Bottom Line: Cyberattacks enter a new era of lethal impact when threat actors are sophisticated enough to compromise SolarWind’s software supply chain with infected binary code while mimicking legitimate protocol traffic to avoid detection.
To gain greater insights into the SolarWinds breach, its implications on cybersecurity strategy in the future and what steps enterprises need to take today, I contacted Andy Smith, Cybersecurity Evangelist and an industry expert with Centrify. He explained the attack’s specifics, referencing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Alert AA20-352A, which details how sophisticated the attack is, citing the sobering fact that it is unknown if all attack vectors are identified. Active since at least March 2020, the advanced persistent threat (APT) has been identified by FireEye, SolarWinds, Microsoft and several other cybersecurity firms.
SolarWinds’ Security Advisory lists 18 known products that have been affected by the attack, including their Application Centric Monitor (ACM), Server Configuration Monitor (SCM) and Network Performance Monitor (NPM). Earlier this month, SolarWinds says the malicious code may have been delivered to nearly 18,000 customers.
Insights Into The SolarWinds Hack
Interested in dissecting the hack from a cybersecurity standpoint, I spent some time investigating the SolarWinds hack with Andy, a leading authority on Identity and Access Management (IAM), particularly around securing and managing privileged access credentials. The following is my interview with Andy:
Louis: There have been large-scale breaches before; why is this particular cybersecurity attack getting so much attention? Why is it so enormous?
Andy: What’s interesting about this particular attack is a couple of things. It follows a very traditional cyber-attack kill chain as many attacks, but the start of this one is impressive. Usually, there’s a vulnerability that allows threat actors to get into the network. What’s unique about this is the initial vulnerability is in vendor software, so it’s often now being referred to as a supply chain hack because the vulnerability was embedded as code.
The exposure to federal agencies and the attackers’ focus going after emails is especially troubling. It appears like it’s a nation/state-related incident that always heightens the exposure and is another reason it’s so large in scale. Some tools that FireEye uses for Red Team evaluation of people’s networks got exposed, so now those tools are in the hands of threat actors to do nefarious activities with them.
That’s one aspect of this hack that makes it remarkable, as sophisticated tools from FireEye are in nefarious actors’ hands. That’s one reason it’s enormous: you just gave something that was being used for good to threat actors intent on gathering as much intelligence across a supply chain of customers as they can.
Louis: How are the cyber-attack methods used in the SolarWinds hack particularly unique?
Andy: It follows a very common cyber-attack kill chain we’ve seen at Centrify for years. We ran the Anatomy of a Hack webinar earlier this year and it always starts with that initial vulnerability and getting in. What’s unique was this case is that the initial vulnerability wasn’t just, “Hey, I phished somebody’s password and logged in.” It was a vulnerability in the software build process for SolarWinds. So that’s a bit unique about how that initial vulnerability was there.
Still, once the attackers are in, the breach starts to look very traditional in the sense that they settle in, sit there for a while, scan the network, move laterally in that environment and hunt for privileged access.
All those things happened precisely by the people who investigated and then you find the data you’re going after. In some cases, it’s been software, as is the case with FireEye, or email servers, as is the case with government agencies. Attackers are patient and they wait to extract the data and then cover their tracks.
Louis: You and many others are an advocate of a layered approach to security. What is that and how would it have helped in the SolarWinds case?
Andy: For me, the biggest takeaway of this hack is that a layered approach to security is the way to go in the future in light of this hack’s sophistication. There’s no silver bullet to stop a hack this sophisticated, though. No one strategy or approach could have prevented it.
When you investigate this attack, it is pretty sophisticated and has multiple vectors to it and one has to assume there will be certain threat vectors compromised. That initial vulnerability will be there and you need those layers of security to prevent it, so you need to look at preventive controls, predictive controls and detective controls. All those need to be combined into a single, unified strategy.
For every organization looking at this hack and considering how future attacks of this sophistication will impact them, it’s a good idea to use this event as a way to get your board and executives thinking about a more resilient, hardened multilayer approach and not relying on a single solution to protect you. I see organizations using this opportunity to evaluate how a layered approach will work for their projects when it might not have been feasible to fund in the past.
It’s an extreme attack that shows how vulnerable the exposures are out there. It’s a good time to shore up your defenses. The Federal Information Processing Standard 200, or FIPS 200, the standard offers excellent guidance, including discussing the different types of layers and controls available today. Minimum Security Requirements for Federal Information and Information Systems defines the minimum security controls for federal information systems and the processes by which risk-based selection of security controls occurs.
If you dig into the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-53, that gets a little deeper into the particular cyber controls you have in place. There is guidance available. You’re not out there on your own about what the layers should be and you can evaluate yourself against these standards.
Louis: What are some layers specific to privileged access management? Are there any particular PAM best practices that enterprises should be thinking about right now?
Andy: Absolutely and I’ll start with Privileged Access Management (PAM), which is one of the core layers. Investigations into this hack found specific evidence where they got in and created new accounts with elevated privileges to access data. It’s all over this.
We typically state the Forrester stat that 80% of hacks involve compromised privileged access. This SolarWinds example is no exception: that’s what happened.
Additional points to keep in mind include the following:
Before our interview, we talked about how vulnerable passwords are and how using the company’s name, followed by 123, is not a good idea – that ties into going pro with preventive controls rather than just relying on a password. That’s a perfect example of what not to do. Organizations can design preventive privileged access controls and detective controls and both are typically provided in Privileged Access Management solutions. Best practices call for multiple preventive controls – strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, password rotation, maybe use a federated credential and have privileged users log in as themselves for better auditing and accountability.
Rethink enterprise cybersecurity from a preventive control perspective that includes least privileged access. Simplistic preventive controls aren’t enough, as the sophistication of this hack shows. Preventive controls need to be strengthened with least privilege. The account creation process needs to provide as little privilege as possible to the server level. Workflows to request additional access need to be used to provide resources for a predefined period. If these types of controls had been in place, malicious code disguised in executable files and dynamic linked libraries would not have traveled as far down the supply chain.
Lastly, even if threat actors get through or you don’t have enough of those layers in place, you want detective controls. PAM solutions should have audit capabilities that watch what privileged users do. In the financial markets, there are things like the “four-eye principle,” where people are watching what other people are doing and so you can watch a privileged session in real-time and verify what users are doing. Of course, all that’s audited in the recording. You can send that information off to a SIEM to be correlated with other data to look for compromise indicators. Recent articles I’ve read pointed out the attackers were in the FireEye network for months before being detected. FireEye detected that they had been attacked thanks to detective controls.
Louis: The SolarWinds attack seems to have rejuvenated the case for Zero Trust. How can companies adopt a Zero Trust mindset and take stock of their security layers today?
Andy: Definitely and I see organizations accelerate their Zero Trust initiatives today. Organizations can get started on their Zero Trust frameworks by reviewing the FIPS and NIST publications. Review the layers of your security stack with a Zero Trust mindset. Don’t configure your network to trust someone just because they gained access. That’s how these attackers got in, laying in the network for plenty of time. Zero Trust says, “Don’t trust that authenticated network access. That could still be a compromised credential or a threat actor,” and this is a perfect example of that. This is why Zero Trust is critical: just because they’re on your network doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy.
The concept of least privilege, of authenticating at each step, introduces segmentation. When I give access, it’s just to that machine or that service that I need access to and not broad access across the network a network segment. That’s how you prevent that lateral movement. A Zero Trust mindset that Zero Trust philosophy of security is critical in this case.
Louis: What do you think will happen from the perspective of micro-segmentation and how does this hack change the balance of security relative to ongoing operations of a business?
Andy: I think it’s another evidence of our current breach culture and brings forth more awareness. More and more, events like this will make cybersecurity a higher priority in an organization – one essential to excel at to keep a business operating. So from that perspective, it is a business enabler.
If you do it right, you can start to do things like moving to the cloud and start to do things that make you more agile. The more we can think of security as a business enabler instead of a business blocker, the better we are. Taking the lessons learned from this hack and using them to create a more resilient, hardened organization is a start.
80% of hacks involve the use of compromised privileged credentials and this one is no exception. An important layer of control is Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions such as Centrify, which typically involve predictive, preventive and detective controls.
In the end, it is security layers and vigilance that make the difference in minimizing the impact of a breach. NIST’s guidance can be constructive in cybersecurity planning, which can also be informed by Zero Trust’s principles. Remember, it’s not a question of if you will be hacked. It’s a matter of when and what you can do to limit the impact through layers.
Bottom Line: Cybersecurity CEOs’ lessons learned from navigating the pandemic provide a valuable framework for leading and growing a business through anxious, uncertain times.
How each cybersecurity CEO responds to the challenges of keeping employees safe, customers secure and product release cycles on schedule while still achieving customer success – all virtually – provide valuable insights into leading a company during difficult times. Simon Biddiscombe, former CEO of MobileIron (acquired by Ivanti), exemplifies the empathy all CEOs interviewed have for their employees’ welfare. “My first priority when the pandemic hit was to protect the health and safety of our employees, yet still maintain an “always-on business” for our customers,” Simon mentioned during a recent interview.
What made leading during the pandemic even more difficult was the exponentially increasing number of breaches and cyberattacks their customers are experiencing. McAfee Labs Covid-19 Threats Report found a 630% increase in cloud services cyberattacks between January and April of this year alone. The FBI estimates cyberattacks are up 400% due to the pandemic. As DevOps teams fast-track new features and releases, CEOs keep their virtual organizations cohesive and focused on the same goals.
The following cybersecurity CEOs provide their most valuable lessons learned leading through the pandemic:
Christy Wyatt, CEO of Absolute Software
Absolute is a leader in Endpoint Resilience solutions and the industry’s only undeletable defense platform embedded in over a half-billion devices. Enabling a permanent digital tether between the endpoint and the enterprise who distributed it, Absolute provides IT and Security organizations with always-connected visibility and Self-Healing Endpoint security.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
There was a clear moment for us where we said, “What is our objective? What is the best response to this?” And the phrase that came out was, “How can we help?” We knew our primary focus needed to be helping our customers solve a massive problem, instead of monetizing this opportunity. Making this decision to come together as a mission-driven organization… that was so incredibly powerful.
Even as life was changing drastically between breakfast and dinner every single day and employees were navigating their own work-from-home journeys and trying to care for their families, what we heard was that this ability to contribute was the thing that they were hanging onto. They were able to say, “Listen, I’m getting up every morning and I’m helping organizations with something that’s really scary and unfamiliar.” And, they did remarkable things… these teams put themselves through so much to help our customers stand up remote work and learning environments essentially overnight.
I always say you don’t win the race when you’re in the race. It’s the training and the practice, and the talking,and the drills and the teamwork… which we had been working on long before the pandemic hit. So I think my biggest takeaway is that if you put in the training upfront and you focus on doing the right things, the right things will happen. And you really can achieve more than you thought you could.
Flint Brenton – President and CEO of Centrify
Centrify is redefining the legacy approach to Privileged Access Management by delivering multi-cloud-architected Identity-Centric PAM to enable digital transformation at scale. Centrify Identity-Centric PAM establishes trust and then grants least privilege access just-in-time based on verifying who is requesting access, the context of the request and the risk of the access environment. Centrify centralizes and orchestrates fragmented identities, improves audit and compliance visibility and reduces risk, complexity and costs for the modern, hybrid enterprise.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
“Our customers and the people they serve are all going through rapid change. When you look at the concept of digital transformation, a lot of companies were struggling with that before the pandemic. Now we know that we can’t live without it. The role of the developer is more important than ever and they are driving innovation in a very different environment than they’ve ever experienced.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic is that no matter what the obstacles are, people need connection. For a company like Centrify, that means we need to be connected to our customers intellectually, strategically, virtually and – eventually – physically.
An example of this was very clear recently, as we engaged in discussions with one of the world’s largest financial institutions to replace their existing password vaulting solution. They have a vision for where they want to be, how they are going to get there and how they are going to secure that transformation. But they need the right partner who not only has the technology capabilities and architecture for a cloud-focused, DevOps-drive, digitally-enabled enterprise, but also to understand their vision and be invested in their success.
So the CIO asked me to personally track the rollout of our product against their product enablement success and he was very interested in how our vision of Privileged Access Management will converge with cloud security, DevOps and other modern technologies and empower their vision and plan. Ultimately, he wanted connectedness. He wants a personal relationship built on understanding, honesty and accountability, even if that relationship can’t be forged and nurtured over a dinner or meeting in a conference room.
That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned leading this year: that customers, employees, partners and peers want to be connected any way possible, even if they can’t do so in close physical proximity yet.”
Steve Havas, CEO of Evernym
Evernym is a pioneer in the field of verifiable credential technology, which gives individuals control over their digital identity and organizations the ability to trust and verify their data. Evernym builds and deploys self-sovereign identity solutions, with the technology and go-to-market resources powering the largest implementations of digital credentials in production.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
The pandemic has been, to say the least, impactful on society and our business. The market changes have required ruthless listening to customer needs and absolute focus on delivering what’s needed today.
We’ve all anticipated a gradual convergence of the digital and physical worlds, but that timeline has been accelerated by the sudden rise in remote work/education and contactless identity verification. We’re fortunate that this is the future we’ve been building toward, although we would have never imagined many of the COVID-19 credential use cases that are now mission-critical for our customers. It’s certainly been a lesson in adaptability and prioritization.
Benji Markoff, CEO of Founder Shield
About Founder Shield
Founder Shield is a tech-enabled insurance brokerage, focusing on rapidly growing businesses that operate in emerging industries. As a broker, we have a unique perspective of protecting our clients against cyber threats and guiding them to recovery should their fall victim. We work with forward-thinking insurers using proprietary cyber risk management tools, while also offering the most innovative insurance coverage possible.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
People say that fortunes are won and lost in times like these and it certainly appears that hackers & social engineering fraudsters have gotten that memo. Over the past 6 months, we’ve seen an increase in both hacking and social engineering attacks on clients of all shape and size $5M Revenue to $500M revenue. The reports suggest that working from home has only increased vulnerabilities of company networks (or lack thereof as employees use home networks) and the ability to induce fraudulent payments from employees who might not be able to lean over to a coworker to fact check a fishy invoice. The valuable lesson? Do a cyber audit and make sure you’re training your team on spotting social engineering and phishing scams.
Anand S – CEO at Gramener: Insights as Data Stories
About Gramener: Insights as Data Stories
Gramener is a data science company that helps solve complex business problems with compelling data stories using insights and a low-code analytics platform. We help enterprises large and small with data insights and storytelling by leveraging Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Automated Analysis and Visual Intelligence using modern charts and narratives (NLG). Our Gramex platform is a low-code framework to rapidly build engaging data solutions across multiple business verticals and use cases. Our products have empowered CXOs, Chief Data Officers, Scientists, Business Analysts and others save millions of dollars by making an impact on revenue and decision making. Gramener was founded in 2010 and has over 325+ clients worldwide, 200+ employees and 5 offices globally including the United States and Singapore.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
As an SMB we leaned more towards cost optimization over premium cybersecurity tools and services, resulting in ring-fencing our office infrastructure more. Due to COVID-19, when we moved 100% remote, our cybersecurity controls fell short to defend us against external threats. We had to extend the security protocols like moving all work to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), strengthen VPN tunnel security, implement 2FA for all logins, opt for more security services from our Cloud service provider.
We accelerated digitization across operations and increased spending in Cloud security and production application security. We are revisiting our current approach and playbooks for cybersecurity.
– We are evaluating the current 3rd party service providers offering and reevaluating if they still have same level security controls in place at their end
We are conducting an accelerated implementation of Data Security protocols across the organization and not just on client specific projects. This includes updates to Information Security Policy around Data classification, Data tracking and protection.
With 100% remote operations, we are moving to VDI for all production and critical services. This means access to all data is through dedicated VPN Tunnels only. This is to mitigate any exposure to data from folks working at home.
– Our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure allows our IT teams to protect client sensitive data to a restricted cloud environment. All the tools and 3rd party cloud services required by our team members to perform their tasks are provided in the VDI. No data can be extracted or moved from VDI instances.
– All internal company data around operations, team members, Intellectual Property are a prime target for cyberattacks and ransomware. We have moved to a secure VPN tunnel architecture for all our team members to access company internal systems. Earlier this was restricted to a small group of functions. By mandating access via secure VPN tunnel our IT team has centralized visibility of all traffic across the network and can intervene quickly against any potential threats.
We are mandating 2FA. Earlier employee convenience led to not mandating 2FA for all our services. Now 2FA has been made mandatory across all services.
In order to optimize costs, we are consolidating tools used in the organization to identify overlapping functionalities and getting rid of those which are no longer required.
Apu Pavithran, founder and CEO of Hexnode
Hexnode MDM is the award-winning Unified Endpoint Management platform from Mitsogo Inc. The company has been helping organizations in over 100 countries to stay agile and competitive in an increasingly mobile world. Mitsogo Inc. is a leading provider of Endpoint Management and security solutions. From SMBs to Fortune 500s, enterprises of all sizes have leveraged Mitsogo’s prowess in device management to drive business productivity and compliance. Mitsogo’s solutions adapt to the most complex of business environments.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
Navigate the path, trust your crew
Being a CEO, as lucrative as it may seem has its own little big challenges, for example, they don’t tell you that there are no off days. There are always thousands of choices to be made and tons of pathways to be chosen, but the absolute worst thing comes when we face an uncertainty that was never on the radar.
And when the pandemic hit, the team needed support more than ever, I had to switch through the roles of commander in chief, therapist, cheerleader and even at times a babysitter. After all, you have to be the rock for your employees, or else it shows. But fortunately, I was so lucky to be surrounded by like-minded people who are as passionate as the founder about our business and customers.
We had to establish a fully remote work landscape and it was not what we would have expected, it was at a time when everyone was very insecure about COVID-19. People were worried about their safety, the safety of their families and work started to slip into second gear, some of us were even having mental breakdowns. It was time to be the person that the team could look up to.
“Customer is king”, is a tired old saying but that is what Hexnode live by, we had a commitment towards our clients, so we had to provide uninterrupted service for them rain or shine. So, we made a decision that would be deemed “mad “from a financial standpoint.
We rented out hotel rooms and made guesthouses for each of our employees around the globe and ran security and screening protocols equivalent to that of hospitals. Soon the stress levels were back to normal and the team started to enjoy the atmosphere. Productivity became better than pre-COVID levels.
As a leader, your team should be able to trust that you’re going to do everything in your power to navigate them through this tough time. The greatest asset for every business is said to be “finding the right staff”, but I would say it is “how you create the right staff”. The most valuable lesson l learned during this pandemic is “When the crew is great you just have to navigate, they will pull through all the tides and storms coming your way. They always do”.
Brad Wiskirchen, CEO, Kount
Kount’s Identity Trust Global Network delivers real-time fraud prevention and account protection and enables personalized customer experiences for more than 9,000 leading brands and payment providers. Linked by Kount’s award-winning AI, the Identity Trust Global Network analyzes signals from 32 billion annual interactions to personalize user experiences across the spectrum of trust—from frictionless experiences to blocking fraud. Quick and accurate identity trust decisions deliver safe payment, account creation and login events while reducing digital fraud, chargebacks, false positives and manual reviews.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
Open, honest, fearless communication. The Kount team has lived by this motto for more than a decade and never before has it been more tested and more relevant than in navigating the events of 2020. From moving our entire team to remote work to quickly pivoting to help our eCommerce businesses handle dramatic changes in transaction volume, it’s essential that our team communicate at the highest levels. As the impacts of the pandemic are often deeply personal, open, honest, fearless communication has empowered us to balance individual needs, customer needs and company needs while uniting us in our mission to do whatever it takes to stop digital fraud for our customers.
Simon Biddiscombe, former CEO of MobileIron (acquired by Ivanti)
MobileIron is redefining enterprise security with the industry’s first mobile-centric security platform for the Everywhere Enterprise. MobileIron’s platform combines award-winning and industry-leading unified endpoint management (UEM) capabilities with passwordless MFA (Zero Sign-On) and mobile threat defense (MTD) to validate the device, establish user context, verify the network and detect and remediate threats to ensure that only authorized users, devices, apps and services can access business resources in a “work from everywhere” world.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
As a leader during a pandemic, you must go above and beyond to provide your employees and customers with world-class service and support. My first priority when the pandemic hit was to protect the health and safety of our employees, yet still maintain an “always on business” for our customers. At MobileIron, we quickly enabled our employees around the world to work remotely. We also made it as easy as possible for our customers to issue more corporate-owned devices or enable a BYOD program to keep their employees secure and connected – whether they were working on the frontlines or at home. And we continued to innovate to meet the changing security needs of our customers and communities.
Overall, the pandemic has crammed years’ worth of change into a few short months and it will have long-lasting effects on how, when and where we work in the future. Work in the future will be very different to work in the past, which will present leaders with some challenges. However, it will also offer some significant opportunities to overhaul working practices and support employees who work from home with better collaboration and more intuitive access. The “Everywhere Enterprise” is not a passing phase, it’s the current reality and will continue to grow and expand as workers find new ways to be productive from anywhere.
Ward Osborne, CEO of Osborne Global Security
About Osborne Global Security
Osborne Global Security is a new player in the security space. They are challenging the stereotypes that come to mind when you originally think of security and replacing them with the ideas of trust, care and a shift in general security culture. This is a fascinating company to watch in the future.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
As CISO’s for multiple companies through this pandemic, we have seen so much shift and change. There’s been borderline chaos in many companies – and chaos ALWAYS brings opportunity. For our clients, the ones we’ve worked with and developed mature, risk and capabilities based models for just this situation, they are thriving.
It’s interesting to see the world adapt to a virtual delivery model which we’ve been creating, living, evangelizing for 25 years. Our clients who may not have had the time or prioritization to develop those models and capabilities have taken a hit, but we continue to do what we do, which is develop and provide resilience and growth to our customers.
In a virtual and distributed world, Trust becomes a major factor in every conversation. If a customer can’t Trust that we are there to solve problems when things get tough, then they aren’t able to operate effectively knowing that someone has their back.
Our world has become physically disconnected, but the people and companies that deal with that challenge in a proactive and positive way will always thrive. We are here. Growing our tribe. Doing the next right thing and leading customers to success in the midst of all of this chaos and challenge.
Rodrigo Tumaián, CEO and Co-Founder of Prometeo
Prometeo provides a single point of access to banking information, transactions and payments across multiple financial institutions in Latam. Inspired by PSD2 and with high security standards, Prometeo brings easy plug & play access to open banking, the future of financial services. Currently, Prometeo is connected with more than 30 financial institutions across 9 countries of Latam (including México & Brazil) and provides access to more than 45 APIs.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
Prometeo was born with a very strong focus on cyber-security, so the pandemic had no effect on our operation. Our company grew up with the foundation of mobility and work flexibility, this forced us from the beginning to think about the best way to transmit data and protect mobile assets. So when the pandemic arrived, we were already providing remote access (VPN) to all our employees, limiting access by profile. We were already using two-factor authentication to access our services. We already had user nomination and record of the operations generated by our employees on our assets. I think if I had to mention what was the most valuable thing we learned from the pandemic, it’s that the direction we took from the beginning was worth it. We didn’t have to deal with operational issues to handle the high demand for digital products from customers, we just did it. So the pandemic for us strengthened another of our fundamental values, not to make security to be compliance, but to make integral security, both within our company and for our customers.
Jean Le Bouthillier, CEO of Qohash
Qohash delivers advanced data classification and monitoring capabilities to protect your personal, health, corporate and financial data using transformational technologies such as machine learning and analytics.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
2020 has accelerated digital transformation efforts and highlighted the need for advanced, lightweight data security capabilities. With enterprise employees working increasingly remote, data is flowing faster and in previously unimagined ways. Businesses realize that to keep up with the demands of clients and a digital workforce, data risk models need an update or risk jeopardizing the enterprise.
Qohash clients recognize that the employee Risk Score, a quantifiable measure of trust, mitigates the impact both of bad actors as well as busy, distracted employees.
Remote, digital work will be a part of enterprise operations for the foreseeable future. Organizations need to enable governance risk and compliance teams to better support this transition to Work From Anywhere [WFA] models where talent and business thrive.
Jean-Paul Smets, Founder and CEO RapidSpace
Rapid.Space is a cloud provider whose “approach is based exclusively on the use of free, fully auditable and reversible software, hardware and management procedures under open licenses. Thanks to a network of 228 points of presence, Rapid.Space has global presence including in mainland China. It covers similar features as the most sophisticated public cloud provider and introduces exclusive innovations such as industrial edge computing and private 4G/5G vRAN.
“What are the most valuable lessons learned leading through a pandemic?”
“Rapid.Space learned during the pandemic how to formalize its management procedures and remotely setup points of presence. Thanks to Augmented Reality and smart glasses, Rapid.Space team in Europe and Americas could setup remotely its points of presence in mainland China and Taiwan without having to travel by air plane”.
Bottom Line: Flint Brenton’s vision for the future of Centrify and cybersecurity, in general, prioritizes the need for privileged access management to become core to the multi-cloud architectures and DevOps environments he sees pervading customers’ enterprises today.
Every new cybersecurity company CEO is writing their vision of the future by their decisions and the priorities they are based upon. From tech dominance to sales success, each CEO has their own long-term strategy and idea of what they and the company need to excel at to succeed.
Defining Cybersecurity As A Core Part Of DevOps
It is always fascinating to speak with new CEOs at cybersecurity companies and see what their vision for the company is after they’ve been there a few months. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Flint Brenton, who joined Centrify as President and CEO in July of this year. Flint leads the strategic direction and execution of the company’s vision drawing from an exceptional track record of accelerating growth through product innovation and sales execution. He recently served as president and CEO of CollabNet VersionOne, which pioneered the Value Stream Management market. He previously held president and CEO positions at AccelOps and Tidal Software and has successfully led engineering teams at NetIQ, Compaq, BMC Software, IBM and more.
Flint sees the needs of enterprise developers creating new apps using DevOps as pivotal to the future of Centrify, specifically and cybersecurity in general. A core part of those developers’ needs is securing privileged access management (PAM) in multi-cloud environments while supporting agile development.
My interview with him provided five key insights into why cybersecurity will increasingly be defined by how well it can be incorporated into “DevSecOps,” and how Centrify’s vision for the future looks to capitalize on that demand and drive PAM into the DevOps pipeline to further automate built-in security practices:
Cybersecurity providers’ cloud-based architectural platforms will define the competitive landscape for the next several years in the industry. Since accepting the CEO role in July, Flint has been spending most of his time talking with customers to gain in-depth insights into their greatest challenges. He is hearing about the challenges customers face when attempting to make different cybersecurity vendors’ solutions work together and function in a multi-cloud architecture. “Having a clear architectural advantage where features can be added quickly is going to be key in cybersecurity for years to come,” he explained.
Any cybersecurity company’s vision needs to consider the speed at which infrastructure and workloads are moving from on-premise to the cloud – it’s faster than predicted. One of Centrify’s financial services customers in APAC is launching a virtual bank and wants the new venture to be entirely cloud-based. Like many Centrify customers, they are considering a multi-cloud architecture, including Amazon AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Flint explains they will need a security model and identity management controls that run in the cloud to accommodate their current and future computing plans. The FinTech is relying on Centrify to secure privileged access for administrators to its multi-cloud environment.
Viewing every enterprise customer as a software business first helps remove roadblocks to delivering more value faster. Cybersecurity companies need to consider how they can streamline DevOps and DevSecOps cycles by providing enterprise developers with new tools to integrate identity management efficiently. “The developer is now building identity management into apps and frequently those apps are built using container-based models and they are then deployed either into cloud, on-prem, or a combination of both,” Flint said.
Design in flexibility for the many different buying communities you’re trying to serve early on and continually monitor them to learn about what’s most valuable to them. DevOps leaders’ buying community is among the most self-sufficient, willing to download a trial, install it and buy it. Enterprise sales are more research and time-intensive. Flint observed that a company’s vision needs to encompass each buying community’s unique nature and be willing to extend platform-level features and DevOps tools if necessary.
Buy-in from the DevOps community will become increasingly important in cybersecurity in general and is a core part of Centrify’s vision. Prior to taking the helm at Centrify, Flint was the CEO of CollabNet VersionOne, where he helped define value stream management as a market standard. I asked him if he sees any parallels with value stream management’s success and the vision he has for Centrify. “The key with value stream management is to understand how developers wanted or needed to build software more successfully in the future. So you have to get the buy-in of the development community to include it in what they’re building, rather than making an appetite of adding it after it’s already been deployed. So I think that’s a major focus in the DevSecOps market. Make it part of what is built. Don’t allow it to become an afterthought,” Flint said. The future of cybersecurity will increasingly be defined by how easily Identity Access Management (IAM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) can be designed at the beginning of DevOps and DevSecOps cycles.
What I find most compelling about his vision is how essential every person is to breaking apart complex cybersecurity problems and solving them. Flint’s vision of providing DevOps teams with the tools they need to design in identity access management is groundbreaking. No one is talking about design wins in this area of the market today.
Centrify is quickly turning into a company that actively seeks out their customers’ most difficult obstacles and uses them to challenge itself to grow and do excellent work. They are looking for cybersecurity leaders with cloud-based development skills, AI skills and automation skills who are up for the challenge.
73% of enterprises (over 500 employees) accelerated their cloud migration plans to support the shift to remote working across their organizations due to the pandemic.
81% of enterprises accelerated their IT modernization processes due to the pandemic.
48% of all companies surveyed have accelerated their cloud migration plans, 49% have sped up their IT modernization plans because of Covid-19.
32% of large-scale enterprises, over 500 employees, are implementing more automation using artificial intelligence-based tools this year.
These and many other insights are from a recent survey of IT leaders completed by CensusWide and sponsored by Centrify. The survey’s objectives on understanding how the dynamics of IT investments, operations and spending have shifted over the last six months. The study finds that the larger the enterprise, the more important it is to secure remote access to critical infrastructure to IT admin teams. Remote access and updating privacy policies and notices are two of the highest priorities for mid-size organizations to enterprises today. The methodology is based on interviews with 215 IT leaders located in the U.S.
Key insights from the survey include the following:
The overwhelming majority of enterprises have transformed their cybersecurity approach over the last six months, with 83% of large-scale enterprises leading all organizations. It’s encouraging to see small and medium-sized businesses adjusting and improving their approach to cybersecurity. Reflecting how digitally-driven many small and medium businesses are, cybersecurity adjustments begin in organizations with 10 to 49 employees. 60% adjusted their cloud security postures as a result of distributed workforces.
48% of all organizations had to accelerate cloud migration due to the pandemic, with larger enterprises leading the way. Enterprises with over 500 employees are the most likely to accelerate cloud migration plans due to the pandemic. 73.5% of enterprises with more than 500 employees accelerated cloud migration plans to support their employees’ remote working arrangements, leading all organization categories. This finding reflects how cloud-first the largest enterprises have become this year. It’s also consistent with many other surveys completed in 2020, reflecting how much the cloud has solidly won the enterprise.
49% of all organizations and 81% of large-scale enterprises had to accelerate their IT modernization process due to the pandemic. For the largest enterprises, IT modernization equates to digitizing more processes using cloud-native services (59%), maintaining flexibility and security for a partially remote workforce (57%) and revisiting and adjusting their cybersecurity stacks (40%).
51% of enterprises with 500 employees or more are making remote, secure access their highest internal priority. In contrast, 27% of all organizations’ IT leaders say that providing secure, granular access to IT admin teams, outsourced IT and third-party vendors is a leading priority. The larger the enterprise, the more important remote access becomes. The survey also found organizations with 250 – 500 employees are most likely to purchase specific cybersecurity tools and applications to meet compliance requirements.
Conclusion & Wrap-Up
IT leaders are quickly using the lessons learned from the pandemic as a crucible to strengthen cloud transformation and IT modernization strategies. One of every three IT leaders interviewed, 34%, say their budgets have increased during the pandemic. In large-scale enterprises with over 500 employees, 59% of IT leaders have seen their budgets increase.
All organizations are also keeping their IT staff in place. 63% saw little to no impact on their teams, indicating that the majority of organizations will have both the budget and resources to maintain or grow their cybersecurity programs. 25% of IT leaders indicated that their company plans to keep their entire workforce 100% remote.
It’s encouraging to see IT leaders getting the support they need to achieve their cloud transformation and IT modernization initiatives going into next year. With every size of organization spending on cybersecurity tools, protecting cloud infrastructures needs to be a priority. Controlling administrative access risk in the cloud and DevOps is an excellent place to start with a comprehensive, modern Privileged Access Management solution. Leaders in this field, including Centrify, whose cloud-native architecture and flexible deployment and management options, deliver deep expertise in securing cloud environments.
Bottom Line: Shattering the false sense of security in tech, the recent Twitter hack blended altruism, fame, greed, social engineering via SIM swapping and insider threats to steal $120,000 from victims when the economic and political damage could have been far worse.
Targeting the most influential celebrities on Twitter, hackers orchestrated a social engineering-based attack Wednesday promoting a cryptocurrency scam. Business leaders, celebrities, politicians and billionaires’ accounts were hacked using Twitter’s administrative tools. Personal Twitter accounts hacked include those of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others. Apple and Uber’s Twitter accounts were also hacked.
Using SIM swapping, in which threat actors trick, coerce or bribe employees of their victims to gain access to privileged account credentials and administrative tools, hackers were able first to change the email address of each targeted account. Next, two-factor authentication was turned off so when an alert was sent of the account change it went to the hacker’s email address. With the targeted accounts under their control, hackers began promoting their cryptocurrency scam. While not all details of the attack have surfaced Motherboard’s story of how hackers convinced a Twitter employee to help them the hijack accounts makes for fascinating reading.
Dissecting The Hack
Interested in dissecting the hack from a cybersecurity standpoint, I contacted Dr. Torsten George, Cybersecurity Evangelist and industry expert from Centrify. Torsten is also a leading authority on privileged access management and how to thwart breaches involving privileged access credentials.
Louis: What was your initial impression upon breaking news of the hack and what did you believe would cause such a massive hack of celebrity and leading political figures accounts this past week?
Torsten: When the news broke, the media probably polled other security experts and the first initial reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s a massive attack, most likely a credential-based attack,’ because 80% of today’s data breaches go back to privilege access abuse. They are typically first triggered by phishing attacks, the precursor to many attacks where the attackers tried to capture these credentials and then leverage them to attack their victim’s organizations.
So, the breaking news indicated that most likely, somebody was able to leverage a compromised credential to enter into the Twitter environment and take over accounts. However, more and more information became available, with screenshots being shared of internal Twitter tools. For me, that raised a red flag, because in a typical attack pattern we’re seeing three distinct phases in the cyber-attack lifecycle: the compromise, the exploration phase and the exfiltration of sensitive data, which includes covering up tracks and potentially creating a backdoor for future attacks.
When performing reconnaissance, hackers commonly try to identify regular IT schedules, security measures, network traffic flows and scan the entire IT environment to gain an accurate picture of the network resources, privileged accounts and services. Domain controllers, Active Directory and servers are prime reconnaissance targets to hunt for additional privileged credentials and privileged access.
They wouldn’t necessarily look for administrative tools that could be leveraged for their attack unless they have intimate knowledge that those tools exist in the victim’s environment — be it by having worked for the company in the past or representing an insider threat.
Louis: What’s the anatomy of an insider attack, based on your experience?
Torsten: As was later confirmed by Twitter, it became very apparent that this is a case of insider threats, where you have an insider that has been leveraged for this attack. The most common insider threats can be defined by the intent and motivation of the individuals involved. The 2019 Verizon Insider Threat Report defines five distinct insider threats based on data breach scenarios and they all have excellent, accurate names: the Careless Worker, the Inside (often recruited) Agent, the Disgruntled Employee, the Malicious Insider and the Feckless Third-Party.
Considering the global environment we’re facing right now, with Covid-19 and other related economic hardships, the risk of insider threats is exacerbated, as pending furloughs or pay cuts may tempt employees to exfiltrate data to secure a new job or make up for income losses.
So a privileged administrator might be more open to people that approach them and say, ‘Would you be willing to share with us your access credentials, or would you do something on our behalf to exfiltrate data or to manipulate data?’ That risk has increased dramatically across all industries.
So it turned out the first suspicion was phishing attacks, followed by compromised credentials. It turns out to be an insider threat. Organizations need to be prepared for that.
Louis: What can companies do to reduce the likelihood a malicious insider will hack them?
Torsten: It becomes a little bit trickier when you deal with a malicious insider because they most likely know your environment, they might know your defense mechanisms and they might know the security tools that your likely using. So they can bypass these security controls and try to gain the control of data that they can then profit from.
Organizations have to rethink the way that they’ve structured their defense controls and truly take an approach of an in-depth strategy with a different layer of defenses. The first layer that comes to mind in this particular case is multi-factor authentication (MFA) which is still low-hanging fruit. There are still many organizations out there that are not taking advantage of implementing MFA.
While MFA is highly recommended, it isn’t as effective against insider threats because they have that second factor of authentication and can pass those challenges. Organizations need to go beyond MFA if they want to have a layered security strategy.
Louis: What are some of the ways they can go beyond MFA to avoid being the victim of an insider threat?
Torsten: A very important component of your defense strategy should be the approach of zero standing privileges, which is something Gartner recommends to its clients. That means that I have normal privileges and entitlements to do my job, like answering emails and using the Internet, but that’s probably all I need. If I need more access, I’ll have to elevate my privilege for the time needed to do that particular task but then rescind that privilege once it’s done.
If I have zero standing privileges – even if somebody compromises my credential, even if I’m an insider – I don’t have immediate access to the keys to the kingdoms to do whatever I want.
And before privilege elevation, organizations should require context through a formal request. For example, require the user to submit a ticket through ServiceNow or any other IT Service Management platform to detail what they need to access, for how long and to do what. That way, there is an auditing trail and an approval process. If the threat actor – whether insider or not – doesn’t do this they don’t get privileged access to that target system.
Louis: Besides those perhaps expected controls, what other controls might have helped in this particular scenario?
Torsten: Organizations should also take advantage of modern tools to leverage machine learning technology, so that looks at user behavior and risk factors to also get a hold of these insider attacks. All the other security controls are more tailored towards external preparation at first. Still, once you implement machine learning technology and user behavior analytics that’s where you also can capture insider threats.
Machine learning can look for suspicious activity, such as a target being accessed outside of a typical maintenance window, or is the administrator logging in from a different location or device than usual. It can then trigger an MFA request and also issue a real-time alert, regardless of whether the MFA challenge is successfully resolved.
Furthermore, in the case of Twitter, there are privacy and regulatory concerns that could also be additional triggers for real-time alerts and to shut down this activity automatically. Regulations like the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) mean that platforms like Twitter have to be very careful with any access to or manipulation of a customer’s feed. That could – and should have – instantly triggered a real-time alert when an administrator was posting on behalf of a user.
Louis: Do you think this is going to be the start of an entirely new era of hacks where hackers will pay off internal employees for promotional messages?
Torsten: Quite frankly, we have seen an uptick since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And I believe now that this Twitter attack has been covered in the press so much, you will have copycats that will try to do the same. Some of them will also target social media platforms, but others that might be a little bit smarter because social media is easily detectable if something goes wrong. An industry like healthcare could be a prime target and there is already news that Russian hackers are attacking healthcare providers and research labs to try to gain access to vaccine research.
Louis: Given how significant this hack is in terms of the progression or the growing sophistication of threats, what are the top three predictions you have for the rest of 2020?
Torsten: Ransomware is an example of a technique that has changed quite significantly in two ways. First, they are no longer only delivered via an email, but also via social media platforms, SMS messages and more. Second, ransomware is no longer only focused on shutting down business operations. The most recent example with EDP Renewables North American, a subsidiary of an European-based electric utilities company, showed that hackers leveraged ransomware to exfiltrate data. Not to lock it down, but to exfiltrate data and then ask for ransom from their victim to not publish the data on the Dark Web.
Second, as I’ve already covered, the current economic hardships of the pandemic will cause more people to jump on the bandwagon and become cybercriminals. And these aren’t the people you see in movies – dark characters in hoodies using sophisticated hacking techniques to breach the government. These are your neighbors, the little boys next door. For them it’s not a big deal to become a cyber-criminal.
Third, as you’d expect, the number of cyber-attacks will increase as a result and they will continue to find new and innovative ways to find the easiest way in. The Twitter incident taught us that there was no technology “breach” required. It was just finding the right person with the right privileges and paying them to do 25 Tweets. That’s an easy payday.
I think this whole crisis that we’re going through will see a major uptick in attacks from the traditional cyber hackers, but also from a whole bunch of newbies and greenhorns that will try out their luck and see if they can make a buck. Either by ransomware attacks, phishing attacks, social engineering or any combination thereof.
Bottom line: With many IT budgets under scrutiny, cybersecurity teams are expected to do more with less, prioritizing spending that delivers the greatest ROI while avoiding the top five mistakes that threaten their infrastructures.
In a rush to reduce budgets and spending, cybersecurity teams and the CISOs that lead them need to avoid the mistakes that can thwart cybersecurity strategies and impede infrastructure performance. Cutting budgets too deep and too fast can turn into an epic fail from a cybersecurity standpoint. What I’ve found is that CIOs are making decisions based on budget requirements, while CISOs are looking out for the security of the company.
Based on their ongoing interviews with CIOs, Gartner is predicting an 8% decline in worldwide IT spending this year. Cybersecurity projects that don’t deliver a solid ROI are already out of IT budgets. Prioritizing and trimming projects to achieve tighter cost optimization is how CIOs and their teams are reshaping their budgets today. CIOs say the goal is to keep the business running as secure as possible, not attain perfect cybersecurity.
Despite the unsettling, rapid rise of cyber-attacks, including a 667% increase in spear-fishing email attacks related to Covid-19 since February alone, CIOs often trim IT budgets starting with cybersecurity first. The current economic downturn is making it clear that cybersecurity is more of a business strategy than an IT one, as spending gets prioritized by the best-to-worst business case.
Five Mistakes No CISO Wants To Make
One of the hardest parts of a CISO’s job is deciding which projects will continue to be funded and who will be responsible for leading them, so they deliver value. It gets challenging fast when budgets are shrinking and competitors actively recruit the most talented team members. Those factors taken together create the perfect conditions for the five mistakes that threaten the infrastructure cybersecurity and resilience of any business.
The five mistakes no CISO wants to make include the following:
1. No accountability for the crown jewels for the company. Privileged access credentials continue to be the primary target for cyber-attackers. However, many companies just went through a challenging sprint to make sure all employees have secure remote access to enable Covid-19 work-from-home policies. Research by Centrify reveals that 41% of UK businesses aren’t treating outsourced IT and other third parties likely to have some form of privileged access as an equal security concern.
And while a password vault helps rotate credentials, it still relies on shared passwords and doesn’t provide any accountability to know who is doing what with them. That accountability can be introduced by moving to an identity-centric approach where privileged users log in as themselves and are authenticated using existing identity infrastructures (such as Microsoft Active Directory) to federate access with Centrify’s Privileged Access Service.
CISOs and their teams also continue to discount or underestimate the importance of privileged non-human identities that far outweigh human users as a cybersecurity risk in today’s business world. What’s needed is an enterprise-wide approach enabling machines to protect themselves across any network or infrastructure configuration.
2. Cybersecurity budgets aren’t revised for current threatscapes. Even though many organizations are still in the midst of extensive digital transformation, their budgets often reflect the threatscape from years ago. This gives hackers the green light to get past antiquated legacy security systems to access and leverage modern infrastructures, such as cloud and DevOps. IT security leaders make this even more challenging by not listening to the front-line cybersecurity teams and security analysts who can see the patterns of breach attempts in data they review every day. In dysfunctional organizations, the analyst teams are ignored and cybersecurity suffers.
3. Conflicts of interest when CISOs report to CIOs and the IT budget wins. This happens in organizations that get hacked because the cybersecurity teams aren’t getting the tools and support they need to do their jobs. With IT budgets facing the greatest scrutiny they’ve seen in a decade, CISOs need to have their budget to defend. Otherwise, too many cybersecurity projects will be cut without thinking of the business implications of each. The bottom line is CISOs need to report to the CEO and have the autonomy to plan, direct, evaluate and course-correct their strategies with their teams.
4. The mistake of thinking cloud platforms’ Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools can secure an enterprise on their own. Cloud providers offer a baseline level of IAM support that might be able to secure workloads in their clouds adequately but is insufficient to protect a multi-cloud, hybrid enterprise. IT leaders need to consider how they can better protect the complex areas of IAM and Privileged Access Management (PAM) with these significant expansions of the enterprise IT estate.
Native IAM capabilities offered by AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and other vendors provide enough functionality to help an organization get up and running to control access in their respective homogeneous cloud environments. However, often they lack the scale to fully address the more challenging, complex areas of IAM and PAM in hybrid or multi-cloud environments. Please see the post, The Truth About Privileged Access Security On AWS and Other Public Clouds, for additional information.
5. Exposing their organizations to a greater risk of breach and privileged access credential abuse by staying with legacy password vaults too long. Given the severity, speed and scale of breach attempts, IT leaders need to re-think their vault strategy and make them more identity-centric. Just as organizations have spent the past 5 – 10 years modernizing their infrastructure, they must also consider how to modernize how they secure access to it. More modern solutions can enforce a least privilege approach based on Zero Trust principles that grant just enough, just-in-time access to reduce risk. Forward-thinking organizations will be more difficult to breach by reorienting PAM from being vault-centric to identity-centric.
Decisions about what stays or goes in cybersecurity budgets this year could easily make or break careers for CISOs and CIOs alike. Consider the five mistakes mentioned here and the leading cause of breaches – privileged access abuse. Prioritizing privileged access management for human and machine identities addresses the most vulnerable threat vector for any business. Taking a more modern approach that is aligned to digital transformation priorities can often allow organizations to leverage their existing solutions to reduce risk and costs at the same time.
Bottom Line: Excelling at compliance doesn’t protect any business from being hacked, yet pursuing a continuous risk management strategy helps.
With a few exceptions (such as spearphishing), cyberattacks are, by nature, brutally opportunistic and random. They are driven to disrupt operations at best and steal funds, records, and privileged access credentials at worst. Conversely, the most important compliance event of all, audits, are planned for, often months in advance. Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) teams go to Herculean efforts to meet and exceed audit prep timelines working evenings and weekends.
Wanting to learn more about the relationship between GRC and cybersecurity strategy, I searched for webinars on the topic. I found Improve Your Compliance Posture with Identity-Centric PAM, a recent webinar-on-demand offered by Centrify. The webinar brought up several interesting insights, including shared pains companies experience with compliance and cybersecurity, yet require drastically different approaches to solving them.
Rationalizing Compliance Spending with Cybersecurity
The truth is organizations are attempting to rationalize the high costs of compliance by looking for how GRC spend can also improve cybersecurity. This is a dangerous assumption, as Marriott’s third breach indicates. Marriott is an excellently managed business and sets standards in compliance. Unfortunately, that hasn’t thwarted three breaches they’ve experienced.
Why are organizations assuming GRC spending will improve cybersecurity? It’s because both areas share a common series of pains that require different solutions, according to the webinar. These pains include:
Updates to regulations are exponentially increasing today, averaging 200 or more per day from approximately 900 oversight agencies worldwide, leading to a quickly changing, heterogeneous landscape. Dr. Torsten George, Cybersecurity Evangelist at Centrify, said that when he worked in the GRC space, the midsize clients he worked with had to deal with 17 different regulations. Larger organizations that operate on a global basis are dealing with, on average, 70 or more regulations they need to stay in compliance with. Dr. George provided an overview of the compliance landscape, differentiating between the levels compliance requirements every organization needs to abide by, which is shown below:
Compliance is, by nature, reactive to a known event (audit), while cybersecurity is also entirely reactive to random events (cyberattacks). GRC teams need to ramp up their staff and equip them with the apps and tools they need at least six months before an audit. For cybersecurity, the threat is random and will most likely be more severe in terms of financial loss. Preparing for each takes entirely different strategies.
The lack of continuous risk monitoring by GRC teams and identity management by IT cybersecurity leads to systemic failures in achieving compliance and securing an organization. The webinar makes an excellent point that for compliance to succeed, it needs to be based on continuous risk management, not just checking off the boxes or categories of a given GRC approach. The same holds for cybersecurity. Identity-Centric Privileged Access Management (PAM) provides GRC and IT professionals mutual benefits when it comes to achieving the mission of being and staying compliant, and shows how securing enterprises drive better compliance, not vice versa.
Manually updating compliance mapping tables showing the interrelationships of requirements by industry is not scaling – and leaving gaps in GRC coverage. The more regulated a business is, for example manufacturing medical products, the more important it is to automate every aspect of compliance. A great place to start is automating the process of creating mapping tables. Taking a manual approach to creating mapping tables comparing standards often leads to errors and gaps. And in highly regulated industries like medical products manufacturing, the accuracy, speed, and scale of staying compliant can be turned into a competitive advantage, leading to more sales.
How To Resolve The Conflict Between GRC and Cybersecurity Spending
According to the webinar, 80% of today’s data breaches are caused by default, weak, stolen, or otherwise compromised credentials. GRC and cybersecurity strategies’ best efforts need to be put on securing privileged access first. The webinar makes a strong argument for prioritizing privileged access security as the initiative that can unify GRC and cybersecurity strategies.
Key insights from the webinar include the following:
Industry standards and government regulations are calling for identity and access management as a requirement, with several specifically naming privilege access controls.
Identity-Centric Privileged Access Management (PAM) approaches help meet compliance mandates, while at the same time hardening cybersecurity to the threat surface level.
Attaining greater compliance by taking an Identity-Centric PAM approach ensures machines have secured identities as well, and the use of anonymous access accounts is limited to break-glass scenarios only, while organizations should otherwise be leveraging enterprise directory identities for the authentication and authorization process.
Improving accountability and segmentation by establishing granular security controls and auditing everything helps bridge the gap between GRC and cybersecurity initiatives.
Continuous risk management is key to excelling at compliance, just as securing privileged access credentials is foundational to an effective cybersecurity strategy. Dr. Torsten George ended the webinar saying, “In the long term, I believe that the current situation that we’re dealing with and its associated spike of cyber-attacks will lead to even stricter compliance mandates; especially when it comes to secure remote access by key IT stakeholders and outsourced IT.” The bottom line is that compliance and cybersecurity must share the common goal of protecting their organizations’ privileged access credentials using adaptive approaches and technologies if both are going to succeed.
Bottom Line: Every organization needs to digitally reinvent their business, starting at the system level to safely sell and serve customers with minimal physical interaction.
The hard reset every business is going through creates a strong sense of urgency to increase the agility, speed, and scale of selling, as well as customer service options that protect the health of employees, customers, and partners. Customer experience needs to be the cornerstone of digital transformation, with the customers’ health and welfare being the highest priority. Businesses need to realize that digitally reinventing themselves is no longer optional. Every customer-facing system is going to need the best infrastructure, security, and stability for any business to survive and grow.
Securing Infrastructure Needs To Come First
COVID-19 was a wake-up call that companies need to operate as multi-channel players, allowing for physical but, more importantly, virtual presence. For instance, in retail, only those that will step up their efforts in building on-line ordering and associated nation-wide logistics networks will survive in the longer-term. If the cloud was considered an option in the past, it now is mandatory. In turn, the need for security has increased.
Starting with infrastructure, hybrid- and multi-cloud environments need to be augmented with additional system support, new apps, and greater security to support the always-on nature of competing in a virtual world. Providing self-service sales and support across any device at any time and keeping all systems synchronized is going to take more real-time integration, better security, more precise pricing, and so much more.
Consumer electronics manufacturers’ biggest challenge is reinventing their infrastructure while selling and serving customers at the same time. Part of their biggest challenge is protecting privileged access credentials that have become fragmented across hybrid- and multi-cloud environments. Everyone I’ve spoken with is balancing the urgent need for new revenue through new channels on the one hand with intensity to secure infrastructure and the most valuable security assets of all, privileged access credentials.
According to a 2019 study by Centrify among 1,000 IT decision-makers, 74% of respondents whose organizations have been breached acknowledged that it involved access to a privileged account. These are typically used by a small set of technical personnel to access the most critical systems in the IT estate, including modern technologies such as cloud, DevOps, microservices, and more. The CIO of a local financial services and insurance company, who is a former student and friend, told me that “it’s often said that privileged access credentials are the keys to the kingdom, and in these turbulent times they’re the keys to keeping any business running.”
CIOs, CISOs, and their teams are focusing on four key areas today while digitally reinventing themselves to provide more flexible options for customers:
Secure every new self-service selling and service channel from breaches.
Fast-track cloud projects to become 100% virtual and available.
Simplify infrastructure management by integrating IT and Operations Management across hybrid and multi-cloud environments.
Improve compliance reporting as well as reduce audit costs and associated fines.
Legacy Privileged Access Management (PAM) Can’t Scale For Today’s Threats
Sophisticated social engineering and breach attempts are succeeding in misdirecting human responses to cyber threats, gaining access to valuable privileged access credentials in the process. Legacy PAM systems based on vaulting away shared and root passwords aren’t designed to protect hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments. These DevOps systems include containers and microservices, APIs, machines, or services. Furthermore, multi-cloud environments create additional challenges because access management tools used for one vendor cannot be used with another.
Switching from in-person to self-service selling and service creates new challenges and an entirely new series of requirements for identity and access management. These requirements include securing a continually-increasing number of workloads that cause the amount of data in the cloud to grow exponentially. There’s also the need to centralize identities for consistent access controls across hybrid and multi-cloud environments – all happening while a business is busy digitally reinventing itself. Compounding all of these challenges is the need to excel at delivering an excellent user experience without sacrificing security in an increasingly self-service, always-on, 24/7 world.
Securing Privileged Access In A Post-COVID-19 World
If you’re looking for a sure sign any business will be around and growing in twelve months, look at how fast they are digitally reinventing themselves at the infrastructure level and protecting privileged access credentials first. Digital-first businesses are taking a more adaptive approach to consistently controlling access to hybrid infrastructure for both on-premises and remote users now.
Centrify and others are making rapid progress in this area, with Centrify’s Identity-Centric PAM taking a “never trust, always verify, enforce least privilege” approach to securing privileged identities. Centrify’s approach to Identity-Centric PAM establishes per-machine trust so it can defend itself from illegitimate users – whether human or machine – or those without the right entitlements. It then grants least privilege access just-in-time based on verifying who is requesting access, the context of the request, and the risk of the access environment as is illustrated in the graphic below:
Improving customer experiences needs to be at the center of any digital transformation effort. As every business digitally transforms itself to survive and grow in a post-COVID-19 world out of necessity, they must also improve how they secure access to their cloud and on-premises infrastructure. Legacy PAM was designed for a time when all privileged access was constrained to resources inside the network, accessed by humans, using shared/root accounts.
Legacy PAM was not designed for cloud environments, DevOps, containers, or microservices. Furthermore, privileged access requesters are no longer limited to just humans, but also include machines, services, and APIs.
Privileged access requesters need greater agility, adaptability, and speed to support DevOps’ growing roadmap of self-service and increasingly safer apps and platforms. While privileged identities must be protected, DevOps teams need as much agility and speed as possible to innovate at the rapidly changing pace of how customers choose to buy in a post-COVID-19 world.
Bottom Line: Existing approaches to securing IT infrastructure are proving unreliable as social engineering and breach attempts succeed in misdirecting human responses to cyber threats, accentuating the need for machines to protect themselves.
Any nations’ digital infrastructure and the businesses it supports are its most vital technology resources, as the COVID-19 pandemic makes clear. Cybercriminal and advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are attempting to capitalize on the disruption that COVID-19 is creating to engage in malicious cyber activity. It’s become so severe that the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a joint alert, COVID-19 Exploited by Malicious Cyber Actors earlier this month.
In the same keynote, he said that it’s essential that cyber-threats and the actors carrying them out be treated as invading armies and cyber-attacks be considered an act of war. “We self-organize and use business models to guide our self-organization,” General Hayden said. “We will have to rely on ourselves and the private sector in a way that we have not relied on ourselves for security.”
General Hayden’s’ comments are a call to action to the private sector to take the initiative and innovate quickly to secure the cyber-domain. Machines protecting themselves is an area noteworthy for its innovative technologies for securing IT infrastructures and the networks that comprise them.
Exploring An Approach to How Machines Protect Themselves
Wanting to learn more about how machines would be able to protect themselves automatically, I spoke with Centrify’s Chief Strategy Officer, David McNeely. He explained that one of the best ways is to have a client that is an integral part of any operating system act as an intermediary that establishes a trusted identity for each client system on a network. The client would then be able to authenticate every login attempt and request for resources by verifying each login through an authoritive security management platform such as Active Directory (AD).
McNeely explained how Centrify’s approach to having machines protect themselves using clients integrated with operating systems. “The client is designed to enable the computer to authenticate users. It must have a trusted relationship with the authoritative identity service in the organization that manages user accounts, this is usually Active Directory. The computer account and trust relationship is what enables strong authentication of user login requests” he said.
He continued, “Self-defending machines address the paradigm shift occurring in cybersecurity today where protection cannot be enforced at the network boundary. In the past, trusted networks were defined by administrators using network protection tools such as VLANs, firewalls and VPNs in order to protect a group of machines on that network. With self-defending machines, it’s possible to implement a true Zero Trust approach more fully where the network cannot be trusted.”
The following is a graphic of how Centrify is approaching machine-to-machine Zero Trust across distributed environments:
Centrify’s approach is based on servers protecting themselves by enforcing a policy defined by IT administrators as stored in Active Directory (AD) or Centrify’s Privileged Access Service. Clients then carry out the orders, enforcing centrally managed policies for each of the following scenarios:
Define who can login, making sure only authorized personnel are allowed access.
Whether clients should initiate the process of enforcing MFA or not, to make sure the login attempt isn’t a bot, fake ID, or incorrect human.
Whether audit is required or not of the login session and if so, what conditions define if it should be recorded or not.
Which privileges are granted to each user and for how long once they’ve gained access to systems.
Organizations need to continually evaluate their existing cybersecurity defenses in light of the Tenets of Zero Trust in order to continually improve their security postures. The NIST standard underscores the importance of how security architecture matters. For example, defenses to protect assets need to be as close to the asset as possible, much like in a war. In this new era of cyberwarfare, soldiers will need their own body armor and tools to defend against an adversary. Similarly, it is important to arm each server with appropriate defenses to protect against cyberthreats.
General Hayden’s challenge to private industry to pick up the pace of innovation so the nations’ cyber-domain is secure resonates with every cybersecurity company I’ve spoken with. One of the most noteworthy is Centrify, who has devised an enterprise-ready approach for machines to protect themselves across infrastructure and network configurations. It’s Identity-Centric approach to authenticating every login attempt and request for resources by verifying each login – through Active Directory (AD) or the cloud-based, FedRAMP-authorized Centrify Privileged Access Service – differentiates its approach from other cybersecurity vendors attempting to empower machine self-defense.
Bottom Line: Biometrics are proving to be better than passwords because they’re easier to use, provide greater privacy and security, and are gaining standardization across a broad base of mobile, desktop, and server devices that users rely on to access online services.
In keeping with the theme of this year’s RSA Conference of Human Element, vendors offering passwordless authentication were out in force. Centrify, Entrust Datacard, HID Global, Idaptive, ImageWare, MobileIron, Thales, and many others promoted their unique approaches to passwordless authentication, leveraging the FIDO2 standard. FIDO2 is the latest set of specifications from the FIDO Alliance, an industry standards organization that provides interoperability testing and certification for servers, clients, and authenticators that meet FIDO2 specifications.
The Alliance has introduced a new Universal Server certification for servers that interoperate with all FIDO authenticator types (FIDO UAF, WebAuthn, and CTAP). The following graphic explains how the FIDO2 architecture authenticates every account requesting access to resources on a secured system:
The security industry has been trying to kill the password for decades. It has long been viewed as a weakness, primarily because of the human element: people continue to use weak passwords, on multiple accounts, at work, and in their personal lives. 81% of data breaches involve weak, stolen, default, or otherwise compromised credentials, according to a Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.
Usernames and passwords (“something you know”) was the best factor of authentication available for decades yet didn’t provide enough of a barrier to hackers. Then came two-factor authentication, which added “something you have” as a second factor, such as a smartphone, key card, token, or other tangible item associated with the user.
Today everyone lives in a multi-factor authentication (MFA) world where cybersecurity technologists have added another factor: “something you are.” This is where biometrics come in, and facial recognition, fingerprint scanning, retinal scanning, and other forms of bio-identification have become normal thanks to technologies like Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID. Many people have already been using these technologies for years on their iPhones.
The reality is that these additional factors based on “something you have” or “something you are” are both much stronger than “something you know,” such as a password or PIN. Not only can the latter be easily stolen, guessed, or phished for, but authentication based on biometrics is very hard to fake or duplicate.
In short, by using the two newer factors of authentication, everyone who uses an electronic device daily is moving closer to a passwordless reality. Cybersecurity technologists are going to continue making authentication easier and more secure to improve user experiences and reduce the threat of a breach.
Privileged Admin Passwords Need To Be The First To Go
Key lessons learned from visiting with the 30 or so vendors who claimed to support passwordless authentication include the following:
Centrify was the only vendor who prioritized enforcing FIDO2-based privileged administrator logins. It was also one of the few that specifically mentioned support for Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID, as well as Windows Hello, showing full support for the FIDO2 standard.
Windows Hello and Windows Hello for Business are table stakes in passwordless authentication, all vendors claim and can demo this capability.
Combining multiple forms of biometrics is proving problematic for the majority of vendors, as evidenced by the inconsistent demos on the show floor. No one could conclusively demo multiple types of biometrics for their solutions on the fly in a demo environment while at RSA. Of the many vendors claiming this capability, Centrify’s approach is the most unique in that privileged user identities are verified, satisfying a valuable pillar of its Identity-Centric PAM approach.
All vendors claiming FIDO2 compliance were able to demonstrate Apple’s Touch ID electronic fingerprint recognition, while Apple Face ID facial recognition product demos were hit or miss. If you are evaluating biometrics vendors who claim FIDO2 compliance be sure to stress-test facial recognition, as the demos on the show floor made it clear there’s work to do in this area.
Product management teams have been studying the NIST 800-53 high-assurance authentication controls standard and integrating it into their roadmaps. The 170 controls that comprise the NIST 800-53 standard are being adopted quickly across the vendors who claim passwordless authentication as a core strength in their product strategies. Using biometrics eliminates the risk of credential theft techniques and provides better alignment with the NIST 800-53 high-assurance authentication controls standard.
Vendors are at varying levels of maturity when it comes to being able to capitalize on the metadata biometrics provides, with a few claiming to have real-time analytics. Every vendor had a different response to how they manage the massive amount of metadata being generated by their biometrics, which all claim also to support analytics. After speaking with the vendors at RSA, analytics used to authenticate rather than just report activity is far more effective. I had a chance to talk to Dr. Torsten George, Cybersecurity Evangelist at Centrify, who said, “Centrify’s support for the FIDO2 standard is a direct result of our ongoing commitment to our customers and their requests for biometric authentication of privileged user identities. Combining our support for the FIDO2 standard with our existing multi-factor authentication and real-time analytics capabilities, we’re able to greatly reduce the risk of security breaches that might exploit weak, default, or stolen privileged credentials.”
RSA’s theme Human Element was prescient from the heavy emphasis on passwordless authentication at this year’s conference. FIDO2 is getting solid support across the cybersecurity vendors who chose to exhibit there, which is great for enterprises, organizations, and small businesses who need to defend themselves. Of the many vendors there, Centrify’s approach stood out based on its unique approach to authenticating privileged user identities for its Identity-Centric PAM platform.
FIDO2 ultimately makes security stronger and less disruptive because it can not only eliminate passwords but also make the user experience more seamless and less likely to be circumvented. Passwordless authentication ensures that login credentials are unique across every website, never stored on a server, and never leave the user’s device. This security model helps eliminate the risks of phishing, as well as all forms of password theft and replay attacks.
We’re closer than ever before to the elusive goal of a passwordless future.