows personally since the 1990's and never had a virus either. So what the heck does that mean? Very few people write malware for Linux, so it has way less probability of infection than Windows. Linux runs script (source, not compiled) based programs like Windows does, which means it can get infected just as easily as Windows if someone targeted Linux. If you don't understand that, you are in the wrong job.

I've seen you post twice in InfoWeek forums, both times running your mouth about this stupid RoboLinux no one ever heard of. Do you work for them or something? When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That's you and RoboLinux.

That fact anyone needs someone like you to install Linux desktops for them is the reason Linux will never overcome Windows in consumer market. Our business doesn't need anyone like you and never will.
IT-security-gladiator
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IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
1/9/2014 | 10:53:41 AM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Like I said you are ignorant and are just running your normal lies and FUD. Just a Microsoft Shill.

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/9/2014 | 1:27:33 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
Actually no. I do real IT work, been developing applications and supporting ERP systems on IBM mainframes and midrange AS400/i5 server since 1985, before desktops and internet were useful. I studied UNIX in college, actually wrote an o/s for the DEC PDP/11 for a college class. I now use Sencha Ext JS to write web applications, still using the i5 has backend server. I'm the sole developer for a Mfg company that sells globally, revenue exceeding $30 million a year.

To me, both Linux and Windows are kiddie toys. I tolerate them to run email clients and web browsers. I'm just smart enough to know they both (being script processing computers) can both be infected with malware. You obviously haven't figured that out yet and probably never will.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/9/2014 | 2:42:23 PM
Re: An XP -iration solution for those who cannot afford to upgrade
TerryB, you da man. Thanks for your informed comments.
jnewell9
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jnewell9,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/6/2014 | 1:54:56 PM
2014 prediction (and a little bit of a soap box)
Here is my prediction:  The pressure on IT organizations to "do more with less" will affect security expenditures harder than any other area of the IT spend.  It seems that regardless of how many incidents make their way to the public awareness, spending large amounts of money on a preventative measure is apparently too hard for IT leadership to justify when there are so many neglected initiatives competing in the budget.  Couple this with rampant poor system patching practices and IT's challenge to wield enough influence to enforce (or even implement) security policies and you have a recipe for another banner year for nefarious behavior and high profile compromises.  I thought "Code Red" was going to be the tipping point - obviously I was wrong.
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.
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.
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. 
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.
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