Not The Best Intel Month

So far, the 2018 has been catastrophic for Intel.

Three major vulnerabilities were found in a very short span of time, and Intel team cannot catch up fast enough with the patching and the security updates.

The newest one is from the 12th of Jan and disclosed by a Finnish Security Company (F-Secure). It uses a bug in the AMT (Active Management Technology) feature of certain Intel based systems. The AMT was designed as a helping tool for administrators to assist with managing their vast fleet of endpoints but bad implementation makes all of these devices completely unsecure when physically accessible.

The attack is extremely simple and allows for anybody (without any particular technical skills) to launch it. Basically, the baddy needs only to reload/shutdown and power up the endpoint that has Intel AMT enabled, then despite all authentications (like BIOS password or OS authentication) the baddy needs only to do Ctrl+P during book process (which takes him/her to MEBx (Management Engine BIOS extension) login and use the default password (admin) to login. Next steps are simple, change the password so nobody can access and change back the settings or disabled the AMT, and allow remote access to the endpoint (there is even an option to not allow the legal user to stop this. After that physical access to the endpoint is not needed, the attacker can manage the machine as long they are on the same network (wireless or wired). The attack is dangerous, because it’s so simple to implement, takes no more than 30 seconds, gives full access to the endpoint and bypasses other security controls. The recommended actions to protect AMT enabled endpoints are quite logical: change default pass to complex secure password, disabled AMT if you are not using it, and keep an eye on your endpoint and do not give anybody else physical access to it.

We have all heard by now about the other major vulnerabilities that were recently disclosed, namely the famous Meltdown and Spectre. We will not discuss in detail how these attacks work as that was already covered in detail and available from many sources but would like to summarise how this is affecting end users and other vendors in the chain.

First, the official and best way to be protected against these two attacks is to change the chips but obviously that is not really a feasible solution for many end users and companies. Major OS vendors have taken steps to patch their respective OS.

Microsoft has patched Windows 10 fairly quickly and just recently (9th of Jan) patched Windows 7 and 8 for the Meltdown vulnerability. A note – users are urged to check if the patches were successfully installed as some anti-virus systems (including Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Suit) can prevent the patch to be installed.

Apple has been bold in saying despite all their systems being vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre, there is no well-known exploits impacting their customers. Still Apple released released mitigations in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2.

Android – Google has released its patches on the monthly security patch on the 5th of Jan. However, they would immediately become available only for pure Google phones (Pixel and Nexus), all the rest of the android users need to wait for their retrospective vendors to release patches.

Firefox browser – Mozzila released a patch and recommends all user to update Firefox to version 57.0.4.

Chrome – The patch is included in the new 64 bit version of the browser that will be released on the 23th of Jan. If you want added security Google recommends you use the Site Isolation experimental feature.

Linux – the Linux kernel developers have reacted quickly and patches are available for most used kernel versions.

Due to the nature of the attack (possibility of seeing memory from other applications) the virtualization platforms were badly affected. The two largest vendors, VMware and Citrix however, have decided to take completely different actions courses.

VMware released security patches for all of his affected major products – ESXi, Fusion and Workstation. We need to note here that the patch helps only with Meltdown attack.

Citrix has decided not to release security patches but transfer the risk to its clients and recommends them to check for any patches on 3rd party software.

It is worth mentioned also that most of the OS based patches (not browser patches) are created only to protect again the Meltdown attack as the Spectre is harder to patch and security experts believe it will be around for some months and maybe years to come.

Related materials:

Modern security landscape, trends in malware and counteracting security controls

Malware is evolving constantly. The threat landscape is so dynamic that yesterday’s news is not news today. The malware business is a full-blown industry that can easily size up with the IT security industry.

Recent major security breaches:

NiceHash, the largest Bitcoin mining marketplace, has been hacked, which resulted in the theft of more than 4,700 Bitcoins worth over $57 million (at the time of breach) – more than 70 million now. The breach is reported to have happened via vulnerability on their website.

Teamviewer vulnerability – critical vulnerability discovered in the software that could allow users sharing a desktop session to gain complete control of the other’s PC without permission.

By using naked inline hooking and direct memory modification, in addition, the PoC allows users to harness control of the mouse without altering settings and permissions.

Uber – Uber’s October 2016 data breach affected some 2.7 million UK users, it has now been revealed. Uber did not disclose until now and paid a ransom (100k USD). Lawsuits to follow. Information held by a third-party cloud service provider used by Uber was accessed by the two hackers.

PayPal subsidiary breach – ID Theft for 1.6 Million Customers. PayPal Holdings Inc. said that a review of its recently acquired company TIO Networks showed evidence of unauthorized access to the company’s network, including some confidential parts where the personal information of TIO’s customers were stored.

Numerous unidentified security vulnerabilities were found in the platform (bugs that lead to security related vulnerabilities). Evidence of a breach discovered. Forensics are under way.

Equifax – breach allowed 15.2 million UK records to be made public (and 145 Million US records). Bad guys used a known vulnerability in an internet accessible service for initial penetration.

Recent Apple Root vulnerability – Any Mac system running macOS High Sierra 10.13.1 or 10.13.2 beta was vulnerable. There was no real exploit, you just typed root for username and keep the password empty and keep pressing enter and after several tries you are logged in with root rights.  A logic error existed in the validation of credentials or simply a bug.


Making malware today has become more available. Malware development processes does not differentiate much from any software development, people use online available sources for much of the code, and will combine it together to their liking and purpose. A lot of the bad guys would also release the code for their creations which can later be changed and further modified (example Petya and NotPetya). Even code stolen from the government cyber agencies is now used in modern malware (example EternalBlue use in multiple malware as a way of effective horizontal spread – used in WannaCry).

Another typical trend in malware these days is to be modular. It will install and run multiple services on the infected host in specific order after the initial infection.

1st stage – there is always the initial infection – usual methods here are unpatched vulnerability of a running service or in the cases of more advanced malware – the use of Zero-Day vulnerability. Example here is the EternalBlue exploit of the SMBv1 service. Usually the delivery of the exploit is via Internet on accessible services or once inside the organization, horizontally meaning within the internal networks of the organization. That stage ends with having temporary access to the system and dropping off the malware in questions

2nd stage – privilege escalation – will try to gather credentials from the infected device in different ways – cracking the specific files on the system that holds the accounts, trying to locate account information on the local drives, or even brute-forcing credentials. These credentials will be leveraged for either privilege escalation on that machine or access to other similar machines on the network and infecting them.

3rd stage – installing a backdoor. Making sure the access is permanent

4th stage – doing the job. Downloading all necessary pieces of malware to finish the job.  If that is a crypto virus it will download the tools to encrypt the sensitive files, also change desktop or even download application to show the user the ransom note, a tool to clean keys and traces of the encryption etc.

5th stage – spread, can be done again by using vulnerable services within the organization or by leveraging any credentials that are discovered in the privilege escalating process and using legit sys admin management channels such as WMI and PSExec. Sometimes the spread can be done before or simultaneously with the 4th stage as not to warn the organization of its presence before it managed to infect multiple systems.

Types of malware:

It is very hard to categorize malware these days. Most traditional classification such as: virus, worm, trojan, backdoor does not really cut it anymore as most modern malware shares the features of all of them (again example WannaCry, it is a virus, it is a worm as it spreads itself and it is a backdoor as it does install a hidden unauthorized way into the compromised system, and on top of that does encryption).

Ransomware – attacks aimed at making money by forcing victims to pay for accessing again their personal files

DDoS attacks – attacks aimed at crippling or disabling services at the victim

Attacks aimed at stealing sensitive information – attacks aimed at spying on users and gathering sensitive data – credentials, S/N, banking details, impersonating info (DOB etc.), private communications etc

Zombie/Botnet – attacks that rely on the collective resources of multiple compromised hosts that are managed by a central C&C (command and control). Can be used for multiple things, DDoS, span relay, stealing sensitive information from users

APT attacks – Advanced Persistent Attacks. Specially crafted attacks, usually used in nation-state cyber activities. Example could be the attack versus Iranian Nuclear Program

IoT related attacks – again these blur with other, as normally the compromised IoT devices are used for other kind of attacks (DDoS). This kind of IoT are very typical these days, the IoT devices are cheap network connected devices that were not designed with security in mind. The Mirai attack was a shining example on how powerful attacks can be executed using a Botnet of compromised IoT devices (DYN case). Furthermore, the number of IoT will continue to grow.

Mobile devices – attacks that are specific for mobile devices, most dangerous ones are compromised apps that go under the radar and give away sensitive information from the smart phone (ID theft, or sell personal info to ad companies, or steal financial data (credit card info etc.)). There are no such thing as free apps, they steal data from you and use it in illegal way to monetize it and make profit.

Phishing / Spear-Headed Phishing – Becoming more and more popular, bad actors will put in the effort now to get to know the victim so they can deliver the malware content in a shape and form that is interesting to the target

Some top Cyber Security Trends:

  1. Less number of security breaches (due to more investments in in IT Security) reported globally but more impact upon breach.
  2. More time is needed for the detection of breached (average time in 2016 was 80.6 days, in 2017 it is 92.2 days)
  3. Predictions of crime damage costs to sky rocket in the next 3 years (by 2021) to 6 Trillion USD
  4. Successful phishing and ransomware attacks are climbing
  5. Global ransomware damage cost estimated to exceed 5 Billion USD by the end of 2017

Data was gathered by CSO 2017 Cyber Security report (

Summary of the evolution of Security Controls

  • Intrusion Prevention (Advanced Network Threat Detection) becomes a must

Advanced IPS systems have replaced the traditional status firewalls. They incorporate multiple security technologies (signatures, behavior analytics, heuristics, sandboxing, central intelligence feeds etc.), to be able to successfully detect intrusion events and malware.

  • Logging and Alerting platforms more important than ever

Logging and alerting are hugely important for each organization to be able to both proactively secure your network but in case of a breach to re-actively do forensics

  • Data Loss Prevention is gaining momentum

DLP is becoming more popular as numerous breaches that year were connected to leaked sensitive information (ID theft in the Equifax and Uber)

  • Endpoint security/malware is again in the front lines of combating malware

The focus of the security has shifted in the recent years from the network to the endpoint. Network and endpoint security controls should collaborate to create a strong security posture for your organization

  • Systemwide threat defense is becoming necessary to adequately protect your organization

Security has become closely connected to intelligence. All major security vendors syphon off as much data from the internet as they can just, so they can filter through it in a strive to find first the zero-day exploits and provide first adequate protection for their customers. All parts of the network infrastructure can be used as sensors and deliver intelligence data to a centralized place that provides the analysis (big data).

IoT Reaper Ransomware

New Ransomware on the loose

IoT Reaper Ransomware

New extremely large Botnet is being built – Nicknamed IoTroop or IoT Reaper

Remember Mira? The worm that prayed on unsecure IoT devices. It managed to spread and gain control using quite a simple method to gain entry – reusing the hard-coded or default password for IoT devices which were well-known by then, and the spreading was done via the EthernalBlue SMB exploit.

Now security researchers at CheckPoint and NetLab360 claim there is a new botnet being formed (called IoTroop or Reaper). This time the methods used to gain unauthorized entry are more sophisticated – no more trying to exploit traditional hardcoded and default password or to brute-force easy passwords, the Reaper malware tries to exploit different known vulnerabilities that IoT and home network devices have (more than 12 different popular vendors including Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, AVTECH and GoAhead have numerous vulnerabilities already discovered, list and links in the related articles below). The Reaper code constantly evolves, the guys behind it seems to add new exploits into the code based on new vulnerabilities being published openly on the Internet.

Another key difference between Mirai and Reaper is that as Mirai was extremely aggressive in scanning and trying to hop between network and infect other systems (which makes it easily detectable by security controls), the Reaper is stealthier in its way of spreading and tries to stay under the radar for as long as possible.

The likelihood of a successful exploit is quite high due to the fact that traditional home users do not tend to pay much attention to security and are very likely not to have patched their devices.

All sources claim this new botnet will be much bigger and stronger than Mirai – The NetLab360 researchers are claiming the C2 communication they see confirms more than 20k bots per control server and they have estimated more than 2 million vulnerable devices out there that are ripe for the infection. There is a great possibility the total number of bots can swell quite heavily in the coming weeks.

What is at stake here? How will this botnet be used?

At this stage, it is still very early to predict how this botnet will be used but most likely DDoS attacks are on the roadmap – the previous smaller Mirai successfully managed to do a DDoS with more than 1Tbps of traffic (both to Dyn internet infrastructure giant which brought down many popular web services down and French hosting company OVH).

IoT general security problems

The problems with IoT is the inherited lack of security (saying inherited because manufactures do not take security into account when building the devices) and the ever-growing number of IoT devices being deployed by users who are not savvy in networking or security best-practices (changing of default passwords, patching, lowering the attack surface). These two large issues combined with the large number of devices out there (the trend is more and more IoT devices to be manufactured and connected online) really poses quite a large security threat to the Internet community.

Some good news:

Different efforts to secure IoT devices are on the roadmap, US lawmakers are trying to pass a legislative action into forcing hardware IoT manufactures to start taking security into account and not spill out junky unsecure devices.

Also, some of the creators and botnet administrators of the Mirai, have now been arrested and expecting trial and effective sentences. This clearly shows there will be consequence for all actions related to running a botnet and malicious cyber behavior, this must be a deterrent for any future black-hats out there.

New ransomware on the loose

Remember WannaCry and Nyatya, aka NotPetya (a variant of Petya) ransomwares. There is a new one around the corner (initial spotting is on the 24th Oct), again spread predominately in the East Europe (Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria) and Russia but also in Japan, Germany, South Korea and the USA. It is a changed version of NotPetya. It uses usually a drive-by download on hacked sites to trick the user to run a fake Flash Player installer. The horizontal spread within the compromised network this time is NOT based on the EthernalBlue SMB exploit, but Bad Rabbit uses an open tool MimiKatz to try to extract any login credentials on the infected machine and reuse them to spread itself via legit Windows management protocols such as WMI and SMB to other devices. It also uses a hard-coded list with most commonly used passwords to try to brute-force credentials access.

Most current antivirus and endpoint protection software will detect Bad Rabbit and there is a known Windows Registry based vaccination that can prevent a machine from getting infected, but Bad Rabbit shows the ransomware trend is still strong and not likely to quiet down anytime soon.

Relevant articles:

VPN Crypto Attack

New VPN/crypto attack – DUNK (Don’t Use Hard-coded Keys) attack

VPN Crypto Attack

We live in interesting times

There is a Chinese proverb/curse saying: May you live in interesting times?

Why is this intended as a curse? Maybe living in interesting times means living in challenging times.

The security environment is so dynamic these days, it is certainly interesting to see how things change all the time, vulnerabilities are found almost every day, exploits are being developed at a whopping pace and even for professionals, just keeping up with it all is very challenging.

In the last two weeks there have been quite a few major security events/discoveries

Starting with KRACK ATTACK (announced 18th of Oct), which our blog already covered but there are new things around the corner.

New VPN/crypto attack – DUNK (Don’t Use Hard-coded Keys) attack

With KRACK attack still going on strong there is a new one that involves breaking cryptography. This one however does not take advantage of the control messages in WPA-2 to allow sniffing of user data but exploits weak software implementation for the ANSI X9.31 RNG. Until quite recently the  ANSI X9.31 RNG was used to generate cryptographic keys that secure VPN connections and web browsing sessions.

A team of security researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University found a vulnerability that affects devices using the ANSI X9.31 Random Number Generator (RNG) in conjunction with a hard-coded seed key. The DUHK attack allows “attackers to recover secret encryption keys from vulnerable implementations to decrypt and read communications passing over VPN connections or encrypted web sessions”.

The attack has been confirmed to work on Fortinet devices running FortiOS 4.3.0 to FortiOS 4.3.18. The necessary requirement (all of them need to be met) for a device to be vulnerable to the DUHK are:

  • It uses the X9.31 random number generator
  • The seed key used by the generator is hard-coded into the implementation
  • The output from the random number generator is directly used to generate cryptographic key
  • At least some of the random numbers before or after those used to make the keys are transmitted unencrypted. This is typically the case for SSL/TLS and IPsec.

Also, the attacker needs to be able to observe passively the encrypted handshake traffic.

The X9.31 was widely deployed in the past and was even part of the FIPS approved random number generation algorithms set until January 2016. There is a big chance a lot of VPN implementations are still using it.

There is a CVE for this vulnerability: CVE-2016-8492:

Here are the general recommendations:

  1. If you are a Fortinet client, please make sure your FortiOS is not running versions 4.3.0 to 4.3.18, or else upgrade asap.
  2. If you are running any cryptographic software still using the X9.31 generator, reconfigure it to use other random number generator or replace/upgrade software.
  3. Always stick to the latest security approved cryptographic algorithms when creating VPNs. Legacy VPN should be reconfigured to follow the latest practices

Related articles:

KRACKATTACK – the kraken of the Wi-Fi WPA2

Wi-Fi is everywhere, everything is on Wi-Fi now, phones, tablets, laptops, even home PCs, game consoles, smart devices (IoT), sensors etc. The security of WiFI is imperative, and has been entrusted to the WPA2 protocol. For that protocol, thus far all exploits have been connected to guessing the security key (hence reliant on customers having a weak key) or surrounding technologies (WPS for example) or older implementation such as the TKIP.

None of them were successful against a strong security-minded implementation.

Until today.

The attack – high-level breakdown of how the attack works and which devices are affected

An extremely interesting paper was released (16th October 2017) by its author, Mathy Vanhoef, this paper would rock the world of Wi-Fi as shines light on how to exploit the WPA2 protocol in such a way as to be able to decrypt the user data.

How does the attack work?

The attack does not allow the attacker to join the protected WiFi, nor does it break the encryption key. The attack is focused on the management plane in the WPA2, more precisely on 4-way handshake exchange during the client join.  It is achieved by manipulating and replaying handshake messages. By replaying message 3 of the handshake the attacker has the ability reinstall an already used nonce instead of a fresh key (a replay is allowed by the protocol because messages can be lost due to low signal etc). To guarantee security, an encryption key combination (key+nonce) should be used only once, then different versions of it (different nonce) should be used. Reusing the same key and nonce allows the attacker to derive the keystream, which combined with knowing a portion of the data that is encrypted and the already encrypted data, is enough to decrypt the rest of the data.

The attacker is positioning himself/herself in the middle of the handshake between the AP and the client by using a spoofed WiFI SSID with same name and making the client join his SSID by advising him to switch channels (hence the attack works best if the client has stronger signal to the attacker than to the legit AP). Only when this man-in-the-middle is completed can the attacker manipulate this handshake (as described above) and starting decrypting what the user sends.

Who is affected? – Practically every Wi-Fi enabled client, as again this is an attack towards the WPA2 protocol itself which all vendors needed to follow in their implementations, so this is not a scenario when the exploit is possible due to bugs in the code.

Android and Linux are the ones that are easier to compromise to the fact they mostly (41% of the devices out there) use wpa supplicant version 2.4. With them the code developers have followed a WPA2 standard advice to delete the nonce after its use so when the replay of message 3 happens the nonce that is used is comprised only from zeros making it trivial to decrypt. Further finding from the same author describe the possibility for that attack to work (with few changes) also towards wpa_supplicant 2.6 and iOS and freeBSD clients. This latest update brings the percentage of vulnerable supplicant to a very high number (as the author states, if you have a phone it is most likely vulnerable).


We are sending out massive amount of sensitive data using Wi-Fi these days. Username and passwords are just the start, but credit card information, personal IDs, emails, private pictures etc. I guess nobody wants that data to be shared and read by others. Furthermore, the top choice device for many of these, is your smart phone, which in fact is the most vulnerable type of client device (see Conclusions chapter below).

So, what is next?

Do we go back to WPA or WEP or wait for WPA3?

Answer is no, WPA is also vulnerable and WEP is even less secure, WPA2 can be amended (both as a protocol and as implementation in software) and will continue to be used. It is recommended that WPA2 with CCMP is used, as TKIP and GCMP are even easier to break and attackers can not only listen to data but also manipulate data so malware can be injected into the traffic.

How to protect ourselves

Only the software update can mitigate this attack. Keep a close eye to the vendor announcement and patch as soon as they release the security patch for this exploit. Some of the patches may be silently releases and installed on your devices but please make sure you have them.

Actions like changing your PSK password and such do not make any difference (remember, the attack does not reveal this password nor lets the attacker join your network).

Deploy additional levels of encryption that is independent of the WPA2, such as SSL/TLS or IPSec. In the example on the krackattack page, they were only able to read the data from the web site after striping the SSL from it which in fact is a misconfiguration on the website itself.


The current threat is obviously for the end devices, not the infrastructure devices (APs etc). I expect that Microsoft, Apple and other commercial major OS vendors will react very fast and will silently patch (if they have not done so already). That would be sufficient for laptops and PCs with enabled Wi-Fi. A bigger problem will be for smart phone users, every Android vendor (Samsung, HTC etc) dictates its patching schedules, so I am not expecting a fast reaction from them. Apple runs its own devices so I expect faster reaction.

Having put the spotlight on client devices and not infrastructure, it is mandatory to mention that this new type of attack and the sure-to-come spin-offs from it will lead to new attacks towards infrastructure devices.

Cisco has numerous products that are found vulnerable and still investigating many more for that possibility.

Related materials:

Nyatya Wiper Malware

Nyatya – a Wiper Malware disguised as Ransomware

Nyatya Wiper Malware

A new malware Nyetya (combination of words from Nye Petya, meaning NOT Petya), also known as Petrwrap and GoldenEye has been spreading globally over the last 24 hours.

This virus is distinct from WannaCry and other initially suspected variants, it has some unique new features which makes it harder to detect and defend against, clearly showing that today’s malware landscape is an evolving space. This rapidly changing threat landscape has a number of factors including; leaked tools from government agencies, more advanced security controls that require advanced malware (the cat and mouse game) or just because attackers are more determined and more capable.

Other popular researchers (links below) say Nyetya is more of a nation (state) attack towards a specific country (Ukraine) that is disguised as ransomware so its true nature would remain hidden in the shadow of recent WannaCry ransomware.

Some Characteristics of Nyetya and why it is different

  1. There is recent research that showed Nyetya, despite having major resemblance to Petya ransomware, in fact does not keep a copy of the encrypted MTL (Master File Table) and MBR (Master Boot Record) that it replaces with the random note. That means that even in the case that the user gets its decryption keys there is nothing to decrypt. This behavior resembles specific type of malware called Wiper Malware. All machines that are infected cannot be recovered. Also, the email for contract with the attackers is now disabled so there is no possibility for getting the decryption keys. Obviously, the attackers have not intended to milk the ransom and get rich for their efforts.
  2. It encrypts the master boot record, which makes the whole system unusable and causes more damage. Previous crypto viruses (ransomware) were encrypting specific file extensions
  3. It does not use a common attack vector from the Internet

It does not infect by scanning ports for vulnerable services, nor uses phishing (mails with crafted content with specific covert malware links), nor file attachments or web sites that host malicious content. Instead the initial way in was via an update in a polular accounting software in Ukraine (called MeDoc). The software was tricked into auto-updating with a malicious file (Perfc.dat). Once it is inside it uses the Eternal Blue (SMBv1) exploit to spread (same as WannaCry) but also two other administrative tools (PSexec and WMI) which in general are valid and legitimate tools used inside a network. The use of these tools would not raise any alarms on network security controls. The malware is capable of stealing the current user’s token and use it to distribute itself to other devices via PSexec (still unclear how it is able to steal the token) or again to steal the current user credentials and use them via WMI.

  1. No external Internet scans

There is no evidence of external scans (from the internet) in order to locate unpatched SMB services. The only scans that the virus conducts are horizontal, once it is inside the protected network. That makes the virus very hard to detect as most organisations do not have visibility within their network for such activity

  1. No Command and Control functionality

The virus does not use C&C so any reputation based security controls cannot detect it. IP addresses/domains reputation is widely used to detect zero-day attacks and to monitor the spread of the virus. That does not seem feasible protection from Nyetya

  1. Special attention has been paid to cleaning up any remaining data and logs

All of these unique characteristics point to the fact that cyber criminals have changed their tactics (after the failure of WannaCry due to the incidental but timely discovery of the killswitch) and want the malware spread to be as stealthy as possible.

Protecting yourself from the attack

A short summary of techniques necessary to protect against the attacks are listed below. These cannot be undertaken in isolation and it is assumed that good security practices are already in place such as disaster recovery strategy as well security control such anti-malware controls.

  1. Patch your systems (MS17-010 should be applied), close off any SMBv1 services (disable)
  2. Do not use admin/elevated privileged accounts for normal users
  3. Monitor your network and endpoints for PSexec and WMI communication and try to establish if that is valid communication (could be based on which one the administrators use and also the time of the day)
  4. Monitor your internal network segments using an IDS/IPS

Which type of network security controls are best suited to discover and prevent malware spread?

While other forms of malware attack may have been stopped by reputation based or email and web security controls, neither would have been effective in this instance. An essential tool in the armoury of security controls is endpoint security such as Cisco AMP for Endpoints, which actively analyse the behaviour of executable files on the system and perform sandboxing.

IDS/IPS network controls are able to catch lateral scans and spread via SMBv1 exploit only if they can see the traffic (actively monitoring traffic on the same logical domain).  The most common IDS/IPS deployment model is on the Internet edge, as this malware does not use external scans or gets distributed via normal Internet related channels (mail and web) these controls are not effective.

Following general security best practises is also beneficial – having backup of important systems/files, having proper application visible monitoring on the network and trying to detect unusual behavior, that of course requires both the tools and the people (analyst).

Used materials:

Cisco Umbrella image

Cisco Umbrella – light, easy to deploy and powerful

Cisco Umbrella image

Cisco currently has multiple endpoint security solutions in place – CWS (Cloud Web Security / Scansafe), Umbrella (OpenDNS) and AMP for endpoints are prime examples. AMP is a different breed of endpoint protection, it relies heavily on detection based on heuristics and cloud sandboxing, where as CWS and OpenDNS both concentrate very strongly on making sure your Internet browsing is secure and save.

A bit of history behind the story: when Cisco acquired Scansafe and then sometime later OpenDNS, a lot of people were wondering why Cisco needs two products that have such a large overlap in functionality. At first CWS looked like it was going to last, it had a large customer base, was heavily pushed by Cisco Sales and managed to get a big boost from existing Cisco customers that needed protections for this security gap which was opened by remote/roaming employees.

OpenDNS with most of its customers using the free version seemed like an outsider. It could only detect things based on DNS and was not tunneling any traffic back to the cloud, so it seems like it is not going to be a valid corporate level endpoint protections tool. People underestimated the power of DNS. OpenDNS has something very valuable, via its free version, it had the ability to see a large percentage of worldwide DNS request and using its strong security team it provided a more universal and complete protections that focuses on more than just web browsing. Almost all internet communication is based on DNS, the use of static IPs has been greatly reduced for couple of reasons – for non-malicious users the DNS provides first ease of use and flexibility that static IPs could not, for malicious users – the use of static IPs proved to be unwise as IPs were very quickly blocked (blacklisted) by ISPs and security tools. The result of massive DNS use was that your DNS provider could actively see where your traffic is going and block it (monitoring and enforcement) for all applications (not only Web based).

It was clear Cisco would have to make a choice and I believe they have made the correct one – Cisco is moving forward with the Umbrella and retiring the CWS.

What is Umbrella?

In short, the paid version of OpenDNS, which can support and integrate with other Cisco Products.

How does it work?

It works by forwarding DNS request to OpenDNS servers, either by registering your public IP with Umbrella and forwarding your internal DNS to OpenDNS servers, or by setting your network equipment (DHCP) to directly give out OpenDNS servers for DNS usage, in case the company does not have own internal DNS servers. That secures devices within the offices of the company. For Roaming devices, Umbrella has a Roaming Client (a small agent installed on endpoints, supports Windows and MACs, with vision to support Linux in the future) that makes sure all DNS requests are forwarded to the OpenDNS cloud.

It is very important to note that Umbrella does not work like a traditional Web Proxy, it does not send the all user traffic to the cloud for inspection, it only works and makes decisions based on the information from the DNS requests from the client. User traffic is send for inspection to the cloud only for gray/risky domains (traffic to malicious ones is blocked straight away). Furthermore, this redirection of traffic works for both Agent and Agentless deployments by using the DNS reply to forward the traffic to the Umbrella Cloud proxy service called Umbrella Intelligent Proxy.

The result is a better user experience (instantaneous decision to allow and block traffic to majority of traffic based on good and bad domains), lower deployment complexity and lower operational costs.

How is it configured?

Umbrella is one of the easiest deployments we have seen. It has excellent documentation and simple steps to help you redirect your office traffic to the cloud and deploy Roaming clients to your endpoints. All the management is done via portal in the web ( It has a very simple and effective portal layout with intuitive access to both management entities (managed identities and policies) but also monitoring and reporting. A typical simple implementation of Umbrella can be done in a matter of hours, without the need of any on-premise hardware installations (except when AD integration is needed, a lightweight virtual server needs to be installed)

Does it support AD integration for enhanced user visibility?

Yes, it does, it needs a VA (Virtual Appliance, a lightweight virtual server running on either ESX or Hyper-V). The VA servers allows Umbrella to see internal information such as private IP addresses of users and further performs an AD integration with MS AD (servers as a connector) so Umbrella Dashboard can see AD names and be able to define policies based on groups and create reports that include clients AD username (very handy if you want to know who exactly is making all of these malicious outbound requests (such as Command and Control traffic et).

Can it block based on connections that do not use DNS?

Yes, it can, there is a functionality called IP Layer Enforcement that builds IPSEC tunnels to the Umbrella cloud and forward requests to it in case the connection has a suspicious (flagged as malicious) IP address. This is possible only if the client is using Roaming Agent (either the Umbrella one or Anyconnect one).

Does it have integration with other Cisco products?

Umbrella has a module for Anyconnect (Cisco Umbrella Roaming Security module is available for Anyconnect version 4.3 MR1 and newer), which means if the customer has Anyconnect already deployed, there is no need to install Umbrella Roaming Agent. Also, OpenDNS security team is now part of Cisco Talos so OpenDNS both feeds Talos with DNS information but also benefits from Talos to device either certain domain or IP address are deemed risky.

Does it support SSL decryption?

Yes, Umbrella supports SSL decryption so it can do deep inspection for traffic destined for risky/suspicious domains. The configuration of the SSL decryption is very straight-forward, administrators are prompted to download Umbrella (OpenDNS) certificated from the Dashboard and then these certificates need to be installed as trusted on endpoint machines. Next step is just to enable the SSL decryption.


Umbrella provides enterprise level endpoint security with lower latency than traditional proxies, low capex and deployment costs.


What is Cisco Unified Threat Defense (FTD)?

Cisco has finally decided to merge its two major network security products – the ASA and FirePOWER. These two have been living on the same hardware (5500X) model for years now but they required separate management which increased the deployment and operational costs for a Cisco FirePOWER implementation. Now Cisco has decided to merge these two platforms by removing the logical separation in hardware and the full separation in software by creating a merged OS that combines the features of both worlds, hence lowering the time/costs for deployment and running.

A bit of History

Cisco is a major player in the Firewall Market since the PIX. With the introduction of the first gen ASA, the PIX was given a polish, new features (such as dynamic routing, QoS, new RFC based protocol inspections/fixup and a few more), but ASA’s were and still are a traditional stateful packet firewall positioned at the Internet Edge. The demands to introduce firewalls also in the DC drove the change from IP based object to Name based object and totally different way of doing NAT (including the introduction of the Any as interface) in versions 8.3+. Still the ASA was purely a stateful firewall and the IDS/IPS module that Cisco was offering was quite outdated in technology and had a less than excellent catch-rate. Cisco knew that and purchased the best IPS/IDS vendor out there – SourceFire.

Now Cisco had two flagmen in the network security and naturally decided to offer them as one box – hence the NX 5500X Firewalls were created, no modules needed, all you need to run both ASA and FirePOWER was an upgrade to SSD drives. However, the management, logging, operation of the ASA and FirePOWER was still independent – ASA was managed and monitored by either ASDM or CSM, where FirePOWER was using – FireSight (pre-version 6) and now FMC (Firepower Management Center). Most competitors (Palo Alto and Check Point) did not need nor have separate management platforms to configure their advanced Next-Gen capabilities and frankly speaking users/admins were not happy with having to do double amount of work to enable a Cisco Next Gen Firewall – interfaces, licensing, configuration, policies, monitoring etc.

In 2015 Cisco hinted about the concept of having one unified management OS that would combine the features of both FirePOWER and ASA. The FirePOWER was chosen as a base for that new image, so from day one the FTD image had almost a 100% of the FirePOWER functionality but a very small percentage of the ASA functionality. The first release (6.0) for testing and Cisco partners was in 2016 and then the FTP had about 20% of the features of the ASA – basic features of course were migrated first, but shockingly there was lack of some major features such as – HA, VPNs (both site-to-site and Anyconnect), dynamic routing protocols, virtualization/contexts, QoS.  A quick introduction of 6.0.1 and 6.1 introduced HA failover so the FTD was now ready to go public.

The Situation today

Latest version release early 2017 is 6.2.0

Cisco continued its work to close the gap between the current ASA and FTD functionality. New major functionality added: Clustering for ASA, Site-To-Site IPSec VPN with certificates (6.1 supported Site-to-Site VPN but only with Pre-Shared-Key), PKI support, SGT without Realm, Migration tool (from traditional ASA to FTD), REST API, Packet Tracer and Capture functionality.

On top of the migrated in 6.1 functionalities such as integrations with Cisco ISE, Threat Grip, on-box management for some model, the 6.2 is looking more and more enterprise ready (not only SOHO as the 6.0 and 6.1). Also, adding the tools for automated migration, the FTD becomes more easily available when doing migration. The user base is also enlarging quite quickly (good for discovering of bugs and security/stability issues).  Version 6.2.1 is just around the corner and will close the gap even further introducing the Anyconnect Remote Access functionality and many improvements/new features in NAT, Dynamic Routing, Multicast and QoS, HA, Site-To-Site VPN and interestingly an option for conversion back to ASA image.

This all points that soon there will be a major swift in the Cisco Security community and more and more clients will start using FTD. Naturally after break-point Cisco will start the phase out of the traditional ASA image (functionality gap will be in favor of the FTD) and clients will be forced to switch. Of course, that process will take time but why not be ahead of the curve?


Bad News VPN Users – SHA-1 is Dead!

The breakthrough

SHA-1 is dead, from a security point of view, but has been a long time coming. A combined research collaboration between CWI and Google, published a paper on 23th of February 2017 that proved deliberate collisions can be created for SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm -1). The researchers managed to forge a PDF doc so I have the same SHA-1 value as completely different document (aka collision).

OK, why is that such a big deal?

Background information and the risk

Hash functions are widely used in the cryptography and hence in the VPN world. They are used to verify the presence of a piece of information on the other peer (for example a pre-shared-key) that matches perfectly with yours (that is authentication) and to confirm that data has not been tampered with during transit (integrity), hash functions are used in the Public Key Infrastructure to verify integrity and sign the certificates (aka to verify that certain a person with a certain name has a certain public key).

The ability for someone to create a forged data string so that it matches the computed hash of another data string nullifies the security and the idea of using hash functions in cryptography.


SHA-1 is still widely used for integrity/signing in IPsec IKEv1 (and sometimes IKEv2) and some PKI still support it so there are a multitude of certificates using it.

Furthermore, why is that important for Cisco VPN users?

IPsec IKEv1 does not support newer SHA algorithms (SHA-2) and the predominance of IPsec VPN is still built on IKEv1.

Even if you are using IKEv2 there could also be hardware restrictions preventing you from using modern hash functions (SHA-2) – legacy Cisco ASA devices (5505, 5510, 5520, 5540, 5550) cannot support newer hash functions in hardware and Cisco has not implemented the functionality into their software.


If your company is using a VPN and you need to audit them then ensure they are not using SHA-1 anymore. For expert VPN Security advice, contact 4CornerNetworks today.

Sources of Information:

Network Security

The Importance of Retrospective Network Security

Network Security

We are experiencing a new phase in our vision of network security. There is currently no quick fix solution, no 100% proof network security protection/prevention tool or product. There is always zero-day or purposely built (very focused, low spread) APT malware that current vendors are unable to detect at the time of the breach.

Hence total prevention is a myth.

Most of the current network security solutions offer only Point-In-Time detection/prevention. Namely they inspect the traffic when the traffic goes via the firewall and if they deem the traffic is clean  or unknown, at that exact time, they will allow it and forget about it. That could lead to malware passing through and being undetected for long periods of time. All vendors rely on intercepting the C&C communication to the botnet servers but not all malware uses such a centralized operation method so that cannot be considered a proven method of detection. That is why most of the vendors will apply their own sandboxing solution, namely send all files of unknown malware type to the cloud where they will be detonated in a controlled environment and the result of their execution will be deemed malicious or not by machines or sometimes humans. Upon discovery of malicious actions, the file is marked as malware and an update is shot out to all vendor appliances out there so they can intercept and drop such files. That process however takes time (typically more than 8 hours) and usually stops more than 96% of the malware spread (it depends on how quickly the different vendors discover that the file is malicious and how quickly the update is sent out) and that percentage was deemed high-enough for most companies.

What about that 4% though? I am sure any business owner would not like to be in this position and would like greater protection and value for their money. When a mere 4% can cause 100% of your security problems, you’re not protected.

Cisco is the only vendor in the NGFW market that currently has its vision also set on the retrospective side of the network security, the so-called After-The-Attack phase. Cisco uses the combination between Firepower and AMP for both network and endpoint to be able to provide threat context and to pinpoint the progress and spread of the malware in historical time so you will know exactly when and how the malware moved in your network, which hosts were infected so that you can immediately deploy mitigation techniques. First restrict the malware, block the effect of the malware and finally remove the malware that has already breached your network. Without this continuous analysis, the attack can run rampant on the network and it will be extremely difficult to determine the scope of the outbreak and the root cause or provide on-time/adequate response. Here is an example of such an event and how Firepower and AMP deal with it.

The following 4 simple steps represent how Firepower and Amp works with zero-day malware files:

  1. Unknown file gets downloaded to a client ip ( for example) via http application with Firefox, the file is then allowed to reach the endpoint. The unknown file is sent to the cloud to be detonated and given a verdict.
  2. The Firepower tracks the movement/copying of the file within the network so it sees the file being propagated via any protocol at any time. For example, the file gets copied to another host via SMB at 12:41 AM on the 1st of Dec 2016.
  3. Within 30min the same file gets replicated to 5 more devices within the internal range, all via SMB. The Firepower has a map of the file trajectory with hosts and timing of the movements.
  4. Two hours since the file was first seen, Cisco Security Intelligence Cloud had reached a verdict that the file in question is in fact malicious. From now on all Cisco AMP and Firepower enabled devices will drop that file upon encounter and alarm/log, but here comes the difference between Cisco and other vendors, namely the retrospective part. In our example, all future transfer of the files will be blocked and the file itself will be quarantined on all endpoints that have this file (requires AMP for endpoint), even more the administrators can leverage the trajectory map and verify the malicious file has been quarantined/removed and hosts have been remediated.


APT – Advanced Persistent Threats

C&C – Command and Control

NGFW – Next-Generation Firewall