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Disorganized crime and state-backed hackers: How the cybercrime and cyberwar landscape is constantly changing

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Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity

Today’s security threats have expanded in scope and seriousness. There can now be millions — or even billions — of dollars at risk when information security isn’t handled properly.

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The internet is as convenient, exciting and lucrative, as it is dangerous and dark. The web has evolved through the years and so too have the criminals that are out to harm others. Steve Ranger, UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, has covered the evolving cybercrime and cyberwar landscape for years and written several cover stories on the subject. Steve shared his insights with us in an interview as part of ZDNet’s Special Feature: Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Karen Roby: All right, to start off with here, talk about the world of online crime. How has it evolved in general?

Steve Ranger: Okay, so what’s happened is over the 30 or so years that we’ve had the web, just like the rest of us have learned to enjoy the web for various reasons, criminals have learned to enjoy and exploit it to make money, to break things. Some of them even want to change the world.

We have always different criminal groups out there from hacktivists to lone wolves who just want to break things right through to organized crime and even increasingly at the moment state-sponsored hackers who are going out and systematically breaking things.

Across the internet we have this huge kind of network of different crimes and different criminals. Sometimes they work together. Sometimes work completely apart. But yeah, what we’ve got is an evolving world with lots of different criminal groups, criminal individuals looking for ways to make money or just cause trouble really.

Karen Roby: And they’re scary obviously. Steve, when you talk about the groups, the organized crime, some of them working together as you mentioned, you’ve got lone wolves as well, as large groups everyone playing their own particular role. Talk a little bit about how they interact, how they go about their business.

Steve Ranger: Sure. What’s quite interesting is there’s this kind of overlapping ecosystem. You have, right at the bottom you have what we call disorganized crime, disorganized cyber criminals which might be individuals or groups of one or two or three, small groups, and they might be doing anything really from frauds to hacking to writing viruses to writing ransomware or to buying ransomware from larger organized groups or maybe someone on the dark web and then reselling it, or just trying to make a bit of money here and there doing scams.

Then you have organized crime. Organized crime on the internet now is a seriously big business. You have these kind of federated organizations where you have a kind of cybercrime boss, and then you’ll have, he or she will connect up different groups with different specialties to run really big frauds, make a bunch of money.

Download all the Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity articles as a free PDF ebook (free TechRepublic registration required)

Then above them you might have state-backed hackers. We’ve seen a lot of that recently involved with cyber espionage or probing military systems, looking for holes that can be exploited at a different date.

What’s interesting is all these different groups overlap. So the disorganized criminals will feed into organized crime. Organized crime and some of the state-backed stuff, they will also overlap as well. So you might have someone who is by day working as a criminal and by night working, doing some kind of state-backed stuff or the other way around.

All these groups, it’s really hard to work out who’s where, but there’s certainly a lot of overlapping, organized crime and disorganized crime, lots of overlapping activity there.

Karen Roby: Okay. And when you mentioned, you talked so much about how we are hearing so much about the state backed groups and the criminals there. How big of a threat is that?

Steve Ranger: I think it’s hard to calculate the threat. To the average person is pretty unlikely that a state-backed hacker is going to come after you, unless you’re a really high-value target. To the average person it’s quite a rare kind of a risk. Obviously if you are, I don’t know, working in aerospace or biotech or robotics, one of those kind of companies, then there’s a reason or chance that someone’s going to try and hack your systems to steal your intellectual property or just cause trouble.

In terms of the bigger risk, so clearly down the line there’s a lot of worry about cyber warfare that hackers could actually break into things like power systems or banks and cause chaos that way. That’s clearly a huge risk, but the likelihood is very low.

SEE Cyberwar: The smart person’s guide (TechRepublic)

What’s going to happen day to day is you’re more likely to run into a scammer or maybe get ransomware on your PC or something like that. Those are the kind of the everyday risks, which are incredibly annoying and a real problem if suddenly your PC is encrypted and you can’t get to your family photos or your work you’re doing. Those are kind of everyday risks.

Right at the other end of the scale there’s this fear of cyberwarfare and state-sponsored crime. That’s much less likely, but clearly really, really dangerous if it actually does happen.

Karen Roby: Right, both ends of the scale are scary for everyone. And when it comes to protecting ourselves Steve, what is it that you recommend?

Steve Ranger: Well, some of the real basics can save you here. If you make yourself a slightly more difficult target to go after, chances are the kind of the small fry will go somewhere else. That means making sure that you don’t have default passwords, making sure that you do your update, making sure that if you can use it then you do have two-factor authentication, all those kind of really obvious things, being careful about what you click on an email.

From the most basic to the most incredibly complicated attacks, nearly all of them start with a phishing email where someone sent you an email that you think is from a coworker or a friend or it says you’ve won the lottery or you won a prize. You click on that and you can be in a lot of trouble. Basically the common sense approach is going to save you from a whole lot of pain.

SEE Network Security Policy Template (Tech Pro Research)

At the other end of the scale, if you are being targeted by state-sponsored hackers, well, you’ve got to work a lot harder. You’ve got to, you’ve kind of almost expect that they will in some way get into your systems, and then try and work out how to reduce the damage. Again, that’s really only for a very small sector of people. Those people probably realize too they are already, but for the average person who isn’t necessarily a target for an intelligence agency, just doing the obvious stuff will make you so much of a harder target to go after that mostly they will go elsewhere.

Karen Roby: All right. Steve, as I mentioned there at the beginning, of course the web has opened up just such a whole new world to all of us really and is so exciting and so lucrative in so many ways and connects people together from all over the world. It’s evolving, but the criminals are evolving too, and that’s I guess the thing, we all need to kind of stay on our toes.

Steve Ranger: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s loads of amazing stuff on the web. You shouldn’t be scared of using it, but you should use some sort of basic common sense, basic security hygiene to keep yourself safe.

Download all the Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity articles as a free PDF ebook (free TechRepublic registration required)

RECENT AND RELATED COVERAGE

Cybercrime and cyberwar: A spotter’s guide to the groups that are out to get you
From disorganised crime to state-backed hackers these groups can make the internet a dangerous place. Here’s a guide to the major menaces to avoid.

Governments and nation states are now officially training for cyberwarfare: An inside look
Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, and others are now running training exercises to prepare for the outbreak of cyberwar. Locked Shields is the largest simulation and TechRepublic takes you inside.

Devastating attacks to public infrastructure ‘a matter of when’ in the US
Cybercriminals are focusing on public infrastructure to disrupt services and cause mayhem as new targets are emerging and expanding throughout the world.

Understanding the military buildup of offensive cyber weapons
Over the past few years, offensive cyberweapons have risen in prominence as a part of international military efforts. The full impact of these weapons remains to be seen, however.

Cybercrime Inc: How hacking gangs are modeling themselves on big business
Over the past few years, offensive cyberweapons have risen in prominence as a part of international military efforts. The full impact of these weapons remains to be seen, however.

Why ransomware is exploding, and how your company can protect itself
Ransomware attacks on businesses grew exponentially in the past year. Here’s what you need to know and how you can prepare.

Cyberwar predictions for 2019: The stakes have been raised
Cybersecurity will define many of the international conflicts of the future. Here’s an overview of the current threat landscape, UK and US policy in this area, and some expert predictions for the coming year.

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Security

GigaOm Radar for DDoS Protection

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With ransomware getting all the news coverage when it comes to internet threats, it is easy to lose sight of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks even as these attacks become more frequent and aggressive. In fact, the two threats have recently been combined in a DDoS ransom attack, in which a company is hit with a DDoS and then a ransom demanded in exchange for not launching a larger DDoS. Clearly, a solid mechanism for thwarting such attacks is needed, and that is exactly what a good DDoS protection product will include. This will allow users, both staff and customers, to access their applications with no indication that a DDoS attack is underway. To achieve this, the DDoS protection product needs to know about your applications and, most importantly, have the capability to absorb the massive bandwidth generated by botnet attacks.

All the DDoS protection vendors we evaluated have a cloud-service element in their products. The scale-out nature of cloud platforms is the right response to the scale-out nature of DDoS attacks using botnets, thousands of compromised computers, and/or embedded devices. A DDoS protection network that is larger, faster, and more distributed will defend better against larger DDoS attacks.

Two public cloud platforms we review have their own DDoS protection, both providing it for applications running on their public cloud and offering only cloud-based protection. We also look at two content delivery networks (CDNs) that offer only cloud-based protection but also have a large network of locations for distributed protection. Many of the other vendors offer both on-premises and cloud-based services that are integrated to provide unified protection against the various attack vectors that target the network and application layers.

Some of the vendors have been protecting applications since the early days of the commercial internet. These vendors tend to have products with strong on-premises protection and integration with a web application firewall or application delivery capabilities. These companies may not have developed their cloud-based protections as fully as the born-in-the-cloud DDoS vendors.

In the end, you need a DDoS protection platform equal to the DDoS threat that faces your business, keeping in mind that such threats are on the rise.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Security

GigaOm Radar for Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Solutions

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The security information and event management (SIEM) solution space is mature and competitive. Most vendors have had well over a decade to refine their products, and the differentiation among basic SIEM functions is fairly small.

In response, SIEM vendors are developing advanced platforms that ingest more data, provide greater context, and deploy machine learning and automation capabilities to augment security analysts’ efforts. These solutions deliver value by giving security analysts deeper and broader visibility into complex infrastructures, increasing efficiency and decreasing the time to detection and time to respond.

Vendors offer SIEM solutions in a variety of forms, such as on-premises appliances, software installed in the customers’ on-premises or cloud environments, and cloud hosted SIEM-as-a-Service. Many vendors have developed multi-tenant SIEM solutions for large enterprises or for managed security service providers. Customers often find SIEM solutions challenging to deploy, maintain, or even operate, leading to a growing demand for managed SIEM services, whether provided by the SIEM vendor or third-party partners.

SIEM solutions continue to vie for space with other security solutions, such as endpoint detection and response (EDR), security orchestration automation and response (SOAR), and security analytics solutions. All SIEM vendors support integrations with other security solutions. Many vendors also offer tightly integrated solution stacks, allowing customers to choose the solutions they need most, whether just a SIEM, a SIEM and a SOAR, or some other combination. Other vendors are incorporating limited EDR- or SOAR-like capabilities into their SIEM solutions for customers who want the extra features but are not ready to invest in multiple solutions.

With so many options, choosing a SIEM solution is challenging. You will have to consider several key factors, starting with your existing IT infrastructure. Is an on-premises SIEM the right choice for you, or do you want a cloud-based or hybrid solution? Which systems and devices will be sending data to your SIEM, and how much data will it need to collect, correlate, analyze, and store? You should also consider the relative importance of basic capabilities and advanced features, bearing in mind that the basic capabilities may be considerably easier to deploy, maintain, and operate. Will your IT and security teams be able to deploy, maintain, and operate the solution on their own, or should you look for managed services to handle those tasks?

This GigaOm Radar report details the key SIEM solutions on the market, identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting a SIEM, and identifies vendors and products that excel. It will give you an overview of the key SIEM offering and help decision-makers evaluate existing solutions and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Solution

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Although ransomware is making all the headlines today, it’s not the only kind of attack that can intrude between you and your customers. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which a target website is overwhelmed with spurious traffic, have become increasingly common.

Websites and online applications have become critical to how businesses communicate with their customers and partners. If those websites and applications are not available, there is a dollars and cents cost for businesses, both directly in business that is lost and indirectly through loss of reputation. It doesn’t matter to the users of the website whether the attacker has a political point to make, wants to hurt their victim financially, or is motivated by ego—if the website is unavailable, users will not be happy. Recent DDoS attacks have utilized thousands of compromised computers and they can involve hundreds of gigabits per second of attack bandwidth. A DDoS protection platform must inspect all of the traffic destined for the protected site and discard or absorb all of the hostile traffic while allowing legitimate traffic to reach the site.

Often the attack simply aims vast amounts of network traffic at the operating system under the application. These “volumetric” attacks usually occur at network Layer 3 or 4 and originate from compromised computers called bots. Few companies have enough internet bandwidth to mitigate this much of an attack on-premises, so DDoS protection needs to be distributed to multiple data centers around the world to be effective against these massive attacks. The sheer scale of infrastructure required means that most DDoS platforms are multi-tenant cloud services.

Other attacks target the application itself, at Layer 7, with either a barrage of legitimate requests or with requests carefully crafted to exploit faults in the site. These Layer 7 attacks look superficially like real requests and require careful analysis to separate them from legitimate traffic.

Attackers do not stand still. As DDoS protection platforms learn to protect against one attack method, attackers will find a new method to take down a website. So DDoS protection vendors don’t stand still either. Using information gathered from observing all of their protected sites, vendors are able to develop new techniques to protect their clients.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

Continue Reading

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