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IoT botnet targeting your enterprise? Nope. Just a kid with an ExploitDB account

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Image: Citrix

Headlines like “IoT botnet targets enterprise devices” sound very scary, but the reality is that many of these botnets are the work of kids playing around with random exploits they found online, and many of these botnets die out in a matter of weeks as the authors get bored or move on to other projects.

The prime example of this is Kepler, an IoT botnet that made the news last month because of its ability to infect signage TVs and presentation systems, two types of devices found in enterprise networks.

On a first read, any report on Kepler would seem like the botnet author was intentionally aiming to get a foothold on corporate networks so they could later deploy more potent malware.

Kepler authors: We were just having fun!

However, things aren’t actually so. In a recorded interview with Ankit Anubhav, security researcher for NewSky Security, and published on Soundcloud, the botnet’s two authors admitted that they built the botnet for fun, adding exploits taken from the ExploitDB website at random.

“We’re just a couple of friends having fun,” the two said before admitting that this was actually the second botnet they put together, after also creating one last year.

Despite Kepler generating some scary headlines, the duo didn’t take the work on their botnet seriously, admitting that they didn’t even bother counting the number of devices their botnet infected.

Further, the botnet didn’t use 27 exploits, as Palo Alto Networks initially reported, but 43, according to Nipsu, one of the Kepler authors –all, of course, chosen at random.

According to the interview, the two hackers, one of which is a minor, were just testing random vulnerability exploits, wanting to see which one gathered more bots.

The two said they have no current plans to sell the Kepler botnet to other cybercrime gangs or rent it for DDoS attacks –a common practice and a source of profit for many IoT botnet authors.

Kepler is a trend, not an edge case

These revelations aren’t just an isolated edge case in the IoT botnet scene. Many botnet authors are just kids taking their first steps in the world of programming and cybersecurity, playing around with exploits, before realizing the legal problem they could be in, and moving on to other careers –or getting arrested [1, 2].

A large part of the IoT botnet operators listed on this Top 20 IoT Blackhat Hackers list have now moved on from running IoT botnets.

One of them, Switch (#15 on the list), offered his insights on the current IoT botnet scene. Asked how easy it would be to integrate code taken from ExploitDB into a botnet, Switch, who is the author of many YouTube tutorials on building IoT malware, provided the following answer.

“If you’re talking auto scanners such as [the ones looking for] Huawei, Realtek, ThinkPHP etc., it’s VERY easy,” Switch said. “There is only a few lines of code to it. I have made a tutorial before on how to do it as it only takes a few minutes.”

“I have seen a few people write scanners [for vulnerable devices] into sources before, and by what I can see it’s mainly copying and pasting,” he said.

Anubhav, a security researcher who spends his whole day looking at IoT botnets, also shares Switch’s opinion.

“The majority of IoT exploit code is heavily borrowed from ExploitDB,” Anubhav said.

“In many cases, the vulnerabilities are not able to infect a lot of devices, hence the attackers are trying as many vulnerabilities as they can to further assess which one is going to reap maximum benefits.”

It’s a Mirai/Gafgyt party

But besides Kepler, another recent example of an IoT botnet that is not as dangerous as it looks is the one documented by Trend Micro this week.

This botnet, which has no particular name, runs on a variant of the Bashlite (Gafgyt) IoT malware, which is used as a skeleton and customized with several ExploitDB exploits on top –which in this case targeted Belkin WeMo devices.

The anatomy of this botnet is representative of the whole IoT malware scene these days. Botnet operators use the source code of IoT malware that previously leaked online in past years as a wireframe for the delivery of random exploits they’ve copied from ExploitDB.

In most cases, these botnets are built on the Bashlite (Gafgyt) or Mirai IoT malware strains, and only very rarely does a true malware coder come around to innovate and create new malware strains –such as hackers like Wicked or the Janit0r (the BrickerBot author).

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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