A security researcher from Colombia has found a way of gaining admin rights and boot persistence on Windows PCs that’s simple to execute and hard to stop –all the features that hackers and malware authors are looking for from an exploitation technique.
What’s more surprising, is that the technique was first detailed way back in December 2017, but despite its numerous benefits and ease of exploitation, it has not received either media coverage nor has it been seen employed in malware campaigns.
Discovered by Sebastián Castro, a security researcher for CSL, the technique targets one of the parameters of Windows user accounts known as the Relative Identifier (RID).
The RID is a code added at the end of account security identifiers (SIDs) that describes that user’s permissions group. There are several RIDs available, but the most common ones are 501 for the standard guest account, and 500 for admin accounts.
Castro, with help from CSL CEO Pedro García, discovered that by tinkering with registry keys that store information about each Windows account, he could modify the RID associated with a specific account and grant it a different RID, for another account group.
The technique does not allow a hacker to remotely infect a computer unless that computer has been foolishly left exposed on the Internet without a password.
But in cases where a hacker has a foothold on a system –via either malware or by brute-forcing an account with a weak password– the hacker can give admin permissions to a compromised low-level account, and gain a permanent backdoor with full SYSTEM access on a Windows PC.
Since registry keys are also boot persistent, any modifications made to an account’s RID remain permanent, or until fixed.
The attack is also very reliable, being tested and found to be working on Windows versions going from XP to 10 and from Server 2003 to Server 2016, although even older versions should be vulnerable, at least in theory.
“It is not so easy to detect when exploited, because this attack could be deployed by using OS resources without triggering any alert to the victim,” Castro told ZDNet in an interview last week.
“On the other hand, I think is easy to spot when doing forensics operations, but you need to know where to look at.
“It is possible to find out if a computer has been a victim of RID hijacking by looking inside the [Windows] registry and checking for inconsistencies on the SAM [Security Account Manager],” Castro added.
A dead giveaway is if a guest account’s SID ends with a “500” RID, a clear hint the guest account has admin rights and that someone has tampered with the registry keys.
The CSL researcher has created and released a module for the Metasploit Framework that automates the attack, for pen-testing purposes.
“We reached out Microsoft as soon as the module was developed, but we did not receive any kind of response from them,” Castro told us. “And no, it is not already patched.”
It is unclear why Microsoft hasn’t responded, but the researcher has been on a tour this summer, presenting his findings at various cyber-security conferences, such as Sec-T, RomHack, and DerbyCon. A video of his most recent presentation is embedded below.
“As far as I know, there was no internet documentation about this particular attack when I published the blog describing it,” Castro told ZDNet. “Since this is a simple technique, I do not think that only my company and I knew about this.”
But while some clever hacks like the one Castro has documented have been known to slip through and get no media coverage, they often don’t go unnoticed by malware authors.
RID hijacking is simple, stealthy, and persistent –just what hackers like most about Windows flaws. But in this case, RID hijacking appears to have slipped by malware authors as well.
“I am not aware of any malware using this persistence technique,” Castro told us. “I asked some malware analysts about it, but they told me they have not seen this implemented on malware.”
Microsoft takes Entra to the edge
Identity security must be at the heart of any organization’s security strategy.
Our infrastructures have become more disparate, and our users are accessing more systems from more locations and devices. This has made identities more vulnerable and a much higher value target to cybercriminals than ever before. A criminal with a stolen identity or set of credentials can gain access, deploy malware, steal data, or carry out denial-of-service attacks upon a given target.
This has driven demand to find new ways to tackle the challenge, such as the emerging Identity Threat Detection & Response (ITDR) market. It also has changed how we trust identities once they have access to systems, with Zero-Trust dictating constant evaluation of identities once authorized.
It is with this in mind that July 11th saw Microsoft make a number of announcements around its Entra platform (you can find details here). While a lot was announced, I wanted to share some thoughts on just two areas. Its introduction of Secure Service Edge (SSE) and ID governance and lifecycle management.
What is Microsoft Entra?
Before we start, it is probably useful to introduce Entra. Entra is the brand name of the identity and access security elements available in Microsoft 365 and Azure. This includes Active Directory, conditional access policies, identity, and permissions management. It is more than just branding; Entra has also consolidated identity and access security management into one place, making it easier to gain visibility and management access.
Identity is a complex issue that requires a broad array of tools to address it. In this latest announcement, Microsoft shows they understand this and have added some key capabilities that will be valuable for customers as they tackle identity-centric security challenges.
It is Microsoft’s first move into the world of Secure Service Edge (SSE). SSE is an important part of modern enterprise access security, taking historically disparate systems, such as secure web gateway, cloud access broker, and zero-trust network access, and bringing them together into a single, usually cloud-based, security service. Bringing these tools more in line with the dynamic cloud-like environments most organizations need to protect.
Microsoft’s solution consists of two services: Internet Access and Private Access.
As shown above, each solution has a different focus. Internet Access acts as a modern Secure Web Gateway, securing access to SaaS apps (including M365). Private Access offers a replacement for traditional VPN using a Zero-Trust approach to managing and securing access to private enterprise systems. In both cases, Microsoft uses its extensive knowledge about user identities and behavior to constantly evaluate threats and reduce the risk of Identity-based attacks.
Why does it matter?
Microsoft is not unique in this space; there are many established vendors with mature SSE solutions. However, Microsoft’s brand and the solution’s seamless integration into M365 will help. They are making the SSE approach more visible to organizations and potentially easing its adoption.
Changing infrastructure and operational behavior means we must modernize enterprise edge security. We cannot rely on traditional architectures and must provide approaches as dynamic and broad as the systems it protects.
Entra ID Governance
While Entra Access takes an identity-centric view of access control, identity-centric security is only as good as the identities it is protecting. One of the biggest problems in the enterprise is poor identity lifecycle management. From the creation to the deletion of accounts, organizations often struggle to effectively manage the process. Accounts are provisioned into the wrong systems, given too few or too many permissions, and orphaned accounts are left in systems when users have moved to new roles or new companies.
Because of this, Microsoft’s announcement of Entra ID Governance is worth at least similar coverage to that afforded to SSE. Entra ID Governance is Microsoft’s identity management platform, helping its customers to better manage, secure, and orchestrate identities through their lifecycle.
It allows customers to easily build lifecycle automation for processes such as on and off-boarding, simplifying the process and reducing the scope for mistakes. It also offers access reviews, which, while not new, use “AI” to help guide those making the reviews, with automated insights into user access and where there may be risks. And entitlement management simplifies the management of user assignment to resources.
As with SSE, this is not unique to Microsoft, but for those using M365, this is another powerful addition to the portfolio. Identities are at the forefront of the cybersecurity challenge, and protecting them has to start with managing them correctly.
Let’s not forget!
Just in case you missed it, one bit of “marketing” that was included in these announcements is the rebranding of Azure Active Directory to Microsoft Entra ID. No doubt this will cause confusion, but as Microsoft looks to consolidate its Identity and Access tools under the Entra umbrella, it makes sense that the most important part of it, Active Directory, should be firmly placed under it.
To sum up
I’ve been watching Microsoft’s development of its security capabilities over the last few years, and it continues to impress with its innovation and strategic direction. While many of these tools are only truly valuable to its M365 subscribers, there are enough of those for this to make a big difference in enterprise security. Identity and data are the targets of cybercriminals, and it’s important that organizations protect them both and take advantage of modern tools and techniques to do so, because you can certainly bet that the cyber attackers are doing just that.
These announcements show that Microsoft continues to invest in, and develop its increasingly broad security portfolio.
The post Microsoft takes Entra to the edge appeared first on Gigaom.
Is there a case for Microsoft as your only enterprise security partner?
In recent GigaOm research, we evaluated whether there was a good argument to use a single security partner to protect an organization or if multiple “best of breed” solutions are still the way to go.
We looked at two use cases. Microsoft, using the broad capabilities of its M365 E3 platform with its E5 security add-on, compared to selecting individual solutions from several leading enterprise security vendors, including Crowdstrike, OKTA and Proofpoint.
The research consisted of cost analysis, technical comparisons, and conversations with senior IT decision-makers to understand some of the criteria they used when evaluating technology.
Our analysis showed that technically and commercially, Microsoft’s tools and services offer an attractive single-vendor proposition. However, it also uncovered that, while this was the case, there was also a pervading attitude from a number of CxOs, that not only was Microsoft not their primary choice, but for some, they would not even consider Microsoft as a security partner.
That raised the question as to whether Microsoft did, in fact, present a strong enough proposition to be a single security partner for an enterprise and whether it was possible to overcome the concerns of CxOs. To attempt to answer those questions, we wanted to review our research and bring a fresh CxO perspective to it. To do that, we enrolled our own CTO, Howard Holton, to provide additional CxO insight into the results of our work.
The research around Microsoft as a security partner
The aim of this post is not to share all the research. It is to provide a summary of our findings which can help answer some of the questions decision-makers would ask when evaluating a single-vendor versus multi-vendor approach for cybersecurity tools and services.
Before providing that summary, it is useful to outline the scope of our research. It is important to note that this was not a hands-on technical evaluation, detailed functionality testing, or TCO analysis. The scope of the research was to provide a C-level briefing that looked at the following;
- Solution capabilities
- High-level cost analysis
- Other operational overhead/business risks
We evaluated these areas to understand whether the single-vendor versus multi-vendor approach could;
- Reduce complexity
- Reduce cost
- Maintain/enhance security
We applied these questions across several business security challenges. The Microsoft E5 Security Add-on covers each of these areas, and we compared that to the vendor listed in each category;
- Endpoint including mobile – Crowdstrike
- Identity Management – Okta
- Email Security including BEC, phishing protection, virus, and malware defense – Proofpoint
- MFA and adaptive access controls – Okta/Proofpoint
- Tools to monitor threat and failure – Crowdstrike
- Data Loss Prevention and Associated Data Security Technologies – Proofpoint
- Cloud Application Security/Cloud Access Service Broker – Proofpoint
These areas accurately reflect the key security focus we find in all types of organizations. Therefore, evaluating the capability of any tool against them was a useful way to compare features and capability, their cost, and whether they would meet the needs of an organization’s modern security demands.
The pros and cons of Microsoft as a security partner
Microsoft’s E3 + E5 Security add-on offers a comprehensive range of security tools for users of its Microsoft 365 and Azure services. Its breadth of capability would provide an organization with wide-reaching security and comprehensive protection through a single vendor.
The Microsoft Security Toolset
Microsoft’s security coverage is broad and split across a number of core service suites. This includes;
- Microsoft Defender for EDR, anti-virus, Cloud App protection, anti-phishing, and data loss prevention across desktop, server, Mac, mobile, and of course, Cloud
- Microsoft Entra provides identity protection
- Exchange Online Protection defends against phishing and BEC and offers malware protection
This range of security tools is tightly integrated into Microsoft Azure and M365 to provide customers with a comprehensive, seamless security experience. For those customers, the research highlighted that the single vendor, single platform approach reduces both technical and commercial complexity, making a compelling security offering.
Why were CxO’s not embracing Microsoft’s compelling offering?
While Microsoft did make a strong single-vendor case, why did potential customers and their security decision-makers meet this with the view that “Microsoft is not even a consideration” when evaluating security solutions and partners?
Reasons for not choosing Microsoft
What were some of the key reasons we discovered?
- I do not want to spend even more with Microsoft.
- While the solutions are broad, I don’t believe their capabilities are as good as specialist vendors.
- I do not want all my security eggs in one basket.
- The pricing of migration from my current providers is significant.
- Can they provide me with hands-on threat response support?
- Is their threat response tool something I could reclaim via my cyber insurance?
Are these valid concerns?
While all concerns are valid during our research, we found evidence that could be used to help answer some of them. This does not mean the concerns are wrong, but they provide additional context that may alter a potential customer’s perception.
I do not want to spend more with Microsoft
There are good commercial reasons why this may be the case. We did also find that there was a very strong financial case made for the single-vendor approach.
Based on published pricing, our research saw potential savings close to 80% when using the Microsoft E5 security add-on compared to using three individual vendors*. While there may be commercial reasons not to spend more with Microsoft, this is a significant figure, and one that should make for closer examination, especially where budgets are under ever-increasing pressure.
Microsoft’s capabilities are not as good as specialist vendors
This is a complex question, and as the research was not based on functionality testing, it was not definitively answered here. However, we have found in other GigaOm research that Microsoft’s capabilities score highly in our security-based reports.
It should also be considered that the single-vendor approach will reduce the complexity that multiple vendors can create. We also discovered that Microsoft’s E5 approach is extremely comprehensive and filled gaps that were left by the multiple leading vendors we also evaluated.
I do not want a single vendor
The value of using multiple best-of-breed vendors has advantages. To understand if that is a valid concern in any given instance, it is important to understand why the multi-vendor approach is preferred and what it offers that a single vendor cannot. We found Microsoft’s approach technically and commercially attractive. Our findings certainly made a case for the re-appraisal of the single vendor approach in these instances.
Cost of migration
This is a strong and valid concern. As IT budgets remain strained, migration costs may bring unwelcome additional pressure. This should not mean it should not be considered, as there are potentially long-term savings to be had. However, organizations should study the length of this return to ascertain its viability.
Threat response and cyber insurance
One of the major questions raised when comparing Microsoft with other leading vendors was its capability to provide threat response if a cyber incident should occur. While Microsoft can indeed cover threat response, we found service definitions and costs less clear during our research than those of competitors such as Crowdstrike.
An additional concern was whether they would be covered under cyber insurance when engaging in such services. Both concerns are significant and would require full clarity when evaluating adopting or changing or single security vendor approach.
What were the three key advantages we discovered?
In exploring this with GigaOm’s CTO Howard Holton, we discovered several key advantages of the single vendor approach that the diligent tech evaluator should consider. None of these things is to say Microsoft or any single vendor is the right answer, but there is a case to explore, and as Howard mentioned at the end of our research, “at least we’d have Microsoft in the conversation”.
- Cost reduction: the potential here is significant. While it should never be the main criterion, it is a consideration in a world of under-pressure budgets. Our comparison of Microsoft’s E3/E5 Add-on versus an amalgamated leading vendor approach showed potential savings in the region of 80%*. Of course, in the real world, customers are unlikely to pay full published prices, but the saving potential does exist and must be considered.
- Complexity reduction: Complexity is the enemy of security. The more products an organization tries to bring together, the more complex it becomes to secure, the higher the operational overhead, and the more likely there will be security gaps. Microsoft is extremely strong here, if not perfect. Their solutions are managed from its single M365 platform but not necessarily in a single console. It provides consistency of security policy and procedure across the platform. And, of course, the breadth of the platform ensures detailed insights and analytics from across an organization are made available to help with threat investigation and hunting. This is also augmented by both automated incident response and, more recently, the additions of managed response via Microsoft Security Experts. This is not impossible to achieve with third-party vendors, especially the ones we looked at here, who share a range of tight product integrations that share intelligence to provide broad security insights, but it does take additional work.
- Improved Security: This one is less clear. There is no doubt that the breadth of coverage and capabilities Microsoft provides can certainly help improve security posture, especially for those using E5 to fill existing gaps. The E5 license offers a strong solution, especially for those deeply invested in Microsoft’s cloud platforms. However, it is less clear whether those already invested in other tools would see the same improvements. While in some cases, Microsoft will deliver parity or even feature improvement, there will be many cases where best-of-breed competitors do things Microsoft doesn’t. Security must be the main criterion in those cases, regardless of potential cost savings.
In answer to the question we posed in this post, the answer is yes, Microsoft could be a single security provider for an organization. However, not for all. While it provides solid security capabilities at a very attractive price, there are gaps. In reality, Microsoft’s approach is only going to be effective for those with a strong investment and strategic commitment to Microsoft Azure and M365 already.
There, of course, will be the comparison of capabilities. Specialist vendors are, at the very least, perceived to provide “better” security capabilities than Microsoft’s native tools and, in many cases, provide things Microsoft don’t. The idea that Microsoft provides “good enough” security is true, but it should not have negative connotations. Good enough security is exactly that, good enough to meet needs. However, organizations must thoroughly evaluate whether any potential solutions meet their needs.
Increasingly organizations also need services to augment their internal resources. Vendors like Crowdstrike offer comprehensive professional services with threat and incident response teams. Microsoft does offer this, but the full direction of its Security Experts service and how that will compare is unclear. This will be a crucial consideration.
This research showed us that a single vendor, specifically Microsoft, can make a strong case in terms of capability, efficacy and cost. They could either become a single vendor filling security portfolio gaps, or even replace other vendors in some instances.
However, we also noted that best-of-breed market-leading solutions are perceived as that for a reason, and that cost alone must not be the only criterion for replacing them.
What was certainly true for those who take the time to thoroughly evaluate Microsoft’s capabilities, as our CTO Howard Holton pointed out, it should at least make Microsoft part of the discussion.
*Our price comparisons were based on a 5000-user enterprise, 10,000 devices comparing M365 E3 plus E5 security versus Crowdstrike, Okta and Proofpoint as part of Crowdstrike’s Spectra Alliance providing the same security coverage. Based on published list price comparisons, research showed a 77% saving using Microsoft’s tools compared to an integrated approach using the three leading vendors showed.
This did not include any reduction in operational cost, as this was outside of the scope of this research. However, it should be noted that in previous research, looking at the impact of security tool consolidation, we have seen reductions in operational costs of 3-7 times.
The post Is there a case for Microsoft as your only enterprise security partner? appeared first on Gigaom.
GigaOm Research Bulletin #004
Welcome to GigaOm’s research bulletin for August 2023
Hi, and welcome back!
Our CEO Ben Book has taken GigaOm from a boutique analyst company to what is now recognized as a leading analyst firm, redefining the nature of analysis in the process. Here he looks at how the market for research has evolved and how GigaOm has shifted to align with the needs of end-user organizations as they prepare for a data-driven, digital future.
Our latest podcast discusses how organizations could implement technical strategies instead of spending most of their time putting out fires. Give it a listen!
See below for our most recent reports, blogs and articles, and where to meet our analysts in the next few months. Any questions, reply directly to this email and we will respond.
Trending: Cloud Observability, released in March, is one of our top Radar reads right now. “Monitoring and observability are crucial IT functions that help organizations keep systems up and running and performance levels high”, says authors Ron Williams and Sue Clarke.
We are currently taking briefings on: Cloud File Storage, eDiscovery, Ransomware Protection, PTaaS, RSLM, DAM, DPUs, and Cloud-based Data Protection.
Warming up are: Autonomous SOCs, Container Security, Data Warehouse, Scale Out File Storage, DPUs, Cloud Network Security, Incident Response Platforms.
We’ve released 18 reports in the period since the last bulletin.
In Analytics and AI, we have released a report on AIOps.
For Cloud Infrastructure and Operations, we have SaaS Management Platforms (SMPS), Value Stream Management (VSM), and Cloud FinOps, and we have covered Hybrid Cloud Data Protection for both Large Enterprise and Small & Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs), and in Storage, we have covered Kubernetes Data Storage for both Cloud-Native and Enterprise.
In the Security domain, we have released reports on Secure Service Access, Security Policy & Code, Password Management, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Anti-Phishing, and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Protection. And in Networking, we have covered Edge & Core Routing and Edge Platforms.
And in Software and Applications, we have a report on Agile Planning & Portfolio Management (PPM), and Unified Communications as a Service.
Blogs and Articles
We’ve published several additional blogs over the past couple of months, including:
- Andrew Green asks, How Would a Distributed SIEM Look? and discusses The True Value-Add of Container Networking Solutions.
- Jamal Bihya explains how we need to strengthen the human firewall using Security Awareness Training.
- Howard Holton gives his take on the Themes & Trends at RSA 2023
- Kerstin Mende-Stief says that, For Sustainability, Buildings & Energy are Strategic Resources.
- Paul Stringfellow explains how the MOVEit Transfer hack is right on trend, provides the Top Trends from InfoSec Europe, and why Microsoft takes Entra to the edge.
… and finally, our VP of Finance & HR, Elizabeth Kittner, asks the question, How Can CPA’s Ethically Interact with ChatGPT?, and was also internationally named as one of the Top 50 Women in Accounting in 2023!
Where To Meet GigaOm Analysts
You can expect to see our analysts at Black Hat USA this week, and Open Source Summit Europe in September. Do let us know if you want to fix a meet.
For news and updates, add firstname.lastname@example.org to your lists, and get in touch with any questions.
Thanks and speak soon!
Jon Collins, VP of Research
Claire Hale, Engagement Manager
P.S. Here is the last bulletin if you missed it!
The post GigaOm Research Bulletin #004 appeared first on Gigaom.
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