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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.
Mathew J. Schwartz
January 3, 2014
4 Min Read
4. Uptick in bot attacks
One of the most successful attack campaigns of 2012 and 2013 has been the four waves of Operation Ababil, which have used compromised PCs and servers to launch large-scale DDoS attacks that disrupted the websites of US banks. Even when banks managed to counteract these attacks, their defensive strategies often lead to disruptions for customers.
From an attack standpoint, the campaign has been tough to stop, because it relies on compromised systems to do the dirty work. Botnets have long been attractive to attackers because they offer cheap processing power, and serve as easy spam relays and versatile attack platforms, for launching these types of DDoS campaigns. But bots have gotten even more attractive for attackers as processing power and network pipes have respectively continued to get larger and bigger. Furthermore, even if defenders do manage to clean a few thousand of the bots, hackers only need to begin infecting new ones to regain their attack strength.
"Bots represent the army of the future -- making IT work for you, if you're a bad actor, and against you, if you're the target," said Herberger. "That's the future, that's the fourth generation of warfare: making computers attack."
5. SDN in the crosshairs
One "next big thing," technologically speaking, is software-defined networking (SDN), which -- to simplify the technology at work -- allows software to run independently from the underlying network hardware.
"SDN is starting to get adopted," said Radware's Herberger. "Google is an entire SDN shop, and more and more companies are investigating SDN." But as more businesses turn to SDN, he predicts attackers will seek ways to exploit these environments.
"Google has experienced a very low amount of security problems, and people have suggested that's because they're a full SDN shop -- and the fifth largest shop in the world," said Herberger. "So there's a nice high-value target there, if you could get yourself organized around it." He said that as more financial firms -- including organizations that handle bitcoins -- investigate SDN, related attacks will increase.
6. APT attackers better hide their tracks
In 2013, security firm Mandiant published a report about a hacking group it called APT1. Also known as Comment Crew, this China-based group -- Mandiant alleged -- was in fact an elite band of military hackers who served as part of People's Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398.
China denied the allegations, but many information security experts concurred with the findings. Meanwhile, the attackers were put on notice, thus demonstrating the double-edged nature of outing online adversaries: Potential victims may get a heads-up, but attackers can also learn about how they got spotted, then tweak their offensive playbook to make future attacks harder to detect.
"After that [Mandiant report], the community -- by which I mean pretty much everyone in incident response -- saw the tools get updated, which says to me that [the attackers] were watching our blogs, and our security conferences," said Matt Standart, the threat intelligence director at HBGary, speaking by phone. "So they were aware, and they changed." Expect that cycle to continue.
7. Threat intelligence sharing goes mainstream
When it comes to spotting and mitigating APT attacks, could 2014 be the year that threat intelligence sharing becomes the norm? "Threat intelligence is really just information about an adversary that you can use to make a decision about how you respond to that adversary," said Standart at HBGary, which sells related products and services.
Throughout 2013, there have been a number of steps toward better threat-intelligence sharing, including MITRE continuing to refine its Structured Threat Information eXpression (STIX) language format, as well as the Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information (TAXII) message exchange service specifications for sharing threat information. Those standards have already been tapped by many organizations -- including the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) sector -- as the preferred approach for sharing cross-platform threat intelligence between different organizations, as well as products.
"If one organization finds that information or understands something about the attacker, then all organizations could benefit... but it's tempered by that fear of disclosing that you've been compromised," said Standart. Accordingly, "we predict that the government will get involved through regulations."
While new regulations may not always be a good thing, "you can still share the threat intelligence data that doesn't give away anything about the incident -- just the attacker details -- so it's kind of a moot thing," he said.
What are your predictions about information security in 2014? Share them in the comments.
Mathew Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer, as well the InformationWeek information security reporter.
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